Posted by

Former ER Doc Attending to Planet’s Health: Matthew Sleeth and Blessed Earth

In this post, learn why I organized a visit to Monterey County by Matthew Sleeth, MD, founder of BlessedEarth.org, in 2007.

First, one update: Dr. Sleeth delivered the message, “Are Christians blessing or cursing the Earth:  A call to action” at the Washington National Cathedral on Earth Day 2012.  Click here to visit the WNC webpage, where you can listen to the 4/22/12 service, forum, and service highlights. (Dr. Sleeth’s message begins at 30:20.)  Included is iconic author and farmer Wendell Berry, who was interviewed by Matthew Sleeth on the need to preserve our planet; click here for forum video with Berry and Sleeth.

Below, Matthew Sleeth, MD, author of Serve God, Save the Planet was visiting Monterey to speak at the First Presbyterian Church when he took time out to hike up Jacks Peak Road with Rev. Dr. Jay Bartow, April 2007.

 

 Former ER Doc Now Attending to Health of the Planet

The post below was first published April 10, 2010.

The late Dot Prowell handed me a magazine one morning…

…in the friendly manner of an elder who has learned to boldly follow inner promptings.  I’m not even sure that Dot knew about the article in that little Guideposts magazine that would catch my attention.  It was about a former emergency room physician and hospital chief of staff who made a radical career shift—and lifestyle change—after recognizing that many of his patients were ill and dying because of environmental toxins.  He wanted to help reverse the trend by encouraging better care of the Earth.

As a result of that article, I contacted Interfaith Power and Light, a Religious Response to Global Warming.  They were organizing a west coast tour for this individual, Matthew Sleeth, MD.   Sustainability book publisher Chelsea Green had just released Dr. Sleeth’s first book,  Serve God, Save the Planet.   I made arrangements to have Dr. Sleeth visit Monterey County, and the First Presbyterian Church, Monterey agreed to co-host his visit with me.

A conversation about the planet…supersedes political or religious concerns

Kate Daniels, executive editor of The Women’s International Perspective news site, http://www.TheWIP.net, picked up on the importance of  Matthew Sleeth’s work at the time of that 2007 visit.  The WIP’s headquarters are in Monterey, and Kate attended Matthew’s local presentation.  After a lengthy interview with him, Kate Daniels wrote:

“There is something unique about Serve God, Save The Planet. The premise inspires unity among people whose beliefs wouldn’t ordinarily mix…Sleeth has framed a conversation in which both people of faith and scientists can participate. He has done something that neither politicians nor religious figures have been able to do—unify leaders from many faiths in a common dialog that supersedes other political or religious concerns.”

Matthew Sleeth’s personal call to action

As he traveled, his book Serve God, Save the Planet helped awaken Christians and others to the Biblical mandate to care for the earth.

This medical doctor had heartbreaking experiences in the ER—including watching an 8-year-old girl die from asthma after simply playing in the sprinklers to cool down on a hot day— before deciding to commit himself to a different level of emergency care:  caring for this planet.  Troubled by women in their 30s dying of breast cancer and children dying of asthma, and cancer,  Dr. Sleeth knew that behind many  serious illnesses and premature deaths was environmental pollution.

His priorities shifted.  He had a spiritual reawakening and committed himself to deep theological study.  He came to understand, without any doubt,  that there is a Biblical mandate to care for the earth.  Thus began a radical career shift to a path of ministry, sharing with Christians what he had discovered and what had been overlooked by many up to now:  Earth stewardship.

Matthew Sleeth and the nonprofit he and his family started, Blessed Earth, addressed the global environmental emergency by organizing the largest ever faith-based Earth Day event on Earth Day Eve 2010.  Joining him and equally committed to this effort are his wife, Nancy Sleeth (author of Go Green, Save Green), and their daughter, Emma (author of a book for teens, It’s Easy Being Green).

Their son, Clark, as a 20-year-old med school student, was part of the inspiration for my return to cycling regularly for transportation.

The man behind the message

My initial appreciation for Matthew Sleeth was sealed when I met him in April 2007.  He was in Monterey to speak at the First Presbyterian Church and was visiting my home one afternoon when I asked if he would come along to my backyard, so I could put some clothes on my solar dryer.  All my life, hanging laundry has been a favorite household task. And it’s a job Matthew shares my enjoyment of.  In fact, the first photo I saw of the Sleeths, back in that Guideposts magazine, showed them at their own clothesline.

