#FridayFlash: God's Holy Fire

God's Holy Fire

by Tony Noland

The truth is, my church was having trouble paying the oil bill. That's what started the whole thing. I was already tithing, so it was pretty hard for me to come up with a way to give any more money than I already was. Besides, I didn't make very much as a new hire in the engineering department over at RayTech. If I'd been an engineer, I'd have made more, but as a shop technician in a non-union firm, I wasn't pulling down that much.

Anyway, God calls on you to give abundantly of your treasure, time and talent. The tithe took care of "treasure". As for "time", I was already on the property committee, the worship and music committee and the cemetery management committee. Plus, I taught Sunday school, took meals to the shut-ins once a month, and drove the truck for our Habitat for Humanity team. But what about "talents"?

I had to pray about that for a long time. To be honest, it didn't take much talent to serve on the committees; a willingness to listen to people and to think things through was enough. An open heart and a bit of patience was all that was needed for the other things. For months, I thought and prayed about what talents I might have that God could use, and how best to offer them to His service.

It was when the boiler cracked a seal that I saw what God had been leading me to. That old thing was a relic of the 1950s: cast iron walls as thick as your wrist, built at a time when oil was cheap. Good stewardship over the years had helped it to last, but in its sixty-third year of heating the church, from sanctuary and narthex all the way up to the classrooms and new office suite added in 1982, it finally started to go. It began to burn a lot more oil, and put out only as much heat as a kerosene stove. This was during a time when attendance was low and the church accounts were running dry, too.

No, it wasn't clear to me at the time that it was the light of God shining on me when Pastor asked me if I could do something about it, get it back up to speed. I don't feel bad about not recognizing it right away. After all, the disciples on the road walked with Jesus for a full day before they knew who they were walking with. Pastor asked me because he knew I was handy. I said I'd try, and went down to look on the old girl.

I wasn't an official engineer at the time, no degrees either earned or honorary. My grades were never good, mostly because I could never make my teachers and college professors understand the things I saw in their equations and graphs and readouts. Anyway, I thought long and hard about how I could make that old boiler use less oil to heat the same amount of water.

There's no other explanation for it - the Holy Spirit sat with me in the basement and said, "Now is when the Church needs your talent, boy. Think, and think hard." I did, and it came to me as though scales had fallen from my eyes, like St. Paul. If you just burn oil, no matter how efficiently, you get out whatever energy the oil has in it, but only the chemical energy. Instead, if you use a magnetohydrodynamic flux-field to pinch back the flame and contain it, then you can treat the burning oil like a self-inducing resonant plasmon, and extract energy from the standing wave directly. Once you do that, the slow conversion of matter into energy gives you plenty to work with.

Through the grace of God, it only took me two weeks to make and tune the flux-field resonance extractor. That winter, instead of burning eight hundred gallons of oil, we only needed six. Not six hundred, mind you... six gallons. The church made the budget with room to spare, thanks to the savings.

And after I filed the patent, and the licensing money started to come in from the railroads, auto manufactures and aerospace industry companies, you can bet the first fruits of it went to the church. And they always have, every year since. Whether you tithe out of an income of twenty-two thousand dollars a year, or out of fourteen billion dollars a year, give thanks to God in all things. That's the way of salvation.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Pretty nice piece of science fiction! Good way to discover his talent.

  2. I was lost in this and felt as though I was reading about a real person not fictional one.

    I loved how the story slowly opened up and how this individual not only discovered his talent, but went on to share it much further afield than he first envisaged.

    God dose indeed work in mysterious ways!


  3. Good story! Loved how it all worked out in the end. Quite a talent, indeed!

  4. I'd start marketing this idea right now! Excellent read.

  5. Cool! Engineering types aren't always believers. Neat turn in the tale.

  6. You nailed the character — I know people who talk just like that, even if they haven't made a fortune with a breakthrough innovation. Great narrative too.

  7. Wow Tony. I felt like I was reading an actual column. Great piece of work.

  8. What I really loved was that when I read his comment about teachers not understanding him, I thought it was a defensive way of explaining away lack of effort in class. When it's revealed that it really was because he was a genius, that made me grin!

  9. I've heard this rumor that might help you with that oil bill. I got a guy overseas who says he can get one lamp to go for, like, ten days. You might have to be Jewish to get the deal, though.

  10. I like the combo of biblical era miracles and scifi.

  11. storytreasury: This was a bit of a mashup... I'm glad it worked for you!

    Helen: Thanks, Helen. I tried to make this guy's life and outlook as complete as possible, at least as far as where he put his priorities.

    Eric: Thanks!

    ibc4: Hey, if this standing plasmon wave thing were real, I'd be all over it. 8-)

    Janet: This is one of those religion-meets-science stories where no internal conflict exists. Maybe that's utter fiction?

    FARfetched: This is a character that I've had some experience with as well, although the flux capacity part is fiction.

    John: I'm glad that characterization was so believable for you!

    Emma: I was hoping that little bit of legerdemain would work. 8-)

    John: I'm pretty sure you can only use that trick once, thought.

    Bev: It's not terribly common to see religious conviction in a sci-fi story, which is why I tried it. I'm glad you liked it.

  12. Great story! When he spoke about being no good at school, I thought the boiler and the church were going to end up being blown up. Brilliant!

  13. Awesome. The sudden wave of engineering was great.

  14. I really liked the story, but towards the end, I was kinda pulled out of it (Having a degree in physics and all) But for those people who have not spent hours upon hours telling people why cold fusion won't work...it's a good story.

    Oh, but you also did a good job of describing somebody active in the Catholic church. I could really see that being one of my parents, all the little details were spectacular.

  15. I'm amazed that you wrote a story with a happy ending. Who are you and what have you done with Tony?

  16. Liked the scifi link in this one!

  17. I'm with Helen, this read like non-fic. Great job, Tony!

  18. Love that sense of "Ah hah!" Tony. I'm always a sucker for moments of genius! It's obvious you had an ah hah moment of your own with this one!

  19. There for a minute I thought he was going to be a terrorist who blew up the church. So glad he wasn't as the "truth" in him is so much better. Outstanding voice in this Tony!

  20. Sam: I'm glad the twist came as a surprise. 8-)

    Raven: Terrific! I was concerned that it would be too jarring.

    Michael: That's always a problem. For people that don't have expert knowledge of (topic X), a story that hinges on (topic X) can float by on the characters and plot. If you do, though... well, thanks for the willing suspension of disbelief! Interestingly, I wasn't thinking about a Catholic church setting, but an evangelical protestant church. Just goes to show how things aren't that different.

    Anne-Mhairi: Well, sure, I can write happy endings. Do I really have such a brutal reputation? o.O

    ganymeder: Thanks, Cathy!

    daniellelapaglia: The scene and setting behind the sci-fi mumbo jumbo were really the key to this. Thanks!

    Donna: I did, and it was fun to write!

    theothersideofdeanna: Blow up the church? Man, I really *do* have a reputation for being vicious!

  21. Nice one, Tony - interesting to see where faith led our protagonist :-)

  22. Wow, this was awesome! I didn't even try to see where you were going with it, I just let you take me along for the ride. Love your science stuff.

  23. Beautiful voice! It captures a sense of the history of the church and his innate way of seeing things in unusual ways that allow him to create that which has never been created before.

  24. Very nice. I actually had to read the last couple paragraphs twice to make sure I hadn't clicked to a different story.

    Wonderful juxtaposition. (just wanted to use that word today :)

  25. Some of the best technobabble I have ever read! An excellent job of maintaining his voice throughout as well. I think you've come a long way in being able to give your character's voices their depth and tone.


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