The philosopher Wittgenstein asserted that “the world is everything that is the case. It is constituted by facts, by all the facts.” One of the difficulties in understanding the COP 26 process, is distinguishing between facts and interpretations of facts: global warming is a fact; while global warming due to human activities is as yet an interpretation of facts. It is by far the most convincing interpretation of the facts, and therefore a reasonable basis on which to make decisions, but in the face of ideologically motivated denials of global warming it is important to insist that the increase in global temperatures is factual and cannot be denied by anyone except an idiot, whereas the view that this increase is caused by human activity is only an overwhelmingly probable interpretation which could be sensibly denied by someone with a more probable interpretation.

The facts are of primary importance and we protect them by not confusing them with interpretations no matter how probable these may seem.

“Richer nations will give £xbillion to help poorer nations manage the effects of climate change.” This is not a fact but a persuasive interpretation of a decision taken by richer nations. In fact much of this transfer of funds will be in the form of loans.

“This conference is not about climate change: it is about business as usual and blah, blah, blah.” That also is not a fact, but an interpretation persuasive to some, of what COP 26 is doing. There is no reason why Greta Thunberg should limit herself to facts, except that in opposing the ideologies of powerful people, a scrupulous use of facts may be her most effective weapon. For example, it is a fact that younger people will bear more of the consequences of global warming than older people. Her repeated announcement of this fact has rightly gained her the support of many young people.

This may seem an odd way to think about COP26, but as with the Covid pandemic, facts as discovered by sciences, should be carefully distinguished from all responses to the facts, even if some of these responses are made by scientists. This purist understanding of facts is helpful not just in refuting the wild assertions of malevolent or crazed ideologues, but also in using the precious facts for the welfare of human survival on this planet. We have got into this mess by giving too much credence to powerfully communicated opinions, such as those of the petrochemical industry, and too little to the disturbing facts of climate change.

In a world of largely uncontrolled mass media, facts are ever more vital, as being the only evidence that we are dealing with reality, rather than our own or someone else’s fantasy. There are at least two issues about facts that ought to be acknowledged:

1. Wittgenstein spoke of ALL the facts. Some scientists have imagined that only their disciplines deal with facts, while others like, say, art or religion deal solely with meanings and interpretations. This arrogance should not be accepted. All rigorous forms of human study may discover and use facts. The facts of beauty or prayer are as relevant to human survival as those of physics.

2. Facts require interpretation, without which they remain isolated atoms of knowledge. If we are severe about what counts as fact, we should be indulgent about what counts as interpretation of them. A scientific prediction on the one hand and a dystopian novel on the other may be equally valuable interpretations of climate change fact.

In a culture that respects facts, there will be a continuing role for faith communities, but only IF they are honest about the facts of their own faith. All faith communities have asserted as fact things that are beliefs. Indeed, people have been expelled or even killed as heretics for challenging some of these. This has to stop. No holy book was ever dictated or even verbally inspired by God. To claim that it was, is to mistake belief for fact. I may say that the Bible is authoritative for all Christian believers because God speaks through it. But if I invent a story about God dictating the Pentateuch to Moses, I have turned my faith into a pseudo- fact. Christianity has become better at this, but Islam, for example, will not permit any historical investigation of its origins.

I have been assuming so far that we are able to tell what constitutes a fact in any discipline. This is not an easy matter. Even chemists, physicist and biologists will admit that their disciplines have made new discoveries which reveal that what was taken as fact was not. How can the facts change? My next blog will deal with this issue in some detail.

Confucius uses a word junzi to designate the great, or noble, or superior person as opposed to the small, ignoble and inferior person. I prefer to translate this as the “large-minded person” as opposed to the small-minded.

Here are some of his sayings:

The large-minded person knows what is right; the small-minded knows what is profitable.

This is sharp enough even today to distinguish amongst delegations at the COP26 conference. Yes, there are some who know what is right, but there are many who look to what is profitable, and hope to make a profit out of either the failure of climate control or its success, but have no interest in what is right. Confucius is unsparing in his criticism of such people.

Jesus told unforgettable stories about lovers of profit, like the rich farmer whose expansion plans are summarily cut short by his death; or the rich man who imagines that even in hell the poor man can be used as a slave to bring him water. Such people are called foolish in traditional Jewish language, whereas the large-minded are called wise. “There was a wise man who built his house upon rock..” This is a person who puts Jesus’ teaching into practice rather than just thinking about it.

