God, Save the Planet:
A Christian Call to Action
by J. Matthew Sleeth, M.D.
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006
by Cindy Crosby
recycle. I also garden a little and keep a compost pile. When I
remember, I take my thermal mug to the local coffee shop instead
of using their Styrofoam ones. I even console myself that my two-year-old
Honda CR-V is a “low emissions vehicle.” But after reading
J. Matthew Sleeth’s call for personal accountability in
Serve God, Save the Planet, I realize I’m still falling
short of what I could—and should—be doing.
Granted, not all of us are going to be as radical as Sleeth, a former
emergency room director and chief of medical staff who decided to
become “downwardly mobile.” He chucked his job in favor
of becoming a writer, teacher, and preacher dedicated to faith and
the environment. His family now lives in a house the size of his
former garage, and he owns no clothes dryer, garbage disposal, dishwasher,
or lawn mower. Does he feel deprived? No. “What I have gained
in exchange is a life richer in meaning than I could have imagined,
” he writes.
Sleeth doesn’t call for readers to make the same radical changes,
he does say that “each of us can periodically examine our
lives to determine whether we need a course correction.” How
can you go from feeling overwhelmed by environmental problems to
happily working to solve them? The key, he says, is to shift from
worrying about the problems to becoming an active part of the solution.
Idealistic? Perhaps. But the questions he poses are important. How
can I live a more godly, equitable, and meaningful life? How can
I help people today and in the future? How can I be less materialistic?
How can I live a more charitable life? What would happen if I led
a slower-paced existence? How can I become a better steward of nature?
answers these questions in the book, incorporating ideas about parenting,
marriage commitment, and population control, and often brings scripture
to bear on a specific problem. I especially like his combination
of rhetoric and practical application. When he encourages you to
make better food choices, for example, he offers several easy ways
to begin. Garden. Buy locally-raised produce. Cut down on meat.
Try shade-grown coffee.
often-humorous anecdotes are colorful and personalize the text.
(I loved the hilarious yet deeply poignant story of the commode).
Once in a while he comes off sounding a bit holier than thou, but
it’s easily forgiven when you consider what he’s given
also offers a helpful “to-do” list for Christians. Simple
things like washing clothes on cool, and doing dishes by hand. Pick
up trash when we see it. Turn off the faucet when we’re brushing
our teeth or shaving. He effectively uses
a simple question and answer format in his chapter “A Christian’s
Case for Earth Care” to address common arguments and misconceptions
about creation care. An index might have been a
helpful addition for readers looking for specific advice on different
two subjects, however, Sleeth makes broad generalizations that should
be more closely examined. One is Sleeth’s stance on health
care. “…I choose not to see a doctor unless something
hurts or stops working. I have high blood pressure, but I choose
not to treat it.” To not recommend proactive healthcare seems
short-sighted and could end up costing us (and our world) much more
than if we see a doctor regularly. As the daughter of a breast cancer
survivor and the daughter-in-law of a colon cancer survivor, I’ve
seen the importance of pro-active healthcare.
His views on depression and the use of anti-depressants also gave
me pause. After noting that it is common for patients to be on antidepressants
for years, he writes “Has the nature of depression changed
over the past few decades, or are more Americans depressed because
we are ignoring a message that God wants us to hear? When God instructs
his people, does he send pain to get them back on track?”
Is Sleeth implying that if we are depressed, we have done something
to displease God? I found myself alarmed. While it is important
to realize that medication is not a solve-all solution, Sleeth seems
to gloss over those who need medication to help them get to a healthy
enough place in which they can deal with any underlying issues.
Perhaps this could have been contextualized better.
is otherwise a fine advocate for Christians to make a heart change,
and from that, a life change. Do
we need all the stuff we work so hard to attain? Does “more”
really make us happy? And how do we save the earth? It sounds cliché,
but if Sleeth is correct, it is one step at a time. Whether we begin
by doing something as big as selling our home or as small as hanging
out the laundry instead of using the dryer, the important thing
is that we begin. If we truly want to care for creation, can we
do no less?
©2006 Cindy Crosby
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