June 2018

One of the wonderful things about having young children, and also having the privilege of visiting schools as a vicar, is the questions that children ask. I was amused by this selection of children’s questions that I came across:

 “If plants need rain and sun to grow, and rainbows are made of light and water, are rainbows plant food?” 

“Why did swear words get invented if we’re not allowed to say them?”

“What’s faster? Fire or dust?

“Did ants invent the world’s first social network?” 

“How did people make the first tools, if they didn’t have any tools?” 

“What is the name of the space between the bits that stick out on a comb?” 

“Dad, are there infinite words?”
“No, son, but there are infinite numbers.”
“Well if there is a word for every number, then there must be infinite words.” 

“What did it feel like on your last day of being a child?”

“Why can’t I see my eyes?” 

“Why don’t crabs have eyebrows?” 

 “Where do thoughts come from?” 

Kids may say the funniest things, but they also say the most profound things. It is my experience that it is frequently children who ask the really big questions that, as adults, we have frequently either lost track of or given up on. What is beauty? Do other people see the colour yellow the same way I do? What is the difference between good and evil? Is death the end? Is my will really free? Can anyone ever really know anything at all? It’s ironic that in our maturity we often settle ourselves for the answers we use to fob children off when we are too busy to engage properly with their wonderfully inquisitive and imaginative inquiries into the nature of being. Why is there something instead of nothing? “There just is....” What is the meaning of life? “I suppose it’s about trying to be happy and do a bit of good…” 

Brilliantly, kids tend to see how unsatisfactory the answers we give to their questions turn out to be. That is not necessarily a comfortable experience for us in the role of parent or grandparent or teacher. Caught in the crossfire of questions we may have stopped asking as soon as we had to fill our minds with the sort of information necessary to pass public examinations: we can find ourselves bewildered and exhausted. Perhaps, however, childish questions could be a spur to get us thinking again. After all, the greatest minds in history have given their energies to answer the questions many of us gave up on in adolescence.  

The Church is supposed to be a place where we can seek answers to some of those questions, and so I was thrilled when at our celebratory lunch following the Alpha Course those present fell into extended discussion of the questions that the course had raised for them, and which they would like to explore further. Following that lunch, I was handed a list of over thirty questions and issues that participants came up with between them.

Following the feast of Pentecost, we have an extended period in the Church year where there is provision for flexibility in the lectionary for Sunday worship to address matters of particular interest or concern in Christian teaching. I will take the opportunity afforded by this to address some of these “Alpha questions” in a series of sermons later in the summer. That will at least be a start.

But 20 minutes on a Sunday morning is hardly enough to address some of the excellent questions that have been raised. I will be working together with the Transforming Church committee of the PCC to consider some other ways that we might discuss these important questions as a church, including dialogue suppers (where there is a meal, a short talk and an extended space for discussion), evening seminars, and another Alpha Course, which we have pencilled in to start on the first week of October (more on that anon). I trust that you won’t feel that you need to have been involved in the Alpha Course to participate in these ongoing conversations, but that you might also relish the opportunity to ask the big questions again that others clearly found in Alpha. Perhaps you might consider pencilling the Autumn course into your diary?