Going Green in Scotland

by Keith Jagger For my little family, we’ve joined the many who’ve had an “out-of-country” living experience. For the last two years we have made a home in Scotland, far away from our Midwest roots. When we leave, we’ll share some fond memories of our adventures here, and we’ve already come to love some of the many aspects of British life and culture, such as the sense of history marked by ancient and medieval architecture, long-standing traditions, greater sensibility about the environment, less consumerism, and national health benefits. But we are finding particular challenges here too, especially the trials that come along with renting a home. We ended up having to choose a lifestyle that wanted for many conveniences: no dryer, no car, no dishwasher, no microwave, and no cell phones. It is not the norm here in the UK to go without these luxuries, but a general atmosphere of more simple living made some of these challenges easier. They have guided us to some real lifestyle changes. Take life without a dryer, for example. While many households here have dryers, neither of the flats that we rented housed one (or even had the capacity to hold one). So in the short summer months, we washed our clothes in the washer and hung them on the lines outside. There’s something romantic about a sunny yard (“garden”, as they call it here) with clothes drying in the coastal wind. But there are also the bugs, which the dryer would have killed right away. We’d often find a buggy stowaway in the hamper. Then there are the long and dismal winter seasons that forced us into the hardships of laundering in the old ways. In the winter, we were strained to dry all of our clothes inside. We quickly learned that drying laundry this way would take twice as long, especially in a house with poor insulation and absence of central heating. You have to forsake totally that nice soft touch that clothes have when they come out of the drying cycle. You end up giving up one of your rooms to make a drying station, and you need spend the extra energy on radiators that serve as the drying mechanism. Loads have to be done almost daily because of the minimal amount that could be hung on small racks indoors. In fact, what used to be a simple task, soon took a huge amount of time out of our already hectic schedules. This should have slowed us down and helped us to reconsider the pace of our lives. But we pressed on. In the short run, it just made life more physically exhausting and more stressful. There’s nothing convenient about hanging your clothes, even when it is changing your habits for the better, bit by bit. But housework without a dryer was a small hiccup compared to life without a car. Central point: while our very generous friends learned to offer us rides to church and the grocery store, not having a car seriously limited our social life, especially our ability to fit in with a peer community who was on the go. Our friendship life suffered without a car. We would see families who were taking a short drive to the beach or the restaurant in the next town over; we couldn’t go. When we were invited over for dinner at a friend’s house who lived across town, the hustle of getting there and back, even with a semi-helpful public transport system had a three-fold effect: it diminished our desire to get there, lowered their interest in inviting us again when they saw how difficult it was to get there, and lowered interest on both sides of sending out future invites. You realize how far it is across town when it takes you 40 minutes to get where a car would take you in 5. Of course there were the exceptions, and these friends who endured through our car-handicap will be long termers. The positive, though, is that we got to know friends better who lived in a few blocks’ radius. On Saturdays we became more familiar and intimate with the trails and parks by our house. And we simply had to say “no” to frequent leisure travel and sightseeing in the region. In general, life without a car in this technological age is tough; it especially limits your social life in a world where people and families are enjoying fellowship over greater distances at a time. And yet all the while we were getting used to life without dependence on petrol. We also lived for two years without a dishwasher, and for the last six months––because of an unfortunate run in with the wash cycle––no cell phones. I don’t know anybody else that lives with this combination of technology anaemia. No dishwasher, not a big deal… that’s more normal. But no cell phone is near unheard of. Overall impression: life really doesn’t change all that much without a cell phone. I wish more people would realize this. Other technology such as Skype, email, and the Internet suffices. True, there are times when I’m running late. I can’t call my wife and tell her where I am. Or we have forgotten something or are lost with no means to call. There are friendships that I’m sure aren’t deeper because we can’t text. I wish I could snap a funny picture here or there, and I simply can’t. But life without a cell phone still goes on. Not to mention the community time we gained in the instances we had to walk actually over to a neighbour’s house to have a conversation in person rather than trying to call or text. Technology is supposed to make life easier; all it really does is make you more in need of more technology. If anything, we were detoxing from being connected literally to the world by our belt straps. While this all makes us honorary hippies, having to go without a dryer, car, cell phone, microwave, and dishwasher has not immediately harmonized our life. It has actually made us more inaccessible to a community on the go. And there’s real pain that comes with that. We’d love to announce that our “out-of-country” experience has inspired us to live life in America without these luxuries. That wouldn’t be the total truth. I can’t wait to have the privilege of a car again. I’m going to have a cell phone activated probably within days of arrival. But here’s the payoff. We know what it is like now to do technology detox, and while change is hard (luckily our living experiences in the last two years forced to change) change can come. While we plan to use the things that we left behind in the States, we will use them much more modestly with much more thought on their negative impact on our lives, rather than simply diving in headfirst. It has changed our view of when and how to use them. I think that this is a significance of what St. Paul realized when he said that all creation is waiting for “the revelation of the sons and daughters of God”. The earth and all its creatures are waiting in hope for us to get the memo; we don’t need to dry our clothes in machines, always seek oracles on Google or constantly speed around distances that should never be sped across. The life we’ve lived here in Scotland has been less of a burden on our planet than our lives in the US would have been and will be (even though it was not less of a “burden” on us). As of yet, we are still doing the grunt work of making good habits and letting go of selfish desires for convenience and luxury. But what we do know is that change is slow but can be made, even if it takes some external factors to get you motivated first.  


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.  

Blessed Earth and Friends Approach Earth Day with Creativity, Good Stewardship Practices

Blessed Earth and friends are finding creative ways to practice good stewardship this Spring as we approach earth day (April 22nd).  Keith Jagger (BlessedEarth.org contributor) sent us this photo from St. Andrews, Scotland where he is currently working on his PhD.

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From the press release to mark this tree planting effort:

 “The special event marked the culmination of a major effort to plant 600 trees across the University grounds.  Organised by Transition St Andrews, staff , students and local school children have been planting their individual contribution to the University’s living history – with each tree planted representing a year of the University’s history since teaching began in 1411.

The University is committed to developing sustainable solutions to global concerns at both theoretical and practical levels, and the 600 trees for 600 years project is a reflection of this focus on sustainability.  Transition hopes that the planting will reinforce their vision of an “edible campus”, with trees and shrubs planted for both practical as well as ornamental use.”

What a wonderful testament to stability, sustainability, and the role of institutions to demonstrate good stewardship. Click here to read more.

Closer to home, two different college groups visited Lexington on consecutive Saturdays to help plant and cultivate urban gardens.  On Saturday April 6th a team of students from Berea College travelled up to Lexington and planted trees at the London Ferrell Community Garden.  This was a shared initiative organized by Blessed Earth, Seedleaf, and Town Branch Tree Experts.

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Dr Richard Olsen and students plant 7 cherry trees.

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The urban orchard grows larger thanks to Berea students at the London Ferrill Community Garden.

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The following Saturday (13th) a group of 17 students and faculty from Asbury University worked with Geoff and Sherry Maddock at their Urban Farm (The 4th Street Farm).  Geoff works part time for Blessed Earth and he and Sherry serve as missionaries in the East End neighborhood in downtown Lexington.   The Asbury team were a great help tending and dressing trees with compost.  They also built a compost bin and thinned seedlings while learning about the intersection of Christian mission and agriculture.

We hope you are also finding ways to give glory to God by caring for creation this Spring.

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Asbury University students get a tour of the East End neighborhood.

