Matthew’s Gospel reports Jesus’ instruction, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, for in this way you will become children of your father in heaven, who makes his sun to rise on the wicked and the good; and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” God is a morally blind supplier of goods; his provision shows no favouritism. This grand equanimity of God in nature is viewed positively by Jesus as a challenge to a similar attitude in his disciples; but not everyone will see it that way. Decent people may wonder why wicked people get as good a deal as them; and very poor people may ask why they get as much bad weather as the idle rich.

I was reading some reports from Bangladesh, where destructive floods are common. In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, there are camps for 900,000 Rohingya refugees who fled genocide in Myanmar. God certainly gave them rain this year- the monsoon brought persistent flooding which washed away their shelters, possessions and garden crops, leaving them vulnerable to exposure and disease. How can we celebrate the equanimity of God in relation to the already-afflicted Rohingyas?

Should we then hide this saying of Jesus away because it reveals too much difficult truth?

Certainly it shows how piously we accept the words of Jesus, looking only at their positive meaning – God’s goodness to sinners- without enquiring further. It’s good to be reassured that we’ll still get weather no matter how naughty we are.

Or is it? It all depends on the weather. Imagine those places in North America where the temperature rose to 50C last summer. Will they be looking forward to this year’s summer suns?

Our apprehension of God’s equanimity is based on the fact of the equanimity of nature: it shows no favouritism in its provision of mild or extreme conditions. indeed it’s likely that poorer nations will suffer more from global warming than richer ones, because they’ll be less equipped to cope with extremes of heat, cold, wind, and rain. At the same time, some rich nations will try to steal some of their resources.

It begins to look as if Jesus’ teaching is a marvellous piece of realism, using the moral carelessness of nature/ God as a model for excluding any notion of desert from the motivation of disciples, whose love is to be as blind as that of the creator. If that sounds a little harsh, then we should understand that only a morally neutral benevolence can include all of life, as any serious response to global warming must do. Peoples ruled by vicious dictators must benefit as much from ameliorative programmes as decent democracies.

But we can note that Jesus commanded an equality of love, not of provision, so that what we do for destitute nations may be appropriate to their need. Some Buddhist teaching also emphasises the equanimity of Buddha, and requires it from his disciples. Churches are not used to finding common cause with Buddhist communities, but it’s not really surprising that their founders had similar revelations.

I have indicated in my previous blog what I have felt obliged to do in face of what humanity has done to the planet. But are what the obligations of churches at this critical time? My first answer is that they should shut up and consider their own part and the part of their tradition in allowing human beings to dominate the earth.

The key verse is Genesis 1:26

Then God said,”Let us make humankind in our own image, after our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”

And the key word is “rule over.” (Hebrew: Rathah)

I heard a colleague on the Radio saying that the Hebrew word means to care for, to touch tenderly. NO IT DOES NOT. I can find no instance of its use elsewhere in Bible where it does not point to holding authority or power over another, in some cases, forcefully. Yes, it can mean to tread, but not with any emphasis on treading lightly. It is important to insist on this meaning because it becomes clear that human beings want no limit upon their rule. Genesis admits this as a problem: God has created beings who are capable of rule and misrule; and no amount of threat or punishment can keep them in order. God finally admits he’s going to have to persuade them.

That means the Genesis author was serious about God creating humans with dangerous power. They would not be so dangerous if God had not made them in his image and likeness. This indicates a much more profound understanding of humanity than any attempt make the creation story ecologically acceptable. In fact it shows humanity as a real danger to the planet- and God created it that way!

When we exit myth and set this story against what we know of the evolution of life on earth, it makes good sense. Human beings have developed from other animals, and clearly possess enough ability to destroy many of them and possibly themselves. It is the “image of God” that’s the problem: no other animal is able to be so destructive. It is not that human beings know everything; it’s that they know so much they forget they don’t know everything, especially about themselves.

We have plenty evidence that the problem is very bad, but it may not be terminal. Human beings have still the power to decide whether our evolution, our creation in God’s image, is a terrible mistake, or just in the Duke of Wellington’s phrase, a “damn close-run thing.”

The Christian tradition has commonly failed to take this story seriously enough, because, even when it has emphasised human sinfulness, it has emphasised its unfitness to dwell with the holy God, but not its unfitness to inhabit the earth. It has examined “man’s disobedience” but not God’s folly in creating him. I am speaking provocatively of course, but I want to make the anomalous, alien violence of human life as evident as possible. Christian people especially should remember that in addition to all the millions of species we have destroyed we tried to make the “Son of God” extinct as well.

