Making Earth Day a Church Day

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LONGWOOD, FLA. — Tens of thousands of Christians joined together last night, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, for a worldwide gathering supporting creation care. Their message: Caring for creation is biblical and honors the Creator.

Sponsored by Blessed Earth, the event was simulcast live via the Web from Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Fla., with people from 1,000 churches and organizations from 40 countries participating.

Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Northland’s senior pastor, said that the simulcast was “an effort to recast the environmental movement into its proper perspective—as a biblical issue that Christians should care about.”

The evening featured prayer and times of worship focused on God the Creator, along with a preview of a new film series called “Hope for Creation.” Thiscanada goose pas cher was followed by an interactive town-hall conversation with audiences around the world featuring Pastor Hunter and Dr. Matthew Sleeth, founder of Blessed Earth and the visionary behind the event.

Designed to help individuals and churches discover practical and biblical reasons to care for the planet, the “Hope for Creation” films trace Dr. Sleeth’s spiritual journey in the context of the creation story. A respected and successful emergency room physician, he resigned at the top of his career when he “started seeing changes in disease based upon the environment and changes in the environment in general.” He now puts all of his time and energy toward creation care.

Dr. Sleeth tours the country with his wife, Nancy, and has spoken more than 900 times in churches, schools and to media outlets—more than any other evangelical—about the biblical mandate to care for the Earth.

His latest book is The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book is a Green Book (HarperOne). Through his nonprofit, Blessed Earth, he also wrote and released a 12-part creation care series called “Blessed Earth” (Zondervan), with accompanying guidebooks.

During the simulcast, Dr. Sleeth offered a “90-Second Sermon on Trees” to demonstrate how succinctly one can explain that environmentalism is not a political issue, http://www.achatdoudounepascher.fr but a biblical one.
He concluded by challenging believers to make caring for creation part of their everyday lives: “It’s time for us to go out into the world and become better gardeners—whether that is in our office, business, school or church. Creation care is something we can do every hour of every day, to

show our love for God and for our neighbors.”

The entire Hope for Creation simulcast is available to view on demand on the Blessed Earth simulcast page until April 30, 2010. 

Walking Boldly Ahead

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2010. It’s a new year. I can’t help noticing the evenness and symmetry of the number. Is it a good thing to make New Year resolutions? Is it biblical?

I was recently reading an article that compared and contrasted Judaism and Christianity with other forms of religion. Our God may not live in time, but He is fundamentally interested in time. Ours is not a belief in an ever-recycling universe, but one that came into existence at a Word — and one that moves toward a definite end. We are not accidents, but beings with a God, a purpose, and an expiration date-at least for this body.

So both personally, and as a ministry, Blessed Earth has set goals for the New Year. To reach our goals we will need more prayer and resources, and more help from God, than ever before.

Personally I want to be a better father, husband, and servant of Christ. I want to read the Bible aloud every day with Nancy. I want to grow up spiritually. Pray for this.

Blessed Earth has goals, too. We are no longer a “mom and pop” ministry; God has opened doors we never imagined. One of our boldest goals for 2010 is a nationwide simulcast premiere of the Blessed Earth film series.  The event will take place on Wednesday, April 21, the evening before the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, when many churches are already gathered for small group studies. One event. One night. One movie. THE Christian answer to caring for God’s creation.

Our goals? To have at least 100 universities, 1,000 churches, and 1,000,000 on-line viewers participate in the event.  

How will we reach these goals? Only with God’s help, and yours. Different Drummer — the promoters of such films as Disney’s Earth, Amazing Grace, and Hillsong United‘s simulcast — has agreed to coordinate the Wednesday, April 21, event. Asbury Theological Seminary is providing logistical, financial, and manpower support. Churches in three major cities have agreed to serve as “anchor” sites for the event. We have at least four denominations supporting the event from the highest levels down (and up!), and many more will be added. Zondervan Publishing (publishers of The Purpose Driven Life) Dot&Cross (the makers of Rob Bell’s popular Nooma series), and HarperOne are serving as financial and work partners. And we are beginning talks for a possible simulcast television viewing.

But most of all, we need your help. How? Volunteer to serve as the April 21 point person for your church or college. Invite your small groups, youth groups, and bible study groups to attend. If you want to widen the circle, invite other churches…and neighbors who may love creation, but don’t know the Creator. We will give you everything you need to make the April 21 event a success — flyers, bulletin announcements, a trailer, the DVD, and hands-on help. All you need to do to get started is email simulcast@blessedearth.org — we’ll have a “plan in a can” ready soon!

These are lofty goals and resolutions, but already we have overwhelming evidence of God’s faithfulness. This is the year for the Church to awaken to our Genesis 2:15 calling — to protect and serve God’s planet as his obedient hands and feet on the planet-the stewards of creation.  

As Caleb and his companions said, There are giants in the land — BUT, the grapes are really big. It is time to go forth boldly in the secure knowledge of our loving God.

I pray God’s grace upon you as you approach the New Year — and invite you in the name of Jesus to help Blessed Earth meet the goals we have been called to in 2010.


Dr. Matthew Sleeth is the Executive Director of Blessed Earth. He and his wife Nancy reside in Wilmore, KY, and have two children, Clark and Emma.

Celebrating Our Savior’s Birth

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“We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.” Meister Eckhart

This past January we had a big snow and ice storm in Kentucky. I did not waste any time calling a friend who works at a beautiful horse farm just outside of Lexington, and she made arrangements for me to gain entry. The morning was so incredibly quiet and it seemed the whole world was tucked away out of site on this chilly morning. Several nice images were created, but the simplicity of this one seemed most appropriate for this Christmas reflection. 

There is little I can say or add to this Advent season that you have not already read or sung. Considering the quote above, what would God have you do, and how does He need you to be born this day? What difference does He want you to make? Considering the gift of this beautiful earth, what small steps can you make to be a better steward this season and this coming year? 

“May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in His works.” Psalm 104:31

*This image was created using a Nikon D300 with a 18-200 VR lens, wearing gloves.

From Thought to Action

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One of the greatest mistakes we humans make—one that we all make daily—is the sin of hypocrisy. Recall the last ten times you were hypocritical. Can you recall? Hmm…. Can you recall even one time you acted in a hypocritical manner?

When I first heard the poll in which 90 percent of Americans said they were kinder than average, I wondered about the other 10 percent. My first thought was “The 10 percent who actually go ahead and say that they aren’t kind must be really mean.” But upon further reflection, I realized that in that 10 percent reside those who are truly the kindest. It is people such as St. Paul who identify themselves as the very worst of sinners who represent the true heroes of the faith.

