A Call to Simplicity

[reposted with permission from Seeing Creation, a blog by Chuck Summers and Rob Sheppard.]

One of my best friends called me a few minutes ago to seek advice on eliminating some clutter in his life. With his wife’s help he had come to the conclusion that he had accumulated too much stuff and needed to get rid of some things. His call seemed ironic for this subject is one I’ve been thinking about this past week. It’s been on my mind because my wife, as well, said a couple of days ago that we need to give away some clothes and also because of some reading I’ve been doing.

Last night before going to bed I read a chapter in Matthew Sleeth’s book, The Gospel According to the Earth, called “Simplicity and Consumerism.” Using the Book of Philippians as a guide Sleeth also warns of the dangers of consumerism and calls for a better and more biblical approach to life and things—simplicity. He, like Smith, sees the accumulation of stuff as a threat to the spiritual life but Sleeth also sees it as a threat to Creation. This offers even more impetus to practice simplicity. He writes: “Simplicity helps us disconnect from the worldly concerns that destroy God’s creation and, instead, engage in redemptive actions that heal.”

Towards the end of the chapter Dr. Sleeth goes on to say, “The earth is being dug up, cut down, and dismantled to meet the needs and cravings of a population that can only be satisfied with newer, better, and more. The way to cut back on the misuse of resources is to live more simply and be content with what we have.” In his conclusion he adds, “Simplicity allows us to be transformed by God’s grace into people who take care of God’s creation, rather than destroy it. It helps us do what we cannot do alone to save the planet.”

Long ago Henry David Thoreau urged people to “simplify, simplify, simplify.” It would seem that this is also the message I’m hearing from God these days. For the sake of my soul and for the good of Creation I must make some changes. What about you?

– Chuck Summers

Connectivity: Poverty and Deforestation

Dr. Matthew Sleeth can describe in detailed anatomical terms the truth behind the silly children’s song, “the foot bone is connected to the leg bone, and the leg bone is connected to the hip bone.” Through this song, we learned that there is connectivity at work within us, and when one bone is out of alignment it begins to impact other parts of our body.

The connectivity experience isn’t limited to our physical bodies. One of the messages of scripture that is often missed is the interaction between human well-being and environment health, and this overlooked connection is painfully felt in many impoverished nations today. Simply put, it has become increasingly clear that extreme poverty follows the collapse of small plot farming, which is connected to radical deforestation. Therefore, in so many cases the real bone of contention behind the spread of extreme poverty is deforestation. The good news is there is a cure to “deforestation-related extreme poverty” and that cure is “reforestation.”

In September 2004, I was requested by President Haile Marium of the Southern Peoples Region of Ethiopia to take over an abandoned seedling nursery that was associated with a desperately needed reforestation project. The President reported that villages near Hawassa had experienced loss of life from flooding, serous erosion, soil degradation, and declining water tables. All of these symptoms were connected to destruction of the region’s forest. The diagnosis was tragic; if things didn’t improve, the villagers would become eco-refugees. So, the challenge was accepted and Eden Reforestation Projects (ERP) was born, and in the last six years over 22 million new trees have been planted in Ethiopia, Madagascar, and Haiti.

Today, the flooding around the reforestation sites in Ethiopia has stopped. The soil quality has been enhanced, the farming has greatly improved, the water tables are rising, and the animal life is returning to a restored eco-system. All of this dramatic ecological healing is the result of employing over 3,000 Ethiopian “eco-workers” who desperately needed a job.

At the individual level, in 2006 Nigatu Yote was a destitute single mother, but today, Nigatu is employed full time with Eden. This job allows her to provide her three children with good food, quality medical care, and an education. And, Nigatu is just one of the thousands of full and part-time female employees who are seeing their families and local environment transformed. The two are connected.

The cure of “poverty reduction through environmental stewardship” is exciting and the church is beginning to be a major distributor of the treatment. The bottom line is, the connection extends across the seas where $10 will plant a minimum of 100 trees even as it provides a full days wage to mothers like Nigatu. The connection and cure are now clear. The escape from poverty is connected to the reforestation cure.

Following 31 years in front line pastoral leadership Steve Fitch transitioned careers to begin serving as founder and President of Eden Reforestation Projects. Steve and Claudette have been married for 29 years and have three adult children, Danielle Gudgel, Josiah, and Caleb.

Why Should Christians Care?

