When I was a boy growing up in Rockwood , Tennessee , we had two malls to serve our shopping needs. The one we went to most often was West Town Mall here in Knoxville . The other one, Northgate Mall in Chattanooga , we didn’t go to as much because it was not as close as West Town .
One day, because we had not been in awhile I suppose, we were at Northgate Mall in Chattanooga during the lunch hour. Our choice for lunch was the Piccadilly Cafeteria.
My experience with cafeterias at such a young age was somewhat limited. I was well acquainted with the perils and pitfalls of the school cafeteria. At the same time, I had eaten many delightful meals at my dad’s restaurant, the Quick & Tasty Cafeteria. Granted, most of the time I ordered a cheeseburger and fries from the grill, but occasionally, I would venture through the line and sample the cafeteria offerings. The choices were limited to three entrees, five or six vegetables, rolls or corn muffins, coleslaw or salad and homemade pies.
That day in the Piccadilly Cafeteria, something was different. I am not sure now exactly what it was. Maybe it was the larger selection, maybe it was the presentation or maybe it was just that I was really hungry; but I could not make up my mind. I stood there trying to decide, and I could not decide. So I looked at the lady on the other side of the glass. She was holding a plate waiting for me to tell her what I wanted. I did not say a word. Instead, I just started pointing. When we finally arrived at the end of the line, Mom had that what-have-you-done? look on her face. I had an inkling of an idea that the meal was not going to be as enjoyable as I might at first have thought it would be.
Needless to say, I was the last one to finish eating at our table. More accurately, I was the last one to decide to stop eating. This was one of the few times in my life when my good standing in the “clean-your-plate club” was in jeopardy. But that day, cleaning my plate (or should I say plates) was more than I could do. I had bitten off more than I could chew.
Look — I was young. There would be plenty of time for me to recover. In the years ahead, I would learn the intricacies of the buffet while also discovering the glories of the smorgasbord. How could I know at such an early age that there was so much to be learned from restaurants and dining halls.
Every once in awhile I hear someone refer to someone else’s way of reading the Bible — almost always someone with which they disagree — as a cafeteria-line approach to scripture. If one reads the Bible with a cafeteria-line approach, then one picks and chooses which parts of the Bible to believe or not to believe. The idea being that if you don’t believe all of the Bible then you don’t really believe any of it. Therefore, you should just shu…er…be quiet, the implication being a cafeteria-line style Bible reader is not a good thing.
Yet, I have some problems with this criticism being applied to people who earnestly and sincerely try to read the Bible and hear what God would say to them. My first problem is that we all do it to one degree or another. Singling out a person for doing something that everyone is doing just does not seem fair.
For those of us who are adherents to the Christian faith, there are parts of the Bible that we find delightfully appetizing. When the Bible speaks of God’s love for us, we eagerly accept a double serving. Where the Bible talks about grace and forgiveness, the lunch portion is not enough for us. No, when it comes to God forgiving our failures and shortcomings, we prefer the dinner-size portion. Overindulging on the tasty parts of scripture is something we all love to do.
At the same time, there are some dishes on God’s bountiful buffet of spiritual insight that leave our souls, if not our stomachs, feeling a little queasy. When the Bible says that in Christ Jesus there is no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, we find many good Christian folks who are not yet ready to swallow all the implications of that one. They still in some way prefer to savor the distinctions served up at the lunch counter of segregation, the coffee shop of misogyny and the hot dog stand of nationalism.
The truth of the matter is if we all just sallied up to God’s cafeteria and indiscriminately started stuffing ourselves with Biblical taste treats, there would not be enough gastroenterologists to attend to such a stomach ache epidemic.
I remember as a boy, my Dad would call the local radio station every morning to give them the menu for the day. I used to think it was pretty cool to hear him telling the whole town what was for lunch. Imagine hearing a menu like this: For our appetizers today you can start with, “…unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”, or “…follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” For the main course you are going to love, “…deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me”; or for those who want something even meatier, “…love your enemies”, “…turn the other cheek”, “…pray for those who persecute you.” If you’re still hungry, for dessert you might like some, “…do not judge and you will not be judged,” or maybe a sweet serving of, “…take the log out of your own eye.”
No, that was not the fare Dad offered to hungry Rockwoodians, but it is what the Bible offers to us. Do you see my point? Either the restaurant is empty or the doctor’s office is full because we can just take so much of Jesus at one time. I think maybe that is why they make these little communion wafers so small.
There are some other reasons that I do not appreciate comparisons of the Bible with cafeterias; but it is time for lunch and I have to go.