by Karissa Knox Sorrell
In his poem “Ode to the Unbroken World, Which is Coming,” Thomas Lux wrote:
It must be coming, mustn’t it? Churches
and saloons are filled with decent humans.
Once I would have thought of those two places as opposites. Churches were where the good people went, and saloons – or bars, in our modern day – were where bad people went. It’s so easy to slap labels on people, isn’t it? I bet that while I was looking down my nose at the bar folks, they were making fun of my goody-girl ways.
The thing that strikes me about these lines is that Christianity is so full of talk of brokenness, and Jesus is where we are supposed to find healing, redemption, and unbroken-ness. Yet Lux suggests that even the bar people are full of decency and renewal.
As a suburban mom, I’m not big into the bar scene, but recently I went to a bar to see a band. It was a local band that some friends and I used to follow right after we graduated from college. The band went defunct around 2009, but they were having a reunion show, and I thought it would be fun to relive old times with my friend Karla.
We sat in the balcony of the bar and I people-watched to pass the time until our band went on. The place was moving with activity: waitresses maneuvering around loiterers to deliver trays of drinks to tables full of glittery women, bearded men standing around the bar with beer bottles in hand, band members greeting old fans and friends in the middle of it all.
I watched Karla mingle with the friends she’d made during that time in our lives. Right before then, Karla had been halfway through seminary when she’d had to move home in hopes of getting custody of her nephew. The plan fell through, but Karla ended up staying and finishing her theology degree at a local university. Still, the disappointment was palpable. As I watched her laugh and reminisce with old friends, I wondered if the bar and music scene had saved Karla back then.
When the band we came to see finally went on, it was almost midnight. I sang along with the old tunes, remembering all those nights in our early twenties when we followed this band from venue to venue. At the time, I was trying hard to fit in. I’d grown up in an alcohol-free Christian home and I was exploring new territory. I usually ordered the only mixed drink I knew: rum and Coke. I would stand there, sipping on that tiny straw, trying to look like I knew what I was doing. The truth is, though I had some fun, I always felt like an outsider.
* * *
The thing is that sometimes I get the same feeling when I go to church. I stare at the icons with their blue and green hues and golden halos, and I listen to the harmonies of the choir. I chime in on the soprano line sometimes, and when it gets too high, I switch over to alto. I cross myself when the Trinity is mentioned, and I gently intone the phrase “Most Holy Theotokos save us,” which is sung whenever Mary is referred to. There is a quiet beauty to this place, these rituals.
I think what I can’t bear is the thought that we are, on our own, evil. That because a mythical man and woman ate some fruit long ago, we have been deemed broken. I don’t claim to believe that story anymore, although I don’t know what to do with Jesus without it. After all, this is how the world was supposed to be saved: through church, through Jesus.
I wonder if our idea of salvation got warped somewhere. I think it’s possible that God created us and thought we were good. And he still does. Maybe the way Jesus lived his life is our salvation, too. Perhaps it is in the living of it that we are saved: in the loving of outcasts, in the forgiving of others, in the dining with tax collectors, in the simple lifestyles, in the caring for the poor.
These thoughts, of course, go against the formulas and teachings of the church, so it’s no wonder that I feel a little uneasy at church anymore. I cringe at every talk of sin; I also wonder if I am being judged for my rebellious questions.
I can, however, believe in the hope of Lux’s unbroken world. I can believe that all things can be remade and renewed. At the end of his poem, Lux reminds us again of the promise of such a realm:
The unbroken world is coming,
(it must be coming!), I heard a choir,
there were clouds, there was dust,
I heard it in the streets, I heard it
announced by loudhailers
mounted on trucks.
Again, he uses imagery from both church and an old western saloon movie. Can either of them save us?
Maybe I am simply one of the loudhailers, announcing with gusto that yes, a healed world is coming, someday soon, though I can’t exactly explain how.
Karissa Knox Sorrell is a writer and educator from Nashville, Tennessee. She has an MFA from Murray State University, and her poetry and nonfiction have been published in a variety of journals, including Relief, St. Katherine Review, Catapult Magazine, Parable Press, and Flycatcher. Karissa works with ESOL teachers and students in Nashville’s public school system. Read more of her writing on her blog, or follow her on Twitter @KKSorrell
Image from thebeersessions.com