Let’s play a little cultural history trivia game. Here’s a roster of quirky but endearing people whom you probably invited into your home late in the last century: Sam. Carla. Cliff. Norm. Frasier. Woody. Phil. Rebecca. Diane. Lilith. Ernie. I have no prize to offer if you’ve figured them out. Who are these folks? And how did they gain simpatico with millions of Americans?
It might be easier if I were to put a music bed under the roll-call. Read these lyrics and see how long it takes for you to hum along: Making your way in the world today / Takes everything you’ve got / Taking a break from all your worries / Sure would help a lot / Wouldn’t you like to get away? The theme song would normally explode into the chorus, but there is more to the tune as it depicts the struggling and the downtrodden with a kind of care and understanding that can only come from shared experience: All those nights when you’ve got no lights / The check is in the mail / And your little angel hung the cat up by its tail / And your third fiancé didn’t show, the song continues before the uplifting chorus. Sometimes you want to go / Where everybody knows your name / And they’re always glad you came / You wanna be where you can see / Our troubles are all the same / You wanna be where everybody knows your name. Could someone give me a shout-out for Cheers?
While Cheers was commanding Thursday night ratings on NBC for 11 seasons, Howard Schultz teamed with some investors to buy a four-outlet coffee enterprise in Seattle called Starbucks, with plans to replicate the European coffee house experience with what he called “The Third Place.”
“The Third Place has never been defined solely by a physical space, it’s also the feeling of warmth, connection, a sense of belonging. Digital technology is helping augment and extend that feeling of connection with customers – whether they are in Starbucks stores, in their cars or on their doorsteps. ‘Their third place is everywhere they’re holding our cup,” according to Rox Brewer, president of Starbucks of the Americas. ‘No matter their journey, after leaving our stores, that feeling of comfort stays with them. And in an increasingly busy and on-demand world, it’s that feeling that keeps the third place growing.” (Starbucks’ history, from their website).
The Third Place concept was affirmed by sociologist Ray Oldenburg when he imagined the need for community in the modern world. His framework: home and work were the first and second places; Starbucks (or, Cheers, in the sitcom universe) would become the place where – between home and sweat shop – people would find connection and relationships that would be supportive and enduring.
A.G. Gaston was an incredible African American entrepreneur from Alabama whose impact spread across his 103-year lifetime. His business motto was his counsel: “Find a need and fill it.”
Cheers – the fictional neighborhood tavern – did far more than pour drinks. Starbucks – in its hay-day – had customers overstaying the latte in their mugs. “Find a need and fill it?” Sam Malone and Howard Schultz understood people: “You wanna be where everybody knows your name…”
Long before these fictional and profitable models became American icons, God knew that we would need another place – a Third Place, beyond home and work – that would draw us in for all the right reasons. How did the Creator design life to be best experienced?
He put some solid instruction into His Guidebook for Life (you probably have a copy or two). Here’s His succinct advice for living with great emotional health and a personal agenda of wholesome impact on the world around you: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Church attendance is down – post-covid – but bars and baristas are on an uptick. Are you connected in God’s Third Place – where everybody knows your name? If not, maybe it’s time!