Your Third Place

October 11, 2018 Justin Peter Gudel

“Whatever was just said or the actions that were displayed in public, I’d generally speak up in reassurance, saying, “It’s fine.  I’m extremely slow to take offense.'”

 

The Great Good Place posits that third places are, “where people can gather, put aside the concerns of work and home, and hang out simply for the pleasures of good company and lively conversation.”  They are the heart of a community’s social vitality and the grassroots of democracy.

I’m looking at a copy of Ray Oldenburg’s book, The Great Good Place.  Ray was a sociologist and perhaps the man that popularized the idea of the third space in daily living.  The short explanation is that your third space — third spaces plural for some of us — is the space for you spend your time at between or away from your first (home) and second (work) spaces.  

Easy examples would include your local coffee shop, your church, skate park, or perhaps even a gym.  Important aspects of this space include: it’s affordable, close in distance to either your first or second space (again that is your home and work), and that it’s laid back.  It’s also where you go to socialize.

You might know that you’ve got that space when your barista asks you if you want the usual.  For me, it’s when I step into my early morning writing spot, a Starbucks located three miles from my house that is open at 4:30 AM.  

On the two/three days a week that I make it through their doors, I typically hear, “Morning Justin.”  

I haven’t made my way through the entirety of Ray’s The Great Good Place, but I love his passion for why these spaces in our lives are important.  It fulfills a need.

Humans are communal and need to be able to interact with people.  As the society and communities have changed, we found that the past models no longer work the way they once did.  People no longer open their homes with the frequency that they once did. For many of us, home is where we now isolate ourselves from the world.  It’s where we walk around in our underwear.

The social media outlets have tried creating similar spaces on the internet, but they don’t hold the same weight.

Oldenburg goes further to suggest that these laid-back locations allow for conversations about politics.  The French revolution started in salons. The American revolution began in local pubs and public houses. A third place needs to be a place where ideas can be shared and aired out — and generally without fear of reprisal.

Third places also help to cement the community.  Cluster several local spaces together and those several blocks of streets become concerned with each other and grow into a place we want to live.

 

THE SPIRITUAL FLIP

 

At one point in time, it was common for Americans to have their church as their third place.  It’s where they’d spend their time when they weren’t home or at work. There’d be dinners on the campus.  People would host gatherings or concerts on the lawns. There would be games for the children. It’s where I was introduced to the life-changing concept of the potluck.  

Just like diminishing church attendance, many of us have stopped cultivating our third place.

This has diminished our connection with others, especially when it comes to meeting new people.  This is a particularly troubling problem if you’re a DIY Christian.

Where else are you going to have a chance to have a prolonged discussion with someone from a different background, let alone be in a space where you can share your faith in a laid-back manner.  No one wants that guy on the street corner shouting over a blow horn, “You’re sinners. Repent!”

Yet over a beverage at our coffee roastery, Sophia, an atheist member of my writer’s group ask’s, “What do people mean when they say that they felt God was telling them to do something?”  She asked the question with genuine curiosity. And her innocent inquiry cracks open the door for an earnest conversation about God, that wasn’t preachy.

Over the past five years, I’ve noticed that the Holy Spirit opens doors to witness, we don’t have to force them to happen.  

The church over complicates evangelism.  It’s my belief that perhaps the easiest tool for sharing is being in a place long enough, that those around you acknowledge you as part of the group.  

When that happens, make sure that you’re not hiding who you really are, a child of God.  

I was part of a gaming community for two years.  During that time it was incredibly common for those in the group to introduce me to others as, “This is Justin, he’s a pastor.”  [Side note, I was a youth minister. But in their eyes that meant pastor.]

It was a very regular occurrence to hear, “I can’t believe that you said that in front of a pastor.”

Ha!

Whatever was just said or the actions that were displayed in public, I’d generally speak up in reassurance, saying, “It’s fine.  I’m extremely slow to take offense.”

And that’s how I stumbled into an interesting equation.  A + B + C = D.

  1. A) Have a regular space where you rub shoulders with people from different backgrounds.  
  2. B) Never hide the fact that you’re a Christian, but do so humbly and without agenda.  That is, be yourself.
  3. C) Invest the social capital that will allow you into their lives, even if it’s just at your coffee shop or gym.  
  4. D) The Holy Spirit will give you organic opportunities to share.  

The big take away from this approach?  Evangelism doesn’t need to be complicated or scary.  Always be genuine and yourself. If you’re there to be anything other than yourself and part of that community, people will know it.  Let God do the heavy lifting.

When I was part of that gamer community, I had so many people come up to me and share their stories.  Some of them just realized I was a safe person to vent to. Others asked me to pray for them.

All of this happened because I was playing board games and card games with a group of people where the demographic swung largely towards the dechurched.  

God did the rest.

Boys and Girls of America, let’s have a full life together.

J