Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Waffle House Theology


The year would have been 1988, and I was freshly transferred from the Naval Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut to Dam Neck Naval Base in Virginia Beach, Virginia. After completing boot camp in Illinois and then sub school ( which lasted over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays,) I had been North of the Mason Dixon Line for just shy of nine months.

What this means is that I lasted nine months with NO sweet tea, NO warm weather, NO one saying y’all, and most of all, NO grits. North of the Mason Dixon they have a weak-kneed grits resemblance known as cream of wheat. echkk. I tried c.o.w. once. That stuff makes you speak all Hebrew and stuff. Like you have massive amounts of phlegm stuck in your throat. heeackkkkk.

So, it was on a bright, sunny, rather warm February day I got off the plane at Norfolk International Airport. Tagging along was my buddy, Chris Oldenburg, a native of Connecticut, classmate at BESS and soon to be roommate at Dam Neck for SWSA School. For three months Oldie had listened to me complain about negative digits weather, the horrors of Connecticut rudeness, the all around uncouthness of unsweetened ice tea, and the sheer indignity of NO grits. Needless to say people, my heart stopped after seeing a Waffle House sign just outside the gates of Dam Neck. “Stop!” I yelled to our cab driver. “Take us there! Take us there now.” It was two in the afternoon (umm. Fourteen-hundred) and we didn’t need to report for duty until 8 the next morning. “We’re eating some real food. Forget the mess,” I told Oldie. This is where it gets interesting.

I ordered heaven on a platter. Grilled chicken breast on a bun, with hash browns; scattered, covered and smothered; sweet tea, and—of course, a side of grits. Oldie studied the menu for a few minutes. I can still see the perplexed features of his face; brow wrinkled, slight frown, eyes squinting. I am quite sure his fingers were sticking to the syrupy menu as he kept eyeing the short order cook, slightly afraid of the recently released convict who was waiting to cook our food,  and the just-shy-of-a-set-of-dentures tattooed woman, waiting to take his order. Ahhh. The best Waffle Houses have convicts cooking the food. The quality of the food is inversely proportional to the amount of time his incarceration ended.  And if your waitress has a full set of teeth, be wary. Be very wary.

The classic line of all lines was not delivered by Oldie though. He simply asked her, with a straight face, to bring him a grit also. Her line is the one deserving Hall of Fame recognition. One that was probably much practiced by someone employed so close to a military establishment. With a hilly Virginia accent she drawled, “Sugah. They dun cum buuy theyself.”

******sigh******* Waffle House Theology. Grits do not come by themselves. They come as a group. As a collective. What made me reminisce about this story was thinking about the church. This past week, preaching from Luke 15, I chided the church (us and the church at large) for caring more about the 99 that the 1. Spending more money on the 99. More effort, more energy, more resources. Caring more for the 99 at home than the 1 outside and lost. The church is a collective also. A fellowship of Believers. There is no such thing as a singular grit. There is no such thing as a singular Christian. The word is plural, and the Waffle House Theology is that we need to spend more time remembering that, more time caring about in-reach and out-reach as we do about insuring the comfort of those that never wander. Remembering that grits don't come buuy theyself, and neither do Christians.

No comments: