Many times when Danville speaker/author Philip Gulley teams up with Columbus folk singer Tim Grimm, the two are revving their way as longtime friends through the Indiana backroads. Gulley’s astride his Kawasaki 650 and Grimm is aboard his Royal Enfield Himalayan, gloriously against the wind.
“I’m kind of a motorcycle addict,” said the 60-year-old Gulley.
The Danville resident and well-known national best-selling author and essayist will steer his perspective toward the Columbus Learning Center and the Granny Connection’s “Story and Song” fundraiser Nov. 6. Gulley will be storytelling in down-home fashion about the miraculous impact of grandmothers and Grimm and wife Jan Lucas-Grimm will add their music to the mix.
Gulley chuckled when asked if his planned story is fiction or nonfiction.
“I never reveal that,” he said. “I could say that it possibly could happen. One never really knows. Just because something isn’t necessarily completely factual doesn’t mean it’s not ultimately true.”
The Quaker pastor with a homespun warmth and fearless opinions — “I tend to say exactly what I think” — believes that storytelling ideally is every bit as significant today to shaping roots and tradition as ever, whether people readily embrace it or not.
“Actually, I think it matters even more these days,” Gulley said. “I think that one of the things we’ve lost in this current culture is an appropriate appreciation for the cultural stories that form who we really are. I don’t think we even know how to be unless we’re influenced and shaped by our stories.
“And when we forget the stories, ignore the stories or don’t value the stories, we’re not too far from completely forgetting who we are.”
The Granny Connection founder Ann Jones loves Gulley’s writing and had read all of his nonfiction, including his latest release, “Unlearning God.”
“He is both very poignant and very funny,” Jones said. “That’s quite a combination. And I love his authenticity.”
The Granny Connection is dedicated to providing support, advocacy and funding to grandmothers in Africa who are raising children orphaned by AIDS.
Gulley has spent most of his career of public writing, speaking and preaching emphasizing the value of stories — and trading them with others in everyday life amid porches and other areas. Front porches and the figurative door they open to fellowship remain a constant in Gulley’s discussions. Those discussions include the frequent lack of front porches in home design today while people lounge on modern back decks hidden from neighbors by privacy fences.
“There once was a real architectural decision and trend (of excluding porches post World War II) that had a cultural impact that we just did not anticipate,” he said.
Gulley frequently sounds like part sociologist, part sentimental, Norman Rockwell-style apologist. Yet, he is an acknowledged realist. He speaks of the importance today of building a sense of community amid what he sees partly as an atmosphere of separateness.
“In the past, that (community) happened naturally,” he said, referring to community service and volunteerism, worship attendance and more. “That sense was not only because of the presence of some things, but also the absence of some other things.
“I think that if we get this sense of community back, we’ll have to be intentional about it in ways that we recently have not been. And this is tricky, because those things that build a sense of community are waning right now. And these waning things served a very important function unwittingly in our culture. And we’re going to have to find ways to replace them.”