Well. It’s been a while, but I’m back with an album reflection. This time, let’s dive into Hank Thompson’s “A Six Pack To Go.” I don’t fully know why, but this album delights me. Maybe it’s the sort of innocence he brings to drinking, or that it’s an entire album dedicated to drinking, good times, and bars. Regardless, this album has a solid spiritual reality enhanced by the wine, beer, and whiskey.
I think the thing is, we could easily dismiss this as a good times album with a few heartbreak songs and some instrumental polkas, but even in the title track, the line “Tomorrow Mornin’s Sunday/I’m gonna be feelin’ low.” And, I want to think this has less to do with going to church, more to do about thinking about life and the emptiness of Sunday in the fifties, sixties, and seventies due to a mix of culture and blue laws. We see the same thing in “Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down,” and even in contemporary country with Zach Bryan’s “Us Then.”
He’s drinking for multiple reasons. He’s engaging the community, but it seems to be also filling a hole, or searching, and the bar is there. The honkytonk where he goes to find connection, or something like. The song “Hangover Heart” could easily be about the same night. A song about one last kiss, one last drink together, and the the drinks that follow the end of a relationship. This song is likely about a breakup (or even a relationships that never really happened) but it could also easily be about grief from a death and remembering the times they had together.
Really, the album doesn’t stop with great songs. “Bubbles in my beer” is a nostalgia song that portrays a singer as someone paralyzed by their past and viewing all their life as a failure because of one breakup. But, I want to think more about “Drunkard’s Blues.” This song is a that has to be a precursor to the gothic country movement. I have so many questions about this dark song. Did he kill her? Did she kill herself? Did she just leave him and this is a way of him saying he’s over her (or not really)?
For this album, I see some opportunities to think about grief, loss, and the spaces people go to process these losses. Of course, this is can easily be the church, but so often, there are other spaces people inhabit to grieve. This may be the bar, the backyard, or open road, but we need to figure out how to offer the space to grieve in whatever form people do it. We soften prescribe and limit grief to certain realities, but we can’t do that assume we’re helping. To limit grief does a disservice to the living and the dead.
Now, we also need to pay attention to when grief may be becoming toxic and melancholic. People can sink into despair and loneliness, and the church (or the bar) might save them from their losses.
Beyond this, Hank Thompson offers us the reality that drinking and honkytonk living has many purposes. We could easily lay this on why people drink, party, sleep around, etc. That’s not a judgement I want to pass. Instead, I want to suggest, that just as people go to the bar for different reasons, people go to church for different reasons. People come for hope, grief, connection, and isolation. The role of the church is not to create individualized churches for each of these. Bars aren’t themed for grief, sadness, parties, or hookups, they simply exist, and allow for multiple experiences.
If we are going to be a church that lives into a space for people to exist and thrive, we need to consider that we need to figure out who we are (and that may evolve over time), and simply allow people who are drawn to that atmosphere be able to come. My feeling is that good bar isn’t one that is there trying to attract the most people or a particular people, it’s a bar that recognizes its crowd, tries to play the music and have the beer the people like, and let’s people be themselves. The community will come.
The church can easily learn from this. If it can figure out its crowd, the music they like, and the ministries that make sense in their space, the people will come. This isn’t to say the church shouldn’t be prophetic and missional, but first it has to figure out what it needs to be prophetic and missional about.