One hot day a few summers ago as I came into the kitchen to fix myself a glass of ice water, our daughter Emma took a cookie and popped it into the microwave for a few seconds. I had never seen her do the cookie-warming trick, and I commented, “Emma, don’t you know that it takes energy to heat up that perfectly edible cookie?” She responded, “What about you, Dad? Don’t you know that it takes energy to cool down that perfectly drinkable water?” She then thought better of her tone of voice and started to apologize. “No, you’re right,” I admitted, though my pride was wounded. And she was right. It is so easy, so tempting, to point out the hypocrisy of another, while overlooking my own.

Everyone is fairly good at seeing the shortcomings in other people, churches, movements, governments, and countries. There is certainly plenty of hypocrisy among environmentalists. I was invited to visit a woman who writes about the effects of fossil fuel consumption. I pulled up to her rural Maine home one day. Two SUVs were parked in the drive. The Maine house is one of three that she owns. All are heated year-round, and she complained about the $2,500 she had spent heating this house the previous winter. “We kept the heat turned way back, and we were here only on weekends,” she said.

As we talked, I thought to myself, “May the Lord save us from well-intended, wealthy environmentalists who want to save the planet.” One of her SUVs puts fourteen thousand pounds of greenhouse gases into the air each year. My hybrid puts out three thousand pounds a year. Our family of four spent only $550 for energy that year. My feelings of smugness and pride grew. I thought that if she didn’t change as a result of her own research and writing, how could she expect someone else to change?

The problem with this kind of thinking is that I’m comparing myself with a person of my choosing, and so I make myself feel good. While I was visiting, the writer talked disparagingly about people who drove Hummers, and I suppose the drivers of Hummers compare themselves to people who “thoughtlessly” fly everywhere, and in turn, those people feel pretty good about themselves because they don’t own their own jets.

To move from thought to action, we must feel some discomfort with who we are. We will not develop any discontent if we compare ourselves to people who behave more selfishly than ourselves. If I compare myself to someone whose sole source of transportation is a bicycle, then it’s tough to feel smug about the three thousand pounds of gases I put into the atmosphere driving a lavish hybrid automobile.

Compared to a family in the coastal town of Massade, Haiti, whose annual income is $540, who eats only two meals a day, and who cannot buy its way out of the effects of global warming, how thoughtful am I? What kind of a neighbor am I? The 1 1/2 tons of greenhouse gases my hybrid car produces contribute to the change in sea level and the fish populations on

which they depend. Comparing myself to my neighbor is useful, but to which neighbor? In Jesus’s parable, the Samaritan compares himself to the mugged man. He applies the Golden Rule, and he is compelled to act.

Jesus relentlessly tells his listeners to observe the plight of their less fortunate neighbors and take steps to help. Christ asks us to change our behavior. In order to change, we’re going to have to have some benchmark to know what our behavior is. What is your behavior toward God’s creation?

If they were here today, who do you think would be more likely to say a silent prayer of thanks at the gas station—a priest or the Good Samaritan? Which one would be more likely to worry about the effects of his lifestyle on others? Who would change the lightbulbs to save lives? Are you ready to move along the path from ignorance to awareness and from compassion to action?


Matthew Sleeth serves as Blessed Earth”s Executive Director and resides with his wife, Nancy, in Wilmore, KY.

Life Beyond the Trends

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Last month, when I spoke at the Catalyst conference in Atlanta, I came across a study called “Beyond the Trend.” The premise is that while trends may govern the world, they don’t have to rule our lives. I could not agree more. For example, Christians should take advantage of the weekly gift of Sabbath rest.

In the report I found two trends to be of particular interest. One trend is that Christianity will continue to expand its definition of neighbor. Through the teachings of Jesus, our sphere of empathy is expanding to include not only people of all colors and races, but the entire cosmos–the natural world that God created and entrusted in our care. According to the report, protecting animals, habitats, mountains, and rivers is likely to get a wider Christian hearing in the coming decades.

The second trend relates to the spiritual dimension of technology. At the center of Christianity is the relationship of man and God. In recent years, this core has been expanded to include relationships between nature, man, and God. But a third-order relationship is also beginning to emerge: What is the proper relationship between technology, nature, man, and God? A Bluetooth connected to our ear is a millimeter away from an implant. How many hundreds of text messages does a person have to send a day to become distracted from family, relationships,

and God? In the past, medical technologies have been used to restore function; will Christians draw a line at technologies that enhance function? Tomorrow there will be new inventions, and the day after even more. If God is absent from discussions on the ethics of emerging technologies, then who will provide our moral compass?

These are the kinds of questions we are asking ourselves at Blessed Earth, and the kinds of answers we want to continue exploring with you. Thank you for sharing the journey with us into this Brave New World — a world that can and should be centered on loving God and our neighbors by caring for His creation.


See Beyond the Trend: A Review of Leadership Thought and Practices, Vol. 5, a Catalyst-Q Collaboration, 2009.

Matthew Sleeth serves as Blessed Earth’s Executive Director and resides with his wife, Nancy, in Wilmore, KY.

Creation Care Gets Heaven’s Attention

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A few years ago, on a sunny fall afternoon, I sat on a worn granite step just east of Saint Peter’s Basilica. I had taken an article written twenty years earlier outside to study. The article, by John Paul II, was an impassioned plea to Christians, particularly wealthy Westerners, to stop harming the environment. Throughout his later decades, the pope wrote repeatedly and prophetically on this theme. His words watered a seed that had been growing in my Western, evangelical heart.

A dozen strides away from me, an elderly woman wrapped in black sat on the pavement with her back against a tall building. Her right hand rested on the ground. She was begging, and she was being ignored. I watched her for a while. An astonishing variety of people passed. Native Italians strolled by, as did a group of men with shaved heads and saffron-colored robes touring from the Far East. Dramatic, dark-skinned Africans wearing vividly dyed cotton clothing walked side by side with somberly dressed Muslims and women in burkas. Then I saw one of the most beautiful sights I have ever witnessed.

Three nuns, all advanced in age, subtly detached themselves from the stream of pedestrians. One quietly stooped over and placed money in the beggar’s outstretched palm. A moment later, the nun and her friends were caught up in the flow of traffic. The gift was as subtle as a

Cold War microfilm handoff. It was done with utter humility, intended to be witnessed by no one.

Actions, deeds, and works of charity get heaven’s attention. The words spoken on earth that autumn day in Italy are now forgotten. Yet the miracle I witnessed allowed me, for a moment, to glimpse what God sees—our hearts. In that humble gift to a beggar, I heard the trumpets of heaven sound. God’s beautiful earth will not be saved by words or good intentions. It will be saved by humble, anonymous acts like turning off the lights, hanging clothing on the line, bicycling to work, and planting trees. People who are grateful for God’s abundant gifts, people of faith who are not afraid to be held accountable for care of his creation, will save it.


Matthew Sleeth serves as Blessed Earth’s Executive Director and resides with his wife, Nancy, in Wilmore, KY.

