Chapter 3


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The rain started on Sunday and didn’t let up for a week. It was so windy on the Wednesday that the large oak on the corner of Smith and Giles fell over, blocking the road and taking a telephone line down with it. On Thursday morning my father phoned. He needed someone to run down to the shops and pick up a few odds and ends for Father Thomas and collect a package from the book store for him. I would have said no, surely someone else could do it, except for the book store. That sweetened the deal somewhat.

I got around to the store at about eleven, walked in and browsed around. There’s something about second hand bookstores which I love: they smell different for a start, a kind of musty, dusty, woody smell. This store I knew well and soon meandered towards the back. There were a few new books in the war section and one which I had read before but not in a while. I picked up the hardcopy with a grey slip cover, The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery, and started paging through it. I needed a little courage.

“Hi Angus, what you doing here?”

“Oh, hi, Nancy. Nothing really, just running an errand for Father Thomas.”

Nancy Littleton. Brunette with lily white skin and a musical voice. She didn’t talk, she sang. I was a bit besotted.

“mmm, yes, the book he was looking for has just come in, give me a sec.” She disappeared towards the counter in the front. When she came back she was holding a small hard backed, leather bound, gold leafed, bevelled and ridged book.

“There you go Angus, did Father Tom ask you to pay or should I put it on his account.”

“I guess his account,” I said wondering if that was what I was supposed to say. What do you say anyway during those hectic moments while your head races to catch up to your heart? I looked down at the book. Mere Christianity, CS Lewis.

“Looks like an interested read,” I got out, starting to feel a bit stupid.

“It is.”

“Well, I best be off.”

“Cheers Angus.”

The conversation ran like a video tape through my mind. Did it go ok? Did she think I was cool? Why didn’t I say something else? I should have invited her for a coffee? This and a hundred other things twirled away in my mind. Actually I wasn’t too unhappy with the state of affairs when I first left the shop, but by the time I got to St Stephens I was convinced I had made a total hash of things.

It was freezing when I got out of the car. I hurried to the door and knocked. It took a great deal of time until Father Thomas came to the door. He didn’t look too good.

“Hi Father. You OK?”

“Hey Angus, not really, a spot of a cold. Come in quick before you catch a chill son.”

I went in, hung my coat and followed Father Thomas to the kitchen. He had a pot boiling away on the stove and he poured a cup of coco for each of us. We took a seat in the lounge.

“Tell your dad I say thanks for organizing the delivery of the goods. I’m really not up for it at the moment.” After taking a few sips he said, “I’ve been thinking. How is it possible that you don’t believe in God. He’s so clearly visible all around us, in all we do and all we say and all we think. To deny Him seems almost silly to me.”

I looked at him. I’m not sure what I expected.

“Prove he exists,” I half whispered. For some reason I really didn’t want to chat about this.

“Prove he exists?” said Father Thomas with a curl of a smile playing on his face. “Prove he exists. This isn’t going to be a quick discussion Angus, are you sure you want to get into it?”

I wasn’t, but I was sitting in his lounge, drinking his hot coco with the wind and rain pelting outside and nowhere else to go, so I said, “Yes.”

And it began.

“Ok. Angus, you know Jeff, Charles Butler’s boy?”

I nodded. The pimple faced brat had broken a window at our house with a rock a few weeks before and then run away.

“Well, last week, he hammered a nail through Betsy’s dog scamp.”

I was stunned.

“You’re kidding?”

“No I’m not, and your response is proof that there is a God.”

“um, I’m not following you Father.”

“Well built inside you and I is the certain knowledge that the act of cruelty, nailing a dog’s paw for example, is wrong. Something put that there. You know it inside of you and so do I and so does little Jeff Butler – even more so after his dad got hold of him.”

I smiled, “Maybe that’s it Father, maybe Jeff’s dad has taught him that being cruel is wrong.”

Father Thomas snorted and I got the impression that Jeffrey got off lucky not having had to face him.

“Angus, just because something is taught and learnt doesn’t make it any less true. You studied mathematics after school as part of your degree didn’t you? Well just because the maths was taught by a teacher and learnt by you doesn’t make it any less true does it?” Father Thomas smiled, sat back and took another sip of his hot coco.

“You still interested in The War Angus?”

“Not as much as when I was a kid.”

“Well would you agree that in the Second World War the Allied Forces were in the right, the cause they fought for, and the Nazi’s were wrong?”

“I see were you’re going.” I sat and thought for a bit. “Hang on. Maybe it’s not right and wrong at all, maybe this feeling of right is in fact a cultural instinct? It’s good for the mass, for everyone, and so therefore I believe that it’s intrinsically right?” The mental exercise was stretching me and I felt elated.

“hmm,” mused the Father. “That’s a modern idea that all you kids are talking about but I don’t think it will hold water for long. You see if morals were just an instinct then why would you sometimes work against what should come the most naturally of all? Say you were in a building and the walls were coming down around you, say you saw a way out and were running for a door with all your strength, say as you were running past a room and you heard a call for help from a child. Surely your instinct would be to save your life as a priority? But at the same time the morally virtues deed would be to assist the child. Instinct and morals certainly are not the same.”

As interesting as this was I wasn’t convinced. This can’t prove the existence of God. It doesn’t make sense…

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Chapter 2


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I spent the next few weeks dodging Father Thomas. Not in a Spy vs Spy kind of way, I just didn’t move in the same circles as him and so tended not to be in the same places he was.

