Picking up Trash on the Road to Creation Care

We live in the country, and we got into the business of picking up trash by keeping our own road cleaned up—something we’ve done for many years. Now we’re in our mid seventies and retired, and to keep ourselves active we walk on nearby country roads, and we figure that if we’re going to walk, we may as well take a trash bag or two and a “grabber” (which lets us reach into semi-inaccessible places) and pick up trash along the road.

After we’ve picked up a road, we load up our bags (and sometimes an old battery or motor that we find), take them home, and sort the stuff—recycling most of the plastic, all the glass and aluminum, and disposing of the rest in the orange bags our Monroe County Solid Waste District provides. If we find some trash with an address on it, we’re just ornery enough to mail it back to the offender, with a reminder to dispose of it properly next. On Mondays after one of these collecting binges, we often have a “dump date”, loading the trash and recycle into the car and heading for the collection center.

Frankly, we’re offended by trash along the road. It’s a symptom of the greater trashing of our planet that goes on in so many ways. We encourage our politicians to do the right things for the environment; we try to minimize our carbon footprint. We drive a VW TDI diesel which gets 50 mpg. We have a geothermal heating/cooling system in our house, and try to get by using it as little as possible (in the winter we burn a lot of firewood). We hang out our clothes to dry, and grow tomatoes and corn in our garden in sufficient quantities to preserve a bit each year.

And we keep Sabbath—we’re old-fashioned sabbatarians, observing Sabbath on Saturday, in the Jewish manner (as good Seventh-day Adventists should). We do use our computer on Sabbath—it was on the National Cathedral website that we got acquainted with Matthew Sleeth. But we don’t buy things or do business or work—unless you call it work to pick up an occasional can in the nearby state forest.

Somebody asked us once “what’s the point of caring for this earth if God is going to make all things new?” Our answer was, “why would God give a new earth to people who trashed the original one?”

A big thank you to Blessed Earth for encouraging us in this humble work. There’s a huge contradiction between what Jesus taught and the practices of a lot of people who call themselves Christians. You are making a connection that a lot of people desperately need to make.

Don & Jean Rhoads

Bloomington, IN

Sabbath Bread

In her book, Mudhouse Sabbath*, Lauren Winner writes about how the Sabbath shapes the entire week. In Exodus, God tells us to remember the Sabbath. And in Deuteronomy, we are told to observe the Sabbath. Winner says that, for Jews, the first half of the week is spent remembering the preceding Sabbath while the second half is spent preparing for or observing the Sabbath to come.

We have three kids all under eight years old. Like everyone says, the time flies! We cannot believe how quickly it goes, yet meeting their daily physical needs can still be draining. And those physical needs do not seem to take a break for remembrance or observance of a special day of the week.

I have been a part of a Bible study for the past five years where we intensely study a different book of the Bible each year. One of the recurring personal lessons for me has been about the Sabbath. I have noticed it repeated throughout the Old and New Testament as a command, not just a good idea. So we have been trying to incorporate observance of the Sabbath into our home, even with young children whose needs do not stop on Sundays.

For a year or so, Nancy Sleeth and I were able to meet to talk and walk through the roads and park of our small town. Now, Nancy lives a bit further away so our walks are sporadic and I miss her. But whenever I get a chance to be with her, we usually quickly gravitate to the topics of children, the Sabbath, food or a combination of all three—which I consider to all be areas of her expertise. I love any chance to dialog with her on some specifics of keeping the Sabbath with our family.

Nancy has encouraged us to make the Sabbath “look different” from the rest of the week. Using that idea we have adopted a bit of a Sunday routine that begins with Sabbath Bread. I partially got the idea from Nancy’s Jewish heritage of challah bread made the day before the Sabbath. Our version of Sabbath Bread is a simple whole wheat bread recipe that I turn into a loaf of cinnamon-raisin swirl bread. I typically make it during the second part of the week as a way to prepare for or observe the Sabbath.

