Like street-corner preachers crying "The End is Near!," Fritz and Vivienne Hull have found their fear.
They're driven by their conviction that humankind must change - and soon - or be doomed by its arrogant disregard of the environment. And change, the Hulls believe, requires a radical revision of our beliefs about ourselves, about God and creation.
Because they feel called to spread the word, the Hulls are stepping down as directors of Chinook Learning Center, the Whidbey Island institution they founded and have nurtured the past two decades.
For the Hulls, the environment isn't just another social issue. It is the issue, undergirding all others.
In their understanding, God created not only humans, but also the earth and all that it contains. Native Americans don't separate earth and spirit, they note, or believe man has an inherent right to plunder the earth, but many Western religious traditions do.
A THEOLOGICAL QUESTION
Now, the environmental crisis has pushed humankind to ask some tough questions about "who we are, where we are, to whom we belong, and what the whole presence and purpose of human life is, in relationship of what we like to speak of as the earth's community," says Vivienne Hull.
"The environment, in our minds, is not just an issue that has to be taken care of," she says. "It represents the challenge of changing how we think, and therefore how our values are and how we behave; how we live."
All of this, Fritz Hull believes, is essentially a theological question. "It's an enormous change in consciousness."
Consciousness-changing is what Chinook has been about all these years. And the Hulls, it seems, were not only teachers but students as well.
In the past 20 years, moss has overgrown the porch roof of the sturdy old farmhouse that serves as the main building in the 72-acre center. Nestled in the moss, a spindly little evergreen grows undisturbed, a testament to the Hulls' faith in the notion that all of creation is sacred stuff.
As the moss has grown, so has Chinook, becoming a nationally and internationally recognized center for alternative spirituality - an improbable religious-psychological-environmental vision that grew from Fritz Hull's origins as a Presbyterian minister and Vivienne Hull's interest in mystic and Celtic Christian traditions.
Seeking to foster a "deeper integration of religion and life," Chinook and the Hulls have organized many conferences, including several recent ones relating to the environment, and they have been hosts to nationally known spiritual and religious figures on the "alternative" edge. Chinook's newsletter reaches more than 9,000 people, announcing workshops and conferences with teachers who have ranged from a Benedictine monk to a Zen master, from mystics and musicians to a Catholic priest.
"We were not afraid to explore," says Fritz Hull, 55.
In many ways, the Hulls' new work won't be a lot different from their old, in content, at least. But at Chinook, the Hulls had become managers, administrators and fund-raisers. Now, they're leaving that to the board, which will conduct a nationwide search for a new director.
"To our credit, we were OK administrators," says Vivienne Hull, 51. "But that's not our gift, our calling."
Now, she says, they want to return to the role they played at Chinook's inception: "the visionaries, the educators, the voice."
At Chinook, the Hulls always believed people should work on inner growth but take their new knowledge out into the world.
As important as it is to do self-empowerment work, Fritz Hull believes, one can get stuck there.
"Working on yourself is essential. But it also becomes dead-ended for a lot of people," says Hull, who marched many years ago for civil rights in Selma, Ala. "They don't understand how creative engagement can be empowering."
So the Hulls plan to practice what they've preached, refining their vision and taking it out into the world, where they hope to "creatively engage" the environmental crisis. Tentatively, they're calling their new endeavor "The Institute for Earth and Spirit."
FIRST PROJECT: A BOOK
First, they plan to write and edit a book called "Earth and Spirit: The Spiritual Dimension of the Environmental Crisis," based on Chinook's conference of the same name held in Seattle last year.
Next, they intend to launch themselves into a three-year project, funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, studying the nontraditional models of religious education developed at Chinook.
And they will continue to do "theological education," helping religious institutions teach about creation in a new way. Working with Seattle University, for example, they will help develop its "Sacred Universe Project" being formed with the university's Institute for Theological Studies.
Here, as in the past, they see themselves as a kind of bridge between the religious institutions and alternative spirituality.
"A lot of spiritual ferment is happening outside established, recognized religious institutions; there is remarkable creativity going on," says Fritz Hull.
At the same time, religious institutions offer sustenance in a time when people are hungry for values, for hope and inspiration.
"The religious, spiritual traditions have access to wisdom, and the means to inform and lead us," he says.
Now, like those street-corner preachers, the Hulls believe with an absolute "wholeheartedness" ("that's our favorite word," he interjects) that they can make a difference.
The nascent but steadily growing interest of people, churches and religious institutions in the environment is significant, the Hulls believe.
"There is something profound on the move that is being talked about and is going to make its presence known in the next few years," Vivienne Hull says. "This one isn't going to go away."
Paraphrasing Luke's words in the Bible, she says she believes his admonition that "from those who have been given much, much is expected" applies to all of us.
"We have been gifted by the generation before us," she says. "Now we have to live on behalf of the next generation."