Third Place

The Third Place and Home


I got home this week.

It’s odd, really, because I’ve also been home all month. I’ve been home in our condo in Lexington, or on the lake in New Hampshire where I’ve spent nearly every summer of my life. I breathe in the fresh air of those places and my inner sense of being profoundly at home is magnified.

And then I arrive back in Palm Beach Gardens, my own home, my real home.

I love the process of wandering through my rooms to see the bits and pieces of my life. I enjoy seeing what has changed (lots of people in and out of our home, even when we are gone!) and what has stayed the same. I smell the scent of the air, which is a limited-time opportunity because I know my nose will habituate in an hour or so. And then — if schedule permits — I leave.

Because part of my home is the Third Place, the places in my community that feel like home to me.

Contrary to popular opinion, Starbucks is not my first stop. Whole Foods is. If I can cook a meal and know there are good things to eat in my kitchen, my little universe is set right on its axis. And then comes Starbucks. Yesterday David and I sat here in my preferred corner of Sbux and watched the regulars float in and out. I was particularly struck with the sense of community yesterday. We were greeted like old friends by staff and customers alike, and then we learned that a barista’s father had passed away suddenly. There were sympathy cards to sign, and the story to repeat. Everyone had time to hear the story and send good wishes to the grieving barista, who is due back at work today. She misses her support system, and working behind the counter is where she wants to be.

A few minutes later I was listening to a businesses woman who regularly sits in the chair next to the best electrical outlet talk to one of the more eccentric men who wanders in and out. He hums as he walks, almost involuntarily, and repeats every sentence at least twice. Conversations with him take awhile, but she was enjoying time away from her cell phone and computer.

“My baby girl, my baby girl, that’s her right there,” he said, pointing at a car pulling up outside.

“She’s your girl? I know her!” business woman says. “Hey,” she continues, poking another regular who uses headphones seemingly to drown out conversations like this one. “Hey, you know that mom with the kids that come in here all the time? She’s his daughter!” The two of them remarked over this for a few minutes, to the joy of the proud papa.

“She is all I have left in the world,” he said. He went on to describe how his wife of 38 years had died a year or two ago in a horrible, quick death. He sat and mumbled “Unbelievable” ten or fifteen times while the two regulars said how sorry they were, but how much they always enjoyed his grandchildren when they were in the store. He brightened again, and stood up to hug his daughter.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about Third Places in the community, and the need for the missional-minded among us to be out and about in the community. Yesterday I realized that “out and about” can also feel a lot like being at home. And at least for a few minutes, this Third Place felt as if it were functioning an awful lot like the body of Christ, rejoicing and comforting and being there for life’s journey.

Even if it’s only for a short time, it sure felt good to be home.

What makes a city?


I am doing a little thinking today about the cities we live in. You know that PLACE is so important to me. Imagine my delight when Buddy Hoffman suggested I read “Sidewalks in the Kingdom” by Eric O Jacobsen. I haven’t gotten past the introduction yet and he’s already speaking my language. So just for an appetizer, look at this list of characteristics of what it means to be a city.

  • Shared public spaces
  • Mixed-use spaces
  • Non-essential beauty and artistry in the local buildings
  • A local economy
  • Presence of strangers
  • Connections through the critical mass of people

In other words, our cities and towns need to have their own identity, that quirkiness that makes one place more interesting than another. And if I’m reading the promise of this book correctly, it’s going to begin to develop a theology of how Christians can impact that process and work within the PLACE God has given them. Sounds like a fun read!

Third Places: Why “MY bookstore cafe nourishes me


Today I noticed the magazine rack, just over the top of my book. When I would pause my reading and look up, the headlines popped out at me and made my mind spin in a thousand different directions. It’s this burst of stimulus-induced creativity that keeps me hanging around that cafe. This is what I saw, and subsequently what went through my mind today.