I apologized that the grass in my backyard was nearly knee-high that day—yard work often takes backseat to higher priorities.  But Matthew saw the beauty, and he noted that my large yard provided significant wildlife cover, as well as not using fuel-powered tools to wack it down!

My sense about Matthew’s priorities was also confirmed by his gratitude and pleasure in sharing a meal with my then-teenaged daughter and me in our small home here in rural Monterey County.  We eat organically grown, fresh, mostly locally produced food in our house, so that in itself means there’s much to appreciate!  And yet, because he was undoubtedly treated to some fine dining experiences by many hosts in more luxurious settings on this tour, I was touched by how genuinely he savored the simple pleasure of mealtime in our humble home, emphasizing—as he scooped up seconds—that it was the very best meal he’d had on the road.

On a hike the next day, Pastor Jay Bartow of Monterey’s First Presbyterian Church and I showed Matthew the beautiful vistas of the Monterey Bay from Jacks Peak.  Weighty theological discussions with these two individuals, who are the most grounded in deep Biblical study of anyone I’ve talked with, could not outweigh the wonder of our world.  The unanimous “aahhhs” as we took in our Monterey Bay shimmering below silenced all discussion.  Nature spoke even more meaningfully.

These are some memories of Matthew Sleeth that I have from his visit here three years ago.  Back then, in April 2007, I cohosted his visit with First Presbyterian Church of Monterey, where Jay is senior pastor.  Matthew’s time here was part of a national book tour whose west coast leg was organized by Interfaith Power and Light.

Journalists take note

Sleeth’s Monterey visit brought rapt attention from journalists, including Kate Daniels of The Women’s International Perspective news site (thewip.net), who reported to her worldwide readership that Sleeth’s spiritual commitment to Earth care, as presented in his book Serve God, Save the Planet, was “a winning combination”!

See http://www.thewip.net for their coverage of the Sleeths’ April 21, 2010 global simulcast.  Kate Daniels also interviewed Nancy Sleeth (author of Go Green, Save Green) on the WIP’s radio show on 4/25/10; click here to listen.

Journalists also covering Matthew Sleeth’s Monterey visit were Walter Ryce of the Monterey County Weekly and Jerry Gervase of the Monterey County Herald.

Monterey native, cowboy rocker Mike Beck opened Matthew’s talk at the church with his solo acoustic music.  Mike is usually more at home in concert halls and bars than churches, but his nods from where he stood at the back of the room during Sleeth’s talk made it clear Matthew’s message resonated with Mike too—a message many have not previously associated with evangelical Christians.

That is changing, thanks to the continuing dedication of Matthew Sleeth and other Christians who have fully awakened to the importance of what many refer to as Creation care.  And to the Biblical mandates for it.

Kera Abraham’s question for Bill McKibben

Many people are unaware that widely renowned eco author Bill McKibben’s commitment to caring for the Earth is also rooted in Christianity.  On April 6, 2010,  Bill was interviewed by Monterey County Weekly associate editor Kera Abraham at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.  In response to her question about what it would take for people to stop trying to say that global warming isn’t happening, McKibben answered:  “It’ll just take the continued, powerful involvement of people who do care. Which is growing. Churches and synagogues are finally becoming active parts of the environmental movement. Including evangelical churches. That helps.”

Matthew Sleeth is one of those evangelical Christians who care and is powerfully involved–in fact, he is seen by most as the primary leader of this evangelical movement.  In spite of his growing renown, he is, nonetheless a Christian leader who embodies humility.

An earlier book, his Serve God, Save the Planet (Chelsea Green and Zondervan, 2007), generated a lot of action in churches across the country–even down to small details, such as a commitment to reusable table linens and dishes by retired librarian Dorothy Becker for the ladies’ luncheons at First Pres, Monterey.

Video short on how faith directs the Sleeths’ environmentalism

To see a short YouTube video of Matthew Sleeth’s perspective on how his faith directs his environmentalism, watch Blessed Earth: Serving God, Saving the Planet

 Above photo of Dr. Matthew Sleeth at home in Wilmore, KY courtesy of Jeff Rogers.

Related info on the Bicycling Monterey website

Downtown Salinas church asks: What would happen if we changed the ways we moved around?

Bike to worship–to church, mosque, satsang, synagogue, or other place of worship.  For related information, see “Bicycling and ecotourism:  Good earthkeeping right at home.”

Leave a Reply