The Gift of Uncertainty

There is an enormous difference between certainty and conviction. We all have convictions, deeply held ideals, and values that we believe to be true and important.

Yet no matter how strongly we may believe something to be true, there is always the possibility that we might be mistaken, that we do not see the whole picture, that we do not have access to all the facts, and that, if we did, we might yet change our mind.

The willingness to acknowledge that our beliefs and convictions are always provisional and consequently subject to change is a hallmark of human maturity, not weak-mindedness.

When what we hold precious is challenged, we instinctively defend it because we are invested in our hard-earned convictions. But this is precisely when mindfulness is called for, lest our convictions harden into certainty. When they do, we close off the possibility of genuine dialogue with others, and our relationships stop growing and changing.

It is by encountering the beliefs and convictions of others in a spirit of mutual openness and respectful engagement that our beliefs and convictions are enriched, enhanced, and expanded.

Authentic and transformative dialogue, then, requires a healthy measure of uncertainty. It requires us to admit that our vision is limited, that we do not have all the answers, that we are human. It requires humility. And, in the words of the French philosopher Simone Weil, “We do not have to acquire humility. There is humility in us—only we humiliate ourselves before the false god of certainty.”

Certainty is easy. Uncertainty, on the other hand, is hard. Yet dialogue demands uncertainty, and that is no small thing. We have had too much of monologues.

We must learn to speak with rather than at one another. We must learn to share our best ideas, our highest hopes, and our deepest convictions with those who are different from us – and to receive theirs in return. This kind of gift-giving, rooted in uncertainty, creates dialogical friendships and the confidence that comes through partnering.

Some Things We’ve Learned About Promoting Dialogue


When given the chance, most folks want to share their hard-won perspective–and they have lots to say.

When it’s understood that no one person has a final or privileged perspective, then different, even alien voices are more likely to feel welcomed and appreciated for how they might enrich the dialogue.

When the reality and presence of different voices is recognized and affirmed, folks tend to loosen up and feel more welcomed to speak up without fear of reprisal. Dialogue seems to require vulnerability, openness, humility, and trust.

When good conversation gets going, a self-forgetful synergy draws participants into dialogical interaction. It becomes more like improvisation.

Dialogue happens when other people and perspectives draw out the potential meanings inherent in any one person’s understanding of things—these meanings build, one upon the other, to create something new between dialogical partners.

The unity and connection that is felt when dialogue happens is often experienced as “the thing itself.”

When people learn to partner together through dialogue, idiosyncratic divisions are relativized and deeper connections are formed.

When the conversation is kept open-ended, then dialogue continues to flourish.

Dialogue depends upon and is enriched by the assertion of different voices.

In dialogue, just about everything is particular and contextual—thus, generalities, canned concepts, and finalized assertions inhibit a group’s ability to co-create something new together.

While there are scientific components to dialogue, it is more of an art, and, like jazz, it’s only as good as the ad-libbing qualities of its players. Not everyone is equally comfortable “going with the givens.”

Dialogue flourishes when things are messy and even in tension—unfortunately, not everybody can appreciate messiness and chaos.

Dialogical interaction challenges people to trust their “voice” and speak up—yet this can take time and requires patience.

Soul-stirring Blues on the Sunday Stage!

Join us this Sunday at 8 p.m. for the soulful stylings of blues prodigy Darius Jackson. Darius channels the great masters with a rare combination of musical acuity and emotional depth that belies his tender years. When this young cat takes the stage, the blues legends of old are reborn in fresh form.

Darius is a 20-year-old musician, singer, and songwriter from El Paso, Texas who recently relocated to Austin.  While his roots are deeply embedded in blues and rock music, he has been known to explore a diverse array of musical styles. He plays guitar with the “ATX-ellence Band” behind the scenes of the many Capitol View Arts projects, while continuing to make his mark on the ATX blues scene.  Darius performs in venues like the Historic Victory Grill, JAX, various clubs on 6th Street, and other blues hot spots in town.

All That Jazz…and Soul, Reggae, Rap, and EAST Art

Join us for the Sunday Stage on November 11, 8pm, at the historic Victory Grill as we gather to celebrate America’s one true original art form. We’ll enjoy the smooth trumpet stylings of the incomparable Duane Carter and explore the important work of the Austin Jazz Alliance  with founding member Fito Kahn.

Duane is a veteran jazz trumpeter who studied under trumpet greats Bobby Bryant, Sr. and Oscar Brashear. In recent years he has been a part of Tibor Molnar’s Sevensemble, Nate Morgan’s Ujaama Ensemble, the Nightfire Orchestra, Pro2Call, and the J-Love Band. He currently fronts two ensembles, The Duane Carter Band and The Duane Carter Quartet/Quintet. Duane describes his music as “immensely intimate and revealing of my innermost thoughts and feelings . . . That is the essence of art, of creativity, to explore the depths of one’s soul in the quest for meaning, for truth, and then to share it with the world.”

