Friends in Low (and High) Places or Be Yourself: Everyone Else is Already Taken

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. – Martha Graham

Every once in a while, America does something great. Take PBS, for example, the Public Broadcasting System. PBS has made our lives, and our children’s lives, better – from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to Sesame Street, from Great Performances to the Ken Burns documentaries. This Sunday, my church near New Orleans is celebrating Sesame Street at 50 years. I can’t wait to preach a sermon on Cookie Monster! I also can’t wait for the cookie reception immediately following the service!

There was a compelling moment in the recent Ken Burns film on Country Music on PBS. A young Garth Brooks was trying to make it in Nashville, performing mostly for tiny crowds in venues like The Bluebird. The great Nashville producer, Allen Reynolds, heard Garth, liked what he heard, and agreed to produce an album for him. As their recording session got going, something didn’t sound quite right from Garth’s voice to Reynold’s ears – Reynolds pushed the PAUSE button. When questioned, Garth told Reynolds that he was just trying to “throw in a little of that George Strait sound.”  And why not? George Strait was the King of Country at the time and his albums sold gazillions of copies. Reynolds told the young singer: “The world already has a George Strait. What we need is a Garth Brooks.”

What wisdom to live by – whether your name is Garth, or George, or Tammy, or Emmylou. Whatever we are up to – recording an album, teaching a class, preparing a meal, or raising a child – no one can do it quite like you. No one else has your voice, expressions, experiences, perspectives, personality – your calling is uniquely your own. Our Creator is so original in his works that no creature is ever duplicated in precisely the same way. The honest-to-God truth is that whatever you are – whatever your gift – the world needs you. Not a version of you that tries to mimic somebody else.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of attending a memorable concert in Las Vegas – just Garth Brooks and his guitar. A stripped –down version of an artist sharing his stories and songs. Afterward, by the grace of God and lax security standards, my buddy Ben and I were invited backstage to have cookies and beer with Garth. He was kind, welcoming, down-to-earth and interested. He asked me about my ministry, books and dogs. There was no pretension, and no sense that, just because he was a gifted singer who had achieved extraordinary success, he was any better or more important than we were.  I have always felt strongly that when you appreciate people, you tell them, even if you’re not sure they value your opinion. So just before we parted, I said to Garth: “Hey, I just want you to know that I really do appreciate you – who you are, and what you do – you make the world better, so thank you.” Garth Brooks looked me in the eye and said, without missing a beat, and without a trace of insincerity: “And I just want you to know that I really appreciate YOU – who you are and what you do – you make the world a better place,  so thank YOU.”

I will never forget that moment and will always treasure it. Knowing that I have friends in both low and high places is the gift that keeps on giving. Understanding that I can be myself and offer my unique gifts to the world in my particular way is worthy of celebration.  By the way, if no one has told you lately: I appreciate you – who you are and what you do – you make the world better. Thank you.