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In the Spaces

Recently a writer for the New York Times died.  David Carr wrote about culture for that famous newspaper.  He is someone I read sometimes, but I was not a regular reader of his material like I am for someone like David Brooks, whom I very much respect and from whom I learn a great deal.  When Carr died, he was given much press and was lauded as very smart and quite influential.  My interest was piqued, so I read more about him than might be expected.           

Carr was still relatively young when he died.  He was born in 1956.  I was intrigued to track his career.  Clearly, he had learned to make a living using words.  Jobs like his fascinate me.  I wonder how many kids think that they could figure out how to use words and make a really good living?  After all, everyone uses words!  He just learned how to use words very effectively.  He learned how to use words and manage to have people pay to read those words.  That is clever!          

My inspirational piece would never have happened if I had just read about him and turned the page to the next article.  But I was caught by a phrase from a piece he wrote than precipitated this inspirational effort.  That piece apparently came from a syllabus from a college course he was teaching.  Carr had recently agreed to teach a class on journalism at the Communications School at Boston University.  The New York Times provided a look at the syllabus for that course and picked out particular examples of how the syllabus was vintage David Carr.          

I enjoyed reading this, perhaps because it made me think of the syllabus I write for every course I teach.  It is hard for me to imagine anyone looking at or quoting from any syllabus I ever wrote!  Maybe I can take a lesson from Carr and spice up the next syllabus I write.  But this is not what inspired me.           

What inspired me was a short one-liner in which Carr was encouraging the journalism students to value teamwork.  Carr said, “While writing, shooting, and editing are often solitary activities, great work emerges in the spaces between people…”  I am sure there is much in the work of the journalist that is solitary, just as there is in my job and, perhaps, the job of many readers.  But the last half of Carr’s sentence is what jumped out at me: “great work emerges in the spaces between people…”   

The idea of “the spaces” between people grabbed my mind.  Those “spaces” are certainly present among teammates.  It is easy to think about team sports.  A basketball team has five players on the court at one time.  Coaches often spend a fair amount of time teaching proper spacing for effective execution of plays.  The same can be said about teammates in a business setting or in an orchestra. 

The nature of a team is such that the team can perform tasks differently than individual people can.  Of course, I could play a one-on-one basketball contest with someone else, but that is not the same game as the normal five-on-five.  Personally, it is not as much fun to play one-on-one.  I love the dynamics, challenges and rewards of the five-on-five team game of basketball.

Then it occurred to me, perhaps there is an analogy between the teamwork of a team of journalists or a basketball team.  I realized the “spiritual team” I have played on is typically called “community.”  Surely, much of the spiritual journey is the journey each of us takes on our own.  On my journey I have to make my commitments; I have to develop my own faith.  I have thought about and can articulate the theology undergirding that faith.  That and so much more is true about my own journey. 

But at the same time, community has been crucial for me.  I learned a long time ago that a spiritual community was necessary for sustaining and nurturing my spiritual pilgrimage.  In effect, I need spiritual teammates.  On my own I am ok.  With spiritual teammates I can be so much more.  As Carr said, there is great work to emerge in the spaces between spiritual teammates.  I love thinking about it this way. 

The spaces between spiritual teammates are fertile ground.  Let me illustrate it with love.  Love is the space between the lover and the loved.  That might be between God and me.  Or it might be between you and me and, perhaps, God connected as our teammate.  Love fills the space in between us.  That love will be the source and resource of the great work that can emerge.  And there are so many other possibilities coming from the spaces between teammates. 

Carr has helped me focus not only on the players---sports, business or spiritual players---but he also has opened my eyes to the spaces between the players.  In the spaces great work can emerge.  This gives me fresh ways of thinking about spiritual community---my team of players and the great work that can emerge in and from us.

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