An Ounce of Prevention

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It was a beautiful fall day in New England, the kind that sends calendar makers running for their cameras. The hospital stood just a few feet from the shore, a brick structure with the added charm of functioning windows. I was the chief of staff and head of the emergency department, and I was just beginning a 24-hour shift in the ER. I sipped orange juice out of a mug given to me two decades earlier that said, “Trust me. I’m a doctor.”

The ambulance crew was wheeling in our first patient, a 32-year-old woman who had a fever and shortness of breath. Sally was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for an advanced case of breast cancer. We talked and I examined her. Where her breasts had once been, she had two purple, diagonal surgical scars. The nurse and I held her sweat-soaked body forward. There in her posterior lung fields, I heard an ominous gurgling.

As we eased Sally back onto the pillows, her husband rounded the curtain with a toddler on his hip and a four-year-old girl in hand. Sally’s daughter was excited to give her mother a crayon drawing. Sally took the picture and examined it. Then she leaned over and kissed her daughter, saying, “What a beautiful picture, sweetheart. It’s already making Mommy feel better.” The little girl beamed in satisfaction, glad that she could help, oblivious to her mother’s missing breasts and bald head. With her family in tow, Sally was admitted to the hospital and successfully treated for pneumonia.

A few weeks later, I was on call during a rainy Sunday afternoon when Sally arrived by ambulance again. She was in status epilepticus, meaning that she was having continuous convulsions. Her breast cancer had invaded her brain. We worked for three-quarters of an hour, but to no avail. Sally never regained consciousness and died in the ER. During our efforts, Sally’s husband had arrived, and he was waiting in a private family room. The nurse and I quickly cleaned up Sally’s body, and I pulled out the endotracheal tube. We wanted Sally’s husband to be able to see her one last time.

Sally is not unique. In the next ten years, twenty million Americans

will be diagnosed with cancer. Twenty million means one out of every fifteen people. The first question you might ask is “Isn’t that number a reflection of an aging population?” Yes, in part, but the most dramatic increases in cancers are among children and young people. This is because they are smaller and more vulnerable and have greater exposure to new toxins. The continual increase in cancer cases cannot be dismissed as a statistical fluke. It is part of a greater problem: environmental illness on a global scale.

Instead of looking for the cause, we are focusing on the cure. We have forgotten our grandmothers’ axiom: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

What caused Sally’s cancer? Could it be that our question isn’t even the right one? Could it be like walking into a teenager’s messy room and asking, “What is the thing that makes this place such a wreck?” The link between some chemicals and diseases is known. In general, there is no such thing as a good red dye. Was it the red dye (that has since been taken off the market) that Sally ate on her birthday cake at age seven that caused her cancer? Was it the dye in the hair color she used when she decided to be a redhead at age seventeen? Was it the dye in the paper plate or the napkins at her college dining hall? Was it the coloring that inconspicuously leached into her skin when she wore the cranberry satin bridesmaid’s dress at her sister’s wedding?

We live in a sea of chemicals. We absorb these poisons and carry them from generation to generation. Currently, more than seven hundred man-made toxins can be found in human tissues. Each new chemical and every pound of exhaust added to the atmosphere is an experiment in just how much we, and the planet, can withstand.


Matthew Sleeth serves as Blessed Earth”s Executive Director and resides with his wife, Nancy, in Wilmore, KY.

A Broken Promise

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 Two decades ago, I took care of a young asthmatic girl in the emergency room.  It was a hot summer day, and Etta was having a severe asthma attack.  I promised her that I would not let her die.

Etta was not my first asthma patient, nor would she be my last.  In the last twenty years, asthma rates among children under age four have more than doubled.  Ask any school kid today if he or one of his classmates has asthma, and the answer will be “yes.”  Poor kids are hardest hit:  a recent study indicates that one-quarter of children in Harlem have asthma, more than three times the national average.  

One reason for this increase in childhood asthma is air pollution, especially in inner cities.  Numerous studies have demonstrated that asthma admissions to hospitals increase as the ground level ozone and particulate matter rises.  That’s why we have “ozone alerts,” which warn susceptible inner city children and the elderly to stay inside on hot, muggy days.  

But what would happen if ground level ozone levels were reduced?  Would acute asthma events also decrease?  The 1996 Olympic Games held in Atlanta provided a unique opportunity to study this question.  

To reduce traffic congestion during the Olympic games, the city of Atlanta closed the downtown area to car traffic; increased access to public transportation through additional buses and trains; and promoted flexible work schedules, car-pooling, and telecommuting for Atlanta workers.  The result:  for seventeen days, peak daily ozone concentrations decreased 28 percent.  Concurrently, acute asthma events dropped as much as 44 percent.  Atlanta’s inner-city children on Medicaid seemed to benefit the most, showing a more than 40 percent decrease in asthma-related emergency room visits. 

After the Olympics when Atlanta traffic patterns returned to normal, asthma visits and admissions shot right back up to former levels.

On that hot summer day in an inner city emergency room, I was not able to keep my promise to Etta—she was killed by an asthma attack exacerbated by air pollution.  But I am trying to keep my promise to God. He wants everyone to have access to clean air.  Riding a bike, taking the subway, and carpooling are ways we can all demonstrate our love for the Creator, his creation, and all our global neighbors. 


Matthew Sleeth serves as Blessed Earth’s Executive Director and resides with his wife, Nancy, in Wilmore, KY.

Confessions of an Evangelical Treehugger

Sometimes we must lose ourselves in order to find our way.

I live in a small college town near Lexington, Kentucky. One summer, my wife and I and a couple of friends were invited to share the evening with a group of families who dwell together in an intentional manner, about sixty miles from our home.

The road there narrows from four to two to even fewer lanes. A blue mailbox comes up on the right. Make a left, and then proceed up the drive, whose high spots are blazed by the low-hanging undercarriage of cars like mine.

A dog comes up to greet us. Overdressed for these hot evenings, he pants and accepts a rub on the brow and a scratching behind the ears. I watch his tail sweep arcs of canine fellowship on the dusty ground.

Adults come out to greet us, and their children appear from places in the yard and barn. These children are different. Their point of intersection with life is not a touchpad or a screen. Because the adults in their lives are worried about the death of nature, they are raising their children close to it.

It quickly becomes clear that these families spend much of their days in the woods, meadows, and gardens that surround this small cluster of homes. Children cannot protect what they do not know; they will not give up their convenience, much less their way of life, for what they do not love. I realize that these children are being raised as the guardians of tomorrow.

Before we break bread, Margie (one of the adults) takes us on a tour. She points to the roof of their home. Its long axis points south. The sun Suomalaisen pelaajan nakokulmasta tarkeimpia asioita ovat ja pelien suomenkielisyys, helpot talletusmahdollisuudet, verottomat voitot ja suomenkielinen asiakaspalvelu. riseth, and goeth down, and hastens towards its zenith in the summer. In winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, it comes in their south-facing windows and provides free heat.