Did we succeed? To be Christian is to believe that in God’s kindness, we did not, but we must never minimise our capacity for wrong or the scope of the wrong we can achieve. A change of heart/ mind that issues in ecologically beneficial life-styles may be better that any amount of public wittering that disguises our sin.

Maybe as much as a year ago I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “We are the weather” in which he gave an account of his own attempt to eat “righteously” that is, in ways that tackled the causes of global warming. Basically he advocated getting rid of anything to do with cattle, well sheep too. He suggested that merely talking about the global threat was not enough. Every person had a responsibility to their neighbour and their children to cut out wrong ways of living. This is very Jewish: the Torah of God requires obedience to God’s wisdom, which affects eating as well as, say, sex.

Since then I have sold a diesel car and bought an electric one; I have abandoned aeroplane travel, and I have eaten as a vegan, only with some fish. This has involved giving up dairy foods, which has not been a big deal, except for cheese, which I love. I confess to having occasionally broken my Torah in respect of cheese. Yes, you can buy vegan “cheese” but it tastes of something very mysterious and nasty. So does Veggiemite (Yeast extract) which I use instead of cheese, because as it happens, I like it.

My youthful faith, which I have perhaps never outgrown, was very Protestant, oriented to the Gospel as means of salvation, rather than the law. I accepted Martin Luther’s eloquent rants against legalism, including his advice to “sin boldly” as I threw off the restraints of middle class life style. Well, it was the 60’s. Only a much later exposure to the humour of Jewish practice of the Torah, saved me from that foolishness.

I have found Mr Foer’s commandment very liberating, freeing me from a useless worry in the face of global warming. I recognise that only the death of capitalism can truly deal with the issue, but meantime I can do something that would make a difference if everyone did it. It’s clean, clear and doable. That doesn’t mean I will always be perfectly righteous, but it does mean I’ll know exactly how unrighteous I am. No more nebulous faith! I’ll vote for Moses.

Vexed at violence? Do not kill. Disgusted at sexual degradation? Do not commit adultery. Worried about work/life balance? Keep the Sabbath day holy. Confused by multiculturalism? Do not bow down to idols. And the rest! Quite a lot of modern Christianity has lost the divine wisdom which expresses itself in commands, including the wisdom of Jesus. Take away his commands, and what’s left? At any rate, I record a debt of thanks to Rabbi Foer for reintroducing me to an important dimension of my own religion.

Identity has become a toxic area of public discourse. Yesterday a female singer was angrily accused of “black claiming” because she was singing Afro- American material while (allegedly) tanning her skin so as to appear of black or mixed-race origin. Perhaps a little gentle mockery might be in order if indeed she did this, but contemptuous anger was what she got. At the same time the debate over the claims of some trans people to be women has become more and more poisonous. Both black people and women have been subject to violence because of their identity, so I can see that any merely wilful use of their identity might arouse anger; although it could also be seen as admiration. Then again, it’s interesting that theatre people who fought hard to be called actors not actresses, have fought equally hard to be actresses when they go to the loo.

Part of the confusion is the question of whether identity can be self-determined or if it is determined partly by society or community. I imagine that different determiners of identity work differently. If I have 90% African DNA I may surely call myself black whatever the colour of my skin. But if I have, as many white people do, 5% African DNA, am I blocked from claiming black identity?

In the case of men and women the argument has been made that although sex is biologically determined, gender, meaning the personal and social role of a person, is or should be self-determined. Trans women seem to be saying that whatever their biological sex, they want, in their personal and societal interactions, to be recognised as women. Presumably they do so because they passionately believe that womanly behaviours are a true expression of their inner selves. But if these admired behaviours have been developed in interaction with female biology as well as social roles, to what extent can trans people share them?

If having a womb influences the character and behaviour of women, then trans women would have to accept being women without wombs ( W-W women). And if menstruation influences the character and behaviour of women, then trans women would have to accept being women minus menstruation ( MM women). And if having breasts influences etc…. even if trans women can have breasts added by surgery, they would have to accept being biotech boobed women (BTB women.

In the same way, if we assume that the possession of having, or having had, male biological equipment, trans women would have to accept being women with willies, (W+W women), and ball-bearing women (B-B women) and topped up testosterone women (TUP women) and the rest. Some now and in the future maybe all of these determinants could be altered by medical intervention, but by the time of transition, the formerly male person will have been already influenced by the biology he has possessed or lacked. It seems to me likely that biological males desiring to be females will never fully possess the womanly characteristics they so much admire. And the same for women who want to be men.

