Monday, January 6th

Good morning, campers. Hope everyone is staying warm on this frigid first Monday of 2014. Fortunately, the Front Porch has some upcoming events to warm you right up. To start off, Austin’s own Nelo performs at Actually Unplugged on Thursday, January 16th. This will be one of their last shows before they release their new, self-titled album. Then, we’ll be rebooting Parable on Sunday, January 19th. Swing by Opal Divine’s on South Congress for some bluegrass, an hour-long worship service, and maybe a couple of beers. If you’re looking for someone to talk to on any other Sunday evening, though, swing by anyways. Steve will be holding court and talking Front Porch stuff every Sunday at Opal Divine’s at 5:30, and he’d love to see you.

It’s also the birthday of Khalil Gibran, who would be one hundred and thirty one years old today. The man from Bsharri, Lebanon, would go on to become the third-bestselling poet of all time, after Shakespeare and Laozi. A true citizen of the world, he said, “The whole earth is my homeland and all men are my fellow countrymen.”

Monday, December 16

Happy Monday, Front Porchers, and happy birthdays to Ludwig van Beethoven, Jane Austen, George Santayana, Wassily Kandinsky, Noël Coward, Margaret Mead, Philip K. Dick, Billy Gibbons, and Bill Hicks (whew). If you can imagine a more diverse group of artists and thinkers, let us know who’s in it. In celebration of these titans of their respective fields, the Front Porch is going to empty out during the holiday season. We’ll be back on January 5th at All Saints’ with our annual Epiphany program, which will start with a eucharist service and finish with a celebration of community and light. We’ll also be bringing back Parable and Actually Unplugged, so keep an eye on this space for more updates.

Monday, December 9th

Hello, everybody. We hope that you, like us, have finally finished digesting Thanksgiving dinner. If you have, we’ve got some events coming up for you to celebrate your newfound liveliness. This Thursday, it’s a special holiday edition of Actually Unplugged, featuring Will Taylor and Karen Mal. And just three days later (that’s Sunday), acoustic hip hop artist, activist, and speaker SaulPaul will lead us at Parable.

In what seems a fittingly seasonable anniversary, it was on this day in 1531 that the Virgin of Guadalupe first appeared to Juan Diego at Tepeyac. I’ve always loved this story: the nervous everyman hero, the dismissive power structure, the synthesis of pagan and Christian mythology. Despite her enshrinement as the New World’s most beloved icon, it’s fitting to remember that the Lady of Guadalupe arose from the ruined temple of the Mesoamerican goddess Tonantzin. Even in the horrific conditions of conquest and colonialism of seventeenth-century Mexico, the confluence of two cultures, two faiths, resulted in the creation of this most holy figure. It’s this confluence of drastically different viewpoints that we try to facilitate here on the Porch, because it’s in this confluence that a multitude of beliefs can be woven together into a single, radiant beauty.

Monday, December 2

Welcome back from Thanksgiving, everybody. Hope that everyone had a good beginning to the holiday season. We’re kicking December off with a Wednesday night gathering at All Saints’ to keep on talking about the Rt. Rev. John Spong’s recent lectures. Come by at 6:30; we have pizza and beer. We’re also moving Actually Unplugged (featuring Will Taylor and some of his talented friends doing some holiday standards) and Parable (featuring the prodigiously gifted and versatile SeanPaul) up a week, to Thursday, December 12, and Sunday, December 15, respectively.

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.