Confucius has a similar distinction: “in the case of the large-minded person, her words follow her actions.” Had that principle been followed at COP26 there wouldn’t have been much said. He added that the large-minded person is “slow to speak but quick to act.” His ideal is not a person who never speaks but one whose thoughts, words and actions are integrated.

Jesus also touched on the same distinction: “Not those who say,’Lord, Lord, but those who do the will of my father in heaven.” Modern biblical scholars have noted that Jesus stands in the Jewish Wisdom Tradition, which includes Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Song of Songs, and is a major element in Judaism. Wisdom has a divine origin but reflects the nitty- gritty of human living. The large-mindedness praised by Confucius is similarly practical and profound. Appreciation of disturbing facts is part of wisdom and large-mindedness, such as those provided by the earth scientists for the benefit of politicians.

A deeper understanding of the large-minded person is contained in the saying: “The large-minded person is not a vessel.” Confucius means not a man or woman to be filled with facts, opinions, ideologies, or even by wise teachings, but a true and creative identity who says and does new things. Confucius is himself like this. Although he is comprehensively aware of the traditions of his people, he is his own man, his own mind, soul and spirit, offering his characteristic insights for the benefit of his people.

Jesus too was expert in the Law , the Prophets and the Writings of his people, but he is described as “having authority and not as the scribes,” and most beautifully compares himself to a “spring of living water bubbling up into everlasting life.” He is the spring, not the vessel.

We should make sure that the authority and freshness of our large-minded spiritual teachers can be brought to bear upon the issues of global warming.

When Confucius was asked what his immediate priority would be if he took over the government, he answered, “I would put the words right.”

He defended his view by arguing that if the words are wrong, people will not believe what the government says, and if they don’t believe they will not obey the laws, and if they don’t obey the laws there will be chaos. He did not have a mechanical view of language, but advised people to study good models, and to speak honestly, to give a true account of the nation. Weasley language leads to weasley policies which do not effect what they claim.

For example, take “net zero emissions” Now you might think that this means that any actual carbon emissions are offset by actual reductions now of the carbon in the atmosphere. No such luck: net zero emissions means that actual emissions are offset by purely notional reductions in carbon, to be achieved in the future by planted trees and the technology of carbon capture. Paying for these future means of carbon reduction allows me to continue polluting now.

So Net Zero Carbon actually means lots of carbon plus a good story.

If we want to survive we may need to put the words “net zero” right by going back to talking about real zero emissions now, and legislating for that, no matter the screams and threats from the petrochemical corporations.

Confucius talked about putting the words right first. The Gospel,of John says, “in the beginning was the word.” Confucius spoke of making a true account, and Sarah Ruden’s recent translation of the Gospel says, “In the beginning was the true account.” The Jesus tradition like the Confucian, sees the primacy of right language which comes from beyond but is used amongst human beings by the wise man or messiah. Jesus disliked promotional language. “Why do you call me good? Only one is good, namely God.” “Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything more comes from the devil.” His whole ministry can be seen as an assault on the false meanings given by religious leaders to words like “sinner,” “just” “blessed” “saved”. He tells Pilate that people who belong to the truth will hear his voice. Like a true COP26 politician, Pilate replies, “What is truth?”

As Confucius and the Christian tradition know, the true account is foundational, and can be discerned by honest people with help from the True Leaders. We must bring the rigour of our spiritual traditions to bear on what we are being told about net zero carbon. And the rest. If we put the words right we may be able to put the world right.

I’d been reading the rhetoric from the first day of the COP 26 Conference, including that of Greta Thunberg, and recognised that all presupposed that the conference ought to come up with definitive solutions to the vast range of problems lumped together under the title “global warming.” There are problems as well as benefits with this focus, because it tries to limit the maximum level of global temperature increase, while ignoring the many destructive habits, attitudes and practices which may not contribute directly to that increase, but damage the earth and its creatures.

Be that as it may, my main worry about the rhetoric of “one minute to midnight” “we should have started yesterday” and so on, is that only a comprehensive, magically effective solution will be deemed sufficient. Anything else will not measure up to the expectation created by the COP 26 hype. After all, why is the conference seeking what we should do? We already know what we have to do, both positively and negatively. We know we have to reduce drastically our dependence on fossil fuels, for example. We have to get rid of the internal combustion engine as a means of transport. Soon. We are presently not doing so because of the power of the petrochemical industry and the huge numbers of car owners who don’t want to change. No magic decision of COP 26 can alter this. People who want their grandchildren to have decent lives must insist on this change. The facts about global warming and how to ameliorate it are clear and available. And there is no magic will spare us the simple tasks that will cure it.