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Peach trees bloom in the urban orchard at London Ferrill Community Garden.

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Students hear the story of the 4th St. Farm.

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After a morning of hard work: Dr Ray Smith, Dr Marty Bilderbach, and Ann Witherington with students from their Mission Farm seminar at Asbury University.

 

North Carolina Creation Care Year Off To a Successful Start

Blessed Earth’s partnership with North Carolina churches, for the Creation Care Year program, is off to a great start. In March 2013, Dr. Matthew Sleeth preached sermons at Centenary United Methodist Church and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Both are located in Winston-Salem. The two churches have been using Dr. Sleeth’s book 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life for their Lenten studies. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church reported that their Wednesday night attendance quadrupled during their “Sabbath Living” series, while Centenary United Methodist Church featured the 24/6 materials in 10 small groups. Knollwood Baptist and Centenary UMC each hosted a “Pastor’s Brunch” for area clergy. More than 40 pastors attended each event, from a variety of denominations. Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Moravians were all represented. Additionally, Dr. Sleeth was privileged to address 20 Moravian clergy at Home Moravian Church in Old Salem. Attendance was great at Dr. Sleeth’s Monday night 24/6 presentation at Front Street United Methodist Church in Burlington. The crowd was very engaged, and Matthew is looking forward to his return to this church next month. In addition to his second visit to Front Street UMC on April 14, Dr. Sleeth is also scheduled to preach at the Duke Divinity School chapel on April 10. North Carolina Creation Care Year events are supported by North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and the Humane Society of the United States, via PR/sponsorship. Blessed Earth is looking for more churches in North Carolina to participate in this historic Creation Care Year. For more information, please contact Laura Leavell at laura@blessedearth.org. Photos: matthewnc Dr. Sleeth giving an evening presentation on 24/6 at Front Street UMC in Burlington. matthewnc2 Dr. Sleeth sharing with local pastors at a 24/6 clergy breakfast at Centenary UMC in Winston-Salem. matthewnc3 Dr. Sleeth signing books at Centenary UMC after his Sunday morning sermon. matthewnc4 Dr. Sleeth connects with parishioners at Centenary UMC on Sunday morning. matthewnc5

Dr. Sleeth speaks to Moravian clergy at Home Moravian Church in Old Salem.

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Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food

eatwithjoy God”s gift of food, professed in Genesis, is in need of redemption for many people. Busy schedules have reduced the number of meals we eat together, and confusing advertisements can make it difficult to choose a healthy meal option. Many of us have complicated relationships with food, feeling guilty when we indulge in anything less-than-healthy. In Eat With Joy, Rachel Marie Stone examines the current, complex issues in the food industry. More importantly, she discusses the spiritual side of food: What did God intend for us to feel about food? How can we use food to better relate to Him? Prayers and recipes are included to illustrate the points of each chapter. Those who seek an improved relationship with their daily bread will rejoice in Eat With Joy. Highly recommended!

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Summoned Toward Wholeness: Food and Faith Conference

EventLogoBlessed Earth, in partnership with Duke Divinity School, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and Anathoth Community Garden, is hosting a gathering titled “Summoned Toward Wholeness: A Conference on Food, Farming and the Life of Faith”. The conference will be held September 27-28, 2013, at Duke Divinity School. Scripture portrays God as a gardener, farmer, and shepherd. It describes Jesus as “the bread of life” who invites people to the Lord’s table so they can learn to feed his sheep. It is hard to read the Bible and not see that God cares deeply about food and agriculture. Join plenary speakers Ellen F. Davis, Joel Salatin, Scott Cairns, and Matthew Sleeth, and 12 workshop leaders, as we explore multiple connections between food, farming, and the life of faith. Discover how a concern for food and agriculture can deepen faith and heal our lands and communities. ios software download To learn more, visit the conference website.

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Forty Days of Lent: An Almost Amish Journey Toward a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life

Use this Lenten season as a time to grow closer to God and simplify your life. Try a new suggestion from this list each day and experience the stronger relationships and calmer pace of an (almost) Amish lifestyle!

1. Start a giveaway box and add at least three items of clothes you have not worn in the last year.

2. Is there a form of technology that is ruling you like a master rather than serving you like a tool?  Unplug for 24 hours and rediscover the peace that passes all understanding.

3. Spend 5 minutes in nature where you can only see things that are God-made, not man-made.

4. Do you say grace when you consume energy (food) at the table?  Next time you fill up your car with gas, say a prayer for God’s sustaining hand.

5. Go out of your way to support a local business.

6. Purchase seeds for a vegetable garden, patio garden, or indoor herb garden.

7. Go through your inbox and “unsubscribe” from group email lists. You’ll have a lot less to sort through each day.

8. One day in seven, take a 24-hour day of holy rest.

9. Invite someone new into your home to share a homemade meal.

10. Bake a loaf of bread.  Use a bread maker for the first rising, or simply allow artisan bread to rise slowly while you are at work.

11. Set aside ten percent for the Lord before you pay the other bills. Already tithing?  Up it by one percent.

12. Before you make a major purchase, wait a month to see if you still need it.

13. Add unused sports equipment to your giveaway box.

14. Turn table scraps into nutrient-rich soil by starting a compost pile.  Live in the city? Investigate a worm composter or solar cone.

15. Prevent catalogs from cluttering up your home. Visit the Direct Marketing Association (www.dmachoice.org) and Catalog Choice (www.catalogchoice.org) to remove your name from mailing lists.

16. Sign off from your Facebook and Twitter for the day. If you want to know what your friends are doing, call them and have a real conversation.

17. Avoid eating out at restaurants; donate the money you save to the local food bank.

18. Use your money to back up your beliefs. Talk to your financial advisor about socially responsible investments.

19. Pack a picnic and invite a family member or friend to dine outside with you so you can appreciate God’s creation together.

20. Take a walk and clean up trash along the way.  Take someone with you so one of you can collect recyclables.

21. Plant a tree. Trees clean the air, provide shade, and beautify the landscape.

22. Visit your local farmer’s market and start buying your vegetables there. You’ll support your local economy and reduces the number of miles your food travels from farm to plate.

23. Make an effort to reach out to a neighbor today. Wave, say hello, or invite your neighbor for a visit on the porch.

24. Brainstorm about friends in your life that might want to begin meeting and studying the Bible together.

25. Just like the Amish help each other build barns, help a neighbor weed their yard, sweep their stoop, or cut their grass. Or, visit a local non-profit to learn about volunteer opportunities there.

26. Switch out a few bulbs to super energy saving LEDs (now available in warm tone and dimmable).

27. Set up croquet or badminton in your yard. Walk to the park and swing. Invite your children to play a board game.

28. Start a book group or take your children to the library for story time.

29. Invite a child or teenager over and teach them how to bake, sew, or craft.

30. Hang your clothes on the line to dry. You’ll save on electricity costs and your clothes will last longer.

31. Bring your own mug to your office or the coffee shop.

32. Organize your junk drawer or a kitchen cupboard.

33.  Set your home office equipment to energy-saving modes.

34. Drink tap instead of bottled water.

35. Bike when running local errands.

36. Invite neighborhood children to color on the sidewalks with sidewalk chalk.

37. Write encouraging notes to family members and friends.

38. Think about how you can better support and connect with your spouse, child, or colleague. Brainstorm something small that you can do to make their day.

