the 3rd place (and 4th)

if you haven’t read “Off Road Disciplines”, go ahead and order it today.

in that book one of the concepts that he writes about is “the 3rd place”. if i recall correctly he borrowed the idea from someone else, but the premise is that people want a “3rd place”, a community to be a part of. everyone has a ‘home’ (1st) place, and a ‘work’ (2nd) place, but they want that “3rd place”. a place away from work stuff and home stuff.

for some people that becomes a bar, such as the hit show “Cheers“. for others it becomes a coffee shop, as in “Friends” or “Sienfeld” (yes i’m dating myself). or maybe a hamburger joint, as in “Saved by the Bell” (okay now i’m really dating myself). and then yet for others it becomes the church, as in . . . okay so there’s no sitcom with that example. and for others that 3rd place is myspace, facebook, or some other online community (blogging). (there is another option: where people choose not to be in a 3rd place – a community. instead they retreat to individual activities: painting, running, gardening, knitting, etc.)

now as a church staff member (and specifically as “small group ministry” being a part of my job description) i would like to see small groups or the church be that 3rd place for people. the place they feel “where everybody knows your name“. the place they build relationships together, share life together, have fun together, cry together, and grow together.

so now here’s my dilemma: that 3rd place i just described for everyone else in the preceding paragraph; for me is a ‘work’ place. i believe most readers know that in addition to being on staff at the church, i also work at the local middle school. so in one sense the church is a 3rd place for me, but i also find myself wanting to retreat to a 4th place. and i’ve already previously written about the tension between family time and work time. for me that ‘4th place’ has take more the form of the individual activities; running or exercising, online surfing, or writing.

and i’m not the only one that’s in this predicament. i’ve been on staff or leadership at several churches and have heard from various church workers similar stories. in fact one such worker voiced once what many of us have felt, when they told me they were actually glad that a particular program was ending because “they were tired of getting together” with everyone.

it’s not that we don’t believe in what we’re recommending for everyone else. it’s the fact that it’s not that “3rd place” for us, it’s more of a second 2nd place. now what i don’t know is, would i still feel this way if i wasn’t working at the school? if the church was able to be my only work place, would i be able to join a small group at our church and feel that ‘it’ was my 3rd place? or would i still feel ‘pastoral’ and thus in a ‘work place’?

or maybe my issue goes even deeper. because as i look back on my life, i don’t think i’ve ever had a “3rd place”. i didn’t have a group of ‘best’ friends that i hung out with every day; in high school or college. i don’t think i ever ‘fit’ in or thought “this is my clan”. i’ve hung out with lots of people, would even say i had many friends. but i don’t think i’ve ever “been known” and “known others” in the sense that i’ve seen other have (and hope will develop in the small groups).

i’ve had plenty of opportunities to delve deeper. to share. to know. and be known. but i haven’t for some reason. i’ve held back. as in this article, “of mice and myspace“; i’ve been living as a neatly edited, showcase version of me. have i fooled everyone? probably not. have i fooled most?? probably not on that one either. but i have a hunch that they’ve been satisfied with the version of me that i let them see. why?? i think because they’re secretly afraid that if they ‘call me’ on it, then they’ll feel obligated to reveal their ‘true’ self. and so, we continue to dance around each other. although to be fair to myself, i feel that this blog has been a bit of an outlet to being transparent.

and for me this is one of the reasons i’m choosing ‘the acoustic life‘; to find out “the why?” for me. and then to find my balance between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place (and maybe the 4th, too). i really feel that this ‘acoustic life’ period for the next 3 months (who knows maybe longer) will be a defining time in my life. and i don’t think it’s an accident that it’s happening the year that i’m 30.

so here’s to being transparent . . .

my name is abraham lara. (i don’t have a middle name)*
i’m 30 years old.
and always cry during hallmark commercials. (sometimes even ones i’ve seen a dozen times)

// today i’m thankful for:
1. wisdom
2. uncertainty
3. cell phones
4. being 30
5. having 4 little girls

* my birth certificate says my name is abraham trujillo lara. trujillo is my mother’s maiden name. i didn’t like trujillo as my middle name because it didn’t sound like any of my other friend’s middle names; it sounded like a last name. so when i could (i think age 13 with my father’s signature) i had it legally removed from my name. at the time, and i think a little even now, my mother felt a sense of rejection since i was taking her name out of mine.

it wasn’t till i was much older (as in working at the middle school) that i learned that it was common practice in mexico for all kids to have their mother’s maiden name as one of their middle names. (mexicans also have a tendency to have more than one middle name). had i known this would i still have changed it?? probably, my justification being, “we’re not in mexico, and i wasn’t born there either.”

i did add include it on our wedding invitations though. most wedding invitations give the bride and groom’s first and middle names. i put trujillo as my middle name. i think it made it up to my mom for having taken it out. but just to show that some people didn’t see it as a middle name, many of our wedding gifts said congratulations to “Abraham and Deborah Trujillo”. 🙂


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