Blessed Earth first came across Lauren Merritt’s radar as she was searching the Internet for like-minded Christians, and quickly recognized Matthew and Nancy Sleeth as kindred souls in the work of glorifying God through preserving his creation. Two years ago she began a blog titled “The Christian and Creation,” which came as a result of digging into the Bible to uncover what it had to say about God and the natural world. Here’s an excerpt from one of Lauren’s recent blog posts. Why should Christians care about the environment? 1. Man was created by God to exist in three relationships: man to God, man to man, and man to creation. All three will exist eternally in the new creation. We are responsible for our behavior toward each of these three relationships. 2. Man is God’s appointed steward over the earth. If we are to be good and faithful servants, we cannot shirk our responsibility and pretend the state of God’s creation is not our problem. The purpose and goal of our relationship to creation is the glory of God. 3. We are created in the image of God. In our dominion over the earth we reflect God’s supreme dominion. As Christians we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to rule as God rules: with true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. 4. God’s glory is manifest in creation. Therefore the health of creation is of great concern to the Christian. The creation is not God himself (Christians are not pantheist, or panenthesit), but a magnificent, intricate work of art crafted by the Spirit of God. 5. We will be held accountable to God for all our actions. We should be motivated by a desire to be called God’s good and faithful servants. 6. The creation is intrinsically linked to the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Spirit each have a role in the creation, sustenance, and redemption of the created world. 7. The environment was created by Christ and for Christ, is the inheritance of Christ, is held together by Christ, and is being reconciled to God through Christ. I left out one terribly important (though not always obvious) reason because it will dominate the next series of posts under God-Centered Creation Care: Environmental degradation affects first, and most harshly, the poor and marginalized, those will no voice and no power – exactly those whom Christians are called to defend and love. Our great commandment is to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. I’ve heard it asked far too many times, “Why care for the environment when the poor need our resources and attention?” or “Why don’t you care abut people?” The question itself is wrong. It supposes that there is an unbridgeable disconnect between the environment and the people who depend upon it. The truth is the opposite. No matter what we do, we will never form a disconnect between people and their environment! Try as we have to distance ourselves from natural processes in wealthy, suburban, computerized America, we still breath air. How much more important is that connection in rural Kazakhstan where people rely on well water, or in slums of Mexico City, or in Haiti where deforestation has killed the agricultural industry, or in the farms-turned-illegal-landfills that skirt Beijing? Protecting the environment can be one of the greatest ways we protect those who are in need, in this generation and on until Christ returns.

Lauren Merritt is a riding instructor and horse trainer, a student at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY, and an avid home gardener. She lives in Louisville, KY with her husband, Nate, and their 16-month-old, Daniel.” She writes a regular blog titled “The Christian and Creation.”

One Person Can Make a Big Difference

People assume that one person can’t make a difference. I strongly disagree. After reading Serve God, Save the Planet–the last in a series of inspirations–there was no feasible way to deny my calling any longer. In accepting God’s call for my energy and time, I had no idea what lay ahead. Blind faith led me to believe that I could make a difference.

Knowledge of the Earth’s misuse gnawed at my soul day and night. From this uncomfortable feeling, and from my admiration for the Sleeth’s work, sprouted Greener Globe Volunteer Group. Accompanied by my elementary school friend, we began a free recycling pick up service. Adding two more volunteers along the way, four ladies set out to show by example that caring for the earth did matter. Armed with dust masks, gloves, and an unwavering ambition to create change, we welcomed the dirty work.

We rode around in the 100 degree days in a truck lacking air conditioning and sorted people’s recycling. Our struggles led to small yet nonetheless meaningful triumphs. We sorted through a local restaurant’s glass to separate the colors, strengthening our immune systems and muscles along the way. We picked up three times weekly and were always met with at least 500 lbs of glass. We grunted and cheered as petite women successfully heaved garbage bags of glass into “Big Bob” (my green 1990 truck named after my Grandpa).

One day we were met at the local recycling drop off site with refusal to accept our glass. As it turns out, all the glass we were recycling was unhappily causing the city more work. One phone call and we prevailed.

We had residential and business pick-ups, and we proudly worked with the local hospital. Slowly word spread of our work and we were featured on a local news station.

After a time, gas prices and vehicle maintenance costs soared. Without more volunteers or outside funding, our services could no longer run. I decided to wait on God to tell me my next move.

My team of women and I did not realize the extent of what we had set into motion. The restaurant, inspired by our actions, continued to recycle their glass. The drop off site had more business than ever, and finally our city applied for a grant to build a recycling processing facility. If granted this funding, we hope to make Albany the “greenest” Southern city.

After running our service for less than a year, we recycled 2 tons of paper, 6 tons of glass, 300 lbs of plastic, 500 lbs aluminum, 3.3 tons of metal and 1,216 lbs of electronics, saving a total of 43.6 cubic yards of landfill space. A small number of people can make a HUGE difference. With God present, we were literally and emotionally given the strength to do the job. Greener Globe still works for the environment and humanity today.

Please don’t go through life believing that one person can’t make a difference. Separate or together, we can all impact the world.

Grace McWilliams
Greener Globe

Thirsting for Life in Africa

Can you remember the last time you were truly thirsty? For me it was this morning about halfway through my run. The African sun was beating down on me as sweat poured from my forehead. Lucky for me, I knew that if I pressed on just a little further I would soon reach my house, where an ice cold bottle of water would be waiting. Before I moved to East Africa in 2009 for a two-year mission term, 850 million was just a number. But after meeting and building relationships with people who can’t get the water they need, that number began to have a face–the face of a woman, a newborn baby, a village elder, an elementary school child. That’s when the clean water epidemic became personal for me. For countless people where I live in Tanzania, gaining access to clean water is not as simple as turning on the faucet. Many families struggle to live on one bucket a day. And often that water–which they probably walked a good distance to get–is dirty and filled with bacteria. As of last weekend, for people living in three villages near my town, clean water is now abundant. Yesterday, I visited the newly operating wells that our team helped bring to these places. This marked the completion of a project that began almost a year ago when my team started visiting remote areas and assessing the health needs of various people groups. What an honor to look into the faces of those who would be refreshed and sustained by this water. Women carried colorful buckets of water effortlessly on their heads. Children laughed and chased each other are the field. Old men rested in the shade of trees nearby. There was life and laughter. My prayer is that each person who drinks the water from these new wells would thirst for the Living Water. As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman in John 4: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Please join with me in praying that these people would follow Jesus and allow him to quench their thirst. In Him, Emily

