Monday, March 3rd

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Amplify Austin_UFCU_LogoHappy Monday, Front Porchers, and Happy Texas Independence Day. We’ve got quite a month lined up for you. On Thursday the 13th, we’re hosting a special SXSW edition of Actually Unplugged. On Friday the 14th, we’ll begin our weekly Lenten series Stories of Redemption, in which a prominent community member will tell a true story about losing and finding important things. Our first storyteller will be Jared Dunten. Then, Parable picks back up on Sunday the 16th; we’ve got a surprise guest lined up, and maybe, if you keep an eye on this space, we’ll even let you know who. On Thursday the 20th, Actually Unplugged will resume its normal course, this time with the almost unfairly talented Darden Smith. Stories of Redemption picks back up on Friday the 21st with Paul Reed, then again on Friday the 28th with Jesse Sublett, and on into April with Bill Wigmore on Friday the 4th before concluding on Friday the 11th with Angie Cross. We’ve also got a major fundraising drive at the end of the month through Amplify Austin, so stay posted for more information on that as well.

It seems fitting, on this one hundred and seventy-eighth anniversary of Texas’ declaration of independence from Mexico, to remember that a conflict of independence doesn’t lead to freedom for everyone. After all, Texas (and the United States) maintained sizable slave populations. Rebellions and petty wars continued well into nationhood, and it was people at the bottom and on the edges who bore the brunt of the suffering. Even now, Syria is undergoing the largest displacement of people since the Holocaust. Ukraine has exploded in violence, and Venezuela simmers, ripe to follow suit. While the focus will be on the leaders of the various factions in those states, take a moment to think not just of the fighters, the commanders and the ideologues, but also the people trapped in their homes by the fighting. Think of the confused, the unsure, the unbrave, who live under death’s wings,  meaningful life and work out of reach until forces beyond their control allow. Regardless of political persuasion, these are the casualties of independence.

Monday, January 27th

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Happy Monday, everyone. It looks like a nice, quiet week here on the Front Porch, so pull up a chair and pour yourself some lemonade. Next week, though, we’ve got Sam Baker coming to play Actually Unplugged. Such an intimate performance, with songs about such light topics as pain, faith, and redemption, make for a perfect Valentine’s date night. The week after next, Ray Benson will join us at Parable.

 

It’s also the the anniversary of the death of Isaak Babel, the great Russian and Jewish writer  killed in Stalin’s Great Purge for criticizing of the Communist Party. Babel’s particular genius is the dignity he grants various characters: Cossacks, Jews, high-ranking political officials, peasants. It was this unflinching gaze into the Other that drew the ire of the Party elite. As a prose stylist, as a storyteller, and as a proponent of the fractured nature of life, Isaak Babel is an inspiration to the Front Porch’s mission of treating all perspectives with dignity.

Monday, January 20th

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Happy Monday, Front Porchers, and happy MLK Day. Thanks to everyone who came out for Actually Unplugged and Parable last week. We sure enjoyed them, and hope you did too. Now we’re gearing up for the next month’s Actually Unplugged and Parable. The former is set for Thursday, February 13, and will feature Sam Baker, whose hard-hitting songs about life, death, and faith should set the mood perfectly for the evening before Valentine’s Day. Parable will keep on rolling as well.

The impact and power of Dr. King will be explained and discussed elsewhere, by those far more qualified than I. However, today is also the eighty-ninth birthday Ernesto Cardenal, who deserves recognition as well. Throughout a varied life, Father Cardenal has fought in a violent revolution, studied under Thomas Merton, joined the Sandinistas, founded an aesthetic community, held a cabinet position, been publicly rebuked by a Pope, and nominated for a Nobel Prize in poetry. For more than half a century, he has called for a reassessment of the violence and corruption so entrenched in Nicaraguan politics. It seems fitting that his birthday fall on MLK Day, as it allows us to honor all of those who have fought against the evils of discrimination in all its ugly forms.

Monday, January 6th

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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 9th

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Monday, October 21st

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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.

Monday, October 14th

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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