Does all that matter? If people are realistic, probably not. If people imagine that transitioning will solve all their problems, that would be a dangerous delusion. But if trans people act and are treated with modesty, affection and humour, the equality they want will be a achieved and the problems overcome. For example, if trans women recognise that oppression has been part of female experience, and vulnerability part of what they admire in women, they may understand the importance of women-only spaces, and be ready to accept a legal definition of “woman” which excludes W+W women and B-B women.

In this argument there will, at the present time be a lot of disagreement, because prejudice exists and even where it is discarded, people will want different things. Only those who like M Thatcher think that society does not exist, will imagine that their identity can be separate from the identity of society. If we create societies where justice, tolerance and equality are paramount we may also be able to nurture personal identities which can honour choice as well as biology. The Bible says two interesting things in this regard:

1. In the beginning (that is, in our origins) God made them male and female

2. In Christ ( that is, in our destiny) there is neither male nor female.

I am more familiar with the habits of my neighbour’s cat than I am of those of the numerous starlings that live in my vicinity, because my study widow overlooks the adjacent house roofs which are the domain of the cat. It is a black and white female with the agility needed to patrol these roofs, by leaping from one to another without the hint of a mishap, to assert its ownership of this territory. She happily spends time watching the lower world of street and gardens from a number of favourite vantage points, the most favoured of which is the top of a wall abutting the house, just below the eaves of its gable end.

In the late spring of this year a pair of starlings selected these eves as a suitable place to build a nest. There was a small displacement in the wooden eaves, which gave them entry to their interior, while screening their nest from view. I became conscious of the pair as they collected a variety of twigs, leaves, paper, and fabric which formed the unseen nest. Once, as I assumed, the eggs were laid, the female was rarely seen, while the male was active and attentive. One day I heard the squeaking with signalled the successful hatching of the chicks, which I could not count, because I could not see them, but the constant hunting and gathering behaviours of the parents made me guess that there were at least four.

Now throughout the brooding period, the cat had continued to use its favourite seat on the wall only inches from hidden nest; and the starlings had grown used to its presence, as they flitted past it. But when the chicks were hatched and announced their existence noisily, the cat’s hunting instinct was engaged. When the parent birds were absent, it grasped the eaves with one paw while standing upright on the wall and exploring the gap with the other paw. It appeared that it could not however, reach the nest.

The first time this happened, the parent birds flew off and watched from a distance, only returning when they saw that the cat had moved away. They did this a number of times, but it made real gaps in their programme of feeding the chicks. Eventually, they tried something different. They flew at speed towards the cat, passing close to its ears, before swinging into the nest. Starlings have sharp bills which are a reasonable proportion of their body length. The cat, which I had never seen ruffled, was seriously discombobulated by this aggression. For a while she abandoned her wall altogether, which was then occasionally taken over by another cat also trying to gain access to the nest, and also seen off by the now experienced starlings.

After some days, the original cat returned, but made no attempt to reach the nest. The starlings at first dive-bombed it again, but it continued to sit there calmly enough. It was not long before the starlings ceased to attack it, while continuing their strenuous routine of finding and supplying food to their offspring.

All this time of course I had been watching, hoping that somehow the chicks would survive. I imagined that the fledging process would be the next crisis, when the chicks might be on the ground incapable of resisting the cat. I never saw how they achieved their freedom, but only saw the cat looking in a concerned manner at the eves from where there was now no sound, and no sign of any birds. I concluded that the parent birds had taken advantage of one of cat’s absences, to get their brood fledged and away.

This is the story I prefer to tell; of course the cat may have killed the chicks without telling me, or another cat may have done so. Moreover I have interpreted the various interactions of cat and birds, according to my knowledge and experience of these creatures, which may not be adequate. But I have a sense of energy in the narrative because it seems to me to be about lived relationships, those between the animals certainly, but also between myself and all of them. Life is relation which constitutes its basis, its knowledge and its mystery. God is in relation with every event and all life. Stories like this one, like Aesop’s Fables or Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, are also stories about God.

Jesus said, Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Heavenly Father.

While I was doing some interval training at the sports field by the beach, I watched some young teenagers, six of them, playing football—tennis. They had no net, but marked the position of the imagined net with a couple of bags on the ground. One side serves by kicking the ball into the diagonally opposite court, from where it can be returned by foot or head or knee. The receivers must return the ball before it bounces twice. With no equipment except a ball, they managed to play competitively and with a minimum of argument.

