Oct 28 2012

Keeping a Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…” Exodus 20:8

Although I am far from perfect, I generally do try to live my life in a way that honors God and that is true to the teachings of Scripture.  There is one area, however, in which I fail miserably over and over again.  And much to my shame, it is a big area.  It is, in fact, one of the Ten Commandments.  Even though I know better, I rarely honor the Sabbath as it is meant to be honored.  I have increasingly become convicted about this.  In an effort to help me move in the right direction I read two books this past week on the Sabbath, one by a Christian writer, the other by a Jewish scholar.  Both books proved to be very helpful.

The Christian book was Dr. Matthew Sleeth’s newest work, 24/6.  I have great admiration for Dr. Sleeth and for the work he and his wife, Nancy, do through their organization Blessed Earth.  I already knew that the Sleeths were serious about observing the Sabbath and this book tells the story of why they are and how they go about it.  Matthew does not believe that the “Sabbath” one observes has to be a particular day of the week, Saturday or Sunday.  What he does believe is that it is imperative that a person practice a “Stop Day” or Sabbath one day each week.  He emphasizes how observing a Sabbath is vital to one’s health—physically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially.  He notes, “Jumping off the hamster wheel once a week allows us to think about who we are, why we exist, and why we were made.”   Relying on his medical background, Dr. Sleeth clearly shows that we all need the rest that observing a Sabbath offers.  You might be surprised to discover all that he feels we need rest from.  I encourage you to take time to read 24/6.  You’ll find it to be informative, inspirational and fun.

The Jewish book I read was The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel.  For Heschel the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, Saturday.  This has long been the Jewish practice or understanding.  Heschel does a great job showing why the Sabbath is so important in Jewish life.  At one point he summarizes things by saying, “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space.  Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.  It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”   I learned a lot from Heschel’s small, but deep, book on the Sabbath.

About midway through his book Heschel says “The Sabbath is holy by the grace of God, and is still in need of all the holiness which man may lend to it.”  Both 24/6 and The Sabbath heightened my awareness of the need to do better in my own life.   Both books helped me better understand what a gift and blessing the Sabbath is and that we owe it to ourselves, to our world and most importantly to God to “keep” it.  Thus far I haven’t even come close to doing so.  I have sinned.  I rarely take a full day off and do not seem to know how to relax.  I have yet to master the spiritual discipline of stopping.  I know I need to do better and I want to do better.  Now if I can only muster the courage and discipline to actually do better.


(I took the three pictures above on my recent trip to the Great Plains.  The top two were taken at Custer State Park and the bottom one at Badlands National Park.)

May 15 2011

“Living On the Doorstep of Hell”

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.)

Feb 9 2011


RRG Auxier Ridge 221Last night I had a chance to go to Lexington to see the University of Kentucky play Tennessee in basketball.  As a diehard U.K. fan this was a real treat for me.  The drive to Lexington and back is a pretty one.  At one point the road skirts one of my favorite places to photograph in Kentucky—the Red River Gorge National Geological Area.  As I drove through this area yesterday, and then again this morning,I couldn’t help but recall my last photo trip there and what happened shortly thereafter.

RRG Auxier Ridge 212Having been inspired by the beautiful images of Auxier Ridge taken by my friend John Snell, I decided in October to visit this incredible area of the Red River Gorge located in the Daniel Boone National Forest.  A friend and I left Pikeville early so that we could hike the two miles to the ridge for sunrise.  It was an incredible morning!  Fog lay in the valleys and as the sun began to rise there was glorious light cast on the colorful autumn foliage and sandstone ridges.  I was able to take numerous images I really like that day.  As the morning wore on we soon noticed that there was smoke rising from a number of campsites in the valley.  This caught our attention because due to a recent drought there was a fire ban in the Gorge at the time.

A couple of days later I learned that a fire broke out in the Gorge as a result of one of these illegal fires.  An estimated 1,650 acres of some of Kentucky’s most beautiful scenery was torched.   The trail to Auxier Ridge remains closed to this day  and will be dangerous for a long time to come.  Eventually the forest will recover but not in my lifetime.  This makes me sad. I’m sad for myself but also for all the other people who will not have the chance to view what I did this past October.

The Auxier Ridge fire reminds us that our actions do have consequences.  This fire should never have happened.  It’s not surprising it did, however, for it has been estimated that over 200 illegal fires were lit during the ban in the Gorge.   How could that many people be that selfish or irresponsible?

RRG Double Arch 242I ask this question and yet millions of people are treating the earth today in the same exact selfish and irresponsible way.  We have developed a mindset that anything that benefits “me” is permissible.  We feel we can pretty much do with the earth anything we want.  This past Sunday we read in my church Psalm 24:1 which says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  We really do need to remember that the earth is the Lord’s, not ours.  At a Creation Care workshop this past Saturday in Frankfort, KY, I heard Matthew Sleeth speak on our responsibility to the earth.  He asked if God were to give us a brand new car to borrow would we bring it back to him later on all beat up and battered?  Or would we try to take care of it?  I think the answer is obvious and, yet, we are constantly beating up the earth as though it were not a wonderful gift from God on loan to us.  I’m angry at those who caused the fire in the Red River Gorge this past fall.  There’s no excuse for their selfishness and irresponsibility.  But what my drive to Lexington and back has also reminded me of is that there is no excuse for my own selfishness and irresponsibility when it comes to seeing Creation as God’s gift to us and my call to be a faithful steward of it.  We simply cannot continue to live and act as though there are no consequences to our actions!


(I took these images of Auxier Ridge this past October; the day the fire started.)

Feb 2 2011

A Call to Simplicity

whitetail buckOne 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.”

Cumberland-Falls-raccoon-635Towards 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.)

Aug 22 2010

Music & Creation Care

LAV 842“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.”

LAV 904A 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.)

Jun 9 2010

Why Be a Nature Lover?

MNP lava field 462I 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)

JTNP octillo patch 686Sleeth 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.)