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09/18/09 by Staff Writer
When Emma Sleeth was 15, she received an English class assignment: Write a 10-page research paper.
Nothing unusual about that. Tens of thousands of American high school students have written 10-, 11-, maybe 12-page papers with footnotes over the years.
But for Sleeth this assignment was not business as usual. First of all, she asked her teacher – who also happened to be her mom – if she could write about how to write a book proposal. Then, if she could write the book proposal. Then, if she could write the book.
One year and 185 pages later, she had a manuscript called It’s Easy Being Green: One Student’s Guide to Serving God and Saving the Planet, and on March 7 Zondervan publishing company released the book in stores across the country.
Now 17 and a sophomore at Asbury College in Kentucky, Sleeth notes that her passion for the environment sprang from her family’s response to the biblical mandate to care for God’s creation. When Sleeth was 12, they moved from a large home and affluent lifestyle to one that significantly reduced their carbon footprint. In fact, their new home was the size of their former garage. That allowed them to reduce their electricity use to 1/10 and their fossil fuel use to 1/3 the national average.
Sleeth adapted easily to some of the changes that reduced the amount of energy they used. “I really enjoy hanging clothes on the line,” she says. “It’s just a nice time to be outside.”
But giving up the dishwasher has been harder. “I don’t mind drying and putting them away, but I hate doing dishes,” she says.
Emma Sleeth spoke at a conference called “Faith, Spirituality and Environmental Stewardship” at the Center for the Environment at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., May 29-31. Her parents were also speakers. Dr. Matthew Sleeth is author of Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action, and Nancy Sleeth is co-director of Blessed Earth, a faith-based environmental non-profit organization.
People are often surprised to learn that Sleeth is not a person who relishes being in the outdoors. “I’ve never been one for going hiking for a week,” she says. “I like to take showers.”
She does, however, enjoy walking in the fields near her home in Kentucky. “I find when I’m outside I’m reminded of the smallness of what I am able to do and the bigness of what God is able to do,” she says. “I really think that nature points us to God – that all throughout the Bible Jesus used nature to explain his points. If we destroy these images, then it will diminish our understanding of God. Looking at what someone has created, you get to know about them.”
While she insists she is not an expert – “I’m only 17” – she wants to communicate with other young people about the Christian mandate to “serve God and save the planet.”
“I really believe in my generation,” Sleeth says. “I believe we can make a change. My friends and the people I see around me really have a passion for God, but they don’t really know about environmental issues.”
So her book is geared to practical things that teens – and others – can do. “It’s a personal matter first and foremost,” she says. “Yes, it’s great to write your senators and ask for certain legislation, but it has to start with yourself.”
Her part in the program March 29-31 at the Center for the Environment at Catawba College was short on teaching and long on conversation. “It was be a dialog with my peers,” she says, “working together to make a difference.”
Sleeth credits her conversion to Christianity with making her commitment to the environment easy. “One of the hardest things for me when my family went green was that I believed the earth was dying, but I didn’t necessarily believe there was a solution. I didn’t have much hope. I wasn’t a Christian yet, so I was all gloom, doom and despair.
“I became a Christian in high school, and that’s when it became a lot easier for me because I realized, ‘Oh, I can’t do it, but God can.’”
For more information on the conference on “Faith, Spirituality and Environmental Stewardship” at the Center for the Environment at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., visit www.centerfortheenvironment.org or contact Amanda Lanier at 704.637.4294 or firstname.lastname@example.org.