A former intern for Blessed Earth, Emily Harris is finishing a two-year term serving with the International Mission Board in East Africa. She is currently planning her next big adventure–a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail next spring.

The Connection Between the Poor and the Earth

Making the Connection Between the Poor and the Earth
Choosing between caring for the poor and healing the environment do not have to be separate efforts – they go hand in hand.

By Scott C. Sabin, Executive Director of Plant With Purpose

I frequently get asked how we, as Christians, choose between caring for the poor and caring for creation, as if we have to choose one or the other. As often as I have been asked that question, it still catches me by surprise because my own concern for the earth first grew out of a concern for the poor.

As someone told me recently, creation care seems like a cause for bored middle-class Americans who want to have chickens in their backyard, whereas the poor don’t have the luxury of worrying about their environment. The idea is that environmental issues are primarily aesthetic and fall pretty high up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

However, if you live in a world in which water comes in plastic bottles and food comes from the supermarket, it is easy to see the environment as purely decorative. In the US, we have been able to use our material wealth to purchase several layers of insulation from the earth. Therefore, I believe we have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in rural communities throughout the world. They recognize that there is a direct connection between environmental quality and the most basic of needs: food, water and air.

In fact, the connection between poverty and tropical deforestation has long been one of my hot button issues. Plant With Purpose got its start responding to the needs of the poor by addressing the environmental degradation that contributed to their poverty. Poor farmers were made poorer by deforestation, which caused their soil to erode and their water resources to dry up, robbing them of the two assets they counted on to provide them with food and income. Poor farm families, practicing slash-and-burn agriculture, cut trees to clear land for farming. The topsoil from treeless slopes erodes many times faster than before. Streams dry up. Wells give out. Without topsoil and water, crops don’t grow, leading to hunger and despair, and without the natural filter of trees, the water that does flow is contaminated, leading to diarrheal disease.

Ironically, we found that the poor were often caught in a vicious cycle where they were creating the deforestation that made them poorer. Small-scale subsistence agriculture and firewood collection—activities of the poor—are among the biggest contributors to tropical deforestation.

We quickly learned that the problem was not one of ignorance, but rather a lack of opportunity. I have had more than one poor, illiterate farmer give me an elegant description of how a watershed works. But, as I was told recently in Haiti, they also have a saying that translates to “Either this tree must die or I must die in its place.” Nonetheless, they are aware of the long-term stakes and would do more to care for the environment if they had the opportunity.

Thus, helping to create opportunity – serving the poor – helps to serve the environment and helping to restore the environment serves the poor. Both activities serve the Creator. We need not make a choice between the poor and the earth.

And if we choose to raise our own vegetables and have chickens in the backyard, it may not only reduce our impact on the planet, it may teach us what our neighbor in Africa already knows: our connectedness and dependence on the health of land that supports us.

Scott Sabin is the Executive Director of Plant With Purpose, an international Christian organization that reverses deforestation and poverty by transforming the lives of the rural poor in Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Burundi, Tanzania, and Thailand. He is also the author of the book Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People.

More Than Enough

We Have More Than Enough Because God’s Creations Do Not Enough. God blessed me with a wildlife career including living and working in Africa for many years. Amidst limited material resources there was abundant faith and gratitude for God’s creations. Moving back to America has challenged my husband and I to retain what we learned and valued in Africa. Through reflection and prayer, and with God’s help, our family makes choices that are encouraged in the books Serve God, Save the Planet (Matthew Sleeth) and Enough (Will Samson, a good friend and neighbor of the Sleeths). This lifestyle isn’t easy. We are often outside trends in our community, but we have faith we are on a God-intended path. Having Enough We’ve made some big choices. We largely operate on zero credit; we have a 15-year mortgage on our modest house to be paid off before the kids go to college. Although our home is in a low-status neighborhood, it is next to a park and we daily appreciate God’s creation all around us. My husband does the vast majority of home repairs and green upgrades. We’ve also made smaller, daily choices to reduce our footprint on God’s precious earth. Our wardrobes, cars, and other consumer items are used, recycled, repaired and kept for decades. We buy local, organic, US-manufactured items. Our children, with limited screen time, maximize outside playtime. We usually commute to work and school by bicycle. We compost and garden. We pray before every meal (and at the gas pump!), delighting in nature and thanking God daily. Promoting Enough We want our children to be good stewards for the planet and God’s creation. We are challenged, however, by American-dream pressures from economic models and lifestyles based on ecological untruths. Continuous growth and demand priorities take us away from God and imperil his creations. Keeping our children’s consumer behavior aligned with moderation and respect for God’s creation is a priority. We minimize participation in our culture’s gift-giving explosion. During Christmas we focus on Jesus’ birth, with token kids’ gifts — one each for something they: need, want, wear, and read plus gifts for charity. For birthdays our children ask friends to donate to wildlife and animal charities instead of bringing gifts. To date they have raised over $3,000 for elephants, gorillas, wild horses, cats, dogs, lions and sharks. Sharing Enough If congregation members support one another to make the life changes promoted by the Sleeths and in the book Enough we could change the world overnight. Our affluent lifestyles are driving global demands that destroy God’s creation. We must be global stewards so that seven generations from now the quality of life on earth and the depth of connection with God’s creations are improved. We can no longer afford this free ride at the expense of our children, our planet, and our relationship with God. When I shared this message at my church I was shaking. Though I’m a graduate school professor and have given presentations to hundreds – it was an entirely different experience to address my congregation with this message. I hope that you will hold my hand as I take this leap of faith in sharing what we know about wildlife and nature on this planet and consider joining us in saying enough already, too. Dr. Heather E. Eves The original version of this testimony was delivered to Mount Olivet United Methodist Church in Arington, Virginia on October 17, 2010.

