n a book I am currently reading, I came across a quote that really struck home. The quote was “Some religions are a restaurant. You sit down and they bring you what they’re serving for dinner. Paganism is a buffet. If you want to eat, you have to get up off your butt and serve yourself.”
Too many people show up at a religious service, take their place at a table, a.k.a. a pew, and simply eat whatever they are served. The special of the day, a.k.a. the sermon, is prepared and served by the pastor, priest, etc. People trust this chef/waiter and rarely question or check out the ingredients etc. to see if it is “nutritional.” Unlike most restaurants, these religious restaurants generally have just one “special” per day which everyone gets served. In this way, many religions and religious services are often more like a wedding reception than restaurant.
You show up at a wedding reception, sit down at your table and you are served your meal. There is no menu. You have no choice what you are going to eat. Whether it is a crowd of 50, 100 or 500, everybody in attendance is getting the same meal.
Some spiritual paths, however, are much more like a buffet. Not only are there lots of choices within those paths, the choices are up to you and to a great degree you have to serve yourself. If you simply sit down and wait to be served you’re going to go hungry. It is up to you to get up, grab a plate and select your own food from the many choices available. You have to serve yourself rather than wait for some person in a “robe or collar or suit” to serve you. And no one is going to spoon feed you. Usually there will be “staff” available to tell you exactly what each dish is and what it contains but ultimately it is up to you what goes on your plate.
The amazing thing is that generally others who are attending the buffet don’t mind at all if your plate contains some things that aren’t on their plates. As long as you don’t force them to eat what you have on your plate and they don’t force you to eat what they are eating, everything works out just fine. You see, for the most part, those attending the buffet believe that along with their own personal favourites, there are lots of other good foods available that can make you healthy and strong.
It is also interesting to note that if people aren’t forced to eat something they will often end up trying it as well as lots of other things they have never tried before. When they see others enjoying a particular dish, they often are willing to try something that they wouldn’t if it had been forced upon them. They become willing to trying something that they would have never considered in the past.
For example, a few years ago any teaching from the Toltecs wasn’t anywhere on my menu.
For those who don’t know about the Toltecs, here is a description.
“Thousands of years ago, the Toltec were known throughout southern Mexico as "women and men of knowledge." Anthropologists have spoken of the Toltec as a nation or a race, but in fact, the Toltec were scientists and artists who formed a society to explore and conserve the spiritual knowledge and practices of the ancient ones. They came together as masters (Naguals) and students at Teotihuacan, the ancient city of pyramids outside Mexico City known as the place where "Man becomes God." From “The Mastery of Love” by Don Miguel Ruiz
There was a time in my life when I would have considered any teaching from the Toltecs to be “pagan” at best and “demonic” at worst and I wanted nothing to do with either one. This view was part of my belief structure at the time. When it came to Toltec teaching, I had accepted and entered into an “agreement” from my religious teachers that condemned the Toltecs and their wisdom. To be blunt, that last line that reads “They came together as masters (Naguals) and students at Teotihuacan, the ancient city of pyramids outside Mexico City known as the place where "Man becomes God” would have been proof that the Toltec teachings were heretical. Today, I am so comfortable with that last line that I laugh at myself when I think where I was not that long ago. The truth is that it really wouldn’t have mattered what the teachings were back then. Based on the “agreement” that was entrenched in me, it was enough that it didn’t come from my interpretation of the Bible or a fundamental Christian ministry. Forget that it might help me to be a better person. Forget that it included very practical suggestions that could help me be more loving, joyful and at peace. That didn’t matter. It violated one of the “agreements” that ruled my life.
Sad to say, I would have done the same thing with the teachings of Eckhart Tolle if I hadn’t found the power to break that agreement. What a loss that would have been! Tolle’s book, A New Earth, is not only a wonderful book that is filled with great spiritual truths, but it is also, in my opinion, perhaps the best practical commentary I have ever read on parts of Romans chapter 7. Regardless, I had an “agreement” in me that was so deeply rooted that I would have probably burnt Tolle’s book rather than read it if given the chance. I was part of a religion that had the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. At least I thought so.
What a shock it was when I discovered that maybe I could find truth in places that I would have never considered looking previously. Maybe some of those off-limit pagan teachings weren’t so demonic after all. Several years ago, I read a book called The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. It was an eye-opening moment for me because I suddenly realized that Redfield was presenting universal truths which, in my opinion, were “biblical,” and yet he was explaining them better than most Bible teachers (again my opinion). I suddenly realized why many people were gravitating to the new age movement, etc. They were getting better teaching than a lot of Christians and often the teachings were on the same topics and principles.
I realize that some of you have some very powerful “agreements” working in your lives. In fact, to think about cancelling some of those agreements is paramount to denying Jesus in some of your minds. I know that because we have faced that accusation on more than one occasion. Some of you have “agreements” in your life that probably won’t let you read Eckhart Tolle or Wayne Dyer or Deepak Chopra. Some of you have agreements that would keep you from the shaman workshop we hosted in November 2008 and any that we host or attend in the future. Some of you have agreements that would leave you aghast if you showed up at one of our meetings and we sang or chanted Om Mani Padme Hum, a Buddhist chant and though it is not something we may often do or ever do again, we have done that. Despite the fact that the purpose of this chant is as follows, your “agreements” may prevent your participation.
