The neighborhood of Mission Bay in San Francisco is an old dock land that was once the center of ship building on the west cost. Like many docklands in many cities across the country it saw this industry close over the years and fell into an advanced state of neglect and dilapidation. There are huge graffiti-painted buildings with empty piers jutting into the bay, themselves covered with the hard scrabble of urban docklands. Sand. Dirt. Broken concrete. Chain link fence with warning signs. Rebar. All pretty ubiquitous and not unique to San Francisco’s old docklands.
Also not unique to San Francisco is the renewal of these docklands into new thriving neighborhoods. This can only be celebrated and with the new development of condos and apartments and light industry and artists’ lofts comes all the services necessary to sustain this growth, including Braid Mission.
As in other cities all this development comes with some mixed emotion. New populations demand new venues and the old establishments which in many ways define a city as being THAT city, uniquely, disappear. In my own hometown of Boston, I remember the disappointment that was expressed by locals as those bars and restaurants and shops that served another generation and another world all gave up the ghost and Boston, in the eyes of many locals, became “disney.” Not bad in and of itself, and progress by in large is good, but you know what I mean.
The good news in SF is that there still exist several little bars along the Embarcadero that cling for dear life to a dock as they hang over the water. They are small and cozy and serve steam beer and, I imagine, look much the same as when they served those ship builders. And while the clientele of shipbuilders has been replaced with bankers and software engineers, the bartenders…the bartenders appear to have taken over the job from their grandfathers and fathers before them. While they may serve a new white-collar crowd, they knew the bar that served those who kept the shipyards humming.
Anyway, I was walking past one of these establishments after the 3rd game of the recent World Series had started. As I walked by the door of the bar I heard a squeal and a soft thud and looked over to King Street to see that a woman had come off her bicycle. The roads were a little wet from recent rain, and the bike had slid out from underneath her. She sat up but did not move, looking somewhat dazed. The car behind her thankfully stopped. Several people who had been walking along the Embarcadero, upon seeing what had happened, began to run towards the woman to make certain she was alright and to help.
As the first couple of people arrived at the place where she was sitting and they stretched out a hand to help, I heard a voice from the door of the bar, a voice of a bartender who had come out to see what happened, say, “Look, that is some good human shit!” And, as another person would run over to make certain the cyclist was okay he would repeat the phrase, “Look, that is some good human shit.” I looked at the bartender and our eyes connected and he nodded his head towards human helping human and said for a third time, “That over there, that is some good human shit. Look, they are helping her. They are lending a hand. That is some good human shit.”
As I consider Advent and the celebration of the Incarnation of God in history in Jesus Christ, and as I consider the incarnation of God in our lives through the Risen Christ, I am led to return to the witness, the one who proclaimed from a bar door. The proclamation at Christmas seems similar to the one proclaimed from a bar door on a wet day along the Embarcadero in San Francisco; “That is some good human shit.” God, making godself human so that God can lift us up when we have fallen, take our hand when we need a hand, help when we are lost and in need of help. God, the Good Samaritan, acting on our behalf. I wonder if there was a little of John the Baptist in that barkeeper, or I wonder if John the Baptist ever looked at Jesus and proclaimed, “Now, that is some good human shit.”