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If The World Had A Front Porch …

September 24, 2009

I was about five-years old, playing in my grandparents’ front yard which happened to be parallel to Highway 411 (about 4 miles north of Benton).  Grandpa always sat on the front porch, smoking his pipe, thinking and sometimes telling stories or talking a philosophy.

On this particular day, unbeknownst to me, he saw a man walking down the highway in front of the house. The man sat down on the side of the road (across the highway). Grandpa  left his porch and went out to the highway to talk to the man.  The next thing I notice is Grandpa and this man walking back to the front porch, and Grandpa saying to Granny, “Fix him up a plate of grits and eggs, Granny.”

My granny did what Grandpa asked, but she griped about it.  She didn’t want to give him anything to eat because she thought Grandpa was creating an opportunity for them to be robbed or killed because this man was black.  I remember it giving me a certain conflicting feeling in my head and heart … even though I was only five years old.

Now there are a grand number of points that I can jump into here regarding prejudice and compassion and helping the needy, but what I really want to address is the value of a front porch.  Taking a line from a popular country song, by Tracy Lawrence:

If the world had a front porch like we did back then
We’d still have our problems but we’d all be friends
Treating your neighbor like he’s your next of kin
Wouldn’t be gone with the wind
If the world had a front porch, like we did back then.

I’d like to offer these thoughts on “front-porchin’!”

Truth of the matter is, that I’m sorely disappointed in the human condition of this world.  When I think back on those days when Grandpa invited a stranger to take lunch on his front porch … without fear or regard to any differences they might have had … I LONG to live in such a trustworthy environment again.

Remember, that I was five-years old in 1968.  In those days, (especially in Polk County), there wasn’t a lot of intermingling of races to share a cup of coffee, much less sit on the front porch located on a major highway.  In fact, if I had been the black man, I would have been more afraid of eating my Granny’s grits than she was of him.  (but you had to know that my Granny was afraid of most everything)

There was a lot of turmoil in our country at that time, right?  The Viet Nam War was in full throws, and there was political upheaval and the Hippie Movement was on the rise.  The “times they were a’changin’.”  One thing that didn’t change much was … Grandpa.  He mostly always sat on the porch, read his Bible and talked about Jesus, and voted (and talked) Republican. He rarely ever got overly concerned about gas prices or health care. .  Most of the time, he didn’t have but a few cents to rub together, spending most of his money on pipe tobacco, coffee and dog food for his 23 foxhounds.  He often walked to town, to sit on the courthouse square or the front porch of the local hardware store to engage in philosophical conversations with friends (and foes).  And he self-medicated for most ALL of his 82 years on this earth.  Every day and every night was about the same thing … get up early, make coffee, sit on the porch, watch the news, sit on the porch and go to bed early (in warm months … that was also “on the porch.”)

In my personal (and recent) discernment of our present human condition, I am prone to think that what this world needs is a “front porch.”   Front porches bring folks together for a variety of reasons.  In fact, it seems like reasons were made to get people to come to the front porch.  Picking guitars and making music … cutting a  watermelon or making home-made ice cream … rocking chairs and swings to enjoy a cold glass of lemonade or sweet tea … telling stories … counting cars that drive past the house … watching a storm across the fields … getting shelter and still enjoying the rain … providing extra eating space when you have more company than table and chairs … escape from the heat of the kitchen … a place to hang your plants … hollerin’ to your neighbor … remembering days gone by … making plans for the future … and ministering to strangers who happen to pass by.

I know that people still long for front porches and the relationships that spawn from them because we can testify to this through the overwhelming usage of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.   We long for a gathering place … we long for a centralized forum to share ideas and engage in intelligent, philosophical and peaceable conversation.  But there is something that a front porch offers that electronic gathering places cannot afford … “looking someone in the eyes.”

You can still engage with people through social media, but you can’t see the their eyes … the windows to their souls.  So, the interaction has this buffer that basically compromises intimacy, transparency and in the end, accountability. 

Let’s consider this through the example of my Grandpa and the stranger walking down the road.  Rather than inviting the man to take a rest and some lunch on his front porch, my Grandpa could have had Granny throw him a peanut butter sandwich in a sack and five him a Mason jar of ice water and sent him on his way.  He would have still be ministering to the man … and certainly, Granny would have felt safer. (she would have still probably griped about it though)

By inviting the man to his front porch, he was able to look into the man’s eyes.  I know they engaged in conversation, but at five-years old, I was oblivious to the content. Perhaps they talked about the weather, his intended destination or how good the grits were.  They may have even talked about politics, the war, the Hippies or the need for public transportation so a man could get from Etowah to Cleveland.  What they may have most oblivious to was the five-year old hanging around on the fringes of this interaction taking note that it IS possible for people of different backgrounds, philosophies and race to sit on the porch and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Facebook has a purpose and fulfills it to a great degree. But, electronic hugs, high fives and flairs of love, peace and well wishes cannot even begin to compare to the effectiveness and awesome impact of a front porch visit that engages in eye to eye contact, hearty laughter, heart-felt tears, a pat on the back, hand-shake or even a loving embrace when it is time for friends, neighbors acquaintances and passers-by to go on their way.

Yep, what the world needs is a Front Porch.

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