  • Newsweek Magazine: with its headline “Finding the right college for you.” This sent me off thinking about Kylie, away at Toccoa Falls College, and how happy I am with where she is, how happy I am with her class schedule, and how uncertain I am as to Jillian’s future plans. But that’s OK, too, because Jillian makes her own way in life most of the time.
  • Writer’s Digest: “Get an Agent!” I begin to ponder writer’s agents, and if I get my book nudged further down the road (OK, if I write it) should or would I search for an agent?
  • Digital Studio: The entire magazine, the fact of its existence, made me think about the transition from hand drawing to computer art, and the unique blend of the two that my friend Spring accomplishes. I also thought about my blog and how it needs to “coffee” itself up, but I have no skills in this area.
  • Make: Yes, people spend inordinate amounts of time making things. Things like robotic hands and solar ovens from cardboard boxes. And the fact that they do makes me inordinately happy!
  • ShopSmart: Supermarket Savings. This makes me remember real life, and the fact that my energy level is too low to cook tonight. I ponder what leftovers we have (lots) and the chances of getting David to take me out to dinner (excellent).
  • Consumer Reports is buried beneath “The Best Alternative History Stories of the 20th Century,” left by a lazy hand. This makes me smile. Most of us spend far too much time worrying about Consumer Reports and far too little time reading any history, alternative or otherwise. Which means, of course, that we are doomed to repeat our history. Somehow hiding Consumer Reports feels like someone’s oddball revenge. Good job!
  • 2nd Coming! reads the headline on some newspaper-like magazine folded in half. I can’t see the picture or the name of the magazine, but the picture appears to be of a contemporary man, making what I was imagining immediately seem archaic. Still, I wonder about the sheer audacity of using such a headline, and wonder if I’d be watching for lightning bolts were I the one who wrote it.
  • People Magazine: Kate Strikes Back! Yes, I’ll admit it…I wanted to go read it. I do wonder about Jon and Kate, having loved their children from the first. I don’t know whether to cheer for Kate or pretend I didn’t know what it was referring to. And it made me miss Kylie, because she would have shown up with that magazine at home where I could have snuck a peak!

All of this serves as a subliminal fodder for my brain, my creativity, and even my to-do list. It is what makes me happy to sit and absorb. And it made me wonder.

Do we sanitize our Third Places so much that they lose their soul? Doesn’t something about a neat-as-a-pin coffee shop make you nervous about your messy thoughts? And for church coffee shops and Third Places, shouldn’t we provide jumping off points for creativity, deep conversations, and even quiet thought?

Am I responsible for Starbucks?

Well, yes. I single-handedly pay for Howard Schultz’s salary each year, but that’s not what I’m referring to.

My quest for the perfect coffee shop environment is rooted in my desire for that mythical “great good third place.” It is the place on which Coffee Shop Journal is based: the place where community and coffee and culture meet, grow and develop. Now I’ve toured pretty much all of the coffee-based shops around here, and I can tell you that my third place does not exist. Not yet. Place 1 might have the comfy chairs and physical environment I’m looking for, but its management team is not people oriented, and so the store has no sense of community. Place 2 has community, but its physical environment is not conducive to “living and breathing” in the store. Each stop on my tour is missing one or another crucial ingredient. When I visit other cities I find places like Blue Joe’s Coffee in Oregon (which has since closed) or Stumptown Coffee, also in Oregon. These stores have potential for my third place!

But here it is time to press on and make do. Starbucks it is. Pick a store. And if you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know I have my favorite spots to perch around town.

Yet in all my ramblings about third places, it never occurred to me that I have a responsibility in developing a third place until I read “Affluenza” by John de Graaf. Discussing our over-focus on work as the goal of our days, he quotes Benjamin Barber in “A Place for Us.”

He urges us to rise up from our couches and collectively reenergize the third place, between big government and big business, where ‘citizens breathe freely and behave democratically without regarding themselves as passive complainers,  graspinng consumers, or isolated victims. This third place, treasured throughout American history, is where civic life thrives. Barn raisings and Habitat for Humanity raisings; church philanthropic projects; holiday festivals and block parties; demonstrations and protests; volunteer activities like PTA and Red Cross; neighborhood watches, community grdens, and lively discussion groups — all these activities remind us that we belong to an extended family that needs and values our participation.

Later he asks the question, “How might malls be designed to mak space for neighborhood health clinics, speaker’s corners, child care centers and public art galleries?”

This view is a more active citizen-led third place, a commitment of MY time and energy. Epiphany: you get out of life what you put into it. If I want a third place, I need to do my part. I am responsible for my Starbucks. It’s time to give back, not just order my cup and walk away. To quote Howard Behar, one of Starbucks’ former guiding executives, “It’s not about the coffee.”

Youth Ministry in the marketplace: Friday Night Lights

Johnny Rockets in Palm Beach Gardens is a definite third place for teens

Tonight David and I shared a Johnny Rocket’s booth and indulged in chocolate milk shakes, onion rings and a killer game of dot-to-dots on my iPhone (yes….it’s a fun app). We had a great time hanging out and watching the kids come and go from this local hot spot. The movies are located nearby, and the high school football game had gotten out minutes before we sat down. Johnny Rocket’s was a hopping spot in our community tonight.

