I grew up in a typical “churchy-church-McChurch” environment. No crazy scandals. No heavy handed shepherding. Largely my experience was “non-denominational” in nature–no deep sense of exclusivity (just your average exclusion of the poor, the self medicating, the repressed, depressed, homeless, culturally diverse, and otherwise marginalized). But I want to emphasize the typicalness of my “sacred environment”.
One of the memories that I associate with growing up was my great friend, let’s call him Joe, running into the “sanctuary” with his hat on. He was skirting the edges, not making a scene, when one of the members of the congregation charged at him demanding he take his hat off. I remember Joe being so extrememly angry about that–hardly understanding why. The answer is one that you will know: “This is God’s House. It’s sacred!”
Another memory of talking in the back row, chattering while the pastoral monologue when on…guess who got called out from the pulpit? We did. That’s right. In front of 300-500 people we got called out. For what? Because the monologue is sacred…the place is holy…the atmosphere is un-interruptible…
Well and the truth is, I’m just bringing to mind some atypical experiences to show a point: there are rules of engagement in churchdom. The place is sacred. And no matter how cool or how sheik or how urban hip your sacred place is it still works differently than your work or your house or your local coffee shop. It is it’s own peculiar identity. Sacred. Removed. Away from the world and all the secular ravages such as science, entertainment, dialog, distributed leadership, and open source learning. Safe.
But at some point for many of us it became unsafe. I, along with millions of others, retreated from the retreat space. We went to the holiest, safest, most personally familiar spot we could imagine. The home. Home church. Church in your house. Sort of. In my experience we worked hard to circumnavigate typical church models transplanted into a home…we tried to go beyond radical. But the funny thing is, in many ways we couldn’t escape the psychology of the space we inhabited.
A home truly is a castle. A well guarded fortress where the draw bridge is lowered only to our intimates, to those whom we have background checked, interviewed, screened, accepted, or pronounced “on the same road as we are”. And, if you are one of the lucky ones who is allowed in there are rules that need to be followed. Think of the elements in our language that confirm this: “house rules”, “inside voices” etc… There’s a psychology of propriety and best behavior which may actually rival that of the sacred space. It can (though doesn’t have to) culminate into a unspoken motto of: “we allow only the best on their best behavior into this sanctuary”.
I know all of this is stereotypical generalities. And that’s unfair. It’s unfair to talk about sacred spaces as stuffy because not all are–in fact many are increasingly NOT. My friend Joe might not get a second look for wearing his hat or jeans these days. And all my talk about the “sanctuary space” or “home church” environment is unfair also–this isn’t the experience for countless others who deeply value this. But the reason I’m able to make generalities is because these are GENERALLY understood emotions and thoughts that are provoked by those spaces…people get what I mean when I say this…even if it’s not your experience–it is for many people–and even more so, it’s in their head…they believe these things…even if they haven’t experienced it for themselves.
All this to say–there is a 3rd space, as some authors have called it. A public space. The places where our best conversations go on. Where we “go to catch up”, go to confess our failures, go to reconnect with peers, go to unwind after work, go to get a break from the routines of the house, get into heated mutual disagreements, get challenged, get a beer, a coffee, or a piece of pie. In the din of noise and focused clutter people are able to be their Attention Deficit Disorder selves. They’re able to cry and laugh and disagree. They’re able to stand up at inappropriate times and even wear the clothes they feel. They are free to get lost or be found.
There’s a psychology at work.
And I wonder…if the sacred space promotes the concept that “we are gathered with other believers away from the world” and the sanctuary home space promotes the concept that “we are gathered with acceptable and accepted secure peers away from the church”…what would the third public space emphasize? Might it not influence people to imagine they are “on display”, they are “salt and light”, a city on a hill, or simply available to be engaged and interrupted…there for others? Could that be?
I know this isn’t a new concept. But, as one who’s experienced the first two spaces intimately, it seems very real. I wonder what others are finding about the public space? How has this been a positive experience, spiritually and personally? Is it legitimate?
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