Yesterday morning, I took Ruth home following our Thursday morning meeting at ANM. “Mom Ruth” became a widow recently. Before her husband, Gordon, the ANM chaplain, became ill and died, she attended the meetings every week. In fact, her presence added spiritual vitality to our gatherings.
However, when she asked me the night before if I could drive her back to her house, my first thought was how busy I needed to be that day and how little time I had.
I loved Ruth though, and I knew there was no other answer than yes. Besides, her conversation is always centered on the Lord and His word. By the time I pulled up her driveway and helped her into her house, I felt revived.
Yet, I was hungry.
I had given my lunch to my wife to give to our son. He sent me an unusual text saying how nice it would be to bring him food on his lunch break. Moving from our house to an apartment was another step to his independence. The cost of his freedom was an empty fridge. For us, his text became an opportunity to show our love.
My appetite drove me to the newly opened mega-supermarket nearby Ruth’s house. Wegman’s has more food stocked daily than most third world regions see in a year. I bought a tuna sub which weighed about two pounds and decided to get a big bag of chips rather than pay an extra dollar for the tiny one with their special deal.
I didn’t realize though, how far the aisle was from my nearby exit. I almost turned back chip less, when I sensed the Lord’s leading to go on.
The potato chips had their own section. As I contemplated the numerous choices, I heard a voice a few feet away ask me the question,
“Do you like pretzels?”
I hadn’t even noticed him there. Strangely, he was the only other person in this huge aisle.
“Not really I replied, why?”
“These are the best pretzels you can buy anywhere. And you can only find them here.”
I moved three steps to my left and looked at the bag in his hand and he began his pitch.
“You can’t stop eating them once you start, but you have to because there is so much salt in them that your mouth dries out completely.” In fact, if you do eat more, they’ll most likely kill you,” he said convincingly.
I noticed his cart had nothing but several bags of these pretzels. I also noticed him.
He was a bit gruff, but well dressed in shorts and a POW hat covering his white pony tailed hair and earring. By my predisposition, I would have dismissed him as a misplaced redneck, other than his familiar accent. He was from the Bronx. I am from Brooklyn.
He continued, “At 76 years old, he said, don’t care if they do. I’ve seen enough. Besides, they’re delicious.”
“I guess that’s ok if you know where you are going once you do die.” I responded.
“No place,” he returned. “I’ll be dead in the ground. That’s it!”
“How do you know that,” I asked, “and what if you’re wrong?”
“I learned it from my last life.” He said, a bit irritated.
“And what were you in that life?
“A camel,” he said as if I should walk away at this point.
“How do you know that? Do you have any records or photos of you?”
His face began to redden.
“So what do you think? I’m going to hell or some other weird kind of place?” He retorted.
“I didn’t say that, I just know where I am going,” I said. “It’s a place like no other, a perfect place.”
“How do you know that?” he asked.
“Because Jesus said so, He called it eternal life for those who believe in Him.”
He asked me how I could believe that and I told him it was written throughout the Bible and backed by Jesus’ life and resurrection.
“Look,” he began again, “I went all through Catholic school and read the Bible straight through more times than you have and I don’t believe it.”
“How many times?” I asked.
“Sorry,” I said, “I’ve read it many more. I’ve been reading it since I got saved.”
He calmed down for a breath. While he paused, I told him that if I am wrong, what do I have to lose? But if he is wrong, he will awaken from death in a place of deep regret.
“That is not what God has for you,” I went on, “Think about it, here we are in the aisle where pretzels and potato chips meet, a clear dividing line, and you and I are the only ones here and I’m telling you what you need to hear before you die. If not now, then one day, you will hear a voice inside of you replaying this conversation or others like it telling you that what I am saying is true. That is the voice of God.”
“Well, I don’t believe that. I’ll be 77 in a couple of weeks and…”
“Happy Birthday,” I interrupted.
“Thanks,” he said, forgetting his next point.
He seemed to be defused. He realized that I was not there for a debate, but out of concern. He began to open up to me as we moved towards the potato chip section.
He told me a story about his mother and her priest giving her last rights at her deathbed, and how fed up he is with religion and its hypocrisy. Then he told me about his two tours to Vietnam and the bodies that were torn up in front of his eyes.
“How could there be a god, with so much ugliness?” He demanded.
“You and I have made a lot of choices that we regret. No doubt we have both hurt a lot of people along the way. That is not on God. He gave us the freedom to make those choices.”
I told him I agreed about the hypocrisy.
“Religion cannot save you, it is lifeless. Look, I am a Jew, but I believe that Jesus is the Messiah because He revealed himself to me and has continued to do so since 1980.” Judaism did not teach me that.”
“You’re a Jew?” He asked surprisingly. “Man, if I were to believe anything, I would be a Jew.”
“That’s because Jesus was a Jew, not a Catholic. You want to follow Him, William, it is deep within you.”
“Call me Bill,” he said. “I like this conversation, but we both have to go.”
“Maybe next time we’ll meet in another aisle.”
We shook hands heartily and parted, me with my potato chips, and Bill with his pretzels.