Look at the wonderfully wise Bible story below. It is of course legendary, coming from the 9th century BCE.

“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.[a] 2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”[b] 4 So Naaman[c] went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. 6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”[d] 7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?[e] Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy![f] 12 Are not Abana[g] and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.”

Notice how the impetus for the action comes from an Israeli slave girl who has no hatred for her captors and great trust in the wisdom of the Prophet. Then the King of Aram makes the health of his favourite a matter of international diplomacy by commanding his vassal king of Israel to produce the magic cure. The embassy to Israel is made with the greatest amount of fuss and prestige.

For his part the Israeli King is clueless, seeing only an excuse for the forces of Aram to attack him. But Elisha sees an opportunity to heal the man while demonstrating the wisdom God has given him. He relies on facts, understanding the disease and knowing the cure, which he recommends to Naaman, who so much expects a supernatural miracle, tailored just for him, that he rejects Elisha’s prescription out of hand.

He is a powerful, important person and only a powerful, important cure with appropriate pageantry will do. But again, ordinary people, in this case his attendants intervene. They say in effect, well, maybe he knows that this river water does the job. You can’t lose by checking it out. They are common sense people who see that Elisha has offered a common sense scientific solution. At last the man is cured, but he still wants to believe in a magic cure provided just for himself.

It’s a story that exposes the arrogant ineptitude of the great when faced with a basic human problem. We should not be surprised if some of this ineptitude is evident in COP 26. There are no magic cures. The biblical message suggests that ordinary people can respond to God’s prophets, the climate scientists, by doing the simple but demanding tasks they recommend.

Out of sheer curiosity, having landed on a site which advertised “Scottish Life Expectancy” I clicked and found myself asked to declare my sex and age. When I did so, it told me: Your average life expectancy is 88 years, giving me also a 2.5% probability of reaching 100 years. Well, for a Glasgow male of my generation, that seems not bad.

I have already tried to alter my perspective on death, recognising that I should no longer think of it as a vague, distant possibility, but rather as a near certainty, without however, succeeding. This prediction on the other hand, lets me look at a short span of years after which the Big Sleep will overtake me. I won’t deny that it challenges me, especially to do the things I should to benefit my dear ones. Indeed I would hope not to die before my wife who has restricted mobility and relies on me for daily assistance, as well as companionship.

Once these duties are done I cannot think that I am too bothered by my absence from land of the living: I’ve had a fortunate life, blessed with much happiness and moments of profound meaning. I’ve had the opportunity to express the best of what I am, and have largely been restrained from expressing the worst. I have been a citizen of a lively democracy seeking a greater responsibility for its own affairs. I have been a minister of a open-minded church which has struggled honestly to interpret the faith of Jesus for our times. What’s not to like? I can die content with the life I have been given.

I know however that the majority of human beings who have shared these almost 80 years of life on earth have not been so lucky, living in poverty or under oppression, suffering fear, disease hunger, pain, insult and insecurity. If there is for them no resurrection, no liberation, no divine restitution, then there is also no God. Because I believe in God, I therefore expect resurrection for them, and for me also, with the expectation of life with God, which. I suppose I may find a little, eh, stretching.

I am also sad to leave the planet in a worse condition than it was given to me. Whatever the result of Cop 26 in Glasgow, many catastrophic changes have already taken place, and will continue until my death and beyond it. It remains possible that human beings, having made so may species extinct, will eventually top themselves.

A a hillwalker I would especially be grieved at the disappearance of the Dotterel

This beautiful wading bird now breeds only on the highest mountain plateaux in Scotland because it needs almost arctic spring conditions, which are now vanishing from this land due to global warming. They have often been my only companions in the high tops offering their trustful, inquisitive presence, even when they were feeding chicks, a duty mainly done by the male bird. Fortunately suitable breeding grounds still exist in Scandinavia and the Arctic, but the increasing absence of this unique form of life from our terrain is a measure of the savage carelessness of Homo sapiens.

Calvin thought that the chief purpose of human life was to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. I like to think this is the chief purpose of all life; and am glad to have been able to share in the glory the dotterel has brought to its maker.

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.