Creation Care in Higher Education
By Matthew Sleeth, MD, Executive Director, Blessed Earth
In the beginning
It was only a few years ago when my wife, Nancy, and I embarked on a life-altering call to help lead the Christian creation care movement. Little did we know that the work ahead would lead us to dozens of college campuses and hundreds of church and faith communities. When we began our journey, I wrote a book calledServe God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action(Chelsea Green/Zondervan). Drawing from my background in medicine, the book gained much more interest than we would ever have dreamed. We then formed a nonprofit, Blessed Earth, which continues to offer practical resources for those hoping to downscale their lifestyles and be more active in stewarding the earth. One campus that we collaborated with is Houghton College, a faith-based liberal arts institution in upstate New York.
Houghton College invited me to be their first visiting scholar in creation care for the 2008-2009 academic year. I was pleased to see leadership so enthusiastic about integrating sustainable practices in every part of their operations -- from academic disciplines, to residential life, to the physical plant. While on campus, I spoke at student chapels, led discussions in classrooms of almost every discipline, and worked with students and faculty to make the entire campus more sustainable. A few of our first-year initiatives included removing all trays from the cafeteria; saving food wastage, water, and energy; planting more than 1000 trees on campus; implementing a voluntary “brown out” program to reduce overall electric usage; and hiring a sustainability coordinator to keep the momentum moving forward.
Many of the most innovative initiatives have come from faculty who have creatively intertwined creation care principles into their curricula:
- Art:Using a collaborative research grant, Professor Gary Baxter is working with students to develop ceramic glazes that will work at lower kiln temperatures, saving energy.
- Art:Professor Ted Murphy recorded the progression of seasonal change in watercolors done from life as part of his gallery show in January 2009.
- Australian Studies:Students and faculty planted flower beds in Melbourne as part of their fall 2008 semester in Australia.
- Biology:Professor Jim Wolfe and students are conducting research at Star Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. Their fall semester program includes a strong emphasis on understanding and preserving the environment.
- Biology:Professor Aaron Sullivan and students conducted research on local amphibian populations.
- Biology:The biology department began a major with a new forestry emphasis.
- Biology, Chemistry, and Physics:Faculty members have prepared a first-year honors program that will focus on alternative energy, of which a major topic will be sustainability.
- Communication:Professor Doug Gaerte reports that a student intern is videotaping and photographing renovations to the Angelica school that will turn it into a conference center and hotel. The visual documentation will help verify that the work meets requirements for LEED certification and will be used as a training video for other groups seeking LEED certification.
- Communication:Professor Daniel Minchen includes issues of sustainability and creation care in his Marketing Principles class, discussing socially responsible marketing, the social value of creation care in products and marketing, and how to help people get past the sticker shock of environmentally responsible vehicles.
- Intercultural Studies, Psychology, and Sociology:Students have worked on urban gardening projects in Buffalo.
- Political Science:Professor Peter Meilaender redid his Introduction to Political Thought course so that questions about the relationship between nature and convention serve as an organizing theme for the semester, using the metaphor of gardening as a central theme.
- Psychology:Professor Paul Young developed a PowerPoint slide show on Eco-Driving, which has been incorporated into the driver’s training required of all people who operate college vehicles.
- Psychology:The theme for the capstone senior seminar in psychology for both fall 2008 and spring 2009 was environmental psychology.
- Psychology:Students in Professor Paul Young’s statistics classes have analyzed utility bills for the college to prepare answers for a report to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. They have also analyzed the carbon sequestration in Houghton Forest, the carbon footprint of Houghton’s international programs, and the distance travelled by commuters.
- Recreation:Professor Thom Kettelkamp’s Natural Resource Management classes have been designing and developing trails in the Houghton Forest. A new trail called the Old Oak Trail has been completed and an interpretive trail in the river valley has been approved for implementation in the spring of 2009.
It truly has been remarkable to see this culture shift in just one short year. Most exciting is seeing all constituencies of the College share in the creation care journey, with increasing commitment and resources.
The future: Our creation care mission at Blessed Earth
Earth Day 2010 (the 40th anniversary of Earth Day) marks a pivotal point for our outreach to college campuses and churches. Next spring, my next book,The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book is a Green Bookwill be released by HarperOne.The Gospel According to the Earthis a walk through a dozen themes in the Bible that make a clear case for God’s love for creation -- whatever the reader’s faith persuasion. Through the humble yet direct teachings of Jesus, we find that the call to tend the Garden was never revoked. In our work, rest, surroundings and relationships, God’s enduring concern for all of creation has been evident throughout the ages. This book invites the Christian and non-Christian to examine these beautiful themes and take personal action.
The other incredible fruit of the past few years’ journey is a film series produced by the highly-skilled and imaginative geniuses at Dot&Cross. CalledThe Green Commission, the 2-DVD set will feature 12 beautifully crafted films about the stewardship of all creation. The first six films examine unique elements of the planet like stars, water, and soil. The second six films invite viewers to put their faith into action.
Accompanying the launch of these two exciting new elements for our outreach to others is our 40/40 Vision campaign. Still in its developmental stages, the campaign will offer campus groups throughout the country the opportunity to collectively win $40,000 for innovative sustainability programs. (Subscribe to our newsletter, to receive updates about the campaign.)
The solution is us
At Blessed Earth, we look to the future of our world with hope, despite the neglect our planet has faced. We believe that a restoration of the earth is possible with the everyday actions of people who choose to look beyond politics, religion and other dividing factors -- those who realize that we all breathe the same air, drink the same water and depend on the land for our sustenance. The solution lies in the union of people from all faith and spiritual backgrounds. We feel blessed to have the opportunity to help lead the way.
About Matthew Sleeth, MD
A former emergency room physician, Dr. Matthew Sleeth felt like he was straightening deck chairs on the Titanic saving one patient at a time while the whole ship (Earth) was going down. Together with his wife and two teenaged children, he began to bring his lifestyle in line with his values, cutting back on their fossil fuel by two thirds and electricity use by nine tenths.
Following a new calling, Dr. Sleeth resigned from his position as chief of the medical staff and director of the ER to teach, preach, and write about faith and the environment throughout the country. Dr. Sleeth is a graduate of George Washington University School of Medicine and has two post-doctoral fellowships. He is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action (Zondervan, April 2007), the introduction to the Green Bible (2008, HarperOne), and will release a second book, The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book is a Green Book (HarperOne), in fall of 2009. He is currently the executive director of Blessed Earth.
- Serve God, Save the Planet by Matthew Sleeth, MD
- Gospel According to the Earth by Matthew Sleeth, MD
- Go Green, Save Green by Nancy Sleeth
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