It is not good for man to be alone…

I’m hoping at least one person read that title and expected this to be a post about my mail order bride.

Alas, it’s not.

I’ve been slowly reading Ray Oldenburg’s book The Great Good Place and even in the beginning chapters it’s had me thinking. In it, he talks at great length about the concept of the “third place”, that place that isn’t home or work where people can gather and enjoy each other. In fact, the subtitle of the book (Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community) lists a few great examples of where these third places can exist but even in 1989 when the book was published he was pointing out how the third place usage of these locations was in decline in favor of the home. People were building bigger houses, with big fenced in yards in homogeneous gated communities where nobody knew their neighbors and everyone was spending more time cooped up and distracted in their homes.

Fast forward 25 years (ouch. that hurt.) and it seems like we’re still confused and struggling with this concept. We know we crave community and fellowship with other humans but we keep coming up with more and more artificially enhanced ways to do it. We have a myriad of social networks but no idea how to talk to strangers in a bar.

This point was driven home for me this past weekend as I took a brief retreat to the shore for a night. When you’re in a strange town by yourself, meal times are always interesting. Each time I’ve eaten out by myself I’ve had strangers strike up conversations with me, whether it was the retired teacher grandparents sitting next to me at a bar in Lancaster or the three generations of Latina women at the next table in a Cuban restaurant or  the dudebros drinking cheep beer next to me on the boardwalk. People from all walks and stations of life able to strike up a conversation simply because the place they were in allowed it. Each time it happens it always surprises me and shocks me out of my introverted shell but each time it ends up being enjoyable and becoming part of a distinct memory of the place.

So what? I guess I’m just thinking more and more about how important intentional community is. And not just the “hey we’re all friends here” stuff but the talking to strangers and being social and having a place to fit in and feel comfortable. For a long time I would jokingly insist that Cheers was a perfect model for the local church but I’m starting to think that it wasn’t so crazy after all.

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