Jared Witt l October 27, 2016
If you actually did all of the English homework from high school on up (and you know who you are, if you didn’t), the chances are that you’ve read several books that were first penned in a Parisian café. All the other romantic hearts out there will understand, it is a breathtaking experience, walking trough the alleyways of the Latin Quarter and knowing that generations of luminaries from Voltaire to Oscar Wilde sipped, smoked, and scribbled their classics in these very spots.
Geniuses are born all over the world. Most die in obscurity. It can’t be an accident that such a confluence of enduring ideas came from a few square blocks along the Seine nor that so many Americans, Brits and other non-natives felt that this was the appropriate place to launch their writing careers.
If you read the biographies of these literary behemoths, one of the very consistent trends among them is that they all developed daily routines which allowed them to be fully immersed in their culture while keeping a sort of objective distance from it at the same time. They were generally introverted but not reclusive. Their lifestyle combined this odd mix of alone togetherness.
If you get too carried away in the stream of humanity around you, it becomes next to impossible to see the water in which you swim for what it is. If you retreat too far back, you can no longer understand it as an insider. No one can have an original thought about his or her own culture without reserving the right to see it from the outside. But loners know so little of the cultural language that they can hardly say anything at all. These writers needed to straddle a very subtle line between distance and participation.
Somehow, the design of the French café provided a liminal enough space to facilitate this balance of alone togetherness. Dirt poor artists, like Wilde, would rather pack up all of their materials each day, walk around the inevitably smelly block, spend their last francs, and nurse a coffee for several hours at a café than save the money and write in their own apartments in peace. Why? They needed to closely observe the stream of humanity without just diving into it.
If one can think of a culture as being somewhere on a personality spectrum, then maybe it’s fair to say that France is a very introverted and the US a very extroverted culture? We can see this in the way that we design our “third places.” Contrary to the French café or the Irish pub, with their delicate balance of extroverted main room and introverted nooks, the US has many bars and restaurants whose design can only be described as a Walmart for drinking: hard surfaced, echo-y sound chambers with very little partitioning or variety of seating. There’s nothing terribly wrong with it. Even I, as a moderate introvert, have times when I want my uniqueness to get swallowed, just a little bit, into a swirl of jollity and obvious punchlines. And in terms of how we design the space at Castle Church, extroverts are as important to us as introverts, but they tend to be a little easier to please.
The challenge is creating some nooks where one would feel comfortable setting up a laptop to get some work done or having a more personal tête-à-tête with a friend. At Castle Church, we plan on having the best of both worlds.
Peace and Cheers,
Jared Witt is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.
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