As we wrap up our April focus on creation care, I’m privileged to introduce you to Nancy Sleeth. Nancy is the co-founder of Blessed Earth and the author of Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life and Go Green, Save Green. Nancy and I spoke about environmental stewardship and the discipline of simplicity.
I believe that we get our marching orders from the Bible – and the Bible is clear that we need to be good stewards of the earth. First, in Genesis 2:15 God gave his first job to humanity: to tend and protect the planet. There’s no expiration date on those marching orders. It’s still one of our prime directives: to be good caretakers of the earth.
Second, Scripture is clear that we need to love God. That’s what Jesus told us to do: to love God and love our neighbors. One way that we show our love for God is by loving what he loves. And very clearly in Genesis 1 he says not one time, two times, three times, four times, five times, but six times that it was good! So we know that God loves his creation. One important way we can show our respect for God and show love for God is by loving what he loves.
So often the idea of caring for the environment is linked with politics—and I think for some Christians, this political association brings up a lot of heated feelings and mistrust. How can Christians of different political stripes find common ground when it comes to creation care?
The really good news is that we have a book that’s eternal. It is neither left nor right—it’s just simply God’s Word. And that’s where we’re supposed to turn when we need to make decisions about how to live out our lives as followers of Jesus. Instead of worrying about whether something is left or right, we should be worrying about whether it is a biblically-based action. In everything we do, we want to be following what Jesus has called us to do.
Christians can find common ground by focusing on what the Bible has to say about living a life that is close to the life that Jesus led. Jesus is calling us not to be hoarding material things but to live a simple life in which our primary desire is to follow God. It’s not focused on accumulating things but focusing on relationships with people.
At Blessed Earth we stay out of politics completely, and what we do is focus on what the Bible says and what it calls us to do. To me this is much more about being a follower of Christ than it is about any political issue.
Matthew and I went along a secular humanist path . . . We didn’t have a moral compass. One night I asked Matthew two questions that would change our life forever. The first question was, “What’s the biggest problem facing the world today?” He said that the world was dying. And my second question was harder: “OK, we just put our young kids to bed—we care about the future. So what are we going to do about it?” And he didn’t have an immediate answer for me, but he did begin a path of searching for answers.
So you began reading sacred texts together and eventually you read the Bible.
Matthew read the Gospels and he encountered Jesus. And that gave us the answer to this problem that’s overwhelming: the world is dying.
The hope that we got from that message of Christ was particularly in Matthew 7 where Jesus says, “Hypocrite! Don’t worry about the speck in your neighbors eye, get the log out of your own first.” That gave us the confidence and the promise and the hope of changing our own lives first. Not worrying so much about cleaning up the whole world, but first cleaning up our own act. And that’s exactly what we did.
We cut back our energy use by more than two-thirds. We cut back our trash production by nine-tenths. We moved to a house the size of our old garage. And we found that the more that we gave up in material things, the more joy, peace, and contentment we gained as a family. It was a positive feedback loop for us: The more that we cared about God’s creation, the more time we spent outdoors enjoying his creation, the more time we spent gardening, the more time we spent hiking and walking and being, appreciating the glory of God’s creation—the promise of contentment, the promise of joy came. For us, our environmental journey really became intertwined with our faith journey. The desire to follow Jesus became the same path as desiring to be a good steward of God’s creation.
In your book you describe how someone responded to your descriptions of simple, sustainable living by saying, in an insulting way, “What are you, Amish or something?” (Hence the idea for the title!) Why do you think we so often have a knee-jerk, negative reaction to the idea of paring down our lifestyle?
A lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of money is spent to make us discontent with the things that we have. Tremendous resources are spent in advertising to make us feel that we are too fat or are homes aren’t pretty enough or our clothes aren’t in fashion—all so we’ll go out and buy more stuff. But the Bible tells us that our reinforcements have to come from a very different direction. We are supposed to be concerned that at the end of our lives Jesus says, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
People always ask me, “What’s the first thing that I should do? How do I get started in living a slower, simpler life?” The very first thing they should do is start by keeping a weekly day of holy rest—and that will change the other six days of the week. Until we are still and know God, we will never be on the right track.