Dr. Heather E. Eves is a wildlife conservationist who has worked in Africa since 1985. She lives with her family in the Washington DC metro area, teaches graduate school and provides training to African conservation professionals.

Loving the Forest

Photo by Jeff Rogers I have always loved the forest. Ever since I was a child, I have loved walking through the woods, simply exploring. This fascination eventually led me to more serious hiking and backpacking, especially in my native Alabama, where oak, hickory, sweet gum, tulip tree, and white pine are abundant and accessible. A path winding through the woods was an invitation that always drew me in. My father and grandfather heated their homes with wood. We generally only burned trees that were cut down for some other purpose. At times my father would even take a side-job felling a tree in someone”s yard. Afterward we would cut it up and haul it home for splitting and curing. I attended college in Kentucky and worked for awhile as a groundskeeper. We had around 200 trees on our campus. I stuck a field guide in my back pocket when running the mowers and would stop at every new tree to identify it. Studying the 40 different species through all the seasons helped me to commit them to memory. More importantly, it unveiled a deep passion for trees. After marrying, my wife and I moved to Colorado and I began to work in the vast national forests. Though the west was beautiful on a macroscopic scale-the “big sky effect”-I missed the hardwoods of Alabama and Kentucky and the immense biodiversity of Appalachia and the temperate deciduous forests. When my wife and I made the decision to move back to Kentucky, we also made the decision to heat our new home with fallen trees. At the time, I was not one to be particularly wasteful, but I wasn”t keenly aware of any environmental ethic either. My passion for creation had been largely focused on its uses as a place of recreation and renewal. Though I did have a strong understanding of the impacts of humans on wilderness areas through their use of it, I didn”t connect my wilderness ethics while on the trail and in the woods to my daily life choices, The decision to heat with wood made this connection for me in an incredibly strong way. I became ecologically thoughtful. My love of trees became real on multiple levels. I thought often about their value to my family, our community, and our culture. As I became aware of the wastefulness of our development habits, I began approaching developers who were bulldozing and burning trees in order to construct new roads or neighborhoods; I wanted the trees to use for firewood. I committed to only burning trees that were being removed anyway. I chose to split all of my wood by hand and extensively studied how to get the most BTU”s per cord of wood. I invested in a more efficient woodstove. This tree fascination has led my family on a broader creation care journey. Wherever possible, we have come out on the side of simplification and conservation. Today, as a teacher and as a father, I want my students and children to love trees, to know them by name, to understand their benefit as living things, but also to understand their value as a resource of strength and beauty. I want them to realize a sustainable approach to forestry. And I want them to plant trees in their yards some day, like the large chinquapin oak with a wildly irregular crown on a rocky outcropping near our home–a daily reminder of my love for trees, and the Creator”s love for me.

Trent Ellsworth is the coordinator for outdoor adventure programs at Asbury University. He lives in Wilmore, KY, with his wife Emily and their two young children.

Cheering Trees

Several years ago I had the opportunity to work in Glacier National Park. I arrived before my coworkers and was instantly able to connect with the secrets of the land. By late May, the sun gets hot enough to melt the high snows, and the mountain faces weep with untamed streams and waterfalls on their ways to the valley lakes that, when hit with sunlight, reflect a blue that alludes to Eden. The snows eventually give way to spring grasses accompanied by a multicolored collage of wildflowers. The air is pure and untainted and smells like nothing. When in a place like this, one gets the sense that nature is pointing to something greater than its own beauty, to something greater than our own arrogance.

I arrived on a Wednesday, and by Sunday I was sentimental toward the life I left in Alabama. As I sat alone on the porch of my cabin calculating the distance I’d traveled and the magnificent unfamiliarity of my new environment, it occurred to me that millions of people were worshiping God around the globe. Some were freely singing praises while others were trying not to be found by their government doing so. I, however, was alone in Montana, on an old cabin porch. In the midst of these thoughts I noticed the wall of trees across the road, their leaves severely green against the blue sky.

