10 Questions with...J. Matthew Sleeth
Recently, I read Serve God, Save the Planet & reviewed it on this site. I found myself very much challenged and convicted by what I read. I contacted the author, Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth and he was kind enough to talk to me and allow me to interview him.
NSR 1. What got your attention as a hospital chief of staff and ER doctor that called you to action in saving the planet?
JMS - I noticed changes in disease. Even with all the medicine people were taking, there were changes and large numbers of people becoming sick from the environment. For example, in Knoxville, 8 of of 10 kids have some form of asthma. You can see a change in the air quality in places. This effects health and wellbeing. I went through the entire Scripture and underlined places where it of creation care. I was stunned at the amount of verses there were. I also noticed a disconnect with the study Bible notes on what they pointed out in the passages and what the text was actually saying.
NSR 2. You speak about living simply. That is not a common thought, even for Christians. Other than your book, what other resources or websites can people look to for examples of downward mobility?
JMS - Ellie Kay has a book out entitled 1/2 Price Living. There are a number of other ones, but I cannot call them to memory at the time. [I would add - Living with Less, The High Price of Materialism, and The Paradox of Choice]. www.servegodsavetheplanet.org also spreads the word, offers resources and gives links to other resources. I have also written for Creation Care Magazine.
NSR 3. If you could get one thing across to the reader in your book, Serve God, Save the Planet, what would it be?
JMS - Live a more conscious life with God. The one thing I would push is to keep a sabbath, take time out with God and focus on God. Remarkably few Christians observe any type of sabbath. It is more than going to church. Stay out of consumer culture for a day and focus on your Creator.
NSR 4. What authors have influenced your spiritual life and/or your environmental mindset?
JMS - C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, and Francis Schaeffer. Those are required reading. Read them before you read my book.
NSR 5. You speak about preventing harm is just as important as repairing harm (if not more so). What is the single greatest thing that people could do to prevent harm to the earth?
JMS - It is hard to know how we can conserve more and live on less until we know what our footprint is. I would recommend everyone to take an accounting of the energy they consume, be it gasoline, electricity or the like. Until we know that number, we will not know how to do less.
NSR 6. How can Serve God, Save the Planet be used within the Church?
JMS - There is a study guide in the back of the book. A number of churches have small groups go through the book together. I have spoke in over one hundred churches and they use that as sort of a launching board to further study. Soon their will be a DVD in which I will introduce each chapter.
NSR 7. I was stunned by some of the conditions you described for the food we eat (the chicken farm especially). What are some of the best ways for people to find out about farm conditions?
JMS - Buy locally at farmer's markets, eat what's in season. The more you shake the hand of the person who grows the food, the better. If you are buying a head of lettuce in January in upstate New York, there are so many additional "costs" to the environment. I would suggest everyone do a little gardening as well. It helps you get involved with the earth and you always grow more than you need, so you can give some away to neighbors and even use it as on outreach. I would also recommend the book, the Omnivore's Dilemma.
NSR 8. As a Christian and a doctor, do you recommend vegetarianism?
JMS - I would recommend 1. Eat local. 2. Eat in season. 3. Eat less meat. As Christians we are free to eat anything. When I eat with someone else, I eat whatever they eat. It is more important to share the meal than to hold to any rigorous standards, I would say.
NSR 9. One of your thoughts in the book is in regards to safety. You say that the worldly hunger for permanence and safety “at any cost” is an illusion. How do Christians find the balance for seeking safety for their family & the “let go and let God” approach?
JMS - Trust Christ. Jesus says that we are to let go of our life and that is when we receive life. We need to take Christ at his word. Now that doesn't mean to go bungee jumping without a cord, but to keep our eyes focused on Christ. We must remember that this life is a journey, not a destination.
NSR 10. I found myself quite convicted in chapter 4 when you write about knowing more models of cars & man-made items than of types of birds and leaves. Is there a specific aspect of nature (astronomy, bird-watching, etc.) which draws you closer to God than another & do you have any recommendations for others on these activities?
JMS - I would recommend something very simple to start - get a bird feeder. This will help you connect with God's creatures. Pick one species (hummingbird, for example) and learn more. You do not have to memorize the Audubon Field Society Bird Guides, just learn about one at a time.
Creation care is nothing new. It is as old as Genesis. This is something that has been dropped from seminary study, unfortunately. It also isn't pantheism. It is connecting to God through nature, harkening back to the hymns like All Creatures of Our God and King, and This is My Father's World.
Dr. Sleeth's daughter has also written a book on this same subject, just from a young person's (16 years old) perspective, and the perspective of one who has grown up with it as a way of life. It is due out March 2008 from Zondervan.