Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hurricanes, the Waffle House, and your Spiritual Health

People are always trying to figure out what’s going on in the world around them. Because none of us can posses or digest all the data that exists in the world we turn to what are called indicators. Indicators are single bits of data that give us a glimpse into the larger reality of what’s going on in the world. The Dow Jones Industrial Index would be a market indicator. The GDP would be a national economic indicator. That vein on your father’s forehead, that’s a mood indicator. Now, according to the Wall Street Journal this morning, there is the “Waffle House Index” which indicates the severity of natural disasters.

Apparently, a person can judge the severity of a hurricane or other natural disaster by how quickly the local Waffle House gets back open for business. Waffle Houses don’t tend to advertise much. Their entire marketing strategy revolves around being open when others aren’t. This means that if your local Waffle House is closed, the storm was really bad. If it’s open, you can trust things will get back to normal pretty soon. This indicator works because the fact of whether or not the Waffle House is open is connected to a whole host of other issues like supply lines, electricity, safety, etc. It’s these factors that really tell the story of how bad a storm was. But since these issues determine whether or not the Waffle House is open or not, the Waffle House becomes a solid indicator for how bad or good everything else is, as well.

What makes for good spiritual indicators? We all have them. Not all of them are good at predicting spiritual health. Think of the Pharisees. The assumed that if they avoided sinners, said their prayers before mealtime, and followed proper religious protocol down at the synagogue, then they could be assured of their spiritual health. And yet, Jesus said, such things were pretty useless in helping a person determine whether or not they were close to God because such procedural issues did not connect with the heart of the matter (which was the heart of the person).

Instead, Jesus explained, we can now if we love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds, mainly by looking at how well we are loving our neighbor – by which he meant almost any soul we come in contact with whether they be a nobody or even an enemy! Too often, we’re like the Pharisees. We have our church attendance index, or our alcohol consumption barometer, or our denominational affiliation indicator. We think these alone can tell us all we need to know about our spiritual health. But what we really need, according to Jesus, is our own version of the Waffle House index. For how you love and care for the people you meet at the Waffle House (or anywhere else) may be a far better indicator of your spiritual health than anything you do at church.

Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40.

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