a university of porches

As the school year approaches, we’ve had several college students with us this week, either for dinner or spending the night.

Last night there were six of them sitting on our front porch after supper, sipping tea and talking about things that matter. I like that about our front porch. And I like that about tea. They both encourage meaningful conversation.

Ashley asked me to tell them a story, so I talked about being sixteen, having and raising expectations. It was a simple story about being in love and hurting each other.

As she went to bed Ashley told me she wished college could be more like our front porch.

I do too.

At some level hospitality is not shortbread and cookies but a banquet of stories and ideas. And such hospitality should be the measure of any teacher in any college, or any elder in any church for that matter.

Intellectual hospitality in particular creates a space where questions are welcomed, truths are discovered, and beauty is beheld. I think it can happen in a classroom, but only in one that feels like a front porch.

Our front porch is a metaphor for this kind of interaction, I think. It certainly is over at the Front Porch Republic, a group blog whose foundational essay describes what happened when we quit building porches and started building patios, abandoning that civic space where we are both present with and accountable to our neighbors.

A porch, in this sense, is an important space where sensitivity and transparency can flourish. And it is rare space, given our obsessions with ourselves and our technologies. It is in fact sacred space, where we occasionally glimpse in each other the image of God.

There are reasons why college is not like this, given our uniquely American obsessions with time and assessment and productivity. And it is impossible where a doctrine of tolerance betrays critical inquiry and political correctness limits conversation. But every college should have a front porch, a place where students can actually learn something.

Such learning has little to do with our memory and everything to do with our imagination, opening us up to possibilities of our future by rooting us in our past and grounding us in our virtues. We can see clearly in such a space, where we are vulnerable and accessible, bringing knowledge to bear on our experience and compassion to bear on our prejudices.

There are no grades at the university of the front porch, but there are tests—tests of wisdom, of courage and of faith. Finding the truth requires risks we might never take in school. And questions we might never ask.

This takes more than a pot of tea, of course. It takes time. It takes a generosity of spirit and a passion for significance.

Teachers can create this. And students can thrive on it.

Discipleship is just a kind of hospitality after all.

5 thoughts on “a university of porches

  1. Thank you Wally for this thought and action provoking post. I value the electronic extesion of your porch and miss your real porch.

  2. This beautiful post evoked a hearty “Amen” from me! A kitchen works too as a conduit of “intellectual hospitality” (love this term :oD). My husband & I don’t have a porch, but in these empty nest years we’ve boarded several students from nearby Gordon College. Lots of those impromptu front-porch-style conversations have enriched our long-term guests as you have described, just as they did for our own children.

    Kudos Dr. Metts!

    Linda

  3. Mr. Metts, this is so delightful. I don’t think another word could describe it, except delightful. I especially enjoyed “rooting us in our past and grounding us in our virtues,” since time spend talking on a front porch is this. Exploring ideas and questions and one another. My dad tells me of times in his childhood when his grandparents would simply tell stories to the younger generations and the children would ask questions, and there was passed on so many good and important lessons. These moments in college life are what make it truly good. If SAU were front porch university, there would be no problem retaining freshman. 🙂

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