39. Bring your (overflowing) giveaway box to the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or local refugee ministry.
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40. Give thanks for the beauty of God’s creation and the gift of his Son.

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Creation Care Year

In July 2011, Blessed Earth received a $3.2 million grant for two programs: Creation Care Year (CCY) and the Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA). For the 2012–13 CCY, Blessed Earth is partnering with the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, offering a full panel of classes, lectures, sermons, and forums on environmental topics. Throughout this first CCY, Blessed Earth executive director, Matthew Sleeth, MD, is the Cathedral’s monthly guest preacher. To learn more about this Creation Care Year, visit the Blessed Earth-National Cathedral Partnership site. Beginning in 2013, Blessed Earth will partner with the Wesleyan Church. For more

information about this Creation Care Year, visit the Blessed Earth-Wesleyan Church Partnership site. For 2014–15, Blessed Earth has selected the state of North Carolina for our CCY partner. In NC, Blessed Earth will also be working closely with two of our SSA partners, Duke Divinity School and Wake Forest University School of Divinity, which have pledged to teach, preach, model and hold each other accountable for good stewardship practices. To learn more, visit the Blessed Earth-North Carolina Partnership site.

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Seminary Stewardship Alliance

SSALogo1 The Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA) is a consortium of schools dedicated to reconnecting Christians with the biblical call to care for God’s creation. Our goal is for member seminaries to teach, preach, live, inspire, and hold each other accountable for good stewardship practices. The Christian faith occupies a central role in our culture. Seminaries equip, train, and inspire the future leaders of the church, thereby having a powerful effect across denominations and throughout the world. do my research paper for me Click the logo to visit the Seminary Stewardship Alliance website!

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About Blessed Earth

Blessed Earth – Catalyzing for Change from Matthew Sleeth on Vimeo. Blessed Earth is an educational nonprofit that inspires and equips people of faith to become better stewards of the earth. We serve as catalysts for change through two major programs: The Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA) brings together seminary leaders who covenant to teach, preach, model, and hold each other accountable for good stewardship practices. Serving as a powerful catalyst for change, the Alliance helps prepare the future pastors of our 300,000 houses of worship to take a leadership role in caring for God’s creation. Creation Care Year partners with influential churches across America to dig deeply into a wide range of stewardship topics. In this historic first year, Blessed Earth is partnering with The National Cathedral in Washington, DC, to offer sermons, forums, small group studies,

lectures, panels, and creation care models that can be used by churches throughout the country. In addition, Blessed Earth plants seeds through our: Bible Project (beginning fall 2012) provides free bibles with creation care content and resources for those who want to dig deeply into the scriptural call to love God and love our neighbors by caring for creation. Blessed Earth builds bridges in two directions — helping those who love the Creator connect with loving His creation and helping those who love creation connect with the Creator. Tree Planting is a win-win-win: they clean the air, beautify neighborhoods, provide shade, and decrease rainwater run off. Each spring and fall, Blessed Earth partners with churches and neighborhood associations to plant trees, primarily in low-income neighborhoods. Click here if you would like to dedicate a tree in a loved one’s honor.

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The Blessed Earth Story Matthew Sleeth was an ER doctor and chief of staff at a New England hospital when his wife, Nancy, asked him a life changing question: “What’s the biggest problem facing the world?” After thinking for a while, he replied, “The earth is dying.” Nancy’s second question was harder to answer, “If the earth is dying, what are we going to do about it?” Leading by example, Matthew left his medical career and moved with his family to a house the size of their old garage, reducing their energy usage by more than two-thirds and cutting back their trash production by nine-tenths. Recognized as national Christian leaders, the Sleeths started the educational nonprofit Blessed Earth to “serve God and help save the planet.” Since 2008, Blessed Earth has been invited by more than 1,000 church, educational, media, and environmental groups to share the biblical call to care for God’s creation. Explore the Blessed Earth website to learn more about creation care books and films, download practical tools, sign up for the monthly e-newsletter, and share inspiring stories.

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Special Report: Creation Care at the 2012 Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (Part 3 of 3)

(Read Part 1 of 3)

(Read Part 2 of 3)

PART III: SO WHAT

The conversation at ETS at points became heated, a reflection of the reality that we as Christians, and especially American Evangelicals, should have something to say about the raging environmental cultural war, even if we forget to listen to other voices, from the global south, for example. When we enter into that war, are we equipped with a biblical worldview? Will we succumb to the demands of worldviews that are not our own? Will we have the type of self-awareness that can humbly admit that our worldviews have been compromised by pagan or modern ways of thinking? Or is the matter even more complex than simply pitting one worldview against the other? Maybe our moment, for Christian mission today, is one where the task is calling us to slow down and reabsorb our foundations again.

How can we develop a robust Christian mission that responds to a groaning creation as well as the cries of those impoverished today, a position which is fueled by biblical thinking at its deepest?

Basically our challenge begins at the training ground of the scriptures. We must think carefully through the worldviews offered therein. What does the Bible say about creation and the place of God and humanity within it? What is wrong with the world, and what is the solution? What kind of time do we see ourselves in? Our easy answers to these questions, which reflect little awareness of what the Bible actually says, reveals to us that modern and pagan ways of thinking have greatly shaped the lenses through which we read the Bible and experience the world.

We must reclaim our own narrative in order to address this modern environmental epidemic. We have to chart a vision of a sacred earth based upon the limits of creation order that also avoids the objectification of creation. When we do so, many of our actions will follow suit. Our church will agree that each congregation needs a creation care group, as Bauckham suggested, that the whole church supports, which keeps us consistently thinking about creation care. We will develop a localism, as Moo suggested, that fosters a perspective of affinity for land but never looses sight of our responsibility in a global community. We will see afresh, as Moore suggested, that one of the biggest gifts we can give our children in an age of materialism and excess is to bring them out of our doors and into the wild places of our land where they can begin again to experience the beauty of creation and survive its harshness as well. Or we will get busy with highway cleanups or insulating the houses of our poorest neighbors, as Beisner suggested.

I’ll finish here with a challenge from Douglas Moo: “We must never simply use the Bible to fight our cultural wars.” When we do so, we will always bend it to do our own will. We must continually form a Christian worldview within the Body. And when we do so together, we will be able to join in with the worldwide environmental movement while at the same time challenging it at its very real points of error. We must stand up against every attack against human worth, while resisting the tsunami wave of materialism that drowns our people today. Such a challenge might just force us to change everything about the way we live our lives. We might have to give over our shortsighted lifestyles to a limitless God, and enter fully into his story. But let’s make sure as we do so, that it is the right story.


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

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Special Report: Creation Care at the 2012 Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (Part 2 of 3)

(Read Part 1 of 3)

PART II: A BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW?

1. Where is our bottom line; should we care ultimately for the welfare of humans or animals?

2. What is the gospel?

3. What does the Bible say about the nature of human freedom and sufficiency?

As you can imagine, libraries of books have been written on these three questions. I lack the expertise to address them in detail in such a short report. I simply want to report on these three points from ETS for our further reflection.

What is our Bottom Line: Should We Care Ultimately for the Welfare of Humans or Animals?

