The Questions We Don’t Ask

This morning I was watching the great sage of our society, Stephen Colbert.  (I am much too old to watch it live–thank the internet gods for posting it early in the morning!)  Last night Stephen (I call him by his first name since he is a neighbor from Charleston) interviewed Alan Alda.  They didn’t talk about M*A*S*H or any of his movies, bu rather about science!

Alda is promoting the World Science Festival which is happening this week in New York.  As a part of it, and as a way of encouraging young people, Alda is seeking an answer to a question that has haunted him for years.  “What is a flame?”  He asked it as an 11 year-old and really didn’t get a satisfactory answer.  (How would you answer that question?  Harder than it seems, huh?) Now imagine that a scientist was asked to respond in a way that an 11 year-old could understand!  That is the task for the Flame Challenge.  Scientist have offered their answers, and the judges are thousands of 11 year-olds all around the globe.  The winner will be named this week.  You can learn more and see the finalist here.  I have my favorite, but I don’t want to bias the selection!

What made this so interesting was the fact that I also received an early morning email from a Christian artist interested in doing a concert at Providence.  What struck me was that he quoted that famous/infamous song, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”

But what is that flame?  What is that spark?  What exactly are we talking about?  Do we have any idea at all?

Why is this pertinent?  Because this Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  It seemed rather simple when I wrote down that idea for the sermon Sunday…but now that it is Thursday and it is writing time I find myself asking, “What is the Trinity?”

It is a lot like, “What is a flame?”  We know..or at least think/pretend we know.  We can’t really say we don’t, because, well then, I won’t have a sermon and everyone will think I am a Unitarian! But how do you answer that question–in a way that an 11 year old, or even a 54 year old in 2012 will understand?

Many times we just respond, “It is a mystery,” or “It is a metaphor,” and it is…but those only work if we have some idea of what we are talking about, what we are trying to say.  It works as long as we don’t ask the question.  But once you do….then…

What is a flame?

It really is harder than it seems!


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