I didn’t know what kind of trees they were, but they seemed to applaud as I sat before them in my reflective solitude, and so I called them cheering trees. A mellow breeze meandered through the valley, and when it caught the leaves it made them look like thousands of hands waiving in a terrific frenzy, as if something tremendous was happening. I realized that something tremendous was happening: the leaves were cheering, indeed, for they were alive for another day. Caught up in a liberating flurry, the breeze reminded them of this gift, and they worshipped because of it.

It occurred to me that, each time we rise from our beds, we are also allowed to do what I saw those leaves doing: we, too, are granted life and can cheer because of the gift. The leaves hummed a simple, celebratory note with the wind. To me, it was a hopeful reminder that I was not as alone as I had thought.

The words that emerged from my study that morning were from the Gospel of John: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (1:3-4)

I later learned the trees were aspens, and I concluded that the “quaking” of their leaves, along with the weeping mountains, the invariable plains, the lakes, animals, and the breeze are all ways Christ is letting us know he is here amidst us, calling us into the same adventure of life that caused the leaves to cheer.

This is what I learned from the aspens: nature is alive with Christ, and it, too, worships its creator. It would bring our souls great relief if we would stop for a moment, unplug, find a seat on the porch of our hearts, and discover that, as William Shakespeare put it, “exempt from public haunt, we would find tongues in trees, books in running brooks, and sermons in stones.”

Rob Foley works, plays, and lives in Denver, CO, with his wife Leah, and is part of the full time staff for A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP). He met the Sleeths at the ACMNP board meeting in September.

Beginning to Downsize

Last May at a United Methodist Women (UMW) Assembly in St. Louis I attended a workshop led by Nancy Sleeth. The workshop was one of the most moving parts of that assembly for me – especially as I shared the experience with my mother, whose life models responsible living in many ways. She attended the “Downsizing Your Life” workshop with me because, as a widow in her mid-eighties, she may be moving from her home in the next few years. I attended because we are bogged down in our parsonage life with stuff we didn’t sort through from the last move. I learned in a spirituality workshop that the environment in my home affects my spirit, so I wanted to get prodded to take more control of my stuff.

Naturally, as a pastor, I think my congregation should be learning along with me, so I’ve talked about the workshop in reporting about the assembly to the UMW, I’ve mentioned it in sermons, and I’ve been visiting the Blessed Earth website to keep stirring up my desire to broaden my stewardship practices.

As a first step my husband and I recently took four good-sized boxes to a “Shred It Day” in Columbus, Ohio. They advertized a place on the east side where you can take items, including computer hard drives, for recycling year-round for a fee. That was good news for us to hear.

We have lots of room for improvements, but a ten-year-old friend was visiting and drank a can of pop my husband offered, then asked if we recycle cans. When his mom picked him up, he announced “they recycle; they care about the environment!” So now we’re trying to live up to his pronouncement in more and more ways. (His mom and dad now recycle cans thanks to a school project and competition – and maybe a tinge of guilt!)

Our God “is able to do abundantly more than we can ask for or imagine!” Thanks to you for your work and witness.

Gail Angel is pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Cardington, Ohio.

Going Green at VBS

Since our church congregation has become acquainted with the Sleeths and their ministry, it has begun to make small changes to heighten awareness of our responsibility to care for the earth and its inhabitants. There is a short column in our newsletter called “Green Notes” that gives information about good stewardship; we use mugs to serve coffee and tea before church; we have a recycling drop-off area where people can bring plastics that can”t be recycled in our community; we are trying to make our church grounds more inspirational; we have had studies based on Matthew”s book, Serve God Save the Planet, and Nancy”s book, Go Green Save Green, and we plan to use their new study, Hope for Creation, this fall. However, in spite of these changes I sometimes become discouraged that the church does not appear to connect more closely the relationship between faith and care for the earth and make a more serious commitment. So imagine my surprise when the Christian Education Director announced our Bible School theme for 2010 was Go Green. What an experience–five fun-filled days with devotions using recyclable items for object lessons; quizzes about endangered or extinct species; study groups that talked about relationships, community, and being good stewards; funny skits that pointed out the importance of being accepting and working together; corny jokes; and crafts using recyclable materials such as milk jugs and plastic bags as well as seeds and pine cones.

From that experience we hope children received the message that loving God and one”s neighbor are intertwined with our care of the earth. Perhaps more importantly, I hope I learned that change might not always take place the way I think it should, but change is happening, and I need to rejoice in our growth and be thankful for surprises. By Mary Miller

Keeping the Sabbath a Priority

Inspired by Blessed Earth’s October 2010 newsletter focus on the Sabbath, Stasia Fine wrote to Nancy and shared her own Sabbath story:

When I was in high school, my crush’s mother challenged me to practice the Sabbath for the rest of the school year.  I am so glad she did:  the school year passed and I am still treasuring this gift!