I thought about how hard we work to get kids into our church buildings, and yet how easily they flock to these community third places. One of the things I love about our church is that our student ministries pastor, Shaun Blakeney, understands how to show up in the places that matter. He was at the football game with some of his staff tonight making the connections that count. And there we were hanging out in a booth while our kids and their friends munched on burgers and fries. We adults are still trying to get the “church in the marketplace” concept, but our kids get it. They instinctively go where the action is. It isn’t the first lesson I’ve learned from middle schoolers and high schoolers, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.

In my mind, the evening was accompanied by the 10th Avenue North song, “Love is Here…Love is Now.”

The shake wasn’t bad, either.

Who do you need to thank?

I have three posts lined up to write and I can’t write any of them. It has been such a long and such a confusing day that there’s no room for anything else. Yesterday I wrote about crying with others, and today I was given the opportunity to practice what I preach.

There are days when I feel that my life is filled with the mundane tasks that serve no purpose, that ministry is what happens to other people. Not today. Today ministry was the gut-wrenching stuff of life. By the time I hit breakfast-turned-into-lunch at 3:00 PM, I was used up by three different situations involving many different people. David and I wandered into Jeremy’s Starbucks, and that’s when God gave us a smile.

I sat texting in my own world when my friend, Garry Williams, a missional pastor here in town, sat down opposite me and said “God brings good things into our lives. In all the dysfunctions of life, he reminds us of the big picture.” Then he prayed over David and me. He didn’t even know what kind of a day we’d had. He didn’t know that God was asking me to cry with so many different people in my life today. But he knew that God had taken a random meeting in a Third Place and given him a job to do. And he did it. The rest of the day wasn’t any different, but my heart was.

Thank you, Garry. I don’t think you read this, but thank you anyway.

Alexander McCall Smith and Coffee Shops

Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith

Flying home from Boston yesterday I was reading Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith. Having just typed that, the book sounds so “paperback romance”! It’s not…Alexander McCall Smith has written lots of great contemporary Scotland-based fiction. My favorite is Espresso Tales.  Anyway, I came across this little passage that sums up my passion for community and the possibilities of connecting in third places like coffee shops.

Matthew was crossing Dundas Street to that side of the road where Big Lou kept her coffee bar, at basement level, in the transformed premises of an old book shop. The Morning After Coffee Bar was different from the mass-produced coffee bars that had mushroomed on every street almost everywhere, a development which presaged the flattening effects of globalization; the spreading, under a cheerful banner, of a sameness that threatened to weaken and destroy all sense of place. And while it would be possible, by walking into Stockbridge to get the authentic globalized experience, none of Big Lou’s customers would have dreamed of being that oxymoronic. One feature of the chain coffee shops was the absence of conversation between staff and customer, and indeed between customer and customer. Nobody spoke in such places; the staff said nothing because they had nothing to say; the customers because they felt inhibited from talking in such standardised surroundings. There was something about plastic surroundings that subdued the spirits, that cudgelled one into silence.

Big Lou, of course, would speak to anybody who came into her coffee bar; indeed, she thought it would be rude not to do so. Conversation was a recognition of the other, the equivalent of the friendly greetings that people would give one another in the street, back in Arbroath. And people generally responded well to Big Lou’s remarks, unburdening themselves of the sort of things that people unburden themselves of in the hairdresser’s salon or indeed the dentist’s chair in those precious few moments before the dentist’s probing fingers make two-sided conversation impossible.

I found the perspective offered from this Scottish writer to be very interesting. I don’t know that I agree with all his assessments of the impossibility of feeling at home in a “chain coffee shop”, but his words are cautionary tales for us to make sure that we continue to be human and warm in our interactions no matter where we find ourselves sitting with our coffee cups and computers!

How to Make a Coffee Shop into a Third Place

We’ve talked a lot about coffee shops as third places here at Coffee Shop Journal, but it is sometimes difficult to determine exactly how to do that. Usually it all comes down to a personality: either the barista’s personality, or the staff who work there. In addition, if you are interested in making your third place a missional outreach, the living out of your faith in the marketplace can sometimes feel artificial, when you are striving for authentic.

The other day I put a video about The Tangible Kingdom up on the blog. While searching for that clip, I found this one by the same film makers. I think it is really interesting from a “Building a Third Place” kind of viewpoint. It is produced by CRM Empowering Leaders, a church planting resource team. Their website has some amazing stories of people making a difference in their world.

