I sit in my kitchen Sunday afternoon eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches on toasted Communion Bread, while I watch birds and squirrels consume the smaller pieces.

I sit in my kitchen Sunday afternoon eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches on toasted Communion Bread, while I watch birds and squirrels consume the smaller pieces.

No, I am neither profane nor St. Francis in doing so. My denomination considers the elements of Communion to be symbolic, signifying a remembrance, a personal testimony of faith, and a sharing of both with all Christians. After the ceremony, the elements are leftovers.

It occurred to me several years ago that it was a shame to throw away the bread, so I asked for the remaining pieces. The person making up the baggie throws in the big pieces, the ones broken by the pastor. I used to tear them up for the birds and squirrels, but something led me to toast them once, melt the peanut butter on them, and smear them with jam. Quite good.

So now the birds, squirrels and I enjoy the bread together. Neither of us feels particularly consecrated. We are content to feed.

If I belonged to a higher liturgical tradition, I would inquire whether there was a way a priest or preacher could reverse transubstantiation or consubstantiation, a “de-tran” or “de-con” process, so leftovers would neither grow stale nor need to be consumed by humans immediately after the ceremony.

At this point, I’ll drop this line of thinking for a larger point: I could wish all denominations, Christian or not, would pay more attention to God’s Creation, the creatures in the natural world around us.

In the Christian tradition, there have been two unfortunate alienations from Nature. First, there is an opposition the Old Testament sets up between the Garden and the Wilderness. The latter is Nature without moral limits and is associated with temptation and savagery. It was such a view that prompted early settlers to characterize the indigenous peoples as the spawn of the Devil, to be cleared out along with their forest habitat.

The second alienation occurred in the 19th Century, when Darwin and Biology seemed to overthrow a kindlier view of Nature, the Romantics’ “worship” of nature. If Nature was a second book of revelation, what were believers to think of their God when the history of his Creation was revealed to be a tale in which masses of organisms were wiped out so that the stronger, more adaptive could live? Does God sanction genocide, the extinction of species?

I look at my birds (“my”?) and the odd squirrel and wonder whether their lives are “nasty, brutish, and short,” Thomas Hobbes’ description of life in a state of nature. Yes there are hawks, smaller birds and insects that go for the eggs. Still, I seem to observe a code of behavior under my feeders; while keeping their distance, birds of different species--jays, cardinals, wrens, meadow larks, doves--and even the squirrels seem to be able to co-exist in the space under the feeders where the seeds fall. And dare I assume that the birds on the feeders dropping two seeds for every one they eat, do so because they want to supply the ones underneath? I want to think so.

I was reminded of the larger view by a very interesting film written and directed by Paul Schrader--“First Reformed.” Schrader wrote the screenplays for two classic films, “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” and combined writing with directing in such films as “Affliction” and “Dying of the Light.” Hardly a film career that prepares one for a film that explores Christian responses to the grim future predicted by scientists who are tracking climate change.

In fact, Schrader seems to be reaching back to his Calvinist upbringing and his Master’s thesis, “The Transcendental Style...,” wherein he examined films by three directors for elements that created a spiritual visual impact. Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest,” for instance, seems to have been on his mind in making “First Reformed.”

Ethan Hawke, in an outstanding performance, plays the conflicted minister of an historic upstate New York church. Like the priest in “Diary,” the troubled man serves a dwindling number of believers. Approaching its 250th Anniversary celebration, the church has not even been able to maintain its magnificent organ in working order.

Hawke’s character is further pressured by a problem brought to him by one of his faithful members: a woman wants him to speak to her husband, an activist, who is so convinced that the world has passed the “tipping point”--the point after which reversing climate change will be impossible--that he wants his wife to have an abortion. By the time the child is born and becomes an adult, he reasons, the environment will be intolerable. Better not to have children.

In talking to the man, the minister is ineffectual. While the husband can point to wall charts showing a seemingly inexorable warming trend with its effects on natural and human life, the minister seeks to reduce the problem to a matter of personal depression, something for which he has consoling answers.

He begins to take the husband’s larger concerns to heart and shares those concerns with a good friend who pastors a nondenominational mega-church that seems to emphasize a prosperity gospel: Be good, strive, and you will be rewarded by God. Misfortune, on the other hand, is also the will of God. A larger catastrophe, as in a world destroyed by climate change, he is told, will also reflect the will of God.

Although I think this perspective has real problems, I appreciated the fact that the friend counseling the minister is sympathetic and not one of those who seek to console by claiming hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes are instruments of a God to punish evil doers, especially those in liberal metropolitan areas.

In the film, the minister cannot accept the implication that individual Christians should do nothing, and even welcome the disaster that humans seem bound to bring about, unless they change.

Here I should add that there are no references to President Trump’s refusal to believe in the almost unanimous consensus of scientists on climate change or his withdrawing the U.S. from following the Paris Accords on curbing pollution or the new president of Brazil’s policy of encouraging deforestation of the Amazon jungle. Except for the minister’s growing acceptance of the scientific consensus about change and its probable results, the film does not venture into politics.

What can the individual believer or the church as an institution do? Clearly, more, but what? Given the insecurity of the minister, the loss of significance of his mainline church and the upcoming anniversary celebration, the “what” is hopelessly complicated.

In a sense, Scharader has crafted a well-made film to raise questions, not answer them. The issues and the characters push the plot into a corner.

But let’s admit: it is a corner many of us inhabit.

Bill Hagen is a retired OBU professor. He lives in Shawnee with his cat. Contact him at billha47@hotmail.com.