Monday, November 25

Happy Thanksgiving week, everybody. We’ve got a lot to be thankful for here on the Front Porch. We’re very thankful that Actually Unplugged, starring a falcon-like “Truck Month,” was so successful. We’re glad that everyone made it out for such an amazing concert by such a unique and mysterious band.

In my family, Thanksgiving is the Front Porchiest time of the year. We all come together from various sides of the geographic, political, and cultural spectrum, and sit around several tables to talk, laugh, and eat (sometimes to the point of being wheelbarrowed away from the table). We can talk about these differences in a way that we frequently can’t for the rest of the year. This open, safe, and trusting dialogue is, to me, what the Front Porch is all about. It’s what I’m most thankful for.

Monday, November 18

boulevard_du_templeHowdy, Front Porchers. We hope yall are ready for Thursday’s Actually Unplugged with, erm, Truck Month, one of Austin’s premier smoke-and-mirrors musical outfits. We’re also partnering All Saints’ for the Bailey Lecture series this weekend. The Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, an acclaimed thinker and writer, will be speaking on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday about his newest book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.

It’s also the two hundred and twenty-sixth birthday of Louis Daguerre, who took the first picture of a human. His 1838 photograph “Boulevard du Temple” shows a shadowy man in the background having his shoes shined. Since Daguerre’s camera required about ten minutes to capture an image, this dirty-shoed person is the only one standing still for long enough to appear in the frame.

This is what the Front Porch’s mission is: to slow down the world long enough to see another human being; to really look at and see, however vaguely, those things which surround us every day and that we still miss because we and everything else are moving so fast. Take some time today to check out some of your own old photos in celebration of old Louis Daguerre, and see what’s there, either in the picture itself or in those memories it brings you.

Why I Do the Front Porch

hieronymus_bosch_hal-hefner_gates_heavy-metal-6Some people ask me why I, Stephen Kinney, do the Front Porch and why, as an Episcopalian minister, I’m not serving in the church the way I used to do. They ask, what has changed?

A lot has changed! The path of Jesus inspires as never before, but it has also taken me into the Land of Unlikeness where, as the poet W.H. Auden famously put it, “You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.”

I think I’m still serving the church actually, for the church ideally images the kingdom of God, i.e., practicing the art of loving and living well together in difference. In practice, the church has to negotiate many constraints put upon it, including its tradition, symbols, language, and cultural ties. While these can be good things, they can also prevent the church from being as agile, nimble, and open as it needs to be in our fast-changing, multi-cultural, and oft-divided world. In such a world, the church can’t always ensure that the voice of the other is honored, appreciated, and given a place at the table. The church needs more agile partners!

In a nutshell, I do the Front Porch because I really believe that people of all stripes, shapes, and sizes deserve love and acceptance. This may sound pretty basic, but when we realize how many people there are who cannot or will not accept the perspective of the other, then what the Front Porch strives to do turns out to be more radical than at first glance.

In a political world where opposing sides acquire power by scapegoating a stereotyped other (in which neither side can admit that the perspective of the other has something important and worthwhile to hear and learn from), we need the Front Porch. I get up each morning and work so hard on the Front Porch because I want people to know they matter. The Front Porch exists to communicate that every human being’s perspective matters. Every perspective matters.

I’m not saying that I always like what others think, believe, or do—especially not when it leads to fear of the other or violence against the stranger. I’m just saying that what others think or believe matters to me and is no less important because it’s different. Every person who walks onto the Front Porch has something to teach, and we all suffer if we don’t get the chance to hear it.

Monday, October 28th

Hello, Front Porchers, and happy one hundred and twenty-seventh birthday to the Statue of Liberty. On a similarly grand scale, we want to invite everyone to another big anniversary: to celebrate hip-hop’s big fortieth birthday, we’re teaming up with Flow Story and the Victory Grill, among others, to produce A Loud Silence. While a celebration of forty years of hip-hop may not be the standard fare for some Front Porchers, we encourage everybody to head out for an evening that will get your bodies and minds moving.

Monday, October 21st

Another Monday, another round of news on the Front Porch. This upcoming Sunday will mark the launch of Parable, our monthly (to start with) gospel brunch and discussion group at the Austin Ale House. You should check it out. We could say the same about A Loud Silence, an event we are co-producing with Flow Story at the Victory Grill. It’s going to be a celebration of forty years of hip hop, featuring classic songs, conversations about the ever-changing impact and role of hip hop in the community, and performances by some of Austin’s biggest stars. Speaking of Austin’s biggest stars, start making space on your calendar for the next Actually Unplugged, featuring the prodigiously gifted Mother Falcon. Yeah, we’re staying busy here.

Part of what’s keeping us so busy is partnering, which seems to go against the contemporary cultural and political climate. There’s a push, it seems, for self-reliance. Dependency is looked on as a weakness. Searching outside of oneself or one’s small group of like-minded allies is a no-no. The proliferation of superhero movies, starring an entirely self-reliant person, or the recent political brinksmanship, allowed to happen because our officials are too uncomfortable to see themselves be linked even slightly with “the other side,” demonstrate the urge to separate self from other, to fortify and defend against anyone and anything that smacks of a collective.

The Front Porch is going the opposite direction. We’re thrilled to work with the Austin Ale House, the Victory Grill, Flow Stories, All Saints, and the Live Music Capital Foundation, among others, to keep the ball rolling. We think that’s what the world needs: more unlikely partnerships, more surprising combinations. That’s where the creativity really happens.

