Author’s Note: I wrote this Reflection in early 2017 and shared it with a small group of friends. This updated version is posted for the first time on TheBuddyBlog.com
If you do a web search for the phrase “A guy walked into a bar….” you will discover that bars and bartenders are one of the more popular joke motifs in the history of humor. There are literally thousands of jokes that start with that familiar line. So in early 2017, when I stumbled across a poem on the Goodreads website titled “The Things I Learned as a Bartender,” I fully expected to encounter a poetic version of a bar joke.
A sobering discovery proved otherwise.
Tricia McCallum’s “The Things I Learned as a Bartender” was the February 2017 winner of Goodreads monthly poetry contest. Far from being another medium for bar humor, this profoundly moving literary piece is best described as poignant. It reads,
The Things I Learned as a Bartender
There is no such thing as the perfect martini.
Jazz musicians make lousy tippers.
A couple can walk in fighting and after two shots of tequila
hold each other for dear life on the dance floor
like they did in high school.
A woman doesn’t notice her date’s drink order
as much as how he treats the waitress.
No matter how cool the pickup line
women want kind.
Even with nothing to gain
people can be small and mean.
A table of plastic surgeons
can be more obnoxious, abusive, than
a convention of professional wrestlers.
The plain girl alone at the end of the bar
has an achingly beautiful story
no one will hear.
The busboy with the bad skin.
His will also go untold.
Some people cannot be reached.
The hulking cab driver
who climbed the back stairs for his double cheeseburger
every night at 8:30, month after month,
stayed mute, no eye contact. He’d pay with a twenty
and wave away the change.
Leave without a word.
From him I learned
it’s impossible to imagine
all the damage done.
Once read, twice read, thrice read, I kept chewing on the words, reflecting on these things a bartender learns. For many burdened souls, bartenders provide what is missing in our hedonistic culture – a trusted confidante and a sympathetic, albeit anonymous listener.
I must confess that this soul-stirring poem probably reflects more truth about life in our Western culture than any of us want to admit. And as a follower of Christ, I must wonder if it also serves as an indictment of the failure of the Church to provide a warm, hospitable, non-judging respite for those of whom “it’s impossible to imagine all the damage done.”
Now I ponder – what kind of bartender would Jesus be? A good listener? For sure. Understanding eyes? You betcha. A forgiving heart? Always.
And when He spoke, the bar would grow quiet, and patrons would hear a voice whose mere sound would warm the coldest heart. They would be urged to “love one another,” “encourage one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” and “be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving of one another.” His bar would soon become known as the One Another Lounge where He really does know your name. Then maybe these bar patrons might seek their healing in a venue not requiring an alcoholic spark. And, soon discover that their woes and burdens can find a real Answer not on a barstool, but at the foot of the Cross.
Well, come to think of it, if Jesus was a bartender, I doubt He would sell any beer, but rather offer free all-you-can-drink servings of living water. Or he might just lean in close to His customers and whisper, “my brother Paul once told the Ephesians, be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
So, if I were to walk into a bar where Jesus was the bartender, my order would be a simple one, “Fill me up Lord, fill me up.”