The first time I ever heard the concept of a Third Place was from Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, talking about the concept and how Starbucks sells more than coffee but rather they are a gathering place. Since then this has become a very important concept for me and especially in my days as a full time vocational minister I talked about it since the church is one of those Third Places for people. Experiencing the reality of these spaces made me accept the concept wholeheartedly, until now.
The concept, according to Wikipedia, comes from The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991), the third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. The idea was popularized by Robert Putnam as he addressed issues related to third space in Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital (1995, 2000). For me the concept is simple people have places that are neither their home or work where to gather and experience life together, these places hold great importance in shaping who we are as people and what influences we allow into our lives.
In Matthew 8, a scribe wants to follow Jesus but she approaches in an interesting manner, she says he wants to follow him where ever he goes. Basically inviting himself into any place (first, second, or third) that Jesus would have her. In short she is inviting herself over:
"18 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” -Matthew 8:18-22
It is no surprise to me that this would not be a natural concept to us, as we seek to control and understand. Part of that is we segment ourselves into manageable unconnected parts which then dehumanizes our experience of life. We have our Third Place, where we chose an aesthetic that fits us and invite influencing factors and people to our liking. These can be very challenging or in line with everything we already believe, either way it is ours and in control. Our second places pay the bills. So many people are unsatisfied with their work and see it as a necessary evil. This entirely denies the Creation Mandate from Gen. 1:28, where God clearly tells us work is from him and part of his wonderful plan. Obvious to me from how many people I know unsatisfied with their work, is that it has been corrupted. Even some very basic studies point to the relationship between our places,
"Results suggested that relationships between work and family can have an important effect on job and life satisfaction and that the level of involvement the worker assigns to work and family roles is associated with this relationship. " - Relationships of job and family involvement, family social support, and work–family conflict with job and life satisfaction. Adams, Gary A.; King, Lynda A.; King, Daniel W.
The segmentation of these places in our lives is one problem but not the only one. Our First Places, our homes, have become the cornerstone of our self serving, consumer driven society. From who we marry, how many kids we have, to our house and how we decorate it, the dominate and sometime only factor in decision making is our personal need for comfort. We get the right house, in the right neighborhood, with the right school, and the right duvet cover. Far from Jesus saying, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Continuing to live in this manner will lead to a dangerous place where the entire concept of hospitality is lost. This is devastating to the fabric of society as we see in the stories of the civil war in Israel in Judges 19 and of Sodom and Gomorrah from Genesis 19.
I have found myself with a growing calling that I am just now being able to articulate is in this area. There is a growing desire for me to have all the places of my life open and accessible. Initially this meant that we have more people over for dinner, but that grew into having a housemate (mind you we have three bedrooms and five people in my family alone). Now I am recognizing it means so much more, and will be extremely costly and creative.
Just last weekend I attending a Kindlings Hearth Event, where 10 artists are invited to spending the weekend together talking about art and faith. One of the requirements of the time is to bring a current work to discuss. This was initially a challenge for me because I'm not a full time vocational artist, but rather a business person and longing creative. Therefore I knew I would talk about my writing, web design, and spiritual and social engagement activities but wasn't sure what my current work would be. And then after prayer and thought I dropped this picture of our house on to a screen for the group. The housemate and the dinners are good, but there is so much more that we are being called to. Phase one of rearranging our "place" is to take the double garage on the left hand of the picture and build in art studios that will be available for artist we know to work out of. Already we have one amazing wonderful young artist engage us and is willing to help, as well as a great friend who has owned a contracting company for years. Though the work won't end there, there are visions for the entire space...including expanded use for the garden in the back! Some refer to the vision as a salon, which I'm growing in appreciation for, but am still not fully embracing that term, though the concept is dead on.
God is making me a whole person from the fragmented shatters that I have segmented and tried to control my entire life. He is molding me to become fully human. To paraphrase the art historian Hans Rookmaaker, “Christ did not come to make us Christians; he came to make us human beings.” My hope is that this will be reflected in the priority of my First Place.