The term eavesdrop comes from hiding under the eaves of the house to listen surreptitiously to conversation. This is an eavesdropping home, but the conversation to be overheard is the chatter of rain. It flows from gutter to downspout to a cistern under the back porch. It is pumped up into the kitchen sink to wash dishes and then flows to the gray-water tank. Then the rain continues its journey downhill to the garden, where it hydrates the interstitial spaces in the lettuce of our salad, which we wash in the sink before dinner.

“How do you do it? How do you keep things going?” I ask this group of young and old, married and single, Catholic and Protestant people. The Lutheran pastor among them understands: I’m not asking about technology, or the lack of it.

“We pray.”

Prayer: it is what has brought them through the beginning years of adjustment to living in community; through the illnesses, the job changes, and the roller-coaster ride of children entering their teen years.

“We share the legacy of the people raised to live alone but needing each other.”

“How?” I press.

“We’ll show you, if you’d like to join us,” they offer.

After dinner we retire to a room set aside as a chapel for vespers—one prayer book for every two people, a “novice” partnered with a community member. Hands slip back and forth between pages. Our collective voices sing songs written by French monks. We close with a period of free-form prayer, giving thanks, praying for mercy, and asking for help.

Outside, the children run about capturing grasshoppers, crickets, and other jumping things between cupped hands. Those creatures do not escape by the explosive movements of muscles coiled in their legs, but by quietly crawling through the whistle gap between the children’s thumbs.

Inside the chapel there is a moment of quiet. We sit with God and tilt the ears of our souls toward the eternal voice of reason. On the wall hang a crucifix bearing Christ’s body and a simple, unadorned cross, both

symbols of suffering and triumph. For my part, I accept both. It is not by accident that Christ died on a tree, nor that he worked with wood in his father’s shop. Nor is it a coincidence that the word tree is mentioned more than five hundred times in the Bible. The human story begins with the tree of life in the garden. The last chapter of the Bible tells of two trees of life and an unpolluted river that flows between them. The leaves of these trees, we are told, will heal the nations.


Matthew Sleeth serves as Blessed Earth”s Executive Director and resides with his wife, Nancy, in Wilmore, KY.

 

Will Evangelicals Celebrate Earth Day?

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On April 22, we will celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of Earth Day. This year, all living things around the planet will have a new ally: Evangelical Christians. What will this partner be like? Will Evangelicals collaborate with traditional environmentalists? Will they celebrate Earth Day?

It is only fair to tell you I belong to a no-nonsense Methodist church; I believe that Jesus walked on water—and not because he couldn’t swim. I drive a hybrid car, hang my clothes on the line, and use one-quarter of the electricity and one-third of the fuel that I did five years ago. These changes came about when I opened my heart and mind to what God has to say about environmentalism. Eventually I felt called to leave my work as an emergency-room doctor to focus on the most pressing health issue of all time: Earth care.

We Evangelicals are beginning to acknowledge the plight of the planet. The earth is ill. There are no elm trees left on Elm Street, no chestnut trees on Chestnut Lane. The clouds of birds that migrated in my youth are gone. Hourly, farmlands are being planted with malls and subdivisions and fertilized by suburban sprawl. Our industrial way of life is giving the earth a fever.

The Bible tells us that God loves his creation, enjoys it, and claims ownership of it. We cannot claim to love God and not love what he loves. It is true that God gave us dominion over the earth, but we must face the meaning of this mandate. We give teachers “dominion” over our sons and daughters, but we expect to find them better than we left them when we pick them up at the end of the day–not find them harmed.

Both Evangelicals and environmentalists act out of a desire to protect those plants and creatures that cannot speak for themselves. Both fight for elements of life over which mankind exercises “dominion”. These include the most mute and vulnerable of all creatures–the generations yet to be born.

In a century a child in Africa or a penguin in Antarctica will not know the identity of anyone who worked or sacrificed to Undelete files you thought were gone forever with any one of these freeware best-data-recovery.com recovery tools:Recuva is the very best free file recovery software available, hands down. make their world habitable. They can never repay those who helped. This goes to the very heart of Jesus’ teachings. The Good Samaritan is not the first man who walks by, nor the second who crosses

over to the victim and says; “That’s too bad. They ought to do something about highway safety.” It is the Samaritan traveling on his donkey that Jesus declares the ideal neighbor. Why? Because the Samaritan gets off his ass to help.

Should Evangelical Christians celebrate Earth Day?

Yes!

The twenty-fourth Psalm declares that the Earth is the Lord’s and that everything belongs to him. Jesus said that we are to be a light on a hill giving hope to the world. I have “preached” in churches and “lectured” in front of environmental groups. I find it an honor to be with non-Christian groups and to serve as an ambassador for my faith. The call to action is one of love, hope, and personal responsibility. It transcends pink state/blue state labels. It is a new way to evangelize.

As Earth Day approaches, a more important question is: Why aren’t we celebrating the Sabbath? The fourth commandment is a mental health prescription followed by Christians for millennia. If Americans did no work, no shopping, and no driving on Sundays we would instantly produce fewer greenhouse gasses, use less fuel, and be closer to sanity—and to God. The Sabbath is God’s gift to man, fifty-two times a year.

Among the most pressing dilemmas facing earth is over-crowding. If we place all 10,000 years of human history (8000 BC-2000 AD) on a single calendar year, mankind goes from January through all twelve months of the year before reaching a census of one billion late on December 24. One billion more people are added to the planet on the December 29, and then again on the 30th. We then add an astounding 3 billion to the population on December 31st. Start the next year’s calendar, and we pick up our seventh billion at 11 am New Year’s Day. When we accepted the life prolonging fruits of science, we unbalanced the natural human population equation.

America is the third most populated country on the planet. According to our government, we will surge from our current 296 million to 600 million in only 70 years. The Bible says that the wise man perceives danger and takes steps to avoid it, while the fool rushes on toward peril without thought. Will Evangelicals lead, or will we find ourselves mired in materialism and finger pointing? I believe that we will lead, primarily because we can evoke the four-letter word “Love,” which is taboo in other arenas.

To the extent that Evangelical environmentalists act on our beliefs and preserve the gifts that God has entrusted us, we will become moral leaders. Jesus describes the road to heaven as narrow. The path may not accommodate a Hummer, but it surely has room for many a sister and brother.


Matthew Sleeth serves as Blessed Earth”s Executive Director and resides with his wife, Nancy, in Wilmore, KY.

 

Will Christians Save the Planet?

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By J. Matthew Sleeth, MD

The news of Greenland’s melting icecap is the latest in a long list of scientific warnings. In 1992, hundreds of the world’s leading scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates, signed a joint declaration titled “The World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” These 1,600 scientists accurately predicted the magnitude of global warming, species extinction, and destruction of the earth’s complex ecosystems. Their words went largely unheard and unheeded.

Fourteen years later, the consequences these scientists predicted are becoming more and more evident and alarming. The earth is ill.

