Greening of the Graves

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The Graves family has been getting green this spring. My wife, Bobbi, was converted on reading Dr. Matthew Sleeth’s Serve God, Save the Planet. That book was in my hands while she had moved on to reading his wife, Nancy Sleeth’s Go Green, Save Green. I moved from Matthew’s book to that of his daughter Emma’s (It’s Easy Being Green)—The Sleeth Green Trifecta.

We were introduced to the Sleeths’ books and ministry by two of our daughters who while attending Asbury College were influenced by their Creation Care message and their example as a family.

My conversion to environmentalism began in late June 1969 when I watched an evening news report about the fire that had been burned that day on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio. It was the summer before my junior year in high school. I became involved in the first environmental group and helped organize the first Earth Day clean up in my home county in southern Indiana. We cleaned up about a mile of state highway near our school that day and filled six dump trucks with effort. Salt Creek, which flows near my high school, is to this day one of the seven most polluted streams in Indiana. For someone who loved the outdoors, Indiana in 1971 was a cross to bear.

Unfortunately for me, I was as drawn to environmentalism by my hatred of humanity in general as much as my love for nature in particular. Neither is a good basis for healthy environmentalism.  In the fall of 1971, I enrolled at Indiana University as an Environmental Studies major and sank into depression.  Like me, most of my environmentalist friends were a self-absorbed lot. We weren’t really friends at all but rather just allies in our war with humanity. We loved Nature, even if we knew little about it, and would have been happiest if the population would just leave us alone to enjoy it in peace.

Early in the summer of 1971, a friend asked me to read Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. The title resonated with my view of the world but the book only served to convince me that not only did this life hold little for me, but I was lost and didn’t have much to look forward to in the next life either. I began t  o search for God but wasn’t having any luck finding Him.  As the fall wore on, the contemplation of suicide took hold. I had given up on humanity, was fast giving up on the world, and was growing convinced that God had given up on me.

God reached out to m e in the form of a student I had never met who asked me a question I had never been asked. My conversion to Christ upended and transformed my life. The discipling I received, or didn’t receive, essentially ended my pre-occupation with the environment. I knew I had truly been converted when I discovered that I was not only interested in people but actually concerned about them. Jesus had created within me a love for others. So profound was the change for me that by 1976 my wife and I were missionaries to the island of Java, Indonesia—the most densely populated island on the face of the earth.

I began to love my neighbors but found myself losing patience with environmentalists. I recognized in most them what I had discovered in myself—disaffected, maladjusted, depressed loners who were always looking for the worst to believe and the person to blame.

In the intervening years, little I have read or heard has convinced me that environmentalists have improved on their motivation for their activism. So reading the Sleeth Trilogy has been a spiritual encouragement. Approaching the environment from a basis of stewardship and compassion for the poor meshes not only with my Biblical understanding but also with my experience in missons.

The Sleeths have refreshed my love for the environme nt by relating it to serving God and loving the lost. As Nancy has put it, “One by one, the whole family became believers. Suddenly, we had a clear purpose: to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. One way that we could show our love for the Creator, and for our global neighbors, was to start taking better care of the planet.”

We may never become environmentalists of the caliber of the Sleeth family but we have been making some major changes in the way we live and we’re finding joy and other rewards in the process.