I suspect their parents and possibly their school teachers would have been amazed at their ability to set up this game and to play it peacefully. I also admired their organisation, especially two aspects of it: peaceful competition and cooperation in patterned behaviour. Of course each side wanted to win but here that motive was perhaps at its lowest possible level. They were competing in order to play, while enjoying the patterned movement which allowed them to display their skills with the ball, and their identity as a group of friends.

Both the patterned movement and the spirit of friendship can be seen in the animal world, for example amongst birds. When sparrows arise and fly in a flock their flight is patterned and the flock moves as one. Again many birds have specifically patterned mating rituals, while male competition for sexual partners uses ritualised combat. Foxes learn how to hunt in play-fighting.

Some animals and all human beings have detached these behaviours from their original purposes, creating games which have no purpose other than competition b) fun and c) friendship. Games are not a necessary activity but rather an adornment of life, like art, like worship, which also make creative use of patterns. In 1938 Johan Huizinga wrote a book called Homo Ludens in which he analysed play as central to human nature. I do not agree with many of his claims – for example his characterisation of war as a kind of play-, but I agree with him about the centrality of play in human nature.

In fact I see play as central to the nature of God, whose persuasive involvement in the micro and macro events of the universe might best be described as play, in its encouragement of creative patterning and mutual belonging. If that is right, human play is also an imitation of God who is honoured by it. The book of Proverbs in the Bible ascribes this playfulness to God’s Wisdom:

At the first, before the beginning of the earth/ I was with him like a little child, / and was daily his delight,/ rejoicing in the inhabited world…

Uncorrupted play -all professional play is corrupt – is a way of sharing God’s creative pleasure in the universe.

Two months ago I woke up unable to see from my left eye. I was shocked and dismayed. The optician sent me straight to hospital where the consultant diagnosed a detached retina and arranged an operation the next morning. It lasted an hour under a local anaesthetic which allowed me to follow what was happening. He found that the there was scar tissue due to the tearing of the retina, which required very delicate skill to remove. He estimated that there was a 50/60% chance of success. For at least a week I could see virtually nothing from the eye, but then slowly sight returned, albeit somewhat blurred. When I returned to see the consultant, he was pleased by what had been achieved, promising that there would be further improvement. Today my sight is not blurred, but still a little dim. Eventually, due to the operation, a cataract will develop, which can be treated successfully.

What have I learned from this experience?

1. I am not good at coping with illness or disability. I have never had serious illness or disability , and have prided myself on remaining fit for intellectual and sporting activities into my eightieth year. The eye problem challenged that view of myself: would I still be able to run and climb mountains? Would I be cut off from the natural environment and its living creature#? What if I could no longer read, and write? Could I learn Braille at my age? My steps were no longer sure because my estimate of distance was affected. Almost overnight I had become a cripple and I didn’t like it. I realised that physical and mental capacity had become for me an entitlement rather than a gift. Who was I to imagine that the ills of mortal life would give me the body-swerve? I had always been ready with my compassion for the sick, the frail and the disabled but I did not want to be the object of the compassion of others.

2. If I say that I had been blessed with good health, I do not mean that God decided to give me this gift as opposed to others. God desires equal blessing for all creatures, and works persuasively within all events to bring about good. I mean that God’s persuasion can be resisted, especially by human beings. I do therefore give thanks to God for my customary good health and for the development of free health care in the UK.

3. I have also gained a better understanding of the courage shown by the many people who have suffered frequent illness or lifelong impairment. How hard is must be to live creatively under those burdens, or to have faith in a good God. So I give thanks for those whose lives have challenged mine towards greater courage and faith.

4. God’s goodness does not work without channels in the world. Such a channel might be the years-long learning process in a field which allows a good topsoil to develop. Another might be the ability of geese, learned over generations and become innate, to travel to their breeding grounds. Another again might be the patient and precise learning which enables an ophthalmic surgeon to mend a detached retina. God’s miracles do not sidestep the processes of nature, but work through them. God will not perform the good deed that is neglected by his humans.

5. Doing God’s goodness requires not just willingness but relevant skill. Jesus did not merely WANT to heal the sick he KNEW HOW TO. In the crisis of the Pandemic, many churches have been inspired by those capable of practical care, the organisers of communal support, the cooks, the volunteer drivers, the teachers of computer skills, and many more. The application of such skills makes God’s goodness effective for needy people, leaving them filled with gratitude, as I am, as I use my eyes to write this blog.