In the final chapter of his book, The Gospel According to the Earth, Matthew Sleeth discusses an unpopular subject, sacrifice. In this chapter he makes a couple of allusions to boats. At one point Dr. Sleeth says “Think of the earth as a ship. It is the only earth we have. If we destroy it, we have nowhere else to go. If the ship is sinking, as ours most assuredly is, we must make difficult choices to save it. Choices that involve sacrifice.”
There can be no denying that our planet is in trouble. There are toxins in the air and in the water almost everywhere you look. Our invaluable rain forests are shrinking at an alarming rate, as are many of the wonderful species God intentionally created. There are lots of problems with few easy answers. Some would argue that there are easy answers but what they ignore is that all of these answers require sacrifice. Because they do, they are not easy. As a general rule people today do not like to make sacrifices.
Earlier in the chapter noted above Sleeth says “Everyone believes that ark building is a great idea once it has begun to rain. The trick is beginning an ark six months before the flood. We can begin building our metaphorical ark by accepting God’s truth and living sacrificially.” From some of the things I have read and seen I’m not convinced “everyone” thinks it’s a great idea to build an ark just because it happens to be raining. Countless people these days live in a state of denial. They refuse to believe that our planet, and we along with it, is suffering due to our poor stewardship of God’s Creation. They see no need to do anything even though it has already begun to flood.
How could anyone be so blind? I’m not sure the issue is blindness as much as it is an unwillingness to sacrifice. And behind this unwillingness to sacrifice stands pride or selfishness. A couple of nights ago I came across this sentence in Thomas Merton’s book, No Man Is An Island: “To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell.” Too many people today are living on the doorstep of hell. They are living only for themselves. As long as people continue to live this way they will not make the sacrifices necessary to help the earth or to help others.
In his call to discipleship Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew16:24) Sacrifice, denying oneself, lies at the heart of following Jesus. There are many ways we can and should live sacrificial lifestyles. One way involves how we live on and care for the earth. We do not follow in the steps of Christ if we fail to take into consideration how our actions affect the earth and those around us. We do not follow in his steps if we fail to make the sacrifices necessary that will benefit not just us but all those around us and the generations that will follow as well.
May God grant each of us wisdom to know what sacrifices we should be making and the courage to make them.
(The top image was taken at Devil’s Canyon Overlook in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in Montana. The bottom image was taken at Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming.)
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. Earlier this week I read a chapter in James Bryan Smith’s book The Good and Beautiful Life called “Learning to Live Without Avarice.” In this chapter Smith warns of the dangers of avarice and greed to the spiritual life. He issues a call for simplicity and as a suggestion for “soul training” encourages his readers to practice “deaccumulation.”
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?
(I took the whitetail buck image in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the raccoon at Cumberland Falls State Park.)
“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High.” Psalms 92:1
It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to you that many of my favorite hymns are songs that praise God as Creator. Some of my personal favorites are “This is My Father’s World,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” “For the Beauty of the Earth,” “Worthy of Worship,” and “Morning Has Broken.” Some of my favorite contemporary Christian songs are likewise focused on God as Creator. These include “Indescribable” and “All Things Well,” both by Chris Tomlin, and “Creation Song” by Fernando Ortega.
This past week I was reminded of the importance of singing songs connecting God and Creation. Matthew Sleeth, in his newest book, The Gospel According to the Earth, has a chapter on the Book of Psalms he calls “The First Environmental Music.” In this chapter he claims that singing songs connecting God and Creation can actually make a difference in how we look at and treat the earth. He says, “Singing songs in praise of creation inspires us to appreciate God’s gifts. Appreciation leads to a desire to be better stewards. Better stewardship at home, church, work, and beyond leads to less waste. Less waste demonstrates respect for God, resulting in a cleaner, more beautiful world in which to sing his praises.” I like Sleeth’s thinking, as well as his conclusion to the chapter: “With God as the conductor, maybe music can also save a planet.”
A couple of days ago I got my latest edition of Orion in the mail. This is an environmental magazine that Rob Sheppard introduced me to last year. In it there is an article by Erik Reese about how a group of country musicians are using their talents to combat mountaintop removal in Appalachia. Toward the end of the article Reese writes: “Can music save mountains? Certainly not by itself. But there is a reason Walter Pater said that all art aspires toward the condition of music. More than any other art form, music can connect the head to the heart, the self to the social whole. After all, the fiddle tunes that began in the mountains of Appalachia were never meant for an ‘audience.’ That music was intended to draw people together, to involve them in something communal and collective. Now a new collective conscience must be mobilized in order to preserve the mountains where this music was born.”
It would seem that there truly is a connection between music and Creation Care—a connection worth noting and celebrating. God told Job that when He created the world “the morning stars sang together.” (38:7) It seems to me that it’s now our job to continue the song.
(The images above were taken at a lavender field near Port Angeles, Washington.)
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.”
(The images above were taken last month in the Mojave Desert of California. Both scenes show evidence of God’s love.)