That year in high school, there was one weekend when I didn’t get my homework completed on Saturday.  I tried my hardest but just couldn’t get it done.  So,billigparajumperno.com I knew that if I rested on Sunday I would be going into class without my finished assignment. The assignment just happened to be for the toughest teacher in the school who did not accept late work (even if you were dead!). But, I had made a commitment – so I didn’t work on Sunday.

Monday came and I headed to class, not sure how the teacher would respond, but confident that I had fulfilled my commitment to God and my friend’s mother. The teacher started the class in a surprising way:  she commented on her weekend and then told us that she would extend the deadline on our assignment.  My homework was no longer due on Monday; I had two more days to work on it!

Over and over again, since that time I have discovered that when I honor the gift of the Sabbath, God honors my commitments and obligations for the rest of the week.  Celebrating the Sabbath has also helped me to keep my priorities in order – recognizing the value
Parajumpers Kodiak Jakke of relationships – and has also put things into perspective:   is not finishing that work assignment really going to ruin my life?

I am grateful to Blessed Earth for championing the gift of the Sabbath and look forward to reading more on the 24/6 life!

Rev. Stasia Fine is an associate with the Clapham Group, a Christian consulting firm located in Burke, VA.

The Power of a Nap

Life post-college was really difficult for me. I was jobless. I was single. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I felt like there was a bar set for life – and somehow, I was falling short.

So I set out, determined to meet all the expectations set by the world. I was to be an independent woman with job security, a retirement plan, a consistent workout routine, and extracurricular activities every night of the week!

I was running, feeling like if I stopped I”d lose the race. But life got even busier to the point that it didn”t really even seem like life anymore; it seemed a bit more like death. I fought anxiety, panic attacks, depression, constant stomachaches, chest pain, and a feeling of being completely disconnected from humanity.

But something happened….

Last year, we had a guest speaker at church who taught on the Sabbath. She talked about three things we should do on the Sabbath:  First and foremost, rest. Then include something that feeds you spiritually and do something you delight in.

That”s all! Three things, and the first and most important thing was to take a God-ordained nap!

For years God had been whispering, beckoning, begging me to come and rest with Him a while.

“Sit, Kaylee. Kaylee, just sit,” He”d call.

“Not now, God!” I”d shout back, “I”m busy.” (Sometimes I was even too busy to even tell him that!) But what my heart was really saying was “God, I have no idea who I am and who you”ve called me to be. I”m exhausted and feel like I bring no worth or value to this world. And so, if you don”t mind, I”m going to just keep running.”

Thankfully God knew me better than I knew myself, and so He introduced me to the Sabbath.

Lots has changed since I graduated from college:  I recently married a wonderful man, Dan, and this Sabbath message has become a centerpiece of our life together. Some Sundays require more rest, while others hold more time for delight, but they are all bring us closer to God and to each other.

And something has happened – we”ve become more peaceful and content people. I have less anxiety. The panic attacks are less frequent. I have no depression. My stomach is on the road to recovery! But most of all, I”m starting to feel re-connected to humanity.

People have noticed a difference in us, and when they ask we simply say, “Well, we”ve started doing this Sabbath thing….”

So now, once a week, I sit. I sleep. I totally and completely nap my little heart out! And it is when I rest that I”ve found that God doesn”t ask me what I”ve done or what I”m going to do. He doesn”t ask me to prove myself to Him. It is in the silence and rest of the Sabbath that I am reminded that I am who God has made me and that in itself is good news.

By Kaylee Hendrickson

The Sleeths first met Kaylee Hendrickson while filming the Creation Care segment of Start: Becoming a Good Samaritan .  With Kaylee and her husband Dan expecting their first child, Sabbath naps are now more important than ever!

Excitement of Silence

I’ve been hoping for something new and exciting to happen in my life. I’ve come to the conclusion that interesting things need to be sought, because if you wait around, they generally don’t happen on their own.

I found that my community (I live in a house of two couples and a single adult) did do something interesting this past weekend: We took a Sabbath on Sunday. No electronics, no work, no TV. Doesn’t sound interesting, right? Well, there was a lot of napping and quite a bit of reading, with a bit of board-gaming on the side. A quite scrumptiously boring ending to the jam-packed week I’d had. What I thought was interesting is that I woke up excited to start relaxing. I wanted to jump out of bed and get going on being rested. I’d had such a busy week that I was thrilled to really roll up my sleeves and get busy doing nothing.

In the chapter on Sabbath in Dr. Matthew Sleeth’s The Gospel According to the Earth, the author points out that the fourth commandment is the only one that begins with “remember.”

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. “(Exodus 20:8-11)

Sleeth says it’s as though God knew that, though they were freed from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites would forget to stop working. I think he’s right. I certainly forget to stop working. Even when I’m not exactly working, I have a myriad of electronics holding my attention with emails, Facebook status updates, news alerts, and RSS feeds — not to mention the lure of online shopping. In today’s society, we must intentionally make room to “be still, and know that He is God” (Psalm 46:10). Practicing the Sabbath is the best way to do that.

