Thursday, September 07, 2006

Table Fellowship, Third Places and Social Outcasts

I really enjoyed John Smulo's interview with Mike Frost on his blog that I mentioned yesterday. As I read through it two points struck me. In the first instance, I was struck by the distinction Frost made in our understanding of Jesus and his practice of table fellowship. Frost is correct in noting that technically Jesus did not extend table fellowship in that his ministry was itinerant in nature. What he did was to accept the invitations to table fellowship extended by various peoples that would have been considered social outcasts in the first century. This distinction is important for Christians in that not only should we be willing to extend an invitation for intimate fellowship to those that our culture and subculture consider undesirable in "come to us" fashion, but we should also be willing to accept their gracious invitations to enjoy fellowship with them, to the extent that our behavior and spirituality merit such invitations. This insight should speak volumes to evangelicals who many times seem more interested in boundary maintenance in their fears over contamination through interaction with others, whether at Burning Man Festivals or neighborhood parks. If we are to emulate Jesus surely we should be spending great amounts of time in real and meaningful fellowships with contemporary "social outcasts," and perhaps one could argue that if Christians aren't perceived in this fashion then our identification with the cultural establishment should tell us we've missed the boat on Christian living and missional incarnation.

The second insight in the Frost interview came for me in his discussion of Third Places. Frost describes this as follows:
"The term ‘third place’ comes from Ray Oldenburg’s book, The Great, Good Place, which is a sociological analysis of the cultural landscape of the US. Oldenburg contends that Americans orient their lives around three broad ‘places’ in their worlds. The first place is the home or neighborhood. The second place is the workplace. And the third place is that public space where we interact with others at a significant level over core issues."
Frost notes that for many (most?) evangelicals the "third place" is the church and evangelical subculture, and because of this we neglect our opportunities to incarnate in neighborhood bowling allies, community functions, and other social events. Christians need to move outside of the Christian ghetto to develop a sense of their spaces of social influence as their primary third place, and this needs to be done with authenticity as they seek to develop real relationships and meaningful participation in these spaces, rather than seeing the third place as a means to an evangelistic end. But the question remains with our existing church structures as to whether less time in the holy huddle will be permissible.

I long for fellow exiles to experiment with me in stepping into new realms of table fellowship and third places.

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