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Play Like You Belong

My friend Chet and I looked at our upcoming books in an on-line catalogue the other day discussing how surreal and out of place we felt to see our names there. My book is surrounded by pages of talented and seasoned authors : best-selling writers that I imagine don’t plunk words on an old laptop like I do, but rather finger-surf keyboards like concert pianists filling pages with crafted explosions of poetry (with little effort). It is intimidating to consider all the compelling books being written and the many great writers out there working today. In the moments I am not writing I often wonder if I have anything worthwhile or significant to write about.

I had a difficult time sitting down and working that evening… but I did it anyway.

A couple years back my wife and I went to an area of Chicago called Lakeview to see an alt-country songwriter. We were sure we had the right address, and paused in confusion at the marquee as we read the name of the headline band “Monk 9”. We could tell from the adornment of folks loitering on the sidewalks (tattoos, piercings, white make-up and black leather) that we were out of place. I asked the guy at the door, “Is Gabriel Kelley playing here tonight?” He paused, and frowned, and furrowed his eyebrows irritably, “Who?” I had to ask again and with a huff he shouted my query across to the bartender who yelled back, “Yeah, up here at ten.” We stepped in and looked at the small room (more of a foyer with a bar) leading to a busy doorway to the main stage area in an expansive basement venue. The noise of a death metal band at sound check spit Les Paul groans through the heavy basement door as anxious concert goers descended.

An hour later, the man we came to see showed up with two friends. The front room was empty -except for us. After a cordial greeting, he set up his guitar and began to play… This singer from Nashville had just performed to a thousand people two nights earlier at a music festival. Gabriel Kelley now played to the four of us in that little room. He put his heart and soul into two full hours of music — as if we were an audience of hundreds… because for him it had nothing to do with the crowd. Slowly, passers-by from the metal show began to pause on their way out and listen to the sound of the talented singer. Kelley played as if he belonged in that room.

Several weeks ago, I was with some college friends to watch the NCAA basketball tournament. We have an annual tradition of meeting up for the first round of the games, finding a place with generous televisions and enjoying the madness. That Friday, we were delighted to watch a small Pennsylvania school that no one believed could win a tournament game take the floor against the mighty Duke Blue Devils. It was obvious at tip-off, someone failed to inform the Lehigh Mountain Hawks that they weren’t supposed to be there. They pulled off one of the more memorable upsets of this year’s tournament. Lehigh didn’t care about the prognosticators or the higher ranked team; they played like they belonged in that game.

I know a pastor named Brian who about a dozen years ago moved his family to plant a church with ten other mission-minded folks right in the heart of our city. The twelve or so has grown to over ten-thousand locals, but the goal was never about growing a mega- church. This community is dramatically changing the landscape of the city with their bold mission to end destitution in a town that has one of the highest urban poverty rates in the country. This all began because a group of folks showed up believing they belonged in Cincinnati.

I approach my passion (or neurosis) to write, not with overwhelming self-confidence or because I think it is a natural talent I must share with the world. Anxieties about success or failure, about being a nobody in a catalogue of somebody’s, or whether I’ll ever write a best-selling bit of anything are non-existent before the keyboard… As I sit down to write I have this unrelenting sensation that I belong in the moment of the flashing cursor spitting fresh words across a snow white screen and that I need to be doing this… even if it is just for me.

The truest measure or the real value of our passion has less to do with our talent, luck, or success, than the joy of believing that we belong in the very moment we are doing it… we belong as we write our symphony, play our game, preach our sermon, teach our class, share a new song, or even labor through a cluttered manuscript.

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