New Media Communications 2.0: A Great Good Place for the Theological Community
The "Third Place"
Ray Oldenburg's "A Great Good Place" describes as "third places" those places which a person is drawn to as "refuge and relaxation", different from workplace or family. It is a good example of the almost mystical drawing power of the even the "possibility" for community. Here is a sociological study which has hit upon a piece of the puzzle which our electronic, consumer oriented society has pushed into the background of our consciousness. Even as we struggle to gain a sense of our own competence in terms of material status achieved , the call to community still attracts the soul, because there is an element of the stuff from which we arose; our human roots, which bear witness to us that we have ventured away from the things which nurture us. There is something about the chance to tell our own stories and to recognize some of that story in others that says to us "we are truly from the same family".
I immediately identify this "attraction" of which Oldenburg's study speaks as the key hint to what it is we are called as the church to do and be. We are a place where this yearning for relatedness and for mutual acknowledgment can be approached head-on. We are not to be in the business of disguising our efforts; we have a theological problem in the communication of our task. We have to name it, and we have to go further than hiding it behind the facade of more conventional or popular places.
We need to see what it is that gives popular places their appeal, and then figure out how to communicate the piece of the community to which we are called will address this appeal; how we can name the journey and provide a place to put our vision to the test.
But we must approach it directly, from the front. We must name it and set up structures which identify it and seek it directly. No more beating around the bush. It seems so ironic that in the church we so often "happen" upon times of discovery because it is brought close by the basic acknowledgment of a mystical presence; that we too are in the act of hanging on to structures and events which arouse in us the awrareness of something beyond our normalk mode of operation and relating, but leaves us short of stepping into it. So we end up no better off than the third places of which Oldenburg speaks. We come close but stop short. We derive every ounce of vicarious fulfillment from the glimpse, and then return to our everyday structures and relationships with a feeling of "someday", or maybe with a sense that we have reached the pinnacle and have to "come down off the mountain" and "return to real life". And so we look upon these experiences not as the signs of something greater, but as the thing itself.
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