Sunday, July 10, 2011

CWAS Excerpt Number Seven

This excerpt is from the seventh chapter of Conversations with a Stranger by Larry Tate

The Perfect

On Tuesday, I was tired and cranky. Lightning, thunder, and pounding rain outside my window kept me awake nearly all night. It didn’t help matters that when running to my car I stepped in a deep puddle of water and soaked my feet and pants.

When I arrived at the coffee shop parking lot, I reached under my seat for my umbrella. After stretching and straining, I finally found it. It was one of those compact umbrellas that fit in the palm of your hand when not in use. It looked pretty practical when I saw it on the store shelf. But on that particular day, I was about to regret my choice of umbrellas. I slammed my car door and began trudging across the parking lot toward the coffee shop. Suddenly, a gust of wind turned my umbrella inside out. By the time I got to the protection of the shop’s sidewalk awning, I was soaked from head to toe. I carefully reset my umbrella to its original shape, folded it up, and left it near the door.

The stranger was standing by the window watching others make a mad dash to the protection of the canopy over the sidewalk. “You look like a drowned rat,” he said without making any effort to hide his laughter.

“I feel like one too. What a sloppy day.”

He joined me at the counter while I waited on my coffee, but he didn’t order anything for himself. “No coffee for you today?” I asked.

“Can’t pass up my morning coffee,” he said. “But mine is already at our table.”

I jerked my head toward him with a mixture of surprise and disgust on my face. He was talking about our table as if we were the best of friends. I didn’t say a word. Instead, I just meekly followed him over to our table.

Sure enough, when we got to the table I spotted his coffee and a half-eaten cinnamon roll. Leaning against his chair was the most massive umbrella I had ever laid eyes on.

“You won’t get very wet with that umbrella,” I said.

“It certainly is a good one,” he replied. “I don’t enjoy getting wet like you do, so I bought the biggest and best umbrella I could find.” Again, he started laughing while pointing to my wet and dripping clothing.

I pretended that he never even made that remark. Instead, I just stared at my coffee.

After some silence, I glanced up and noticed that he was looking out the window at the still-pouring rain. “Not as nice this morning as yesterday,” he said.

“No, it certainly isn’t.”

“You know, there are bad days, not so bad days, good days, and not so good days. Then, you hear people talk about the absolute worst days or the most perfect sunny days.”

“Yeah and today is one of those not so good days,” I said.

“And then there are flimsy umbrellas, there are lousy little folding umbrellas like yours, and there are fantastic umbrellas like mine.” This time he didn’t bust out laughing, but he sure did have a big grin on his face.

“It sounds like you just insulted me, sir.”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” said the stranger. “I didn’t mean to insult you. I was just talking about how some days are better than others and how some things are better than others.”

“Next thing I know, you’re going to start talking about how much uglier I am than you,” I retorted.

“Now, I wouldn’t do that,” he said. “But now that you mention it, some people are better looking than others. Have you ever heard someone say that they saw the most beautiful woman in the world? Or have you ever heard someone refer to the ugliest person on the face of the earth?”

“Are you going somewhere with this insanity?” I asked.

“As a matter of fact, I am. If you are ready, I would like for us to explore another proof of God’s existence based on what we’ve just been talking about.”

How can he do that? I thought. Just a casual conversation about the weather can turn into another proof of God’s existence.

“So, discussing my little flimsy umbrella and a rainy day is sufficient enough to prove that God exists. I’ve got to hear this one. Please go ahead, sir.”

“Since you insist, I believe I will,” replied the stranger. “We’ve already noted that some days are better than others, and some umbrellas protect you from the rain better than others. We also agreed that some people have a better physical appearance than others. You know, virtually everything we see and do has a certain degree of quality based on the best or worst of its kind. One bed is softer than another; one light bulb is brighter than another; one shade of paint is whiter than another. All of those comparisons are based on the best of that particular quality. All of those comparisons are relating to degrees of perfection. Beauty is a certain degree of perfect beauty. On the other end of the scale, homeliness is also a degree of perfect beauty…just farther down the scale.” He paused, took a sip of coffee, and made an ugly face. “You know, my coffee isn’t as hot as yours because it’s been sitting on this table for quite a while. I think I need to pour it out and get a refill. If you will excuse me, I’ll be right back.”

Before he took two steps, he paused and looked back at me with a smile. “You know, it just hit me…I was just referring to the various degrees of hot coffee. Your coffee is hotter than mine. Yours is closer to the ultimate for hot coffee, and mine is farther down the scale for the perfect temperature of hot coffee.” Without another word, he spun on his feet, heading for the coffee counter. I could hear him chuckling as he went. This guy was just too happy for me.

