I Like To Sit At Counters. The need for community.

I'm not an extrovert, really. It takes a significant amount of conjuring for me to have the energy to be social and public. I like people, I do, but I crave my time alone. I actually have a little envy for those who get charged up by being around people - my job requires that I'm around people, a lot! As with so many things, if we allow a little adventure in our lives, even when structured and "safe" - I'm not talking about high wire walking over the Grand Canyon here - we can be transformed, shaped and molded. So, when I stepped out of my "zone" a few years ago, I was challenged and changed.

It happened this way. I had the fortune of traveling to Puerto Rico with my wife, brother and Puerto Rican sister-in-law, Marisa (http://marisadejesus.com). Other than her, none of us speak Spanish well, so she saved the day and served as our guide. Staying in Old San Juan, we walked the cobblestone streets, passed romantic fountains and fluttering pigeons. Wandering was part of the trip.

CoffeeCup©.jpg

Early in our stay, I can't remember when, we asked someone for a place to have breakfast. They recommended a small cafe called, Cafeteria Mallorca (300 Calle San Francisco). More spacious than I'd anticipated, old, wooden tables and chairs were consciously placed. My brother asked where we should sit, far out of my character, I pointed to the counter. A well-worn Formica top stretched across the long side of the room. Red bar stools, the kind that swivel, with comfortable backs, dotted one side and an array of lighting dangled from the ceiling. The street was visible at one end through an array of pastries and the sound of pots and cups could be heard in the kitchen. A monstrous coffee machine governed the work space opposite the stools. Filled with milky coffee, it was a wonderful sight since coffee is one of my favorite beverages. And that is where I fell in love with sitting at counters.

There's no substitute for community, no matter how hard we demand otherwise.

We are designed for community - created for it, actually. Part of being made in the image of God is to have connection with other people and the Creator. But it's not easy these days. Our sense of independence and strong ego continue to deface the image we were made to reflect. Dispiritedness results when we live as an island. As John Donne stated, "all mankind is of one author, and is one volume" There's no substitute for community, no matter how hard try. I'm not saying you can't, I'm saying you shouldn't. It doesn't turn out well!

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
— John Donne

We think that through FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, texting, email and all the other networks and "connections" that we're "connected".

To exacerbate this distress, we now live with a false sense of community with social media. Our culture is driven by technology. It has a death grip on us and few realize it. Even in the most remote part of Burkina Faso, Africa, where there's no electricity, wells, or markets, in the middle of the bush where people make their own charcoal for cooking, there are cell phones! We think that through FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, texting, email and all the other networks and "connections" that we're "connected". Not so, not so at all! It's a poison we've swallowed mostly unwittingly. And no matter how much we participate in social media, many still wallow in debilitating aloneness. We are no more social after than before we sign on. Our skills of healthy, human interaction are not sharpened by any of these forums.

As an example to the extent of this potion is a story, it went something like this: A group traveled on vacation to the beach, several couples with their children. One afternoon one of the men was walking through the quiet of the house when he happened upon all of the children sitting around a table absolutely silent. They were texting...to each other! Not a word, not a peep, just the clickety, click of keys.

I won't take the time to defend the social networks and technology we have, there is some good in all of it, but I liken them, socially, to sitting in a booth, rather than at the counter.

The booth is safe! One way in, one way out. You're protected and you get to choose who you sit with. Not so with the counter. That open stool to your right, it signals adventure, risk! Anyone can sit there - it's an open invitation. For those of you who frequent bars, you know the best place to meet people is, yup, at the counter! Booths are also selective in who's included, just like social media provides a safe boundary. You can click off and click on when you like. You can "unfriend" and "follow", instantaneously. You can even participate anonymously! How's that for the hunkered down safety of a booth?

I work in a bar. Well, actually, it used to be a bar. It still is, but it isn't. It's complicated, but now it's a community center, but we kept the bar and it's a great place. In the first month of ownership, I had more significant conversations at that counter than I could count in the prior six months. Something magical happens when we sit at counters. I believe it's because we desire community and the counter is an invite. And unlike a booth that has walls, counters are about being open.

Over a decade ago, actor Tom Hanks played the character Chuck Noland in the movie, Castaway. If you haven't seen it, the name kind of speaks for itself. Noland gets lost at sea and deserted on an island. After many days alone he finds a volleyball, and with his blood - which I find particularly god-like - makes a face on the ball and names it, Wilson. Noland was craving community! When he couldn't get it, he made his own. Again, we are created for community, and without it we suffocate. (For a great book on this topic, see: Created for Community by Stanley Grenz http://www.amazon.com/Created-Community-Connecting-Christian-Bridgepoint/dp/0801021839)

God craves community, too. Imagine that! The Creator of the universe lives in and desires community. And He wants you to be part of it! The real story of Christmas and Easter, Passover and Yom Kippur, is about God's desire for community, and He went to great lengths to make a way for it, for you, through Jesus.

So, can I challenge you now? The next time you have a chance to "sit at a counter", whether it's a literal diner counter or a place that you would normally avoid, will you sit there? Will you receive a gift that is waiting for you? I did and now I love to sit at counters!

If I hadn't sat at the counter, would the staff had sung, "Feliz Cumpleanos" to me, in harmony, on my birthday? At least I don't have to wonder! My brother Vince is on the left. The staff were fantastic, I'll never forget them! You can see the massive coffee machine on the far right, behind the staff. Cool!

If I hadn't sat at the counter, would the staff had sung, "Feliz Cumpleanos" to me, in harmony, on my birthday? At least I don't have to wonder! My brother Vince is on the left. The staff were fantastic, I'll never forget them! You can see the massive coffee machine on the far right, behind the staff. Cool!