It is literally running a fever. Global warming can be seen, felt, and heard by all, including the one billion people added to the earth’s population since 1992. In the past year a catastrophe occurred that should have galvanized all into action: New Orleans was destroyed. Incredibly, some dismissed the loss as unrelated to rising sea levels and global warming. These self-interested groups rationalized that New Orleans’ flooding was a fluke because it was built right on the ocean, below sea level, and it had lost most of its barrier islands. But a quick look at America’s prime real estate brings home a sobering fact: from Miami to New York City, dozens of cities are built on the ocean, their infrastructure is below sea level, and few have any barrier islands. Recently, scientists tolled a new warning: the Greenland ice sheet is melting at double its previous rate. As a result, a volume of water equivalent to Lake Erie is being added to the North Atlantic annually. All mankind appears to be marching double time toward the edge of a cliff, blindfolded.

Now a group of Christians has issued a statement, “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.” This declaration makes four fundamental points:

First, “human-induced climate change is real . . . . Evangelicals must engage this issue without any further lingering over the basic reality of the problem or humanity’s responsibility to address it.”

Second, “the consequences of climate change will be significant, and will hit the poorest hardest.” Millions of them will die as a result.

Third, Christians are commanded by God to care for each other and the planet. “Love of God, love of neighbor, and the demands of stewardship are more than enough reason for evangelical Christians to respond to the climate change problem with moral passion and concrete action.” Our responsibility for life is nonnegotiable.

Fourth, the need for action is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals must act now to reduce the burning of fossil fuels that are “the primary cause of human-induced climate change.”

The declaration is signed by eighty-six church leaders, including Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, Duane Litfin, President of Wheaton College, and Todd Bassett, National Commander of the Salvation Army. This group is not easy to ignore, but neither were those scientists who signed the warning in 1992. Does the evangelical group have a prayer of succeeding in an arena where so many have failed?

Yes. The light of hope can be seen in the statement’s conclusion. It declares, “We the undersigned pledge to act.” Rhetoric, no matter how true or poetically stated, will not solve our global crisis. It failed the scientists in 1992. Why? Because they did not pledge personal action, they did not hold themselves personally accountable.

When a person puts the needs of others ahead of his own, and when his words align with his actions, we call that person a moral leader.

When a group of these people act in concert, without regard to personal gain, there is the promise of a movement. The force of a movement eventually leads to societal change. The members of the Evangelical Climate Initiative have begun a moral movement. For their movement to succeed, they and their organizations must take real steps to lower their environmental impact. They must hold themselves personally accountable to the world and to God.

Two thousand years ago, a small group of Christians faced hungry lions in order to carry out Jesus’ command to “love one another.” Today, Christians and our leaders are called to action again. We must change our ways of living to assume the responsibility our Savior asks of each of us. We must use only efficient light bulbs, drive less, buy hybrid cars, move to smaller homes, consume less, and spread the good word about how to live in harmony with all of God’s creation.

As a scientist, physician, voting American, and evangelical Christian, I concur with the leaders’ closing plea, “In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we urge all who read this declaration to join us in the effort.”

With God, all things are possible.

 

Rx for Excess

By Andy Crouch, Christianity Today

As our family sits together, eyes closed, we say grace. Today it’s Timothy’s turn. “God, thank you so much for all we have,” he begins in what turns into a typically prolix nine-year-old’s prayer. Eventually he is done—”in Jesus’ name, Amen”—and I turn the key. We have just filled up our car with gasoline.

Those of us who say grace at restaurants know the discomfort one feels bringing a visible expression of religious gratitude into a public place. I can testify that it’s stranger still in a gas station, where one becomes aware just how unprayerful the act of pumping gas normally is. Unlike a well-prepared meal, gasoline does not prompt gratitude unbidden. The stuff is smelly, dangerous, and not at all self-evidently good in itself. It is a means to my ends, juice for a momentary sense of power and control. It is surprisingly hard to remember to stop and say thanks before I pull out, a little too quickly, into traffic.

Yet, of course, thanks is due, if not overdue. I can reasonably expect that the food I eat today will

be replaced by a fresh crop next season. But the gallon of gas I burn today is gone for good (though it does leave behind 19 pounds of carbon dioxide for the biosphere to absorb). In this fleeting historical moment that will be remembered as the petroleum era, saying grace seems like the least we can do.

Sleeth, it seems to me, is the perfect missionary for the environmental cause to American evangelicals (indeed, he is now in great demand as a speaker to churches and colleges). Evangelicals trust doctors—many evangelicals are doctors. Doctors specialize in practical intelligence; evangelicals, no matter how intelligent, lean toward the pragmatic side. Sleeth’s bedside manner is perfect. He sees the symptoms of too much in our lives—the stress on the environment, on our families, and on our own bodies. He wisely does not prescribe quick fixes, but he does offer disciplines that could restore health. He does not dwell on grand global debates over climate change and overpopulation (though he has opinions on both, and shares them with his readers); he recognizes, in time-honored evangelical style, that the most important battleground for any social change is the human heart.

And Sleeth understands the value of symbolic practices—grace at the gas pump, compact fluorescent bulbs in the sockets, clothes on the line rather than in the dryer. Compared to the vast global structures that just today have gobbled up 80 million barrels of oil, any single family’s reduction of consumption seems pitifully small, however admirable. But the value of these small practices is the way they transform our vision—and Sleeth truly believes, as every Christian should, that repentance changes hearts. Fifty million Americans saying grace at the gas pump would not reduce America’s consumption of oil one bit. Or would it? Perhaps we should try it, and see.

Andy Crouch is editorial director of the Christian Vision Project and executive producer of the documentary series intersect|culture.

 

Will Christians Save the Planet?

The news of Greenland’s melting icecap is the latest in a long list of scientific warnings. In 1992, hundreds of the world’s leading scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates, signed a joint declaration titled “The World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” These 1,600 scientists accurately predicted the magnitude of global warming, species extinction, and destruction of the earth’s complex ecosystems. Their words went largely unheard and unheeded

Fourteen years later, the consequences these scientists predicted are becoming more and more evident and alarming. The earth is ill. It is literally running a fever. Global warming can be seen, felt, and heard by all, including the one billion people added to the earth’s population since 1992. In the past year a catastrophe occurred that should have galvanized all into action: New Orleans was destroyed. Incredibly, some dismissed the loss as unrelated to rising sea levels and global warming. These self-interested groups rationalized that New Orleans’ flooding was a fluke because it was built right on the ocean, below sea level, and it had lost most of its barrier islands. But a quick look at America’s prime real estate brings home a sobering fact: from Miami to New York City, dozens of cities are built on the ocean, their infrastructure is below sea level, and few have any barrier islands. Recently, scientists tolled a new warning: the Greenland ice sheet is melting at double its previous rate. As a result, a volume of water equivalent to Lake Erie is being added to the North Atlantic annually. All mankind appears to be marching double time toward the edge of a cliff, blindfolded.

