My grandmother ran a beer and wine bar in San Francisco in the 1930’s. Grandma didn’t get into that business overnight. It was the result of a life of hard-nocks that started many years earlier when my grandfather left the house one day to find work and never came back.
Mom has shared with me what it was like to grown up in Alexandria, Louisiana during the Depression, the child of a single parent. You could be shunned in those days if you were divorced. Mom remembered some of that taking place and she also remembers her mother making sure that she and her brother were scrubbed clean each day before they walked to school. Shunning voices didn’t need anything more to talk about. At least the Boone kids were clean.
Grandma took in boarders, did laundry and prepared meals for those who stayed the night. Mom remembers that she and her brother each had one pair of shoes that were only worn to church and school. The rest of her childhood years were spent barefoot.
As the Depression deepened my mom’s brother headed off for a career in the Navy and she and grandmother left Louisiana for Southern California. Mom had dreams of being the next, soon-to-be-discovered starlet. The starlet thing didn’t work out, but years later she was a regular fixture in stage productions in San Francisco. I still have some of her theater flyers and publicity photos from that era.
Soon after arriving in Southern California mom and grandma started a restaurant in Los Angeles called, “Lavert’s Southern Belle.” Lavert is my mom’s first name and the result of living in French influenced Louisiana. After a short stint in L.A. mom and grandma moved north to San Francisco and opened the beer and wine bar.
This “joint,” as it was called in street parlance, was located in the area of San Francisco near Turk and Eddy Street. In those days is was really rough. Today it is still really rough. Jan and I attended a conference in San Francisco a few years ago and visited this area. We spent most of our time looking over our shoulders.
Recently, I was talking with my mom in our weekly phone conversation about those days long ago. She began to recall memories of her mother. She told me, “my mom used to walk by winos lying in the street and she would tell me, ‘Lavert, never forget, that man was once some mother’s son.’”
Mom went on to tell me that many times she would see her mom ask a wino, “When was the last time you had a bath?” She remembered that some of those “mother’s sons” smelled so bad she would gag if she got too close to them. Grandma would take some of these broken men into the back room of the bar and take one of those big commercial sponges and wash his face like a loving mother might do for a young boy who had returned home after playing outside and getting dirty.
After I finished the phone call and I hung up, I kept hearing my grandmother’s words, “Lavert, never forget, that man was once some mother’s son.” I thought to myself what great theology my grandmother possessed. Some religious people might not like her because she ran and beer and wine bar in one of the most rundown places in the City. But I think God liked my grandmother a whole lot. In fact, I think she might have been one of His most favorite people in San Francisco in the 1930’s.
As you read about the life of Jesus you see Him touching broken people. Jesus wasn’t afraid of anything, especially brokenness. When He selected His first disciples He wanted them to see His heart for those the religious establishment had overlooked. When He got mad one day, and cleared out the Temple money-changers, the Word tells us the first people to come back to the Temple were those needing physical healing.
In Matthew 10 Jesus is giving instructions about how to be a disciple on God’s mission. He mentioned things that can happen to you when you go in the name of Love. Some of those things can actually get you killed.
As I read chapter 10 of Matthew I didn’t notice instructions on how to construct church buildings, how to deliver temperate sermons, make worship comfortable or anything about my IRA fund. What I did notice was verse 42, “And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” The instructions of chapter 10 stood upon those words. Everything Jesus told His disciples that day rested on the foundation of giving Love away.
I think grandma “got it” because she saw people through the eyes of God. Today, when I walk by a wino lying in his vomit and excrement I see a filthy person that makes me want to cross the street to the other side. Grandma didn’t cross streets to get away from brokenness. Neither did Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews told us that supernatural things can take place when we meet a wino or a stranger in line at the supermarket. Hebrews 13: 1-2 reads, “Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.”
I believe in a God who is miraculous and shows up and heals impossible diseases, raises dead people and lets us see behind the veil occasionally into the eternal realm. I never understood how people could believe that God created this world in six days and then struggle with a disease leaving a body at a command using the name of Jesus. The Book of Acts never really ended in chapter 28. Our acts in His Name are still taking place today if we choose to see the world around us through His eyes.
Parts of the American church have been spooked away from angels. Some people have been caught up in the whole angel thing and maybe even shifted some of their attention in the wrong direction. Those dangerous and unbiblical shifts still do not diminish the fact that angels are real and are on assignment in the earth today. I believe they were on assignment seventy years ago on the filthy streets of wino town in San Francisco.
You and I will not always know who the angels are because the Bible says that we entertain them “unwittingly.” That simply means we do it unaware. The angels don’t always look like we think they should. Sometimes they look like some mother’s son who doesn’t blend in too well with the rest of us.
As I envision my grandma washing the face of a man “down on his luck,” I wonder if she might have washed the face of an angel?