But in October Susan Cramer died.

Sue was a good friend of our family. It was cancer, and from what my mother said she’d suffered terribly towards the end. A week before her death I had gone around to my parent’s house arriving when my mother got home from a hospital visit. She was in tears, totally choked up; it left me with a frog in my throat. I suspect that there was some relief when Sue finally passed on. All that pain and suffering ended.

I suited up that Thursday and took my mother to the funeral. The church was packed out. Everyone was there including Nancy but we didn’t get to chat.

The service was pleasantly short but the sermon really left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. Father Thomas preached about two men, a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. I wasn’t really paying attention to the whole thing but I do remember that Lazarus died, finding himself in heaven, and the rich man died, ending up in hell.

After dropping the bomb shell of the lake of fire, with torment and agony, Father Thomas happily announced that we’d see Susan Crammer again one day in heaven.

What? It all sounded really unfair. What about those who didn’t buy into all this stuff? What about those that didn’t know? What about the people that would never hear? Were they all doomed to the fire to spend eternity with the rich man? Where’s the grace and mercy and love in that? I thought God was a God of love and mercy and whatever. It just didn’t make sense.

And what about me?

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Chapter 1


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The first time I visited Father Thomas it was a Saturday evening. Already the autumn leaves had fallen and the winter air was crisp with chill. He had invited me over for a game of chess when I had seen him at the grocer earlier that day. He was a kindly old man in his late fifties and was known to spend a great deal of time caring for folk in the community. My mother had told me that he would run the old lass’s from the frail care home attached to the church down to the market on Thursdays and they all thought he was the bee’s knees. Once, when my friend James, who faithfully attends St Stephens, was in a fix at home with a broken geyser and water all over the place, it was the good Father who pitched up, spanners and all, to help with the clean up operation.

I thought of him as lonely having lost his wife and all. I remember that the obituary had described their love as enduring. I guess you could say that I felt sorry for him. All those people around him and yet no one close to him. So, when he asked if I’d come over that Saturday evening for dinner and a game, I said yes. My good deed done for the day.

The rectory was on the church grounds. It was a white washed double story building with a shale roof and wooden doors and frames that were painted black. It had ivy trailing all the way up to the roof on the southern side. I walked around to the front door and stood outside in the cool of the evening for a moment and then knocked.

His voice boomed down the hall from the kitchen, “Come in Angus, the doors not locked.”

I went in, hung my coat on the hook and waited for my host in the hallway. I could hear that in the lounge a fire was crackling, lifting the temperature and making the house comfy. From the kitchen an aroma of roasted something wafted down the hallway. Father Thomas appeared, dressed casually, with a cheery face and a kitchen towel draped over his shoulder. Shaking my hand he said, “You’ll have to come and join me in the kitchen; the duck is not quite done.”

“Wow, Father, duck. You shouldn’t have gone to all the effort.” I love duck.

“No, no effort son, now follow me to the kitchen and help me set the table.”

The kitchen looked functional, a small oak table with two chairs stood against the side wall and the sill was lined with tiny potted herbs. The smell of the duck simmering away in the oven made my mouth start to drool. Father Thomas pointed out a cupboard where a checked red and white table cloth lived and the cutlery draw. I got started setting the table while he put the finishing touches on the bird.

“So, Angus, how’s your mom and dad?”

“Father Thomas, you probably see them more frequently than I do.”

“mmm, possibly. I guess I haven’t seen you much at church lately have I?” It wasn’t really an accusation but it did make me feel a bit uncomfortable.

I finished my task and took a seat, it wasn’t too long and the bird was placed on the table with a carving knife and fork next to them.

“Would you do the honours?” I was asked.

Minutes later with the bird cut and plates dished Father Thomas turned to me and asked, “Angus, would you be so kind as to thank God for the food?”

“um, I’d rather not; It’s your house and all.”

“All right,” he said with a whisper of a smile, “Our Father in heaven, thank you for the food. Amen.”

That was it. I kind of expected more.

Later, after clearing the table and doing the dishes, we sat down in the lounge close to the fire place on either side of a small wooden table with two draws containing the chess pieces. I opened my draw and diligently laid out the carved black pieces on the board in front of me.

“So Angus, what’s up between yourself and God?” mmm, that’s why I was here. I wonder if my mother had put him up to this?

“Nothing Father.”

“Nothing?”

“Yes, absolutely nothing is up between God and I.” I thought about it before adding, “I don’t think I believe that he’s out there anymore.”

“hmm,” said father Thomas as he played his king’s pawn to the centre square of the board.

“It’s not that I don’t think that there’s a place for the church in the world you see, I just don’t think that my place is in the church anymore.” Feeling a bit defensive I advanced with queen’s pawn to D6. “I don’t know.”

Father Thomas sat for the longest time examining the board and then looked up. “When you say you don’t believe he’s out there anymore what exactly do you mean Angus?”

He waited for an answer. I sat thinking. After a while the queen’s pawn launched forward allowing white full control of the centre of the board.

“I don’t believe there is a God out there at all. I think my parents did their best to grow me up in the same tradition as they have but…” but what? I knew what I wanted to say I just didn’t want to hurt the old guy’s feelings. “…but, the worlds changed and there is no longer space in it for these antiquated ideas.”

That was it. That was where I stood. Now it was said and done. I picked up the king’s knight and move it to the middle board, readying it for the battle that was to come.

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