Now a group of Christians has

issued a statement, “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.” This declaration makes four fundamental points:

First, “human-induced climate change is real . . . . Evangelicals must engage this issue without any further lingering over the basic reality of the problem or humanity’s responsibility to address it.”

Second, “the consequences of climate change will be significant, and will hit the poorest hardest.” Millions of them will die as a result.

Third, Christians are commanded by God to care for each other and the planet. “Love of God, love of neighbor, and the demands of stewardship are more than enough reason for evangelical Christians to respond to the climate change problem with moral passion and concrete action.” Our responsibility for life is nonnegotiable.

Fourth, the need for action is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals must act now to reduce the burning of fossil fuels that are “the primary cause of human-induced climate change.”

The declaration is signed by eighty-six church leaders, including Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, Duane Litfin, President of Wheaton College, and Todd Bassett, National Commander of the Salvation Army. This group is not easy to ignore, but neither were those scientists who signed the warning in 1992. Does the evangelical group have a prayer of succeeding in an arena where so many have failed?

Yes. The light of hope can be seen in the statement’s conclusion. It declares, “We the undersigned pledge to act.” Rhetoric, no matter how true or poetically stated, will not solve our global crisis. It failed the scientists in 1992. Why? Because they did not pledge personal action, they did not hold themselves personally accountable.

When a person puts the needs of others ahead of his own, and when his words align with his actions, we call that person a moral leader.

When a group of these people act in concert, without regard to personal gain, there is the promise of a movement. The force of a movement eventually leads to societal change. The members of the Evangelical Climate Initiative have begun a moral movement. For their movement to succeed, they and their organizations must take real steps to lower their environmental impact. They must hold themselves personally accountable to the world and to God.

Two thousand years ago, a small group of Christians faced hungry lions in order to carry out Jesus’ command to “love one another.” Today, Christians and our leaders are called to action again. We must change our ways of living to assume the responsibility our Savior asks of each of us. We must use only efficient light bulbs, drive less, buy hybrid cars, move to smaller homes, consume less, and spread the good word about how to live in harmony with all of God’s creation.

As a scientist, physician, voting American, and evangelical Christian, I concur with the leaders’ closing plea, “In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we urge all who read this declaration to join us in the effort.”

With God, all things are possible.


Matthew Sleeth serves as Blessed Earth’s Executive Director and resides with his wife, Nancy, in Wilmore, KY.

 

Physical Work, Spiritual Health

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Many of us have built lives in which we have neither rest nor work. Our jobs do not stress our muscles and joints. Our rest is a series of events in which we give our minds over to machines such as televisions, computers, and DVD players. We use machines to chop vegetables, brush teeth, wash our dishes, and record our thoughts. But what is the cost of saving ourselves work?

All laborsaving devices use electricity or gasoline, cost money, produce heat, and make noise. Why do we love them so? What happens when we stop using a manual lawn mower? The non-motorized variety is inexpensive and quiet and uses no fossil fuels. The push mower requires us to exert energy; thus, we obtain exercise and become healthier. By its very nature, the manual mower dictates a reasonably sized lawn. What happens when we decide to save labor and purchase a gas-powered lawn mower? It spews out poisonous fumes, which we inhale. The mower is loud and damages our hearing. Mowing our lawn requires little effort, and our muscles atrophy.

Reason, restraint, and the virtue of temperance disappear. Our lawns grow to a size associated with a few megalomaniac Old World monarchs. We laze, sleep, eat, and drink more. Finally, when we gain too much weight, we drive a two-ton vehicle to a health club where we can pay to work agai

nst the resistance of a machine. Why not just back up and push our own mower? Physical work gives us health and meaning. While the disciples sailed, Jesus walked across the Sea of Galilee to meet them. He picked grain. He washed his disciples’ feet. Work was not beneath him. He thought no physical labor was undignified. The washing of feet is a sign that God is willing to stoop low and to work to save us. For millennia, men and women have used simple manual labor as a way to connect with the divine qualities of Jesus.We have unconsciously taken work out of our lives. If we want work back, we’re going to have to consciously reinstate it. Let’s use drying clothes as an example. The standard electric dryer consumes energy at a rate of 5000 watts, meaning that it takes five kilowatt-hours of energy to do one load of laundry. If your family dries one load of laundry a day using an electric dryer, you use 150 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month. Back at the power plant, one ton of poisonous gases are created each year to run your family’s dryer.When our family initially stopped using a clothes dryer, we did so because we no longer wanted to produce poisonous gases. Now, we live in a house with no dryer. Clothing dried in a machine lasts only half as long as line-dried garments. The “lint” you pull out of the trap consists of fibers shredded off your clothing. Now we save money, have clothes that last longer, and aren’t polluting as much. But those benefits are the minor benefits. What we discovered was the dignity of work, and the spiritual fruits of doing it in a monastic manner. What do I mean by this?

St. Anthony is cited as starting the monastic way of life in AD 270. He sold his belongings, gave the money to the poor, lived alone, read the Bible, and did manual labor. He did this in order to grow spiritually. When I hang the laundry, I make it a spiritual event. I pray, talk to God, and sing gospel songs. I pair a minor physical task that requires little thinking with

a dialogue with the Creator of the universe. I may occasionally resent hanging laundry, but how can I regret time spent with God? The same goes for shoveling snow, hand-washing dishes, chopping vegetables, or biking to the post office.

All honest work can be done for the glory of God. As time passes and we grow in our understanding of God and the uniqueness of this planet, we reject more and more “laborsaving” machines. There is an old saying: If you are troubled, chop wood and carry water. This is wise advice. If you pray at the same time, so much the better. Begin to build an hour of work into your daily life. The result will be more life in your day. The flip side of work is rest. God commands all of us to take a day of rest each week, but how many of us take His advice? Imagine you’re at work on a busy day. You haven’t had a break all morning, and then your boss walks up and says, “I want you to take off the rest of the day.””Are you sure?” you reply. “It’s pretty busy. Have you got someone to take my place?” you ask hesitantly.

“Don’t worry,” the boss answers. “I’ll cover things for you.”

“Are you sure?” you ask. “Because I can stay a while.”

“No,” the boss says, “I just want you to take the day off and relax.”

“Wow, thanks,” you reply.

You gather up your things and hurry out. As you exit the door, your boss calls to you. You knew this was too good to be true. “Just one more thing,” he says.

You turn and reply, “What?”

“I want you to know that it’s not just today I’m talking about. I want you to take this day off every week. There’s only one condition,” he adds.

Your stomach tenses. “What?” you query.

“I’ll give you this day off permanently. Just promise me you won’t work, not even around your house. Okay?”

You take a full nanosecond to think this through. “No problem! You’ve got a deal!” you shout as you head home to relax.