Of course, the answer is both. But the realities of our day often times seem to force us one way or the other. Beisner seems clear in his approach. The bottom line is humanity. The pagan worldview of the environmental movement and its contraceptive (against further population) stance, attacks the basic worth of human dignity. Attempts to control the world’s population stand on the faulty assumption that the earth can handle no more of us. The solution to our current problem of widespread poverty is to use our ingenuity to bring sustainable energy and clean water, for example, to the world’s population. Human technology has enhanced the state of living in the “developed” world. Before the modern era, everyone except the wildly wealthy lived in “abject poverty.” Half of the babies survived birth, people did not live as long, and we had no way of purifying water. Nature was not subdued. We should continue our advancements for the good of humanity everywhere, and if this comes at the cost the extinction of habitats and their species, then the cost is worth the risk, though extinction has always been around, and it is bad science anyway that convinces us that more species are dying today than ever before.

The other way of answering this question is simply: no. We should not make advancements in technology if it means the extinction of species. If we had to choose between developing a plot of land that contained the only substance that would keep a million people alive, and we knew at the same time that we might wipe out a species of frog in the process, the answer is clear. We’ll find another way. And in response to Beisner, others wondered this: was the pre-modern world as bad as you make it out to be? Have we really evolved? Yes technologies have improved the quantity of life, but has it improved the quality? Yes we didn’t have ways to purify water, but did the water need purifying then? And shouldn’t the people in the most abject levels of poverty today have a say in what kind of technologies should be developed at the cost of their way of life? Are we, the scientific moderns, the heroes destined to rid the world of evil?

You can see that the answer to this question is not easy. It basically comes down to how we answer this question: What is wrong with the world, and what is the solution?

  • Biblical Worldview Questions: The realties of our world force us sometimes to choose between human life and animal life. How does the gospel redefine reality? How could the cross-shaped life of God’s people teach us to approach our environmental problems today? What does the Bible say is wrong with the world? And what is its solution?

What is the Gospel?

Can you feel the weight of this question? For centuries, Protestants have answered it along with the great reformers: the gospel is justification by grace through faith. Beisner held this definition of the gospel, and you can see how he might take issue with groups that “implicitly change the gospel.” This was his charge directly against Blessed Earth, the only time that the Sleeths were mentioned in the sessions that I attended. Beisner lumped “Serve God, Save the Planet” and “The Gospel According to the Earth” and their suggestions about the practicalities of the gospel among that group of “law based” religions. He quoted Colossians 2.20-23, “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world; why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules.” As a participant in the Blessed Earth community, I was not completely offended. His point actually clarified the point where a major difference exists. Of course Blessed Earth holds to the saving work of Jesus as a central focus. But Beisner may be defining gospel in a more narrow way than Blessed Earth, where for them the gospel is more about the announcement that Jesus is king over all the earth and has come to save, justify, and redeem all of creation for God’s full intentions. Is this larger perspective of the gospel more or less faithful to the biblical witness? This is obviously a much bigger discussion than we have time here to address.

This point is this, though: part of the Evangelical division about the meaning of creation care falls down upon theological party lines, especially where definitions of the gospel itself are contested.

  • Biblical Worldview Question: What is “the gospel” according to the biblical writers, and how is creation care a part of it?

What Does the Bible Say about Freedom and Excess?

Bauckham made an emphatic point that we must be very careful to know what the bible says about freedom and excess. He made a challenge against what he called the “Modern American” understanding of liberty, that mostly opposes regulations of any sort. One of Beisner’s main oppositions to the worldwide environmental movement is its inherent desire for global governance and policies that will attempt to rule us, electrical grids that would decide when we could use our appliances, for example. But “what is the biblical understanding of freedom,” asked Bauckham. Americans tend to think that our way of life is sacrosanct, he said. We tend to think that the real problems of our world, the problems of poverty and malnutrition are epidemics of the “third world”. But what about petroleum spills? What about mountain top removal? The real problem, he suggested, is that we are addicted to consumption. “We’ve lost the notion of sufficiency”, Bauckham claimed, “that’s why we are devastating the earth.” We are not demigods with limitless freedom to do to the earth whatever we imagine for the sake of our own flourishing. We are part of a community of creation with a very specific role. And as of right now, our addiction to unneeded material things feeds the machine that is exploiting the earth and its people. What way is worse? This question hung in the air at ETS, a worldview that errs on the side of paganism, or one that is primarily governed by a modernistic and materialist craving?

  • Biblical Worldview Question: What does the bible say about the nature of human freedom and excess? Can we chart a biblical response that challenges materialism and avoids the diminishing of human need and worth?

Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

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Rethinking the Manger

 

Recent studies of the gospels have invited us to read the Nativity stories again.  They challenge us to discover the real narrative enclosed in traditional wrapping.  In the story, the holy couple were not actually in haste and rejected.  Rather than bouncing around from “no vacancy” to “no vacancy”, they were warmly welcomed into a two-room home whose guest room (katalyma in Greek, the same word that is used for a room where the last supper took place) was already taken.  In New Testament days, peasant houses had two rooms: one reserved for guests and the other that served as the shared family room, kitchen, dining room, and a sleeping quarter.  At night time, in order to keep well-behaved livestock warm and safe, they brought them into a lowered corner of the main room (the phate).  We can see this type of living situation reflected in 1 Kings 17.19, for example, where the traveling prophet Elijah stays in a designated guest room.  What makes this point even stronger is that no honorable shepherd would ever have departed the manger scene rejoicing if a neonatal infant and his parents had just been cast out into a barn.

 

The nativity story is one of those instances where tradition conceals the sharp edge of the actual story.  We love the theological idea that the residents of Bethlehem rejected a descendent of David and left them alone for their labor.  But if we read the story afresh, one of the main points, hidden in plain view, comes into focus.  The Savior of the world was born among animals and announced to those who had welcomed Jesus into their simple lives.  Those who had found the ultimate favor of God dwelled in common modesty and sheltered a few of their animals in their katalyma every night.  The Gospel, though intended for people from every class, and the precepts of the kingdom, though naming Jesus as the heir to David’s throne, are founded upon commoners, a simple lifestyle and the animals.

 

The Psalmist would have resonated with the sacredness of this lifestyle:

 

Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens (Ps. 148.7-13).

 

So during Christmas, as we rejoice in this manger-born Christ child, let us welcome the relevant beauty of God’s story afresh.  God is coming. He sent his son to kick-start his oncoming rule. Though our lives are filled with temptations, sickness, and death, the heavenly power of divine love warms the cold places of our world.  It began with his tender loving creation of heaven and earth and all who live in it.  It continues with his delight in us, in the death-destined life of his son and in his ongoing work.   He is forming the stony hearts of his people into soft and beating organs of his love on earth.  Long ago, some peasants from the city of David showed great hospitality that night to God’s favored. The heavenly army of angels sent God’s birth announcement to the rough, disfigured, and stigmatized shepherds.  By making room in their homes and schedules for this child and their parents, heaven broke in to their simple lives.  What can we do this Christmas to simplify and welcome the Christ-child into our hearts and homes?

 

 


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life.  You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

Special Report: Creation Care at the 2012 Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (Part 1 of 3)

 

PART I: SETTING THE SCENE

 

Creation Care. It appears on the surface to be an uncontroversial and noble cause, a potential rallying point of unity for peoples of many faiths. We can see the devastating effects of oilrig disasters with our naked eyes. Our intuitions tell us that there is something intrinsically wrong with billowing smoke stacks. Science is telling us about mass extinction of species and melting ice caps. We should all of us be alarmed. But not everyone thinks so. In fact, some see behind it all a conspiracy and a ploy for power. They disagree firmly with those who suggest that we should abide with the environmental policies of the global community. We are at a spiritual war with powers that seek to control global policy and want to force depopulation. Science has been co-opted, and Christians of all stripes should push back. Of course there are a range of Christian responses to the matter, but organizers of the recent annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society found four voices that represented some of the more opposing views, and at points, sparks flew.

