The Flame Challenge

What is a flame?  When we light the chalice at the beginning of our service, what are we physically bringing into being to symbolize our spiritual orientation?  Can you explain it to an 11 year old?

The Centre for Communicating Science has a new challenge inspired by the always more awesome than awesome Alan Alda.   As an 11 year old, Alda asked his teacher “what is a flame?’ She replied “oxidation”, an answer that may be accurate but certainly did not provide illumination for the young Alda.  Alan Alda, who is not only a world class actor – the only man who ever made me want to vote for a Republican nominee – as well as a writer of humour, honesty and wisdom (Never Have Your Dog Stuffed); he is also a science geek.  Invited to be a guest editor of the journal Science, he offered up the flame challenge.  Describe what a flame is in a way that an 11 year old can appreciate and understand.  The goal is to acheive clarity and vividness.

This is a great contest for Unitarian Universalists.  Our key symbol, that which represents us most deeply, is the flaming chalice.  We are the people of the chalice; part of our orientation is to find spiritual nourishment in the wonder of scientific enquiry.  How do we understand what we are doing when we light the chalice?  How is the symbol related to the reality? How do we describe it to ourselves?  To people who ask us what the chalice is all about?  And can we explain the beauty of a flame without using jargon, but with scientific accuracy, in a way that will capture a kid’s imagination? Can we explain our chalice flame to an 11 year old?

The contest closes April 2nd.  I’m working on my entry….

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