How many of us have a boss this generous? How many would turn down such an offer? We may not have a CEO this considerate, but our God is.

 

Add 10 Years to Your Life — Guaranteed!

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A few weeks ago Mrs. Sleeth and I were traveling, and on Saturday evening we lodged overnight in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.  The hotel served a complimentary breakfast the following morning.  While enjoying toast and orange slices, I looked over at my fellow travelers.

Twenty-five or so adults were present, plus some energetic children (dressed for church but anxious to play). The adults mostly were quiet.  Nestled in a granite-topped cabinet, a meter long television was tuned to country music videos.  The volume was audible but certainly not loud.  I watched the diners and found that they were not paying the TV much attention, although I did notice that during commercials (when the volume increases) diners would glance up and “tune into” the television for short periods of time.

When I was certain that no one was watching, I got up and turned the television off.  Having done this before in settings such as auto shop waiting rooms and airport lounges, I sat back to watch the response. Just as I expected, people started talking!  Their faces became animated, and a happy calm spread throughout the room.  Even though they previously may have appeared to be oblivious to the TV’s presence, the television held sway over the crowd, even if they believed they had “tuned it out.” 

How is this possible and how did it come to be?  Since TV Turn-off Week was approaching and my wife is a teacher, and we have two children, I decided to do some research.

Television is new, very new.  At the end of the World War II there were fewer television sets in America than currently exist on the Boothbay peninsula (less than 7000). Just 50 years later, over 98% of American homes have a TV and over 40 percent own three or more televisions. When surveyed, about one half of Americans report:  they watch too much TV, they eat dinner in front of it, they regularly fall asleep with it on, and they have purchased one for their first grader’s bedroom.  Is it any wonder that over half of these first graders, when surveyed, said they would rather spend their time watching TV than being with their mom or dad?

Television exists so that advertisers have a place to sell their wares.  The average 70-year-old has watched well over 2 million TV commercials.  They have lived 10 years of their life watching television—a decade!  And although a U.S. child has about 5 minutes of conversation with their parents each day, they will spend over 240 minutes with the television.  American youth invest 900 hours a year in school and 1023 watching TV.  Suffice it to say that the major influence, educator, goal setter, and role model in our children’s lives are television shows and the commercials that sponsor them.  If you believe that PBS is different or “commercial free” ask an 11 year old (i.e., my daughter Emma): Who advertises on PBS?  When I asked, she rattled off:  Lego, Spaghetti O’s, Kix cereal, Chuck E Cheese, and Juicy Juice …to start with.

Despite growing evidence and even warnings by organizations such as the American

Academy of Pediatrics (which recommends no TV before age 2), access to and time spent watching television continues to increase. The weight of evidence is similar to that which was known, but ignored, regarding the risks of cigarettes in the 70’s and 80’s. Television viewing has been linked to depression, attention deficit disorder, poor school performance, obesity, diabetes, and increased feelings of isolation and vulnerability. Even 8 out of 10 Hollywood executives believe that television promotes violent actions in its viewers.  We teach our children not to take candy or accept rides from strangers, yet we entrust their very souls to anonymous advertisers and producers in Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

I am not proposing any new laws, legislation, or censoring software.  I am advocating that parents sit down and take a serious look at the advertising (over 1/3 of TV time).  Talk with your kids about what is promised in ads vs. reality.  When a SUV ad shows families charging up the side of snow covered mountains, remind them that these vehicles are not trailblazers or pathfinders or explorers but rather mall finders and traffic sitters.  When an ad shows “cool kids” staying “connected” via cell phones and the models are splashing water and doing somersaults while giggling with a phone to their ear, invite your children to spend an hour observing shoppers in Freeport talking on cell phones.  For every one seen smiling, 20 will have an anxious or blank expression.  In other words, take an active role in teaching your children to discern truth and to develop critical thinking skills.

The bottom line: If you want to add 10 years to your child’s life, simply don’t let them watch television.  They will have 10 years freed up to experience life, not just watch it happening to someone else.  Ask a 70 year old friend or family member if they would rather have the memories of their decade of watching TV and commercials…or if they would rather have those 10 years to do something else, with the wisdom of their age. Remember, it doesn’t take an act of Congress to sell your TV at the next yard sale!  You might even find, as my fellow hotel diners did, that what you will have is the time and quiet to talk or read or meditate or pray.

 

Can Americans Prevent Future Katrinas?

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Hurricane Katrina has come, and raged, and passed. Our nation faces a moment as crucial as July 4, 1776, December 7, 1941, or September 11, 2001. We are at a crossroads and have vitally important decisions to make. As a physician, evangelical Christian, and environmental lecturer and writer, I would like to explore the events that led up to where we are and the roads that lie ahead.

On November 2, PBS will air a documentary filmed over the past two years and produced by Stonehaven Productions and South Carolina ETV. Global Warming: The Signs and the Science predicts with chilling accuracy the sinking of New Orleans. But that is not all. Because of constantly rising sea levels and dramatic increases in air and water temperature, scientists predict more frequent and more intense severe weather. This will place population centers such as Miami, New York, London, and Baltimore at similar risk for storm surges and flooding. Vast areas of the American Southwest will simultaneously experience drought.

The majority of climate scientists and meteorologists worldwide agree that global warming is a fact, not a theory. Still, there are a few who say there is no problem, or that the problem needs more study. As a physician, I cannot help but think back to those few scientists who for decades declared that there was no connection between cigarette smoking and disease. We can see for ourselves that cities are consistently warmer than nearby rural areas, and 80 percent of our population lives in greater metropolitan areas. We burn trillions of gallons of fossil fuels yearly and we are cutting down the world’s forests. Riding in a plane, we can see the extent of mankind’s reworking of the planet. From the air and from the ground, an ominous haze hangs overhead. Denial of the obvious is as old as Adam, yet no less dangerous today.

In general we are not good at reading obvious signs. We live on Chestnut or Elm Street and do not question why the elms and chestnuts are extinct. We live in Caribou, Maine, but the caribou are no more. We demand homes and golf courses in places formerly named Dry Gulch or Death Valley. We fear drinking the water or eating the fish from nearby lakes and streams because they contain dioxin and mercury. We may deny these signs and our connection to the natural world, but that does not mean they are not real. I can pull from my bookshelf two editions of the same medical textbook published only 22 years apart (the 13th and 17th printings of the Merck Manual). The earlier edition says that a woman’s risk of breast cancer is 1 in 15. The recent one says it is 1 in 8. A correct response to this medical fact is not to build more cancer treatment centers, just as the right response to global warming is not to buy everyone an air conditioner. It is time to think long-term. It is time to talk about diverting disasters and preventing diseases.