When he returned I said, “You seem like a nice guy, but sometimes you talk about the strangest things.”

Without any hesitation he said, “Speaking of being a nice guy, I guess you’re comparing me to some people who are not so nice, some who are very nice, and some who are downright mean. It sounds like you have just compared me to others, in degrees of perfect niceness.”

“Well, sir, I suppose so.”

Continuing, he said, “And then there are degrees of goodness, degrees of knowledge, degrees of color, and even degrees of prosperity, wouldn’t you agree?”

“All right,” I said. “Everyone and everything has qualities that are of various degrees of perfection for some particular quality.”

“How discerning,” he answered. Are you sure you don’t already know where we’re going with this discussion?”

“Believe me,” I replied. “I don’t have a clue where we’re going.”

“All of the things we’ve discussed are thought of as more or less of a certain quality that is considered to be the ultimate of that particular quality. That ultimate quality is the perfect quality.”

“I’m anxious to see how you can tie this into the existence of God. Quite frankly, I am amazed at how you’ve been able to do it so far.”

“Not just me, my friend. We have done it together.”

“Sir, I don’t think we’ve done it together. You already knew all of the information we discussed.”

“Not exactly, my friend. I was aware of the basic premise for each proof, but you and I worked our way through each of the proofs together. Quite frankly, my friend, I am mighty glad to be able to glean some scientific reasoning from your point of view.”

I wasn’t too sure if I had just received a compliment or not. “You are kind, sir. But I’m still not sure where we are going with this.”

“We’re just about there, friend. Let’s recap a little bit. There’s the perfect day that we compare every day to, there’s the perfect umbrella by which all umbrellas are judged, there’s a perfect beauty, a perfect brightness, a perfect whiteness, a perfect color, a perfect heat, a perfect courtesy, and a perfect goodness. We could sit here all day and never exhaust all of the qualities that are gauged against the ultimate of their respective qualities.”

“That sounds perfectly logical to me. Oh…pardon the pun, sir.” Here I was, the most boring person in the whole wide world, actually having a little fun myself.

Then I realized that I was thinking in degrees of perfection. I was referring to myself as the most boring person, as opposed to an entertaining person. And I was thinking of having a little fun, which is less than a lot of fun.

“Now, we have to think a little deeper. We’ve been discussing degrees of perfection. Somewhere there must be a most perfect color blue and somewhere there must be the brightest white. Someone must possess the greatest amount of goodness and there has to be someone whose face is the most beautiful face of all faces. But can those perfections be found? We know that for every perfect color found, we will eventually discover an even more perfect color. For every beautiful face, we will someday find an even more beautiful face. How can we solve our problem and determine the most perfect of all those qualities?”

“I’m lost, sir. Do you have an answer? Oh, what am I saying? You always have an answer.”

“Great people have studied this problem. They have, in fact, uncovered the answer to the most perfect quality. Are you ready?”

“I’m on the edge of my seat, sir. What is it?”

“The universe and all that is within it is made up of material objects. There can never be an ultimate best in material objects because there will always be a better quality found at a later date. There also cannot be a most perfect trait in the universe because there will always be an even more perfect trait show up at some point in the future.

“There must be a most perfect of qualities by which all qualities are judged. This most perfect of all qualities is the most perfect. However, the most perfect cannot be a part of this universe.

“The most perfect that possesses the most perfect of all aspects and all traits must be outside of all that is. The most perfect cannot be the universe or a part of the universe. The most perfect being cannot be of material substance. The most perfect must exist in and of itself. In order for the most perfect to exist in and of itself, the most perfect must be the most perfect being. This most perfect being must be perfect in its own self and judged by its own self. This most perfect being; this perfect one—is God.”

I was flabbergasted. This stranger could really make a case. And every time, he did it without any written reference material. How did he do it?

“That certainly is thought provoking, isn’t it, friend? So far we have proven that God is the Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused Cause, the Necessary One, and now the Perfect One. That’s not bad for a couple of average Joes, is it?”

“Sir, you are too modest.”

“Friend, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

I raised my coffee cup to my lips and discovered that it was empty. Time was running out, so I told him that I needed to leave. He wished me well and told me that he was going to stay awhile and have some more coffee. I excused myself and walked out the door.

The above excerpt is from the copyrighted book Conversations with a Stranger by Larry Tate

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