Quick Facts:Current hometown: Lansdale, Pennsylvania
IHE fan since: 1997
Current work: Wife to Nick & mother to Jacob and Gabriel; blogger, business owner
Your hero: While I don't have one hero in particular, I am always inspired by others who demonstrate courage, creativity, and faith in times of adversity.
Book/movie that changed your life: Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words. Reading about Peace Pilgrim's journey was part of my inspiration to embark on a journey of simple living in which I could fit all of my personal belongings into my car. Now, with children, things are a lot different, but I still strive to live a life in which I continually reevaluate my needs/wants in relation to material things for my family.
Guilty pleasure: Chocolate
Inspired by: Spending time in the natural world, the lives of the saints, my children's innocent sense of wonder, and my husband's creativity.
Love about yourself: I adapt easily to change.
One of your strengths: Perseverance and diligence.
IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?
SM: For as long as I can remember, I have always had a heart for animals and the environment, and for the suffering of others. I became a vegetarian at a young age and had thought while growing up that I would eventually join the Peace Corps in Africa. Through a series of many twists of events, I actually ended up working in a cubicle as an accountant. I felt a serious disconnect there between who I was and what I was doing, so that didn't last very long. When I left that job, I embarked on a path of service and learning. It was during this time that I attended a Sowing Seeds workshop held by IHE at Farm Sanctuary in 1997. I felt incredibly inspired by their work and had a desire to start the program then, but did not feel quite ready. Several years later, out of the blue, I received a letter from IHE in the mail, and I knew the time was right for me to deepen my learning through IHE's M.Ed. program.
IHE: Tell us about how you’re currently manifesting humane education. What are your challenges? Successes?
SM: This past fall, I started a blog called Everyday Synergy. I write about humane education issues from the perspective of an Orthodox Christian mother. Part of my desire to start a blog stemmed from wanting share with other Orthodox Christians that caring for animals and the environment are integral parts of our faith, and to share with non-Christians that true Christianity does not abandon creation. I also needed an outlet in which to grapple with issues that I deal with in my everyday life. There has been an ebb and a flow to my writing on the blog, as caring for my two young children is my first priority. However, I have had some positive feedback from others which encourages me to continue it. I have been blessed to connect with others exploring similar issues. It has been encouraging to know I am not "alone."
My husband and I have also been working toward the launching of our home-based business, Sacred Life Mosaics, slated to go live online by the end of August 2009. We will be selling 100% recycled note cards with photographs of the natural world combined with sayings from Orthodox Christian saints about the sacredness of creation, printed with soy and vegetable-based inks. We are also packaging the note cards in a more environmentally-responsible way than most note cards are packaged. Instead of using plastic shrink wrap and boxes, they will be bound together in tree-free seeded lotka paper and shipped in recycled mailing envelopes.
I initially struggled with starting a business that would be selling more "stuff" to people. But now I am excited about offering an alternative to the majority of Christian-related products that are currently on the market. One quick perusal through a Christian bookstore, and you will find that a great number of their offerings are either made in China and/or with virgin paper fibers. I feel this is a great opportunity not only for my husband and I to work toward our dream of having a home-based business and homeschooling our children, but also a possibility of encouraging others to follow our lead and offer products that hold true to a Christian ethic of caring for creation.
It was a struggle to decide upon the type of papers to use for our cards. We were initially going to choose 100% recycled, 100% post-consumer waste cards, but the nature of that paper did not seem to lend itself to printing high quality inspiring nature photographs. Instead, we chose 100% recycled, 50% post-consumer waste (pcw) paper for the cards, with the remaining 50% of the recycled fibers being from responsibly managed forests. While this is not the ideal we had hoped for, we have learned that there is no "perfect," and that the benefit of providing a more environmentally-responsible alternative to current Christian bookstore offerings outweighed the cost of not reaching our ideal. We also hope that over time, as demand for recycled papers increases, higher quality papers may become available for photo printing on 100% pcw papers. And we have plans to experiment with printing on the 100% pcw papers as we grow more capital to invest into the business.
Future product offerings we have in the development stages include nature photographs framed in reclaimed barn wood, and tree-free journals, all combined with Orthodox Christian sayings about creation. We are also working on a "water-inspired" note card, and 100% of the profits from this card will be donated to projects throughout the world which provide clean water to people.
IHE: What are your thoughts about the power of humane education to positively transform the world?
SM: Often, people are either unaware of how their daily choices have such a ripple effect upon the world, or they feel one person cannot make a difference. Humane education shows us that there are so many simple ways in which each and every one of us can help to manifest a more compassionate world.
Much of our educational system expects students to repeat all of the "right" answers instead of inspiring them to think creatively. Humane education is definitely a great method to encourage critical thinking and out-of-the-box solutions to issues. There are so many different ways in which people can live a life that is kinder to other people, animals and the environment. There is no "right" or "wrong" answer, just a continual path of learning and growing. Humane living will most likely manifest itself in totally different ways for individual people, and I believe that is one of the things that makes this movement beautiful.
IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?
SM: My husband and I dream of purchasing a property on which to start a nature retreat center grounded in the Orthodox Christian faith. It would be a place where people could come for quiet reflection and prayer in the natural world. We would provide a healthy, vegan breakfast for our guests. And we would attempt to create a place which serves as an example of how one could live in an environmentally-responsible manner. There would also be an opportunity for guests to learn about the connections between our faith and the natural world and how they could make personal choices to live in greater harmony with Creation.
And, while my husband was not a student of IHE, I thought it would be worthwhile to mention one of his projects. He writes children's books and is working toward getting his first book published. His most recent book tells a wonderful story of animals coming into communion with a human being who draws them to himself through an Orthodox Christian life of prayer.
Note: for her thesis project, Stephanie created a booklet to address ways in which humane education can serve as a vehicle by which Christians can become aware of and respond to suffering and injustice in the world. You can download the booklet, Christianity and Care for Creation: Living Out Our Faith in our Daily Lives.
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