 

This report narrates some of the action at ETS 2012. From it, I want to discern the points of contention that arose there, which seem to divide Evangelicals in America today. These points of conflict are not the easiest to name, since most everybody thinks that we should care for the earth, in one way or another. And when Evangelicals pull out the flagship biblical verses, as in the case of Genesis 1.27-28 at this year’s ETS conference, everybody basically agrees that humans have been made to love and steward God’s creation. But as the conversation went on, it became clear that not all contributors meant the same thing by Creation Care, even though they were using very similar language. What was different? It was the larger worldview behind their language where differences emerged, and it will do us all some good to tease out some elements of these worldviews.

 

What is “the biblical worldview” and how does it challenge us to face the contemporary environmental crisis? This seems to be the starting question, and different Evangelicals answer differently based on their understanding of the question, though the answer to the to it is not as easy as many might think.

 

Four plenary speakers were invited to address this main question: E. Calvin Beisner, Richard Bauckham, Russell D. Moore, and Douglas Moo. Each has earned their PhD, and they come from a variety of backgrounds associated with Evangelicalism. The most telling conflicts came between Bauckham and Beisner, who were ironically seated next to one another during the panel discussion, so I will mainly highlight their conversation here. Both had given a plenary address and said some similar things about Genesis 1.28,

“God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds of the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Beisner approached the verse with a basic concern for the intense poverty that we find in developing nations of the world. He suggested that there is growing today a pagan, anti-Christian worldview that gave birth to and organizes the contemporary environmental movement. This worldview inspires powerful people who are pushing policies that have little impact on the earth and big impact on people. He suggested that stewardship in Genesis means that we should use our God-given role to bring sustainable energy and advanced technologies to solve the plight of those trapped in the worst positions of poverty in the world today. Beisner presented a tidal wave of scientific information that pointed to one conclusion: the earth isn’t really in that bad of a position. Studies on rapid extinction of species are corrupted because they have intentionally sought for the conclusion they wanted to find. Climate change is happening, but then again it has always happened; the world is warming because of the ways that growing carbon emissions bounce off the clouds rather than burning our ozone. More on Beisner’s worldview below.

 

Bauckham took a different reading. He thought that Beisner’s worldview, though clearly he was rightly concerned about world poverty, was corrupted by a modernistic interpretation of the true biblical worldview. Bauckham pointed out that the ideas of Francis Bacon from the sixteenth and seventeenth century, which led to a utilitarian view of creation, continue to influence our world today and press us to unlock the potential of creation itself. Bauckham suggested that Beisner’s worldview was a variation of Bacon’s and countered that stewardship in Genesis 1.28 was never meant to sanction an unlimited exploitation of creation for human benefits alone. Rather stewardship in Genesis was a call to grow in god-like love and delight for the created world. We are to become people who care about whole creation’s need for sustenance. Bauckham and Moo suggested that theologians must not dabble in science or approach it with overly suspicious eyes. There are enough reputable Christians scientists who believe that human-created climate change is upon us, and we should listen to their warnings. Beisner firmly disagreed.

 

So the central question then is this: who has the right biblical worldview, which perhaps makes a few errors in judgment, and who has a foundationally corrupted understanding of the biblical worldview and yet holds to some correct biblical ideas? In this case, does Bauckham have a worldview corrupted by pagan anti-Christian views of reality? Or does Beisner have a worldview corrupted by modern views of the universe? The answer to this question is not at all easy to make; it is probably yes and no to both. Though if we can tease out some very divergent ways of seeing the world between Bauckham and Beisner, we might find a key that helps us discover a robustly Christian position towards our environment today. I think we can do so by looking at three questions: 1. Where is our bottom line; should we care ultimately for the welfare of humans or animals? 2. What is the gospel? 3. What does the Bible say about the nature of freedom and sufficiency? How we answer each question will reveal a lot about our basic worldview.

 


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth”s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

Hugging the Tree of Life: Revelation 21, Ecotopia (Part 6 of 7)

Series: Hugging the Tree of Life- Mark 1.9-13, Jesus, Animals, and Isaiah

Read part 1 of 7 (introduction) here. Read part 2 of 7 (A Lesson from the Earth) here. Read part 3 of 7 (We are so Connected) here. Read part 4 of 7 (The Cosmic Christ) here. Read part 5 of 7 (Jesus, Animals, and Isaiah) here.