Founded in 2010, the Austin Jazz Alliance began as a grass-roots organization aimed at helping jazz musicians in Austin and Central Texas promote their music. It has since become an umbrella organization that brings together jazz musicians, jazz fans, and jazz related businesses. Fito Kahn, founding member of the Jazz Alliance, says “it’s crazy that Austin claims to be the ‘music capital of the world’ but you can’t find a decent jazz venue in all of Austin!” The Jazz Alliance aims to change that by promoting new musicians, new venues, and new opportunities to share the beauty and brilliance of this unique and enduring musical art form.

And that’s not all . . . Prepare to be rocked and souled by Urban Austin artists Myz B, J Redd, and Eson!

 Myz B began her vocal career singing lead in her church choir at age 6. She stepped into the music game at age 14 releasing and performing her hit single “How I Ride” at the historic Victory Grill. Since then, she has been writing and recording her soulful R& B and recently linked up with producer T-Flo to release the pop single “Get on The Floor.” She plans to release her first album “Taste My Honey” in 2013.

 J Redd is an Austin-based rapper, singer, poet and activist. Since the age of 15 he has been blazing the scene with his unique stage presence. From his signature rapid-fire delivery to his skill in blending in R&B and poetry­–he has something for everybody. J Redd has performed in numerous rap battles, Battle of the Bands competitions, theaters, churches, universities, and city-wide music festivals.

Andrew “Eson” Blair is a reggae artist with dance hall roots and a dash of hip hop and rap thrown in for good measure. With his career on the rise, his heart of music to the skies, you can catch this Kingston, Jamaican rude-boy, performing at local venues in Austin, Texas and surrounding areas. In 2011 Eson signed with Austin’s Popsicle Rockslide Record Label.

But wait . . . there’s more! The Victory Grill is also playing host to four spectacular visual artists as part of the EAST Austin Studio Tour – A.J. SimonBaron WilsonBianca Neal, and Solomon Perry. Check out their work on the Capitol View Arts website


Musings from the Porch

The art collective that painted the Victory Grill’s mural

In late September and through October, The Front Porch started acting like a front porch. We found some new friends and a great “living room” at the historic Victory Grill. Then we began to invite friends over.

On Sunday evenings from now till January 12, we’ll be on the porch at the Victory Grill, talking about things that matter at our Sunday Salon. Then we enjoy some of the Grill’s great food and drink until musicians start arriving for the Sunday Stage at 8pm. We’ve heard musicians with something new to offer or a passion for creating solutions to the problems in the music industry in Austin. John Pointer has partnered with us to come and tell about his solutions and work the miracles he works on the guitar.

We’ve talked about HAAM, The Live Music Capital Foundation and with John and Harold McMillan. We’ve listened to a group who trekked to the Cutting Edge Music Festival in New Orleans and came back to sing their story–Erin Ivey, Darius Jackson, Serafia Jane, and Drastik IV. We’re excited that in November some of these will return to our stage for a better look in a solo performance. Our time with Michael Fontenot introduced us to the “Un-Wrap”  a genre that uncovers the natural tone and rhythm of the human voice. Michael also unveiled an unwrap of the Front Porch itself!

This last October Sunday Stage promises a real treat. On October 28, at 8pm, come and be amazed. Darius Jackson will lead off with the blues. John Pointer brings the cello to the Stage where we may hear classical to Cirque du Soleil. And Ulrich Ellison offers up his bluesy rock with it’s psychedelic and Celtic edge. is center stage for our conversation with the artists.

These evenings have confirmed our belief that we human beings are wired for connection and hungry for good conversation.  There’s a real need for a good venue—for art or music or theater or conversation. We’ve loved hanging out at the Victory Grill with its deep, enriching vibe.


The Sunday Salon: Breaking Down the Dividing Walls

Many tend to think of community in terms of commonality. But we wonder about that. Could it be that authentic community is born not of sameness but of difference? Could it be that diversity and variety, far from keeping us apart, are precisely what bind us together? Could it be that we are united not by common answers to the same old questions but by common questions to the same old answers? If this sounds like a strange but nonetheless intriguing possibility… welcome to The Front Porch!

At our weekly Sunday Salon we gather to explore the ways in which our differences can actually serve to enrich rather than threaten. As our resident chanteuse Julia Ward observed this past Sunday, there are indeed two opposing forces in the world, but they are not those we typically imagine. They are not good and evil, but love and fear. Fear leads to division, love leads to dialogue; fear inspires rivalry, love inspires reverence; fear builds walls, love breaks them down.