And a practice it is. It takes deliberate shutting out of all the noise of life to achieve the sweet quiet that allows us to rest in God’s presence. Our group prays several times throughout the day. I read, but fiction wasn’t profitable last time and I think I’m going to restrict myself to books that focus on God. We listen to relaxing music, but it wasn’t edifying and I think I’d prefer to try listening to worship music only next time. I think the real trick is to not get caught up in balancing the restrictions and permissions, but to use them to create the space that allows us to personally connect with God.

I haven’t really mastered the trick, but I’m practicing.

By Leslie Paparone

Ministry That Makes Cents

Want to save money while saving the earth?  Below is an illustration that one Blessed Earth friend used to prompt her church to “go green”:

  • Shut down the computers in the church office when not in use $219
  • Turn off the power strip when electronic devices are not in use $200
  • Trade disposable coffee cups for reusable mugs $400
  • Use cloth hand towels instead of paper towels in the bathroom $390
  • Change exit sign bulbs to LED bulbs $150
  • Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs $210
  • Set office printers to double-sided default $100
  • Turn off furnaces/gas boilers with standing pilots and dial back the temperature of water heaters after spring $125
  • Weather strip and caulk air leaks $400
  • Host a church-wide garage sale $2000
  • Turn the thermostat up three or more degrees in summer and down three degrees in winter $4500
  • Rent space to another congregation         $12,000
  • Total         $20,694

The savings will vary from church to church, and your church might only be willing to consider one or two changes to start.  The point is to get started.  Stewardship has many facets, and saving money may be the on-ramp in these touch economic times.

If your church can do ten percent better each year—saving energy and saving resources to better serve the Kingdom–you know you are on the right path!

Adapted from Go Green, Save Green:  A simple guide to saving time, money, and God’s green earth (Nancy Sleeth, Tyndale, 2009).

What the Church Can Offer the Environmental Movement

“Am I supposed to say anything?” I whispered to the woman who had invited us to the meeting. “That’s why you’re here!” she responded. Yes, it was a set up—in the best sense. Matthew and I had been asked to lead a retreat on stewardship of God’s creation. The church was in a period of transition and planning a major building project. The night before the retreat, we were asked to attend a presentation by the lead architect. Matthew and I immediately saw that little attention had been paid to solar orientation, green building materials, basic energy saving principles, or the long-term environmental impact of the new building. With my friend’s permission, we started to ask some questions about energy use, waste reduction, and maintenance. That’s when the surprise came: The architect was LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and only too delighted to make environmental impact a priority. Suddenly everything from green roofs (living plants on the roof) to water-saving toilets was on the drawing board. We talked about the financial and environmental stewardship reasons for selecting materials that will last a century or more, and how outside spaces could be designed to attract the community. The discussion flowed to how the building could be best used by providing space for a day care and offering area teens a safe place to hang out. Like most major building projects, this one would take several years to complete. In the meantime, the church decided to change all the light bulbs in the existing sanctuary, start a recycling program, offer a Sunday school series on creation care, and plan a year-long series of public talks offering practical ways to conserve God’s resources—a creative way to welcome new people into the church. Such miraculous turnarounds are happening in churches all over the United States. One woman who attends a megachurch had a life-changing experience when she visited a park with her family. She felt called by God to help her church become better stewards of creation. This would not be an easy task: her pastor recently had made fun of recyclers—from the pulpit. For the first year, she struggled alone, educating herself and diving deeply into creation care Scripture. The second year, she gathered a core group of four or five co-believers. By the third year, the lead pastor had a conversion experience: he not only agreed to sponsor the group, but invited Matthew to preach to their seven thousand members. The church held a creation care fair around the sermons; their “small group” immediately had two hundred and fifty members—including the lead pastor. Such stories both encourage and inspire us. Once churches hear the biblical call to honor God by caring for His creation, they are capable of big changes—fast. That is why Matthew and I believe the church must get involved—first by cleaning up its own act, and then by reaching out to the world. For encouragement, we remember the abolition and civil rights movements when the church provided the hands and feet necessary for seemingly impossible changes to become reality. The same will be true in the environmental movement: people of faith can change hearts. Yes, government and science will be part of the solution, but the church must take on a leadership role. We offer something that is sorely missing from the environmental movement: hope. With God, anything is possible. Adapted from Go Green, Save Green: A simple guide to saving time, money, and God’s green earth (Nancy Sleeth, Tyndale, 2009).

Reading Serve God, Save the Planet in the Wilderness

How cool is this?  I just heard that a group of Westmont College students representing states from Hawaii to Massachusetts are studying creation care, using Blessed Earth director’s book, Serve God, Save the Planet.

The group will be trekking through the North Yosemite backcountry August 12-24. Faculty will lead discussions on the readings during backpacking breaks and students will write a creation care paper later in the semester.

“It’ll be a unique and powerful experience to think about environmental stewardship in the beauty of the high Sierras,” says Tom Knecht, assistant professor of political science.

Inoculum was created in 1974 by Westmont alumnus Dave Willis, who is coordinator of Sierra Treks, a program that seeks to build Christian faith through wilderness experiences.

“Eleven days in the backcountry is not for everyone, but so much is gained in the process,” says assistant professor of biology, Eileen McMahon. “You struggle to understand the thought-provoking readings but then are rewarded by rich, deep conversation with faculty and fellow students around the campfire as millions of stars glitter above you.”