Imagine the burning fires of the Terminator or the trash piles of Disney’s Wall-E. Is this with the Bible has in mind? Like in the previous posts, I will highlight one verse’s real contribution as well as expose ways that the Bible has been misunderstood or over-used for godly green living. The last post made one point crucial for us if we are to understand the book of Revelation: Revelation is the end of the Jewish story. This means that when we read this final Chapter of the Christian Bible, we can expect from it a vision of the renewal of creation. Still, this doesn’t mean that John, the author of Revelation, couldn’t have said something new in his vision. After all, he claimed to have written down exactly what he saw in his apocalyptic vision. God was revealing something about the end that was never before heard and would carry lessons to us for godly living. In Revelation, we get some insight into godly green living. Even though apocalyptic books use crazy symbolism, like Jesus riding on a horse with a sword coming from his mouth, its point is essentially about how Christians should live in their day. The symbols are thick. We can’t simply apply them to whatever problems we are encountering in our day. Gog and Magog are not Russia and China. They symbols should leave us with more questions than answers. The book brings up so many questions, such as: does it have a positive view towards the earth, and what are the implications? If it teaches us that we can hasten the end, does it suggest that we do so by saving one person from each unreached nation, or worse by helping along the future destruction of the world by increasing our exploitation of it today? If there is a new city Jerusalem, what about animals who live in the wild? Will they get to have their own domain outside the city walls? If night is destroyed, what will happen to nocturnal creatures like bats? Will they simply have to forfeit their portion of the day? What does Revelation mean for us who are beginning to realize that care for the earth is part of godly living? Among all the questions, we can focus our interest in green theology on the process of the getting to the end. Does Revelation have the renewal, replacement, transformation, or destruction of the world in mind? The answer will show us that Revelation has, what one scholar has called, eco-topia in mind rather than u-topia. That is, the new creation will be a living-place, rather than no-where. Moreover, we can hasten the day with godly living. The bulk of this comes from the end of the book of Revelation, and because it is so rich and full of detail, I have paraphrased a part of Revelation 21-22 for us: “And I saw a new heaven and new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth went away, and the sea was there no longer. I saw the new holy city Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, from God. It was prepared as a bride, adorned for her Man. Then I started hearing a booming voice from the throne: ‘Behold’, it was saying, ‘the dwelling of God is with humans. He dwells with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear away from their eyes. There will no longer be any death or mourning or crying or toiling, because the former things went away.’ Then the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’. He said: ‘Write that these words are faithful and true.’ Then he spoke these words to me: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To those who thirst, I will give freely from the spring of the water of life. The one who is victorious will inherit these things. I will be God to them. The men will be my sons, the women my daughters. However, for those who are cowardly, unfaithful and have been loathsome, who still have murder and immorality in their hearts, to sorcerers and idolaters, people who used the former earth for prideful things and who will try to use the new for the same, and to all who demand to remain liars. They will go to that lake enkindled by fire and sulfur, which is the second death.’ Then one of the seven angels came to me, one of those who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues. He spoke with me saying, ‘I will show you the bride, the wife of the lamb’. Then he carried me off in the spirit to the great and high mountain, and he showed me the holy city of Jerusalem, the one coming down from heaven from God. Are ready for what I saw? It has the glory of God about it. Its star is like a precious stone. It has a great high wall. It has twelve gates with twelve angels stationed by them, and the names of the twelve tribes of Israel are carved on them. There were three gates facing east. Three North. Three South, and three on the side where the sun sets. The wall of the city had twelve foundations and upon them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the lamb….” “Also, the city had neither need of the sun nor the moon to shine on it. The glory of God gave it light. Her guide-lamp was the lamb, and the gentiles walked around throughout the light. The kings of the earth brought their glory into it, and its gates were never shut by day for there is no night there. The glory and honor of the gentiles were brought into it, and nothing evil from the old will come into it. Neither will the one who made desolation and falseness. If they were not written in the book of the life of the lamb, they didn’t come into the city. Then he showed me the river of the water of life; it was illustrious as ice. It flowed out from the throne of God and the lamb. It gushed through the middle of the street. On the river’s edges––on both sides––the tree of life produced twelve fruits. It gave over its fruit, one kind for each month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the gentiles. There were no cursed things there. The throne of God and of the lamb will be among them, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. They will not have need of the light of lamps or the light of the sun. God will shine on them, and they will reign throughout eternity. Revelation 21.1-22.5. Three points keep us focused on this grandiose image: (1) How things will turn from where we are now to what is described as the New Jerusalem, (2) the nature of the city, and (3) the theme of interconnection. After I talk about these points, I will draw out some implications for godly living. According to Revelation, how do we get from here to the New Jerusalem? How will the new order come about? Will it be by renewal, replacement, transformation, or destruction of the world? Revelation talks about our heaven and earth passing away with the sea. Scholars do not all agree about what this means. Some stress the metaphorical nature of it all. They consider it imagery for the drastic change in political and social reality. Others admit that what we envision in the new is so unlike what we experience today that we might as well talk about a do-over, like in the great flood. One-author talks about “transposition into eternity”, while another talks about the earth being recycled. Transposition is a gentle process of changing keys but keeping the same melody. Recycling is a destruction of a current shape but using the same raw material to make a new shape. Another author points out that even if it is a transposition or a gentle change more like our current world today, it is something that can only be done by God in his power and his timing. We can’t deny that Revelation talks about the earth and skies passing away. However, no matter if this present order is completely turned into ashes, Revelation implies that from them God will arise and purify the shapes of the old. This is why Revelation talks about the “the glory of the gentiles” coming in. What can we imagine to be the glory of the gentiles? We have our own top 7 wonders of the world and more: pyramids, standing stones, Rushmore’s, mathematics, literature, and music––just to scratch the surface. Imagine these things being strangely preserved and purified. Yes, the Bible talks about the earth being destroyed and remade, but the psalmist knew what we should know now, God’s ways are not our ways, and even if we know that the house is going to be demolished tomorrow, the Bible still wants us to paint the bedroom today if it needs it. Because in some strange way that paint will matter tomorrow. This is the renewal that we expect the Jewish story to suggest, and renewal gives us a challenge for today. So also does the description of the New Jerusalem. This is a vision that doesn’t answer all of our questions, but it is a vision of Genesis remade and a divine response to the evils of Babylon, the evils of Rome, and the evils of our empires today. It is a highly charged but beautiful symbol. The New Jerusalem is a wife and a city at the same time. It is an image of the people of God and yet a strangely concrete urban plan. In some sense it is a return to Eden, with the tree, the river, and the promise of no pain or death. It is earthy like Eden, but the sea and night are gone, and it is after all not just a gorgeous wood; it is a city where God dwells with his creatures. Immoral people and dogs are not allowed in, but the gates are open (Rev.21.25). Some scholars suggest that this means that there may be a wood beyond the gates, rather than a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those who were cast into the lake of sulfur are living in another dimension, and the open gates suggest that the wild animals will have their own wild domain outside the New Jerusalem. It’s hard to say. One thing is clear; the evils of Babylon are expelled. If we want to hasten this day, it will be through godly living. The sea is symbolic for Rome’s oppressive shipping operation, and night is that time before dawn where sin, destruction, and violence thrive. These things are taken away with fire. So what does Revelation imagine of fire? Fire frees the waters of oppressive systems. Fire purifies the night of violence. Furthermore, the New Jerusalem is made from the bounty of the earth (Rev. 21.15-21_ verse reference?). It is the joined unity of rural and urban life. There is no question that John takes great pleasure that the peoples of the wide earth now recognize YHWH as the living God who will heal them. The New Jerusalem is an earthy place that expels evil, leaves the gate open to the wild beyond, represents a huge green urban scene, and is somehow strangely representative of a people at the same time. What holds it all together? Interconnected relationship founded in God. This is the marriage of heaven and earth. This is a web of life remade from the materials of old in such a way that the glory of the old comes into the new. This is why godly living matters today. So what are the implications for green living today? The glories of the nations are brought in, and this means that however it is possible, the fires of the apocalypse won’t destroy what can be purified. Our attempts for creation care may not be enough to construct the New Jerusalem. Our policies will often tempt us rather to build the tower of Babel. But what we do today matters and will endure. When we give away our love for something that matters to God, he transfers it into eternal currency. The creative building of godly culture and godly living matter. Who we are today and what we do matters in the end. Deep down, we inherently know that to get rid of this theology of the New Creation is to throw ourselves away. Our lives have been full of pain and strife. If we think that God will just destroy the old creation, then maybe our bad memories will get destroyed with it. We don’t like the idea of restoration and renewal, because we don’t want to have to remember our former pain. But John is clear: there will be leaves on the tree of life meant for healing. What else would need healing in the new creation other than our memories? If God would just destroy this place, I won’t have to deal with my painful memories tomorrow. Revelation offers us a vision of renewal, and this means that we will have some healing to do when we get there. So plant a tree or save a human person. It matters. God wants us to do both, because both will be part of the new creation whether the New Jerusalem is a symbol or not. In conclusion, before I write the introduction to an imaginary novel about godly green living, two authors highlight the present but not yet reality of the New Creation most clearly. Harry O. Maier emphasizes that what we do today matters: “Revelation tells us there is indeed a new world coming whenever there are those courageous enough to live and express the giveaway of the tree and water of life.” And Richard Bauckham concludes so eloquently about the interconnected end that Revelation offers. We would do well to listen carefully, for it should guide the way we act today: “The New Jerusalem is a garden city of a kind to which humans have often aspired, a place where human culture does not replace nature but lives in harmony and reciprocity with it. It represents the final reconciliation of culture and nature, of the human world and the other creatures of the earth. It lives from the vitality of the natural world without plundering and exhausting its resources.” Resource Bundle: Horrell, David. “Future Visions of Creation and Peace” and “Apocalyptic Visions of Cosmic Catastrophe.” Chapters 8 & 9 in The Bible and the Environment: Towards a Critical Ecological Biblical Theology. London: Equinox, 2010. Maier, Harry O. “There’s a New World Coming! Reading the Apocalypse in the Shadow of the Canadian Rockies.” in ed. Norman Habel and Vicky Balabanski, The Earth Story in the New Testament. Vol. 5. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

Discovering the Sabbath Shouldn’t Be Work: The New 24/6 Film Curricula for Your Small Group

“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

Just as the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, we have become slaves to the fast-paced, always-on, always-available 24/7 lifestyle. Setting aside just one day of rest a week helps us to reconnect with our Creator and find the peace of God that passes all understanding.