On Saturday night we leave the bread on the counter in a bag. We also set out some butter. A few times I have made a special cream cheese icing to spread on the bread. Yum! Now that our oldest is such a great reader, we can leave notes for her to read to her brothers. We remind them about the Sabbath Bread for breakfast, ask them to help each other and to put their dirty plates in the sink. (Since it is Sunday, they do not have to put their dishes in the dishwasher—another attempt for Sundays to “look different.”) Sometimes this intentional difference has even allowed us to sleep in past 7am—a small miracle!

Many weeks, we even have a few slices of Sabbath Bread left for Monday’s breakfast serving as a tangible reminder of the day before—remembering our Sabbath. While we are still practicing new ways to make the Sabbath “look different” from the rest of our week, Sabbath Bread has been a good starting point for our family.

Here is a link to the recipe that I use most often. I adapt the recipe to make two loaves at a time with one being for sandwiches. The other becomes the cinnamon-raisin loaf that is our Sabbath Bread. I generally use all whole wheat bread flour from a local mill for all the flours used in the recipe.

By Bethany Barker

*(Winner, Lauren F. Mudhouse Sabbath Paraclete Press. 2003. pp. 1–13)

Sabbath in a 24/7 World


this week, Dr. Sleeth shared some reflections on the fourth commandment — remembering the Sabbath — with medical students at the University of Kentucky. It was clear that the message he shared was both a gift and a challenge to this hard working group of young people. The gift: to be reminded we are created by a loving God who longs for us to discover our place in His world and to be healed. The challenge: to wrestle with our own inclinations to fill our lives with busyness and to give in to a cultural tide of “more, faster, louder.” The way forward is not legalism or another set of rules to follow. The good life marked by Sabbath rest is distinguished by trust, obedience, and humility. By spending time in God’s creation, taking naps, studying the Word, and fellowshipping with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we renew our hearts, minds, and spirits for the week ahead. Blessed Earth continues to discover that the message of biblical stewardship — of time, the earth, and our own bodies — is good news, no matter how busy we are or what kinds of lives we lead. If you would like to hear Dr Sleeth speak on observing the Sabbath, follow this link to watch a short video. Dr Sleeth also has a new book, 24/6, due for release in the Fall of 2012. Dr. Sleeth (left) spoke Dec 6 with the The Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA) at the University of Kentucky.

Geoff Maddock makes his home with his wife, Sherry and 8-year-old son, Isaac in downtown Lexington, KY. He is a missionary in his neighborhood and serves on the board of Seedleaf (www.seedleaf.org ) while also working part-time for Blessed Earth.

What Does God Require? Part 1: The Land

Last month we talked about blueprints. We learned that in God’s original blueprint for creation God stood enthroned above all of the animate and inanimate order and humanity stood just below him as his steward of the same. In that entry I spoke of the impact of the fall of humanity upon the cosmos over which Adam and Eve had been given dominion, and God’s declaration that his ultimate plan is to bring all of creation back to the original blueprint. In this context, I spoke of our current environmental crisis as yet another result of humanity’s rebellion against our God, yet another result of human sin. And I challenged us as the Redeemed Community to begin to think about what our lives would look like if we began to see ourselves as living testimonies of how the world ought to be, rather than what it is. In this entry I would like to explore what such living might look like in real space and time. And for this exercise, we are going to head back to Israel—the nation who stood as the first model of a redeemed and landed citizenry in a fallen world. It may come as a surprise to learn that the law codes of ancient Israel are replete with standards regarding land and creature care. As regards our topic of land care, the OT is very clear that the foundation of God’s expectations is the tenet that the Promised Land is a gift to Israel. It is the land which Yahweh “swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to them and to their descendants after them” (Deut 1:8); it is a land grant offered to Israel by their sovereign lord. Thus, although the offspring of Abraham are invited to live on the land with joy and productivity, the Bible is crystal clear that the land will never truly be theirs. Rather, Yahweh retains the right to reclaim his land; to uproot his people “from their land in anger and fury and in great wrath, and to cast them into another land as it is this day” (Deut 29:28). In sum, Israel’s tenure in the land of Canaan is dependent on their compliance to the covenant. As it was God who owned the land, it was also God who owned its produce. This reality is most evident in the laws of the tithe, the first fruits, and the firstborn. In Israel’s world, as in ours, a citizenry was expected to pay a percentage of their produce to the central government, and a vassal kingdom was expected to pay an annual percentage of the gross national product to its overlord. And as God himself was the king of Israel, he makes similar demands on Israel’s pastoral and agricultural community:

