“Christianity is a dying religion.”
The words came from the guy sitting across the table from me at Panera’s Restaurant. The comment came from out of the blue. We’d been chatting about the sorry way the Atlanta Braves were playing for the past ten minutes.
I had been looking for an empty table when he invited me to share his table with me. It was the white Atlanta Braves cap I wore that got Ernest Wilkinson’s attention. As I neared him he said in a friendly voice, “What’s happened to our team?”
Stopping, I pretended not to understand the question. “Do you mean the University of Alabama Football Team?”
“Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about,” he said, grinning as he pushed the empty chair toward me with his foot. “Have a seat.”
I dropped down in the chair. Then we got to talking about what ails the Braves. We finally gave up on the Braves and were observing the mid-morning human traffic coming through the front door. That’s when he blurted out the remark, “Christianity is a dying religion.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
During the next few minutes Ernest told me that he was a retired professor of Philosophy at the University of Georgia. He had given up on religion when he was a sophomore in college. “To be candid with you,” he said, “I wish I could believe in religion. But none of them make sense to me. Especially Christianity.”
“Sounds to me that philosophy is your religion.”
He thought about that. “It makes more sense than Christianity.”
I made a tent with my hands and leaned on the table. “I used to think that way years ago. Then one night, after I had endured a number of setbacks, both professionally and personally, I awoke at two in the morning—crying.” He was about to interrupt me, so I held up a hand. “Please let me finish.”
He leaned back in the chair. “Okay.”
“That night I tried calling on the great thinkers: Spinoza, Hobbs, and other great philosophers. But you know what?”
“They were all dead.”
“So I called on God. He was there that night. He has always been there for me since then. And …”
“Oh, please,” he blurted out. You’re not going to tell me that God answered your prayers, are you?”
“He did, Ernest. He didn’t just help me once. Over the years there have been times when I turned my back on God. Forgot about Him. But He has never forgotten about me.”
I briefly considered filling that space with more words. But something told me to wait for Ernest to speak. He coughed. “Well … uh …”
“I’ll give it some thought.”
I took out my wallet and gave him one of my personal cards with my email address on it. “If you ever need to talk to me about anything, please don’t hesitate to contact me.”
He took the card. “Gotta go.” He stood, shook my hand and headed for the door. As he disappeared into the parking lot, I thought: I don’t think I’ve heard the last from Ernest.