In this four-session video study, Dr. Matthew Sleeth lays out a plan for living a healthier, happier, more God-centered life by simply and faithfully honoring the Sabbath.

DVD Sessions (click to watch preview videos):

Session 1: Our 24/7 World

Session 2: Why We Need 24/6

Session 3: How We Do 24/6

Session 4: Your 24/6 Life

Bonus Session 1: A Special Message for Pastors (with Eugene Peterson)

Bonus Session 2: A Special Message for Business Owners (with Hobby Lobby CEO David Green and The DeMoss Group president Mark DeMoss)

Purchase the DVD and download the 24/6 Discussion Guide!

National Cathedral/Blessed Earth Partnership Begins This Month!

NATIONAL CATHEDRAL KICKS OFF CREATION CARE YEAR

Year-long partnership with Blessed Earth spurs sustainability events

Washington, DC (October 7, 2012) ­­­– Fracking, mountaintop removal, GMOs, and numerous other environmental issues have been monopolizing newspaper headlines over the past several years. One positive way these issues are being addressed is through the creation care movement, which is gaining traction in America’s leading churches. An example is the inaugural Creation Care Year, kicking off this Sunday at the Washington National Cathedral. The National Cathedral is partnering with Christian environmental leader, Blessed Earth, in a yearlong effort to remind Christians of the Biblical call to care for the environment.

The Creation Care Year consists of sermons, forums, small group studies, and lectures. These events are led by experts in the field such as Dr. Matthew Sleeth, Joel Salatin, Norman Wirzba, and Barbara Kingsolver. The sessions will cover a wide range of topics such as care for animals, food, energy usage, and the relationship between creation and the poor among us.  The series kicked off with a special Earth Day message from Dr. Matthew Sleeth and Kentucky author Wendell Berry in April 2012, and will continue through April 2013.

Blessed Earth chose to partner with the National Cathedral for the Creation Care Year because of its preeminent role as “The Nation’s Church.” The National Cathedral was selected with the hope that other congregations across the country will be inspired to follow in the Cathedral’s footsteps by engaging in similar sustainability-focused conversations within their own congregations.

Visit the National Cathedral this Sunday to hear Dr. Sleeth preach about the Biblical call to care for animals.  Acclaimed farmer and This Privacy Policy pertains only to the personal information that Schoolwires collects from you or that is provided to us by the school cancellations where we serve as the data processor on the School behalf. author, Joel Salatin, of Food Inc. and Omnivore’s Dilemma fame, will lead the Forum dialogue.

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To learn more about the Creation Care Year, visit the Blessed Earth website at www.blessedearth.org.  To schedule an interview, please contact Laura Leavell at Laura@blessedearth.org.

2012/ 2013 Creation Care Year Events

Dr. Matthew Sleeth will be preaching at the National Cathedral on Oct 7 (animals), Nov 18 (food), Jan 27 (hospitality), Feb 10 (poverty), and March 10 (trees).

Forum Schedule:

  • October 7 – “If God is Green, Is Green Always Godly?” dialogue with Joel Salatin, farmer and author of Folks, this Ain’t Normal
  • November 18 – “Giving Thanks for God’s Second Greatest Gift” dialogue with Katherine Hayhoe, Research Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science at Texas Tech University and author of A Climate for Change
  • December 16 – “Advent and Creation Care” dialogue with Dr. Matthew Sleeth, Executive Director of Blessed Earth and author of 24/6
  • January 27 – “Being, Just, Being Green: What is the Role of Faith in Eco-Justice?” dialogue with Cassandra Carmichael, Eco-Justice Program Director at National Council of Churches
  • February 10 – “Desiring Eden: Torah and Redemption of the Earth” dialogue with Rabbi Lawrence Troster, Rabbinic Scholar in Residence with GreenFaith.org
  • March 10 – “Relating Spiritual Values to the Renewal of the Earth” dialogue with Mary Evelyn Tucker, Senior Research Scholar at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

Lecture Schedule:

  • October 16 – “Animals at Home on the Earth: Lessons for People of Faith” by Laura Hobgood-Oster, Professor of Religion at Southwestern University and author of The Friends We Keep
  • November 5 – “Reading the Bible as an Ecological Act” by Richard Bauckham, New Testament scholar and author
  • November 8 – Barbara Kingsolver (lecture title TBD), author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
  • February 6 – “God, Poverty, and the Future of Love” by Willis Jenkins, Assistant Professor of Social Ethics at Yale Divinity School and author of Ecologies of Grace: Environmental Ethics and Christian Theology
  • February 19 – “To Dust You Shall Return: Soil and Human Well-being” by Norman Wirzba, Research Professor of Theology, Ecology, and Rural Life at Duke Divinity School
  • March 12 – “Prophetic Views of the Created Order” by Ellen Davis, Professor if Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School

Other Events:

  • February 21 – Panel Discussion: “Global Poverty and the Environment”
  • April – Panel Discussion: “A Public Planet: Policy and Faith on Caring for the World”

No Oil in the Lamp examines the current energy crisis through the lens of faith. Full of practical suggestions for greening homes and congregations, as well as a thorough exploration of alternative energy sources, this is a great resource for those interested in learning more about the world’s fuel sources. Available at Amazon UK or from alternate Amazon sellers.

 

Mark 1:9-13: Jesus, Animals, and Isaiah—part 5 of 7

Series: Hugging the Tree of Life- Mark 1.9-13, Jesus, Animals, and Isaiah

Read part 1 of 7 (introduction) here. Read part 2 of 7 (A Lesson from the Earth) here. Read part 3 of 7 (We are so Connected) here. Read part 4 of 7 (The Cosmic Christ) here.

