Monthly Archives: November 2011

I once lived the “American Dream”

I once lived the “American Dream”. Boy, did we ever!! 4,300 square feet on an acre with 6 bedrooms! What?!

Were we crazy! Who needs 6 bedrooms other than a bed and breakfast or the Welch family? (Welch’s have 7 children and I wanted to give them a shout out! Love you guys!)

But for real, why and how and what were we thinking? We had an hour commute one way and both worked as our 3 and 4 year old kids were babysat for those extra two hours a day. We were both making the dough to afford our sprawling house (with no landscaping because the land developer was out of money before the house was complete). 

I could rant about this and the regrets and the money that ran down the drain for days, Shawn and I have often to each other already. But the solution is in the fix. We fixed our priorities and sold the cars and started living trully within our means. As I look back, I never lived out my dreams as we were in the middle of the “American Dream”. We were strapped, stressed and unfulfilled. I can now say that when making 30k a year on our sabbatical we began to live out “Our Dream as Americans”. We began to see how simple life could be in our little tree lined street and how important our healthy kids are to us. We found comfort in each others arms in front of the fire in Wisconsin watching a Packers game or having a family Redbox night. The movies were now a luxury and seemed ridiculous compared to all watching a movie for a dollar snuggled up on our L-shaped sectional. 

We talked and prayed and dreamt about what our future church would feel like and how much we wanted it in the center of where people live and work. We talked about how we wanted LIVE in the center of where people live and work like we had in Plymouth, MI. We were done driving into our garage and closing it as we got out of our car and not ever meeting any neighbors because they did the same. We longed for the city, not the suburbs. We realized that is just who we are and who we are created to be.  Frankly, we love people and we want to have the opportunity to interact all the time. We want to “do ministry” with our kids in tow too.

In a recent trip to Portland, 6 year old Aubree saw a homeless man outside the pub where we were sitting down to eat. She quickly told us she needed money to give him. We told her we only had our debit cards on us. She began to tear up and offered to go tell him he could come in and eat with us and we would pay for the meal. Hmmmmmm? We both paused for necessary time to think of why we wouldn’t do that. We selfishly came up with some excuse and then told her we would order him something and she could give it to him in a to-go box. Shawn took her outside to meet Ron and let him know to stick around and wait for the cooks to finish his meal. Aubree came back in and on the back of her kids menu drew a picture for Ron and prayed for him: See video and Picture below:

IMG_0738.MOV Watch on Posterous



Her goal was for him to know Jesus loves him and that is why she loves and cares for him. Why would we ever want to not do ministry with our kids. They will love God and His people rather than dispise a ministry that “took their parents” time away from them. I want to live the “God Dream” not the “American Dream” anymore. I don’t want more, more, more that keeps me from my kids and gets my eyes off people in need so I can fill my own wants.

Below is an article from one of my favorite sites and networks, Q. It is much more bold than I am brave enough to be….. 

Saving Suburbia: From the Garden to the City


by Mel McGowan

I had a single-family detached house on a half-acre parcel with a three-car garage in a bedroom suburb of Southern California. In order to afford my piece of the “American Pie,” I commuted to work at least an hour each way, barely making it home in time to tuck in my youngest child each night, and rarely in time to have dinner with the whole family. I spoke to my next-door neighbor about three times in three years. The elementary school that was located behind our tract was shut down so my son had to be driven or bussed several miles to the next school. Although I attended the same church where I became a Christian, it had long since given up its Main Street address to relocate to forty acres of agricultural land on the periphery of the city. As a result, it had achieved mega-church status, with over 5,000 weekend attendees. I felt my wife’s pain as she attended week after week enjoying relevant teaching and worship, but not one real conversation, much less the start of any new friendships. It may sound like a “glass half-empty” description, but, in fact, having grown up in Europe and Asia in urban flats, apartments, and townhomes, I felt blessed to have a home like this for my family. However, something was missing from my American Dream. 

I have come to understand that something to be a God-wired hunger for community. 


God is a God of community. Before the beginning, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit “did life together” in community. “In the beginning,” God created a perfect setting for community—Eden—for vertical connection with him, as well as horizontal connection with others. After the cleansing of the flood, God chose a particular people—a community—to tell his story and reveal his ways. And for the past two thousand years, the Bible says that his presence has not been contained by a tent or a building but is somehow found within in Christ-centered community: the church. Humans, made in God’s image and for his purposes, are hard-wired for community. 