The mantra Om Mani Pame Hum is easy to say yet quite powerful, because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say the first syllable Om it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the practice of generosity, Ma helps perfect the practice of pure ethics, and Ni helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and patience. Pa, the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance, Me helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration, and the final sixth syllable Hum helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom.
Our “agreements” can be so strong that even though this chant is encouraging us to focus on generosity, pure ethics, tolerance, patience and perseverance, we can’t participate. Likewise, we couldn’t discuss the “Mindfulness Teachings” in Buddhism even though they may help us become more compassionate and help us to focus on alleviating suffering, controlling our tongues, etc.
To bring the wedding reception back into our discussion, some of you have such strong agreements operating in your life, that you would have a great deal of difficulty considering anything that isn’t on the menu that your current church or denomination has approved. And yet, as strong as those agreements can be, Barna suggests a million people a year are leaving the church and looking for more. If nothing else, this shows how strong the drive is within people to find that “something more” that they know deep down exists.
I probably need to acknowledge that I realize that wedding receptions can’t give everyone a menu and let them choose. A reception can’t function that way and many will say that it can’t work in the religious world either. You can’t have a thousand people showing up at church on a Sunday and each of them ordering their “favourite dish/sermon.” I would absolutely agree. That system can’t handle it and wouldn’t allow it and that is a major reason why those million are leaving every year. The problem isn’t just the one course being offered Sunday mornings. It is the phenomenally restricted menu that is “allowed” in most churches every day. You can’t have that. That’s taboo, that is demonic, that is heresy and that is an abomination. To all of that I will simply say that you may be in for a pleasant surprise if you ever decide to step away and take a look at another menu, one that is far more inclusive than exclusive.
If I can use our small group as an example, our “buffet” over the past couple of years has included Christian mysticism, a metaphysical look at the Bible, the Mayan Calendar, shamanism, kabbalism, Eckhart Tolle teachings and Gregg Braden teachings, to name just a few items that appeared on our menu. I know some of you may be struggling with a few things on that list. That’s okay and I really do understand. I have walked in your shoes. And remember, it is up to you what goes on your plate. That said, let me use an example that you may be somewhat comfortable with to show what happens when we step outside the box that has supposedly protected us but really has imprisoned us. We are going to turn the words of Jesus but look at them from a much different perspective.
Many of you are familiar with Matthew 12:31. It reads:
“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men”
I am not going to go into detail about what many of you have been taught regarding this verse. I am not interested in rehashing any of it and to be blunt, we would be better off if most of the teaching on this verse simply went away. Instead, I am going to share with you another interpretation of Jesus’ words based upon an understanding of the culture at that time and the Aramaic language, the language of the common people in Israel in the first century A.D. I am indebted to Aramaic scholar, Neil Douglas Klotz, for this interpretation.
I ask you to read what follows and see if something resonates inside. See if it doesn’t sound a lot more like something Jesus would have taught. It will probably sound very strange but that is because we have never been taught an understanding of middle-eastern Semitic spirituality and the Aramaic language. So here is a rather “different” interpretation of what Jesus actually said. You have listened to the English words recorded in Matthew 12:31 with 21st century Christian ears. Now hear those words but listen with the ears of a first century Aramaic speaking person. You may hear something much different.
“All types of tangled behaviour, the missing and the falling, the rips and tears – all the ways you cut yourself off, break your connection, or disrupt the pattern – can and will be mended. Sooner or later, you will be freed from error, your mistakes embraced with emptiness, your arrhythmic action returned to the original beat. But your state cannot be mended or repaired, when you cut yourself off from the Source of all rhythm – the inhaling, the exhaling of all air, wind, and atmosphere, seen and unseen – the Holy Breath.”
Quite a difference, isn’t it? Which one resonates in you? Which one sounds like the Jesus that you know deep down in your heart?
Jesus isn’t telling them that there are things God won’t forgive. He isn’t saying if you do this or that, that you have committed the unpardonable sin and are doomed to spend eternity burning in hell. He is telling them that they can’t become whole when they cut themselves off from the Source of All, i.e. God. If we explore Jesus’ teachings from this perspective even more, we discover that even if they had cut themselves off from God at the time, Jesus is telling them that there will come a day when everyone and everything will be restored to its oneness with God, when everything and everyone will be whole.
Which interpretation would you say is truly a Gospel of “GOOD NEWS?” Is it the one that puts fear into people, fear that they have done something so horrible that God will never forgive them or is it the one that says your belief in being separated from God is causing your problems and that you simply need to see yourself reconnected with God, with your Source, to get back on the right track and even if you don’t do it now, rest assured that it will happen somewhere in the future?
So where does this lead us? Well it leads us to a newsletter from New Mexico, the day September 9, 2009 [9/9/9], Harry Potter, some blue jays and the number 524. How are all those things related to each other and to my granddaughter’s question, my friend’s comment and eating a buffet?