It used to happen a lot. When I managed a Christian bookstore, every local author and musical artist saw me as the gatekeeper to a missing ingredient in their career. That missing ingredient was the ever elusive spot on our store shelves and hopefully a book or CD signing. At first I was resentful of how often these conversations took place and how much time it took to explain our process for handling these requests. Our store just didn’t have room for every new self-published book or newly recorded CD and I was supposed to be spending my time providing resources that people were actually looking for. Besides all that I hated having to say no so often.
Fairly quickly, I realized that I needed to do something about this deluge of local “talent” or it was going to drive me crazy. We needed a forum to make it possible for us to celebrate the artists in our community and not just treat them as a frustrating interruption in our daily routine. As I began to get to know people in my city and to hear their stories, I was overwhelmed by the diversity of talent and their desire to share this with as many people as possible. I also realized I could not do this on my own. It was out of this frustration that the “Gospel Poetry Slam” was born. Secular spoken word events were happening all over the city, but no one was really providing a space for Christian artists to share their talent.
With the help of some friends from a local gospel music recording and distribution company, we opened our doors on Saturday evenings once a month for an open mic night that would become a signature event for our store. With very little store staff (often just myself and one other person), we provided the space for the event to take place, allowed my friends to host and facilitate every aspect of the evening and something remarkable happened. People began paying a small “cover” charge just to get into our store after regular hours to attend this event and often to perform. It was incredible to see the talent that existed and was often overlooked. On any given night, there were musical performances, poetry, spoken word, book readings, comedy routines and lots of fun. We always allowed the performers to feature and sell their products if they had just published or recorded their material and people would regularly buy these books and CDs.
Today, I no longer manage a bookstore on a day to day basis, but I still value the power of a generous spirit. It never ceases to amaze me how we can so quickly evaluate another person on the basis of their ability to help us. This even happens in the church. We meet someone for the first time and find out what they do and immediately start making mental calculations about how valuable they could be to us and our objectives. If they are not an “influencer” or worse they want/ need something from us, it is amazing how quick we find a way to end those conversations. As a person who considers himself an influencer, I can be the “chief of sinners” in this area and have to constantly remind myself of Jesus’s example. He often seemed to choose the worst possible people to connect with if he was looking to build his platform and improve his reputation. Instead, he intentionally hung out with outcasts and very needy people who regularly took more than they gave.
It occurs to me that Jesus would not have made a good client for a modern day talent agent. He always seemed to choose to focus on people that made the disciples cringe. If he wasn’t eating with tax collectors and prostitutes, he was healing the unclean and untouchable. His motto seemed to be “just because”. Wherever he went he looked on people with enormous compassion and just because they needed to be fed, he fed them; just because they were sick, he healed them; and just because they were sinners, he forgave them. He did not make cold calculations of their value to him nor did he put barriers between himself and the crowds. He walked among them, called for the children to be brought to him and ate at their tables. This week I look forward to experiencing a few of those “just because” moments myself as I allow Him to guide my steps. Who knows what may happen?