However, today, the concept of community is being kidnapped from us. To be sure, the word itself is still used at great lengths. We have special interest communities (e.g., the gay community, the evangelical community, etc.). Single-family detached tract residential builders have renamed themselves “Community Builders” and their single use tracts with the minimum required landscaped setbacks are “Master Planned Communities.” And the leading Real Estate Development trade and research association, Urban Land Institute (ULI), defines “Community Centers” as a shopping center anchored by a discount or department store with a typical GLA (gross leasable area) of 150,000 to 300,000 square feet… a.k.a. a “strip center” or “big box center.” But amid so much talk of community, we have lost its true meaning. 

The three-car “garagescapes” that have replaced the tree-lined front porch streetscapes of small town America create anonymity and social isolation. Anonymity is also a common critique of the Sunday morning experience in the darkened rows of contemporary mega-churches (many of which actually use the word community in their name). Ironically, in order to achieve mega-church status, many of these “faith communities” are essentially once a week gatherings of dispersed families from the same 20-minute drive radius as a big box retail center. Given the placeless homogeneity of much suburban sprawl (the same big box retailers, tract home builders, gas stations, and “vanilla” office parks), the word seems to be invoked specifically to compensate for the lack of authentic community. 

Perhaps the biggest threat to the classic definition of community is technology. The internal combustion engine killed Main Street, Elm Street, and the walkable scale of human settlements and towns. Whereas the “public square,” with its sacred and civic spaces (from the Greek agora, Roman forum, and Italian piazza to the New England village green) was the first and central defining anchor to any community, for the last sixty years the creation of such public spaces is actually prohibited by modern single-use zoning practices. The latest technological shift that is radically transforming the definition of community is online social media, which seems to remove the need for actual physical spaces to connect with others. Are the “real” places becoming obsolete? 

All of these changes are demonstrating that when we divorce the word community from the reality of a particular human-scaled place, we fundamentally lose something in the mix. Today, many church planters and next generation Christian leaders feel a calling to be “architects of community” in either urban or suburban settings. However, most are ill equipped to answer this call because they lack a biblical understanding ofplace and a historical understanding of terms like city and suburb. Without an adequate theology of place, we resort to either devaluing it (throwaway church buildings) or overdoing it (by trying to re-build the temple). And without a greater understanding of how physical human ecologies and environments either facilitate or constrain community, we will fail to be truly present in the places and cities to which God has called us. In light of this, we’ll consider a theology of place first, then explore the tangible challenges we face for creating authentic community in our cities, with a special focus on the suburbs. 


Some consider a theology of place to be primarily concerned with religious buildings; they focus on how to create sacred worship space. Church and religious architects would even argue that there are “timeless principles of liturgical design.” I call this the standard bag of tricks. These induce the user through a series of perceptual and physiological manipulations in order to artificially induce a sense of sacred. They include using stairs and ramp for ascension, forcing the “pilgrim” to lower their head through lowered openings or ceiling elements, and then using filtered natural light to “draw the eye heavenward.” 

In contrast, I have come to believe that the most beautiful (not to mention opulent) cathedral can be the site of the most profane acts (e.g., child molestation), and that the smelliest back alley can be the site of the most powerful redeeming act (serving a homeless teen as if she were Jesus). A theology of place needs to be bigger than even the biggest and grandest of church buildings. 

The Bible is concerned with place. Indeed, the entire biblical story can be seen as a metanarrative of the journey of God’s people from one place to another, from the Garden to the City. This first place we encounter comes at the culmination of the creation story. It’s a very good place. 

Some of our imagery of the Garden of Eden is fuzzy, ranging from an assumption of an abstract metaphor to a literal image of an unending, unspoiled jungle. The actual word Paradise entered European languages from the Persian root word pardis, which referred to a beautifully-tended garden enclosed between walls. The Hebrew word pardes (probably derived from Persian and used in the Jewish Talmud to refer to Eden) could be interpreted as a park, a garden, or an orchard. 

This may sound a bit off, but I find it helpful to relate the Garden of Eden to a theme park. Although an angel with a flaming sword is more impressive than a typical minimum wage theme park security guard, the idea of a carefully designed environment in which every detail (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch) is carefully considered and designed for the enjoyment of its denizens is a powerful one. In fact, it is so compelling that Disney’s walled gardens are the top tourism destinations in America, Europe, and Asia. After spending nearly a decade of my life with the Walt Disney Company, I have come to appreciate the intensity and intentionality of the multi-disciplinary design effort that goes into the creation of a theme park. 




The Church should be the Third Place not the First.

I can’t wait until we launch our church in Portland and can see it become our third place! Can’t wait to not have it be the first place as it should never outshine our family and home time. And, even though we will work full time in ministry, I am thankful that we won’t have it be our second place either.