No one, scientist or otherwise, can say exactly which hurricanes, droughts, or floods are caused by global warming. Yet some of them are, and there will continue to be more. Rarely can science say which chemical, toxin, hormone, or food additive caused a particular cancer or other disease. Yet the links are well established. Conversely, if we as a country or as individuals make changes to lower our use of natural resources, we cannot point to the exact life that might be saved. We must do what is right for the future based on faith and trust. Faith and trust are not always synonymous with government or business. Answers and leadership in these areas must come from those who possess a moral compass—people who are able to read signs and make appropriate changes.

Increasingly, evangelical leaders such as the Reverends Richard Cizik, Jim Ball, and Rick Warren are calling believers to stop b

usiness as usual and to change their lifestyles as needed. They ask that we take individual responsibility for the care of the planet. The Bible declares that the earth is the Lord’s and that everything living belongs to Him (Psalm 24). When we read the Bible, we find that God likes—even loves—trees and flowers and whales. He takes note at the falling of the smallest sparrow. How can we as believers claim to love God and yet be oblivious or destructive to what He loves?

The Bible says that God created the earth to provide for all of humanity’s needs. It was not given to one or two generations of us to be exploited for our every want and whim. If we do not change our ways, our ways will be changed for us, and it will not be pleasant. All existing models predict that if we continue business as usual, we can expect dozens and dozens of Katrina-like events every decade.

Through His teachings and parables, Jesus stressed care not for the rich, powerful, politically connected, or famous, but rather for the most humble and lowly. By definition, no one is more powerless or dependent than today’s youth or those yet to be born. In order to save their planet, we will have to make changes. We cannot wait on governments to force us to do what is right. We must begin today.

Driving an average SUV puts six tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually; a small hybrid gives off one and one-half tons, and biking gives off none. Drying clothing in an electric dryer for a family of four makes one ton of greenhouse gases annually, while line drying gives off none. The U.S. Government’s Energy Star website says that if every family in America changed just five light bulbs to compact fluorescents, we could shut down twenty-one coal powered plants tomorrow; this would have the same effect as taking eight million cars off the road. It would prevent an estimated two thousand respiratory and other related deaths annually.

America does not suffer from what one cynical writer called “compassion fatigue.” We will give our money, clothing, time, and homes to Katrina’s victims. What we must decide now is whether we have the courage and wisdom to make the changes needed to clean up our planet and halt global warming. Every time we drive less, carpool, turn off the lights, or move to a smaller home, we invest in the future of all creatures great and small, not to mention our own children. With God all things are possible.


Matthew Sleeth serves as Blessed Earth’s Executive Director and resides with his wife, Nancy, in Wilmore, KY.

 

The Future of Eco-Evangelism

This Earth Day could mark the birth of new alliance between environmentalists and Christians – and that”s good news for our planet.

Evangelicals believe that God not only made everything, but that he loves his creation, enjoys it, and claims ownership of it. Yet for the past two centuries Christians and non-Christians alike have taken God”s creation for granted or, worse, seen it simply as a resource to be exploited. Evangelicals cannot claim to love God and not love what he loves. It is true that God gave humans dominion over the earth, but many evangelicals have come to recognize that we must face the meaning of this mandate.

But will evangelicals collaborate with traditionally secular environmentalists to fulfill this mandate?

Before I explore that question, le

t me tell you a little about myself in the hope that it will illuminate an evangelical Christian”s path toward an environmentally conscious life.

I was raised in a Methodist home, lost faith, and then returned to the church when I perceived a spiritual crisis in myself and those around me. My spiritual crisis, I soon discovered, had a lot to do with the environmental crisis we face. I no longer felt grounded in every sense of the word.

So my family and I moved from our large house on the coast of Maine, sold or gave away half of our possessions, and consciously sought to bring our lifestyle in line with our values. I now drive a hybrid car, live in a passive solar house, and use one-quarter of the electricity and one-third of the fossil fuels that I did five years ago. Most importantly, I left my work as an emergency-room doctor to focus on the most pressing health issue of all time: Earth care.

I am not, however, the only person of faith to notice the plight of the planet. The earth is ill. There are no elm trees left on Elm Street, no chestnut trees on Chestnut Lane, and soon, there will be no maple trees left on Maple Avenue. The clouds of birds that migrated in my youth are gone. Frogs are dying all over the globe. Hourly, farmlands are being supplanted by malls and subdivisions and fertilized by suburban sprawl. Our industrial way of life is literally giving our planet a fever. As ancient polar ice caps and mountain glaciers melt, we are increasingly pummeled by severe weather. Climatologists have long predicted the changes that are now happening; we do not need yet another study to confirm what we already know.

Although the fate of our planet should be concern for all human beings, there are many who think an alliance between evangelicals and environmentalists as unlikely or even unwise. Why? Both act out of a desire to protect those plants and creatures that cannot speak for themselves. Both fight for elements of life over which mankind exercises “dominion.” These include the most mute and vulnerable of all creatures – the generations yet to be born.

Arguing about who gets to save the planet is like two passengers on a ship fighting over who should throw the life jacket to the man who has fallen overboard. For the drowning man, it does not matter whether a Hindu, a pagan, an evangelical or an environmentalist saves his life. In my years as an ER doctor, I saw some 30,000 patients. Never did I have a patient stop me during the course of treatment to question my religious beliefs. So why do we care who gets to save the planet? Should we not be rejoicing instead that so many are working hard to save it?

To begin with, here is a Christian tradition that all can benefit from: celebrating the Sabbath. The fourth commandment – “Honor the Sabbath” – is a mental health prescription that has served humans well for millennia. If Americans did no work, no shopping, and no driving one day a week, we would instantly produce fewer greenhouse gases, use billions of gallons less fuel, and be closer to sanity and to God. The Sabbath is God”s gift to man, 52 times a year.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, must recognize the fact that the most pressing problem facing the world is overcrowding. Before we dismiss population control out of hand as a matter unworthy of consideration, we would do well to reflect on the following facts. If we place all 10,000 years of human history (8000 BC-2000 AD) on a single calendar year, the number of human beings on the planet does not hit one billion until late on Dec. 24. And then this: one billion more people are added to the planet on the Dec. 29, and then again on Dec. 30. We then added an astounding 3 billion to the population on Dec. 31, only to hit seven billion at eleven a.m. on New Year”s Day.

When we accepted the life prolonging fruits of science, we unbalanced the natural human population equation. Yet we want to oppose the use of science to control the number of lives created on this planet. We can not meddle with one side of the equation without attending to the other side. In other words, we can not have our cake and eat it too. The choice is simple: We either need birth control or to forgo the use of medicine to prolong life. It is up to the individual, society, or religion to choose one or the other.

America is the third most populated country on the planet. We will surge from our current 296 million to 600 million in only 70 years. Will eco-evangelists lead, or will they find themselves mired in hypocrisy, materialism, and finger pointing?

To the extent that eco-evangelists act to preserve the earth, they will become moral leaders. Jesus describes the road to heaven as narrow. The path may not accommodate a Hummer, but it surely has room for many a sister and brother.