I took the train today to New Haven, changing at New York's Penn Station. Getting off the train, I saw a young man with a cylinder slung across his back and asked what was in it.
"A poster," he replied.
"Are you going to a scientific conference?"
"Yes, in Cold Spring Harbor," he answered in a think European accent.
"Where are you from?"
"Oh, I greatly admire the Poles."
"They have a noble history."
"What was noble about it?"
"The Polish cavalry rode out bravely to meet the German tanks at the start of World War II."
"How do you know that?"
"I read a bit here and there in history."
"What do you do?"
"I lead a small think tank in Charlottesville."
"What do you 'think' about?"
"What about China?"
"Religion in China, and especially Christianity."
"Oh? Is there any Christianity in China? I thought it was all wiped out."
"Well, they tried, but now the Chinese church is growing fast, especially among intellectuals."
He stopped in his tracks and fixed me with an incredulous stare.
"I don't understand how this could be."
Well, of course I was more than happy to tell him why many educated Chinese are becoming Christians in droves. That just mixed up the pieces of his little mental puzzle, as I described how really bright Chinese were not only looking for answers to questions of meaning, purpose, and social ethics, but also their own private dilemmas and conflicts, and how some of them are open to sharing their mental journey with us, and even seeking our advice sometimes.
"They must pay you really big bucks for that kind of advice," he said, sincerely.
"Well, no. But they give us their friendship, which is worth more."
He smiled appreciatively and we parted.
Briefly, the next conversation was on the next train with a young black student at Fordham University, whom I asked about what her classmates were thinking about life these days, and whether they were optimistic about their futures. In the course of our discussion, I asked what religion(s) her friends were favoring, and she said they were mostly atheists.
"How interesting!" I replied. "In China, among students, it's just the opposite," and went on to explain. She was quite surprised, but didn't pursue the matter. Too many text messages were coming in, I suppose.
The final conversation was with the Hertz d river who picked me up. He told of how his teenage daughter had reported on him for giving her his frank opinion on some matter of contention, and how the police had called him in the next day for "child abuse." He is distraught by his inability to discipline his two daughters, even verbally. I sympathized with the difficulties of rearing children these days, inwardly thanking God for my own mostly respectful daughter, but thought I had an opportunity to put in a word for faith.
"Have you thought of taking them to church?" I queried.
"I take them to church every Sunday but it doesn't seem to do any good."
Is there a connection between these conversations? I think so. The decreasing decadence of the West, and the turning of Chinese to Christianity, having "been there and done that."