Occasionally, a barista serves up the perfect cup of coffee or latte. Recently I ordered a maple flavoured latte, and the presentation was exquisite. The top layer with its steamed milk froth was a dense 1-inch rich foam. The next layer of espresso was a darker maple crème colour, both separately layered above the thick creamy bottom and floating in a glass cup. As I carefully cradled the cup, the liquid gold floated from side to side without mixing any of the three flavours. It was truly a mesmerizing work of art for which I was grateful.
Those who follow my articles will know that my wife, Darla, and I have enjoyed riding a motorcycle for about 20 years now. And you will know we’ve taken some exciting trips together. You will also know that Darla refuses to ride on the back of my bike as she thinks I’m getting too old to support the both of us. And the fact that I laid the bike down a few times with her on the back probably reinforces her case.
Having said that, the guys I ride with discovered, as my wife and family could have attested, I have a penchant for cafes. It’s the warm friendly ambience that entices me and I will go out of my way to avoid chain restaurants in favour of a local, person friendly, café or down-home Diner.
It’s become a bit of a joke, as my friends will suggest that I should weigh about a hundred pounds more than I do based on my love for café bakeries. Truth be told, the appeal is much more than the aroma of coffee, fresh baked croissants, cinnamon rolls, or the scent of oven fresh chocolate chip/caramel cookies wafting through the air.
Most café owners know that the difference between a café and a restaurant is significant. Both offer food and beverage. However, a restaurant can be noisy and loud. Whereas a good café will offer the blend between a “too quiet” atmosphere and the perfect level of ambience and music which is conducive to creative thought.
Pubs, restaurants, and fast-food chains are not usually the place to relax in comfort. Creative thought is diminished in the mix of noisy distraction. It isn’t surprising that some of the dumbest things you will ever hear are in a pub. But that’s a different story. In fact, if the intent is to move the clientele through quickly and on to the next paying customer, the lights will dim, and the music gradually increases stunting social networking. Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching, (I’m sitting here imitating the sound of a now obsolete cash register). It’s all about the bottom line.
Sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his book “The Great Good Place” wrote about the need for community spaces between the first place (home) and the second place (work). City planners have been aware for centuries of the concept of the gathering place where democracy and community can thrive. In ancient Greece, one such place was the Agora, literally meaning the “gathering place” or “assembly”. Societies social, spiritual health and community wellbeing are tied to what Oldenburg coined, the “third place”.
In the last century, city planners were concerned about the loss of community in the downtown and Urban core. Families and even Churches were leaving in droves. Inner cities were becoming the business center without the social and spiritual fabric.
The “third place” was necessary for communities to thrive. Parks, cafés, local hangouts could enhance community feel, breaking down silos and social barriers. It was a place where people could hang together and leave behind the burdens of work and care of home. It was part of the fabric of society. Churches were very much a part of the “third place”. It often happened in the foyer, a place outside of the “service” where community engagement is nurtured.
During COViD, for the better part of three years, the social fabric of our communities was non-existent. The impact on community and personal well-being has been devastating. Working from home was mandated in most cases and those who were needed as essential caregivers or community providers were directed not to socialize in “third places”. We are gradually making our way back into the gathering places.
Tables and seating in the café are designed for intimacy. Pulling out a purposely chosen, engaging book, sitting back, and shutting out the world can be intellectually and emotionally therapeutic. Looking around the café it shouldn’t surprise us that even though clientele are either on the internet, reading or conversing with others, there is still this sense of community. We are not alone.
The café is a place where Darla and I enjoy talking about family, reflecting on the past or planning the future. I’m grateful once again to be sitting around the gathering place embracing the love and laughter of family and friends. Those are treasured moments.
I was grateful for the well-crafted maple latte, however, it needed to be stirred to be truly appreciated. In the “third place” the Spirit of God can also stir our hearts to the needs of those around us. A listening ear, a calming word, the loving presence of Jesus exuding from us to the barista, customers and yes, family and friends. More than ever our communities need Jesus in the “third place”, the gathering place where conversation can break down the layers and blend into His perfect love and harmony.
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” Colossians 3:14-15 NLT