And I thought it was just lunch

I’ve been holding off on writing about this place because I want to get a picture, but after three visits to my new favorite lunch place I can’t hold off any more.

David and I found a cafe called MJ’s cafe, featuring fresh semi-organic wraps and sandwiches. We wandered in soon after it opened simply because it is in our neighborhood and we are trying very hard to support local, non-chain businesses. MJ’s, it was immediately apparent, is a family run restaurant. Our first impression was that their concept is good but slightly underdeveloped. You will see what I mean when I post pictures. The food was good. Ironically, the desserts (decidedly NOT healthy) were amazing – home made and delicious. And since they stay open until 9 PM the desserts are a prime candidate for an after dinner splurge: get them and bring it home quick.

Here’s what is interesting, though. We felt immediately as if these people are creating a community in their restaurant. Dad (Syed pronounced Sid) and his two daughters are friendly, warm, and have revealed a tremendous amount about themselves in a short time. Syed is a food chemist who decided to go out on his own. Now he is opening 5 restaurants in a year. Syed has a favorite saying. “See the world as it is.” As a result he and his family have traveled literally all over the world. Syed caught sight of us praying the other day and was encouraging us. “Gratitude is so necessary.” It is a little disconcerting, however, to realize that this sweet family keeps track of our dessert intake (“Try the toffee brownie this time…you’ve had the peanut butter three times now.”) as well as our other dietary preferences. “You really like the pomegranate soda? I’ll look for some other pomegranate things for you.” It takes fortitude to wade into what feels like a new extended family!

David and I were talking after lunch today –there’s no talking during lunch…the family comes to chat since we’ve proven talkative! By being open to a little conversation we’ve learned about a whole new world that we never knew existed. Syed and his family are (we think) Pakistani. They have a great feel for the world. We’ve learned about education, food chemistry (did you know you can get a PhD in chicken muscle?), family business and business in general. Shortly after opening the cafe Syed bought the gym three doors down; I think it was a good combination. Desserts to gym, gym to desserts.

Learning to appreciate the local third places like MJ’s cafe (named for Mom) is a worthwhile effort. In this little corner of South Florida there is very little community spirit. I can’t even find out where my town actually IS, if you know what I mean. So we’ve decided to create our own town, our own place, by stitching together all the odd corners and spots that we enjoy. MJ’s is now one of them.

By the way, did I mention they have free wi-fi?

The rhythm of life – time to slow down

My backyard retreat

Recently I read a post on Ron Martoia’s blog about the rhythm of his life, and how he recognizes which activities are crucial for him on a daily basis. His post got me thinking about the rhythm of my own life, and over the past week I’ve been casually noting how I react to the ins and outs of my day. I don’t know if any of this will interest you — surely everyone has their own rhythm — but I found some interesting recurring themes in my week.

  • When home gets too noisy, or life gets too overwhelming, I need to leave. That is when I hit the Third Place for some comforting white noise, anonymity and a few shots of espresso.
  • If I really need to think, I leave. While I am sitting at home my visual sight lines always include chores that need to be done. I can’t truly engage in a deep thought process when I am at home, unless I am on my back porch.
  • After I have been out of the house for awhile, I need to come home! I love the ebb and flow of life that way. My own espresso/coffee maker comforts me. My dog loves me. My wireless waits for me.
  • I need to read every day. If you prevent me from reading, I get as cranky as I get when I am on a diet. Fortunately, no one feels the need to restrict my reading intake! I also need to read from a rotating cast of books: business, church, future, fiction. If I spend too long in one genre, I stagnate. Another interesting character flaw of mine: I can’t stand to hear about a good book and not find a way to read it. So I suppose if you really wanted to frustrate me you could mention a really good out-of-print book that I couldn’t get my hands on!
  • If I have been interacting in the community, I tend to be withdrawn at home. If I have been anonymous out in my third place all day, I tend to stir up activity at home.
  • My life is full of dominoes. Push one over and they all topple. Right now the toppled domino is exercise. But last night I spent a few minutes on this thing… and today my muscles actually ache like I had a full workout. Seems crazy, but it’s true!

Finally, my porch is my third place at home, so to speak. I adore taking my cup of coffee and a book or laptop and perching under the umbrella. It’s lit, so I can sit there at night as well. The sounds of the peacocks roaming the neighborhood, the pool fountain splashing and the absence of the household sounds make this my favorite spot.