You ask why? Because, if I am behind a desk in an office in our building and not at a coffee house or Powell Books or Pioneer Square downtown, or at a City Council or Chamber meeting in Portland then I’m not really working anyway. I want to meet people every single day. That is my personal and professional goal. Every single day, unless we are home with our family chillin, I want to meet people (plural). How else can we “Go into the world and make disciples” if we never go and make acquaintances with future disciples? I want to come on the scene, as futurist Leonard Sweet says, and “find what Jesus is already up to in people”. I Can barely sit still here on my couch and wait! 


The people we gather, the friends we make, the life-long relationships we discover will all form the “church” or comraderie. When we are together, in a building, our building, our bookstore, or worshiping in services, then we can be the third place. 


The ‘third place’ is a phrase coined by contemporary sociologist Ray Oldenburg. Oldenburg (1990) postulates that the third place is a term referring to a public place where people gather for the social satisfaction that they can’t get from the first two domains of the home and the workplace. Moreover, Oldenburg argues that the availability of such gathering places in America is lacking. Loitering outside of convenience stores and fast-food franchises has become a common practice among those looking for a neutral social atmosphere. In an age of such compartmentalized social life, there simply is no public place for people to go and enjoy one another’s company. Aren’t we glad that isn’t the case in all cities in this decade? Starbucks, local coffee houses, cigar lounges, pubs have all become popular places of socializing. 


Article about Starbucks blogged in 2009

Inspired by Oldenburg’s observations, Schultz of Starbucks has turned America’s seeming lack of place into a viable business opportunity. Encouraging loitering and offering lattes, Schultz has developed Starbucks into a cozy home-away-from-home. In a book of his own, Schultz (1997) applies the need of a third place in the lives of people to the popularity of Starbucks with its customers:

In an increasingly fractured society, our stores offer a quiet moment to gather your thoughts and center yourself. Starbucks people smile at you, serve you quickly, don’t harass you. A visit to Starbucks can be a small escape during a day when so many other things are beating you down. We’ve become a breath of fresh air. (p. 119)

Oh, to not be a church that is “beating you down”. A breath of fresh air would definitely have described Jesus and his ministry. Then it went on to describe the message his disciples lived out. We, the church, the third place, can be what Howard Schultz described in 1997 that has caught on a bit, don’t you think?! 

This concept, which I have studied and meditated on for years now is probably another reason why I love local coffee houses and local bookstores. Why I love a small park or fountain area in an urban neighborhood where people congregate. Once you are bitten by the feel of doing life together in that third place, wherever that may be, you are never satisfied with work, home, work, home, far off vacation, work, home again. Oh, Plymouth, MI how you have inspired me and forever changed my idea of community.

THE THIRD PLACE: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the community and urban planning concept. For other uses of the term, see competition.

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. In his influential book The Great Good PlaceRay Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil societydemocracycivic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.

Oldenburg calls one’s “first place” the home and those that one lives with. The “second place” is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs. Oldenburg suggests these hallmarks of a true “third place”: free or inexpensive; food and drink, while not essential, are important; highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance); involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there; welcoming and comfortable; both new friends and old should be found there.

Michael Krassa argues along similar lines, looking at neighborhood design, social network formation, and civic involvement.

Robert Putnam addressed issues related to third place in Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital (1995, 2000).

The concept of a “Third Place” has become popularized and has been picked up by various small businesses, including as a name for various locally owned coffee shops, and is commonly cited in urban planning literature on the issue of community-oriented business development and public space.


Variant forms of the concept include the “community coffee house” and the “community living room”, a term which has been adopted by several organizations to describe the model of a cooperatively-run “third space” which includes commercial or non-commercial functions with an emphasis on providing a free space for social interaction.

The general store or pub and occasionally bookstore or diner are traditional variants of the concept, provided in such cases there is an emphasis on expectation of socialization, and customers are invited to stay and “hang out” with or without making any (or additional) purchases. Institutions which traditionally provided some functions of a third place included shared leisure facilities such as a bowling alley or arcadefunction hallslodges or social clubs, when and if facilities were available for casual use.


An increasing percentage of American workers now telecommute, not from home, but from a third place. Workers cite isolation when telecommuting from home and find working in public spaces a happy medium between the home office and the corporate office. Availability of public wifi has been a major enabler of this trend, and an increasing number of retail chains are catering to it.


A traditional public house encourages social contact between patrons. But a third place which provides internet access may create a hollow effect in that the patrons are physically present but do not make social contact with each other, being absorbed by their remote connections. Some café owners are trying to ameliorate this effect by staging performance art such as live jazz and turning off the wi-fi to encourage audience engagement.

What and where is your third place?