You shall surely tithe all the produce of your seed, that which comes forth from the field year by year (Deut 14:22-23) … You shall set aside each of the firstborn males that are born of your herd and your flock for Yahweh your God (Deut 15:19-20) … anyone who sacrifices an ox or a sheep, they must give the priest the shoulder, the two cheeks, and the stomach. You shall also give him the first fruits of your grain, your new wine, and your oil, and the first fleece when you shear your sheep (Deut 18:3-5; cf. Deut 12:10-12; 26:1-15).

In these familiar laws of tithe, first fruits, and firstlings, what we are actually encountering is Israel’s divinely-ordained taxation system, which clearly communicates that it is Yahweh who truly owns the Promised Land. In concert with Israel’s understanding that it was Yahweh who actually owned the land, a number of laws address the longevity of the land’s fertility. The core of these laws is the sabbath rest—a command for humanity to regularly cease production so that the land might be allowed an opportunity to replenish itself. Thus, in Exod 23:10-12 we read:

You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the wild animal may eat.

Lev 25:4-5 rearticulates and particularizes this law.

But during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath belonging to Yahweh; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. Your harvest’s after growth you shall not reap and the grapes of your untrimmed vines you shall not gather, the land shall have a sabbatical year.

In early Israel, fallowing was the primary means by which the land’s fecundity was protected for the next generation. We also find evidence that crops and fields were regularly rotated such that livestock (complete with their nitrogen and phosphorous-rich manure) were grazed upon fallowed fields, and the continuous cultivation of a single crop in the same field was avoided. Thereby, the systemic depletion of soil nutrients and proliferation of pests and diseases specific to particular crops were avoided as well (See Richter, “Environmental Law in Deuteronomy, BBR 20.3 [2010] for further discussion). Then as now, such farming practices limited short-term yield. But they insured the longterm fecundity of the land which thereby provided for the marginalized who lived upon it. These laws of land-protection were taken so seriously in the ancient world that Job names abuse of the land as a valid reason for God to curse him (Job 31:38-40); and God states that one reason for the exile was the nation’s failure to fallow (Lev 26:34-35, 43). Thus in Israel, in contrast to the consumer culture in which we live, God’s people were commanded to operate with the long range fertility of the land as their ultimate goal. They were instructed to leave enough so that the land might be able to replenish itself for future harvests and future generations—even though such methods would cut into short-term profits. Why? “Because I am Yahweh says your God … and the land is mine” (Lev 25:17, 23). When I ponder these laws my mind immediately moves to the nearly 2 million acres a year of American land that is being paved in the noble quest of urban sprawl, the five-acre-a-minute loss of Canada’s boreal forests for catalog paper production, the lunar landscapes in Eastern Kentucky resulting from “mountain top removal” coal mining, and the 1.5 acres of rainforest devoured per second for short-range economic gains. And I wonder … if this land, this planet, is actually God’s, and we are only its stewards, why is it that we feel free to consume it in such a reckless fashion? Next entry: the land and the poor. Sandy Richter

Sandra Richter is Professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary and Affiliate Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University’s Near Eastern Language and Civilizations department. She is a popular speaker and has published on an array of topics. Her most recent book is The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2008).