To date the Graves family has…

  • Replaced 73 incandescent light bulbs in our home reducing the total potential draw of these lights from 4650 watts to about 1250.  This has been an investment. If the CFL marketers can be believed, we should realize a savings of about a zillion dollars in the next ten years.  Personally I’m just hoping I don’t have to change a light bulb every time someone sneezes like I’ve been doing with incandescents all these years.
  • Purchased cloth shopping bags and stocked them in our cars. We have reduced the number of plastic shopping bags we use by about 90%.
  • Started reusing “Zip Loc” bags and tin foil. Bobbi even found a little plastic bag dryer that now sits on our counter. My mother, who grew up during the Great Depression, would be so proud of us.
  • Begun drying our clothes without the use of our large gas dryer, a change that has been surprisingly easy.
  • Steadily replaced as much grass in our yard as possible with perennials and mulch (our city provides the mulch for free). Our 14 HP riding mower will soon be sold and we will rely on our push mower keeping our remaining grass legal. By using the push mower, I can raise the mower higher to about 4 inches, allowing me to mow half as frequently as my neighbors. Mowing the grass higher helps to choke out the weeds and keeps the grass green even in the hottest weather. I estimate I have reduced our mowing by 60%.
  • Replaced our furnace filters with permanent filters, which I found on-line. Because we were changing our filters more frequently (I have a shop in the basement) the cost of the high quality permanent filters was less than the cost of a year’s supply of disposable filters.
  • Rebuilt and enlarged our compost bin—it’s 4x4x8.  We have composted for years but have taken it to a new level. We’ve added a countertop compost container that helps to make sure that almost everything gets taken out for composting. We have even stockpiled a large trailer load of leaf mulch (courtesy of our city) –it will be perfect next year for dressing the raised garden beds we built for our kid’s gardening interests.
  • Purchased a 275 gallon water tank for recycling rainwater to the garden. I found the tank on Craig’s List for $50.
  • Begun timing our showers. Bobbi installed a small wall mounted three- minute egg timer in our master bath shower. We have both found it is easy enough to shower in under three. We’ve been testing a 1.6 gallon shower head and have found it works well, so we will soon replace the other shower heads soon.
  • Begun washing our clothes in cold water using laundry detergent made by Seventh Generation. It works great.
  • Snuggled our water heater in an insulating blanket. Because the heater was already a high efficiency model the payback may be many years away but it looks cool and it didn’t cost a lot. As it is now, we have reduced our hot water use by more than 50%.
  • Adjusted our thermostat –we’ve turned the heat down by 4 degrees and the AC up by 3. Fortunately our furnace and AC were replaced three years ago with the highest efficiency appliances then available.
  • Nearly retired our oven with the use of a toaster oven, bread maker, and microwave.
  • Made paper towels and paper napkins disappear from our shopping list. Our Indonesian friends eliminated toilet paper by using their left hands and water (referred to by westerners as the “Charmin of the Orient”) but there I draw the line.  We are now using “tree-less” TP made from recycled paper.
  • Begun using rechargeable batteries and have the computers on switchable power strips, which we are learning to remember to use. I’m working on designing a battery recharging center for the cell phones and various portable tools that can work off of a timer.
  • Joined a local organic farmer coop and have begun haunting our town’s farmer’s market.
  • Canceled our newspaper subscriptions and gotten off the mailing lists of about a bazillion catalogues. We have reduced the mail coming to our house by about 60%.
  • Found a recycling site about two miles from home that will accept any kind of plastic, metal, glass, paper and cardboard. By recycling all of these things we have reduced our trash offerings so far by about 75%.
  • Begun preparing for the mother or all garage sales. In the last four years we have lost three parents and a grandmother who lived with us for 14 years. Since 2005 we have been struggling with what to do with all of the stuff that we have inherited from generous and sentimental parents.  Our oldest daughter paid for her master’s degree by selling some of the stuff on e-Bay. But up until recently, we have been dealing with the accumulation of five households in our home. The experience has taught us that possessions really do consume your time and energy. We want to keep some special pieces to pass on to the kids, but thankfully our daughters are on board with our new mission to unload.
  • Found ourselves reading the oddest sort of articles (including toilet paper comparisons in Consumer Reports!) and joking about recycling possibilities for road kill (fur caps and raccoon kabobs). We are having fun with this and finding peace and blessing along the way.

We are thankful to the Sleeths for the encouragement their ministry has brought to our lives and their encouragement to remember our stewardship responsibility.

The Graves are not green, but we are getting greener. We are blessed.

By Jack Graves

Jack and Bobbi Graves are the founders and directors of The Leadership Protocol Institute, LLC.