The Endless Quest: on religious dissatisfaction and wide-open spiritual seeking

endless quest blog picFront Porch aficionados are, if anything, seekers, endless seekers. That doesn’t mean being weak-willed, indecisive, or unable to commit. Quite the contrary. It means being attentively, thoughtfully, courageously in touch with the way thing are, the way things move and change, hopefully deepening and gaining in wisdom, endlessly. That’s just the way things seem to work in the human condition, unless one inauthentically tries to freeze the process or just gives up on the search.

 

One of the 20th century’s most distinguished philosophers Alasdair MacIntyre described this kind of seeking as a “quest.” It is a quest that is, “not at all a search for something already adequately characterized…but always an education both as to the character of that which is sought and in self-knowledge.”

 

Here is a particularly rich example of such a quest, I think, from Joe Klein, a well-known columnist and author. Currently, he writes a weekly column in Time magazine. He is a real favorite of mine, and I try not to miss any of his commentary. Klein has read widely and deeply in social and political theory. Recently he authored a Time cover story on the response of citizens and various organizations and churches to natural disasters in the US. He commented on the remarkable extent to which it seemed that religious organizations and people predominated in coming to the aid of devastated communities.

 

Apparently that elicited lots of protest from readers who insisted that plenty of non-religious or secular individuals were just as sensitive to human suffering and just as altruistic as religious folk. Of course, they’re right. But Klein still felt that his observations were correct, and that set him to thinking about what it all meant. In response, he wrote the following entry on the Time “Swampland” blog. I found it to be a fascinating example of questing or seeking in our postmodern times, marked by enormous dissatisfaction with established churches and religious dogma and yet a great deal of wide-open spiritual seeking.

Monday, October 14th

ruby jane as girlGreetings, Front Porchers. While preparing for Ruby Jane to play Actually Unplugged–Thursday at 8:00 in the All Saints’ sanctuary–we’ve been thinking a lot about talent. Ruby Jane’s incredible ability was recognized when she was only four years old, which is obviously exceptional compared to most of us (at that age, I had difficulty in selecting outfits for myself which didn’t involve capes), but  even for those of us who aren’t prodigies, to what do we attribute talent?

Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the idea of the ten thousand hours required for expertise in any field, but that seems unlikely when applied to a four-year-old. Savants, young and old, can be found throughout history, from the toddler virtuoso Mozart to septuagenarian painting master Grandma Moses. How do we explain these phenomenal individuals, who possess abilities incommensurate with their experience? Are they granted their mastery by some divine agency? Are they born with a unique combination of genes that allows them to pick up a skill faster than seems possible?  Are they shaped by minute pressures, too small to measure, from their environments? Are they just lucky? Is it some combination of these things or something else?

We don’t have the answer here on the Front Porch. All we can do is talk about it with each other, maybe inching closer to a truth, and be thankful that these marvelous and unlikely people are around.ruby jane older

Monday, October 7th

Happy Monday, everybody. We’ve got a few things coming up that we’d like you to know about. We’re going to be wrapping up our Elephant in the Room series on Apocalypse at 7:00 on Wednesday in the All Saints’ parish hall with a showing of Fresh, a documentary about the struggles of small agriculture in the modern world, and a discussion afterwards. And don’t forget that next week, Actually Unplugged returns to All Saints’ with Ruby Jane.

On a more somber note, it was twenty-three years ago today that Matthew Shepard was attacked and beaten in Laramie, Wyoming, leading to his death six days later. The growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the years since shows that we, as a society, are progressing, but that we have to travel a great distance yet to be a community that humbly accepts all its members, regardless of their differences. As this acceptance is one of the core values of the Front Porch, we ask that you remember the importance of dialogue, especially with people you disagree with, and that you keep on talking with one another and with us; it’s the only way we can make this crazy world work.

Monday, October 7th

Happy Monday, everybody. We’ve got a few things coming up that we’d like you to know about. We’re going to be wrapping up our Elephant in the Room series on Apocalypse at 7:00 on Wednesday in the All Saints’ parish hall with a showing of Fresh, a documentary about the struggles of small agriculture in the modern world, and a discussion afterwards. And don’t forget that next week, Actually Unplugged returns to All Saints’ with Ruby Jane.

On a more somber note, it was twenty-three years ago today that Matthew Shepard was attacked and beaten in Laramie, Wyoming, leading to his death six days later. The growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the years since shows that we, as a society, are progressing, but that we have to travel a great distance yet to be a community that humbly accepts all its members, regardless of their differences. As this acceptance is one of the core values of the Front Porch, we ask that you remember the importance of dialogue, especially with people you disagree with, and that you keep on talking with one another and with us; it’s the only way we can make this crazy world work.

APOCALYPSE 2: October 2

elephant in room logoEvery day, more people claim to see evidence that the end times are upon us. Doomsday preppers readying survival shelters and gear in anticipation of a violent and large-scale overthrow of society; discoveries about the nature of things, on galactic and subatomic scales, only reaffirm our frailty; a surge in interest in zombies and the supernatural indicates that we, as a culture, are anxious. It’s enough to make anyone look for answers.

The Apocalypse series will draw these anxieties into the open and engage them through intelligent discussion with a panel of experts whose areas of knowledge range from the Book of Revelation to the fall of the great empires past to the great environmental uncertainties to come. Join us in listening and talking about what this obsession with the apocalypse means and help us engage it and harness its force into something creative and sustainable. These discussions take place at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 7-9pm

The second event of this series is scheduled this Wednesday, October 2nd, and will feature Dr. Samuel J. Wilson and KUT’s Ben Philpott conversing about the fall of a major civilization, and talking about the conditions and results for that fall pertinent to the contemporary political climate.