Often times, students say the most memorable part of the trip is the solitude and contemplation, away from cell phones and social networking.  A challenging read, shared with friends and mentors, after a long day’s hike in the glory of God’s creation:  now that’s a college experience that can change lives, and change the world!

Photo: Students hiking in the Tolyobe National Forest (courtesy of Westmont College)

Action through Art


Last May, Dr. Sleeth and his daughter Emma gave two chapel talks at Biola College, just outside of Los Angeles. Here’s a letter we just received from one of the students. Glad to know that our words, given by the Holy Spirit, affect young people’s lives, with such beautiful results:

Hi Dr. Sleeth,

I am a student at Biola University majoring in the fine arts. I heard you speak at one of our morning chapels in the spring, and I loved what you had to say as it relates to nature (particularly trees) and biblical history. It really inspired me and was the genesis of a major drawing I undertook as a final project in my spring classes.

Earlier in the spring, I read a passage from Irenaeus, “On the Apostolic Preaching,” where he explains how sin came into the world through a tree, and also how sin was undone by a tree (the cross). This train of thought led me to bring this idea to life in a single picture, looking beyond Christ’s “undoing” of sin and investigating how the tree integrates into our lives today.

What I found was Revelation 22:2, which states, “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” I showed this in my drawing by having a man sitting under the healing shade of the same tree that Adam sins by and that Christ hangs from.

It seems your talks, DVDs, and mindset in life are so united with this idea of man and trees through history. My kingdom desire is to have my work be used by the Lord for his glory. I’m not totally sure how to best do that as yet, but I know God will show me the best way in his timing.

Thanks for all you’re doing in the arena of faith and the environment!

Jason Leith,
Art major, Biola University

Image above: Drawing by Jason Leith, “Redemptive History.”

Why Be a Nature Lover?


I am currently reading Matthew Sleeth’s newest book, The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book is a Green Book. Overall, it seems to do a good job of showing the biblical basis for Creation Care. For that reason I commend it to you.

In a chapter called “God the Creator” Sleeth says “We need to become nature lovers—because God is one.” He goes on to ask, “Does God concern himself with an endangered species or desert grass being bulldozed into extinction?”  Sleeth answers “most definitely” and as proof asks us to consider God’s word to Job: “Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no one lives, on the desert, which is empty of human life, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass?” (38:25-27)

Sleeth feels this passage offers proof that “humanity is not the be-all and end-all of the entire universe. We are not the center of everything.”  Even though this is a message Rob and I have echoed numerous times in our blog I had not thought to include God’s words to Job as evidence. This truly is a passage worthy of our contemplation.

The words found in Job 38 have added relevance for me following the journey Rob and I took to the Mojave Desert last month. The area may no longer be “empty of human life” but it remains true that few people live in this desert region. That has not, however, stopped God from providing for the plants and animals that live there. There is much life in the desert and this life is sustained by the One who created it. Apparently this provision has nothing to do with man at all. God does what He does simply out of love for His Creation.

Matthew Sleeth is right. There is good reason for us to be nature lovers—“God is one.”

By Chuck Summers

This article originally appeared on “Seeing Creation,” a blog written by Chuck Summers. Read his other entries here.

Your Story: Reflection on ‘Hope for Creation’


Our family participated in Blessed Earth’s Hope for Creation simulcast in April. We were thrilled to have access to such an exciting opportunity — all the way in Central America. And who would have thought that Blessed Earth could place a “dot” on the map for Costa Rica!?

We enjoyed the worship music with Northland Church. Then, after viewing the beautiful film and listening to Dr. Sleeth speak, we took time to pray together as a family and asked the children to name one thing they could do more to serve God by going “green.” The kids sat on the floor and thought for a few minutes. Our youngest son said he wanted to help animals in a direct way. He wants to begin to feed the birds on a regular basis and says he wants to also begin a charity program for ocean animals! Now, that’s a challenge. Our oldest daughter, who is 12 years old, wants to eliminate disposable water bottles from our home. I am proud of my children!

I agreed to get recycling bins to continue to recycle. It’s much better to organize them than having a pile of bags in our garage! I also want to figure out a good place to start composting. I hope to start a veggie garden but don’t currently have the space. My husband, Steve, promised that he would help our daughter find the right glasses for us to have to drink water instead of using bottled water.

We saw the fruits of the simulcast continue the next day with our daughter. That morning at school she had to write a persuasive essay, so she chose to write about serving the Earth. For us, this means the seed is planted in her heart and it’s up to us to continue to encourage her and work together as a family.

Even though we started our creation care journey a few years ago, we feel that the Lord is teaching and encouraging us more as time goes on. It’s a discipling process and a lifestyle we have chosen. With the help of the Lord we can continue taking small steps forward everyday.

Thank you, Dr. and Mrs. Sleeth, for your leadership and encouragement. May the Lord continue to bless, guide, and use you.

By Karoline Gober

Karoline P. Gober, and her husband Steve, reside with their three children in Heredia, Costa Rica.