In the previous posts, I have looked at New Testament verses to which scholars, bishops, and writers usually turn for green theology. I am pulling ideas from them, highlighting points that we might usually not think of. So far I have suggested that we best understand the New Testament as a green book if we (1) read it through an understanding of the Jewish Christian idea of inaugurated eschatology, which means we can begin living partly, if not mostly, in God’s new age now and (2) if we then understand God’s plan for creation care as the transformation of believers and the activity of worship. Now I turn my attention to the end, that is the End of the World as we know it, the Apocalypse. There’s a lot written out there about the New Testament’s vision of the end of the world. Moreover, there’s a lot of confusion. Some like to read 2 Peter as if it were the main lens through which we see the rest of New Testament teaching on the apocalypse: “But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless.” Or people start at the end of the bible (in Revelation), “Then I saw the first heaven and the first earth pass away, and the sea was no more.” Good readers of novels know that the end of the story gives you little help if you don’t know the rest. God’s story, from Genesis 1-3 all the way through Jesus and the early Church, is not about destruction; it is about restoration. In this post, I will have one point and one point only: in order to understand the New Testament teaching on the end of this age, we have to read it as if it were the last chapter of the Jewish story, rather than the final chapter of Plato’s works. What I mean is that we must not read about the end of the world in the New Testament as if it were the final chapter in Plato’s philosophy of the destruction of the bad material word. Rather we have to read about the end of the world as if it were the fulfillment of the Jewish hope of God’s re-creation and the prophetic tradition of earthen prophecy. The apocalypse in the New Testament is the next “chapter” after the prophets. Regarding the previous chapter, read Ezekiel 34 for example, “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land, so that [my people] might live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely.” Or take Isaiah 11.6-9, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them…they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” The New Testament knows of its previous chapter in the prophets. That’s why scholars point to the beginning of Mark’s gospel and see apocalyptic imagery about the end times, based in the prophets. Mark 1.9-13 is just a small bit of Mark’s story, but when we see how it continues the prophetic tradition, it adds to our understanding of the end time. It is a short few verses, so I paraphrased it here: This is how it turned out on that day. Jesus, the man from Nazareth of Galilee, came and was baptized in the Jordan by John. Within a heartbeat of his coming up out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens opened like a curtain and the Spirit flying down upon him as a dove. A voice called out from heaven: “You are my beloved son, in whom I am very delighted.” And just as quickly as it happened, the spirit drove him into the wild places beyond the Jordan. Jesus stayed out there for forty days, all the while enduring trials from Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels attended to him. When it comes to green theology and the right understanding of apocalyptic, scholars point out the connections between Jesus’s baptism, his time in the wilderness, the prophetic qualities of Mark 1, and the nature of the peaceable kingdom as the projected last chapter of the Jewish story. Jesus’s baptism, all around, is filled with earthen imagery. At the Jordan, we find the seeds of the trinity: the Father speaks, the Son gets baptized, and the Spirit anoints and guides. The scene is the river flowing from mountain to desert. Jesus comes and is plunged beneath the current. He comes up and immediately the Spirit arrives as a heavenly dove. The father then verbalizes his blessing and sends his son to the trials of lonely places. This opening of heaven matches the opening of heaven we get in Revelation 4, “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open!” What we have in Mark 1 is the key that unlocks the door to Revelation 4. It is a door that leads to the Jewish vision of the end, not the destruction of creation envisioned in Greek Philosophy. We get another clue to this because Jesus is then sent to the wilderness. Mark says that Jesus is “with” the animals (Mark 1.13). This is an idea of a close friendship. He makes friends with the animals, who were presumably once enemies. The wilderness in the Jewish imagination is about struggle, but because of the Exodus chapter, wilderness is also a place of hope. It is a place of restoring broken relationships and God’s presence guiding them. In the prophets, wilderness becomes a place of possible co-existence with the earth and a challenge to society that has gone astray from God’s intentions (Isaiah 11.6-9). This is why John lives in the dessert. This is why Jesus passes through. He makes peace with wild creation amidst the harshness of creation’s present state. This is the beginning of the end; the prophetic and Jewish apocalypse is about restoration, “The little child shall lead them.”

What clues us into this restoration theme? The flood of prophetic images comes rushing through here. Wilderness, wild animals, and peace. Jesus is not on an escapist path. He doesn’t want to get out of creation. He had his chance on the mountain of transfiguration, and he came back down. He had his chance on the Mount of Olives, and he came back to earth. When he survived the struggles of wilderness life among wild animals in the mountains of the Judean desert, he showed that he is interested not in the Greek vision of destruction but in the Jewish peaceable kingdom. The peaceable Kingdom is then what we should expect from the end, and (as I will show in my next post) the peaceable kingdom interprets the New Testament verses about the earth going up in flames. The peaceable kingdom is the wolf lying down with the lamb, where violence and death will exist no more. This is peace with creation and peace from creation, “we will be able to sleep in the woods without threat.” Some eco-theologians are uneasy with the idea of the peaceable kingdom. It looks too much like a domesticated version earth and its creatures at the hand of a human child. But can we not imagine a wild new creation full of the passionate aggression of lions and the calculated laughter of hyenas? The problem we have now is not the wildness of animals but that they and we die. The image in Isaiah is lying down together. I’m sure there will be times of rest. But with bodies that cannot die, who knows what kind of unbridled play we might experience with the wild animals? The point is this: humans in all their childlike vulnerability together with the wild animals. Jesus begins the process in the Judean desert, and we can expect the peaceable kingdom to be more like restoration than destruction. So what are the implications of Jesus in the wilderness after his wet and earthy baptism? New creation, in the Jewish story, is about restoration and intense relational encounter with a wild earth. The new creation in this light is about valuing the whole creation and a lifestyle that seeks to actualize the new creation rather than trying to escape the old. The Jewish vision of the peaceable kingdom does not mean that we should open the cages of our zoos or try to live among the grizzlies today. To do so without resurrected bodies is a death wish. However, we can learn to see the animals of this world as future friends, and we can care for their little ones like Jesus did in the desert. We can protect our families and enemies from the dangers of the old age while making sure that we carry non-deadly spiders outside our house rather than flushing them. We can find ways to connect kids trapped in the urban jungle with the creatures displayed in our nature reserves. And we can bring the shade and transformation of the New Jerusalem today to the places overrun by concrete, gangs, or knee-high grass lots. This is part of wilderness spirituality. This is part of building for the peaceable kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. In conclusion, as one scholar so eloquently put it, Jesus’ baptism in the wilderness is about, “facing up to reality. John encourages his hearers to celebrate change and forgiveness with a sacramental encounter with Earth through Earth’s water.” Now, we are read to read about the fires of the end. Resource Bundle: Bauckham, Richard. “From Alpha to Omega.” Chapter 5 in Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2010. –––––. “Reading the Synoptic Gospels Ecologically.” Chapter 5 in ed. David Horrell, et al. Ecological Hermeneutics: Biblical Historical and Theological Perspectives. London, New York: T&T Clark, 2010. Echlin, Edward, “The Cosmic Jordan.” Chapter 4 in The Cosmic Circle: Jesus and Ecology. Dublin: Columba Press, 2004. Loader, William, “Good News––for the Earth? Reflections on Mark 1.1-15.” in ed. Norman Habel and Vicky Balabanski, The Earth Story in the New Testament. Vol. 5. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

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Press Release: Blessed Earth Participates in White House Dialogue on Congregations and Energy Efficiency

 

Washington, D.C. –September 13, 2012- Dr. Matthew and Nancy Sleeth, founders of Lexington-based Blessed Earth, joined dozens of other leaders at the White House today for a conversation about boosting the energy efficiency of our nation’s houses of worship. The assorted group of leaders represented the nation’s faith community and the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In addition to Blessed Earth, participants included representatives from the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, and the Presbyterian Church USA, among others.

 

At a time when there is little common agreement between faith communities and the government, today’s event stands out by demonstrating both groups collaborating to promote environmental stewardship and the common good. This event is emblematic of a larger movement, as congregations all over the nation are striving to improve sustainability and reduce energy usage on their campuses. Best exemplifying this are the 1400 congregations nationwide who have committed to these principles by signing on to the EPA Energy Star for Congregations program, which provides information and technical assistance to aid congregations in energy conservation.

 

Blessed Earth is promoting this same kind of dialogue. The organization works with churches and seminaries nationally on sustainability and environmental stewardship. Over the past six years, the Sleeths have spoken at more than 1,000 churches, universities, seminaries, and conferences. Dr. Sleeth will be in Washington eight more times in the next year as he has been invited to lead a year-long series on creation care at the Washington National Cathedral.

 

 

 

If you would like more information about Blessed Earth, or to schedule an interview with Dr. Matthew and Nancy Sleeth, please contact Laura Leavell, External Relations Coordinator at Blessed Earth at Laura@blessedearth.org or call (502) 533-2074.

 

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