Join us for conversation and song at our weekly Salon: Sundays, 6 p.m. at The Historic Victory Grill.


The Sunday Salon – Going with the Givens!

Those of us on the Porch felt proud of all the folks who dared to show up for our very first Salon last Sunday. They are forever founders and charter members just for getting into their cars on a Sunday evening and being curious and adventurous enough to check it out. And we felt proud of Clifford Gillard and the Victory Grill for being there—for taking a risk and teaming up with us to do this thing.

We gathered together. We shared bread and wine. We sang. And we talked. In the midst of our conversation, folks raised a variety of questions about the Salon and its purpose.  “Why are we here? Is this a Christian thing? Will we read scripture? If I’m from some other tradition, sacred or secular, will my voice be welcomed?”

These and similar questions fuel the Salon. So let’s talk about this. It’s important…



Making the Music Mix on the Porch: Mix #1

There are a lot of songs in the world–like so many treasures awaiting discovery and enjoyment.  We are going to curate and post a mix of songs deejayed by a group of folks who know and love the music. These Front Porch Song Mixologists concoct supple potions. This particular mix is hereby dubbed Mix #1.

Each week, we’ll post the sets that emerge from ongoing collaborations between interested deejays scattered across space.  Each set will have its own voice for its own time. Each set will combine however many songs it takes to fill about an hour.  In the age of “shuffle” it’s hard to say if sequence matters, even if we are making some effort to put them in relative order. There is much to say about each selection but this week we’ll let the songs speak for themselves. It’s a start, a stab, a grappling for something intuitively “Front Porch.”

We’ll play the mix at the Victory Grill when we gather for the Sunday Salon and during the hour between the Salon and Stage. We are experimenting. We are figuring out ways to listen together on the porch!

There are three Mixologists who nominated at least 40 songs for this week’s 13 track mix. We had fun messaging ideas back and forth. Thank you Mike Weinfeld who lives in San Diego, Craig Jenkins who lives in Austin, and John Hughes who lives in Milwaukee. Let us know if you’d like to mix it up with us. Listen at your own risk.

Austin Music Scene with John Pointer & HAAM

The Front Porch is pleased to kick off the Sunday Night Stage series at the Victory Grill
with musical acrobat John Pointer and friends on September 30th from
8-9:30 pm.  We’ll talk about the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), the
state of music in Austin, and anything else that comes up.  He’s got a
lot of perspective! He will get us talking with some interesting ideas on how to better cultivate
the live music scene in Austin and work with the musicians who make
it hum.  Of course, we’ll also enjoy some great music.

Just back from an international tour, which included Sri Lanka and Rio
de Janeiro, Pointer has established his reputation as an artist who
makes even the most experimental music totally accessible to anyone.
A member of the Cirque du Soleil talent pool, he is an internationally
renowned human beatbox and vocalist.  In his solo show he combines
that with acoustic guitar, cello, piano and stomping to create an
organic wall of sound—truly a one-man orchestra.  While his performance can
be difficult to explain, it is easy to enjoy.  Pointer has performed
in every venue in Austin from Hole in the Wall to Bass Concert Hall,
has made several appearances at SXSW and has won ten Austin Music

But after all the talk, it’s really best to just watch what he does:

The Sunday Salon–more than a beauty parlor?

We didn’t really know what to call this aspect of The Front Porch. For most Texans, salon conjures up an image of the “beauty parlour”, though its primary meaning has more to do with being a place to receive and entertain guests, or a periodic gathering of people who want to educate themselves through good conversation, or a gallery for showing beautiful art.

Actually, beauty parlour might fit, if we can get beyond the curlers and allow our real intent for the 6pm Sunday Salon to shine through: to dwell together in dialogue each Sunday evening with a diverse group of other people in a way that is, well, beautiful.

Truth be known, we want to create the time and space every Sunday at 6pm to give voice to what we think is an intrinsic human desire for…beauty!  It turns out to be very difficult, however, to talk about this without talking about things spiritual and even religious—things like hunger, brokenness, hope, faith, God, light, worship, and love.

We realize these are loaded subjects for many of us, which makes this an inherently risky enterprise.

But we think it’s worth trying to do, if only because we know there are enough folks out there who tire of the violence of the divisive monologue, or grieve the banality of much conventional religious expression, or who simply long, as philosopher David Bentley Hart describes it, for a beauty that “crosses every boundary… and so manifests the God who transcends every division—including that between the transcendent and the immanent” (The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 21).

How we do it remains to be seen. What we know for certain is we can’t do it alone.

So call it what you will: a postmodern worship service, an emergent/alternative Christian faith community, a place to explore the meaning of life with fellow questers, or whatever. We are calling it, for now, The Sunday Salon.