Our town has undergone some serious downtown revitalization over the past 15-20 years, with new businesses being established and loft apartments being built. I always rejoice when new restaurants open up downtown – I know people appreciate having another choice of where to dine. I really don’t eat out, but my neighbor, a nondenominational Protestant, loves to go out for brunch on Sunday morning. Recently a new restaurant opened its doors, one that she just had to check out – the Pick-N-Choose Cafeteria on Fourth and Main.
She told me that last Sunday morning she opened the door of that establishment to a frightful din, the sound of dozens of voices all crying out at the same time. Startled, she pulled back, but a customer who was leaving assured her that the food was great – “best meal I’ve had in ages!” he said as he exited the establishment. She proceeded cautiously up to the counter and selected a tray and silverware. Strangely enough, the first server, a big, meaty guy, seemed to have a full meal waiting for her. He was set to dish out infant baptism with regeneration, sacramental union, episcopal polity, and liturgy, all served on a bed of faith alone and the Bible alone. He held out his hand, waiting for her plate, as if he were used to being obeyed.
“Hand it over,” he commanded in a thick, old-fashioned German accent, “I’ll fill it up.”
“Umm… thank you,” she said hesitantly, “but I’d like to see what the other offerings are before I make a decision.”
The man’s jaw jutted out imperiously. “I shall not have my food judged by any man, not even by any angel! Look at you – you look scrawny! What have you been eating? Give me your plate!”
To my neighbor’s surprise, the server suddenly lunged at her, and she quickly stepped back. Had the counter not been between them, she told me, she believes he would have come after her.
“You will regret this!” he thundered, “The rest of the food in here is nothing but in-deviled, over-devilled, and through-devilled refuse!” (although she told me that he used a much earthier term for “refuse”). Rattled, she hurried on to the next server, a tall man with a long, thin beard wrapped in a hairnet. He looked decidedly no-nonsense.
“Hold out your plate!” he barked. She looked over the selection: infant baptism, presbyteral polity, total depravity, limited atonement, once again served over sola fide and sola scriptura. It smelled appetizing. “Yes,” she said, “I’ll have some of that presbyteral polity, please.”
“We’ll have none of that!” the man insisted, pouring infant baptism into a bowl and holding it out to her. “Here!”
She hesitated. “No, thank you – that’s not really what I want.”
My neighbor told me she thought the man was going to rap her knuckles with his ladle. “What do you think this is, a cafeteria? You WILL have infant baptism, and you will LIKE IT!”
Just then the first server began to bellow, “AND baptismal regeneration!”
“How foolishly he errs!” the second server hissed. “You want the sign and seal of covenant status – his baptismal regeneration is just leftover hash from his upbringing! Give me your plate!” the man demanded as he rapped the counter with his ladle.
My neighbor hurried on.
The third server seemed a little more laid back. He was offering believer’s baptism (much more to my neighbor’s taste), congregational polity, with a memorial meal and the obligatory solas. As the server was asking my neighbor how much polity she would like, a crusty roll came sailing through the air and knocked him in the side of the head. “Whoever does not accept my menu may not be saved!” she heard the first server yell. The third server slammed down his spatula and stalked off in the direction of the roll-slinger. The second server rolled his eyes and motioned to my neighbor with his ladle. She pretended not to see him.
According to my neighbor, the offerings became much more appealing from that point on. Most of the food was à la carte, and the plain fare that the first servers (who were now loudly anathematizing each other) had tried to feed her gave way to spicier offerings. No one seemed to care what she took or what she left behind. She picked and chose her way to the cashier, where she was pleasantly surprised to find out how cheap her brunch was going to be. She recommended the cafeteria to me in glowing terms.
“You can get pretty much anything you like!” she enthused as she pulled a roll of Tums from the pocket of her cardigan. “I’m going back for the pan-fried glossolalia next Sunday!”
I mentioned to her my concern that the Health Department, according to recent news reports, hasn’t been allowed onto the premises to conduct an inspection.
“Oh, pshaw,” my neighbor reacted. “I know good food when I eat it! After all, we learned about the Theology Pyramid in school. As long as your meal is solidly grounded in faith alone and the Bible alone, you’re okay. I like to try new things, and as the menu plainly states, there’s a Bible verse for every dish they’re offering over there! Really, you’ve gotta try it!”
I explained to her that I have a firm commitment to getting my food from the same establishment every Sunday morning. She rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, I know – don’t you get tired of that same ole, plain ole Body and Blood Sunday after Sunday? Seriously, I couldn’t do it.”
I was about to tell her that I actually eat there on weekdays too when I can, but she interrupted me.
“I saw some of your fellow mackerel-snappers at the cafeteria!” she announced triumphantly.
“Eating there?” I asked her, although I was not surprised.
“No, serving!” she answered. “They looked like politicians I’d seen on TV. Their free contraception with Hollandaise sauce smelled good, but I draw the line at the abortion-rights ratatouille. Some things just aren’t edible!”
I had to agree with her on that.
She belched and asked me if I could recommend a good gastroenterologist; she’d been having a few digestive issues recently. “I really think,” I warned her, “that the first thing a gastroenterologist would advise you would be to watch what you eat! If you’re having stomach problems….”
My neighbor held up her hand to cut me off. “Nobody’s told me what to eat since I was a kid! I’ll be darned if I’m going to go on a bland diet! I eat what I want!”
I gave her the name of a local doctor, and fired one parting shot.
“You know, the Greek word for ‘pick-and-choose’ is ‘heresy.'”
Her face brightened. “That reminds me! Next Sunday I’ve got to have some more of that health-and-wealth gyros they serve down there! Delectable!”
I shook my head as I watched her walk back to her house. What could I say? How could I explain my aversion to cafeteria-style dining? You never know what you’re going to get in those places. She thinks that’s great; I think that’s a matter of great concern.
After all – you are what you eat.
On the memorial of St. Phaolô Nguyễn Văn Mỹ
Deo omnis gloria!
Photo credits: La Feria del CCCT, Chuao, Caracas by Liliana Amundaraín/Wikimedia