Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sorry Been Busy

My rap star son—yep, the one who performs for crowds of 50,000 in France—has a new album coming out called Sorry Been Busy. That’s pretty much been my tune the past few weeks—though my life is thankfully not as exciting as a rap star’s—trying to start new work while keeping up with other commitments. It will get better. I’m just glad it’s worthwhile work. Too many lack even that.

Been up and down Indiana twice since mid-June, meeting with people who are banding together to make changes—in their homes, sanctuaries, and towns. This week in Terre Haute I met a newly forming group at a United Methodist church, and the next night in South Bend a group of eleven representing six churches and a mosque, all pooling information on how best to lower their utility bills and protect Indiana’s air at the same time. The Muslim and Mennonite folk were excited to hear they are receiving solar grants from Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light.

Last week I also spent two mornings with Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) students at the

Friday, June 27, 2014

I Have a New Job!

Interfaith Power and Light is a national faith-based organization that promotes action on global warming among congregations. It was founded by a Episcopal priest. Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, or H-IPL (rhymes with “ripple,” which has creative potential), is the Indiana state affiliate. H-IPL has, in turn, its own developing affiliates all over the statestrong in Bloomington and Indianapolis, but also active from South Bend (which, despite its name, is north) to Evansville on the Ohio, from Terre Haute in the west to Fort Wayne in the east.

The past two days I drove Indiana roads—hilly in the south, flat as an ironing board up north, green everywherefrom Jeffersonville to Indy and on to Mennonite country in Goshen, back to Bloomington and home. H-IPL offers outstanding daylong workshops called “Using Energy Prudently,” offering congregations practical info for conserving power in HVAC systems, lighting, appliances, and all the other usual suspects. I had attended one in Columbus last month with two church members. More than a dozen have been offered this year all over the state. Goshen had had one, and this was their follow-up meeting, reps of several congregations figuring out together how to begin.

H-IPL’s leaders work with urgency and dedication to help congregations understand not only why energy conservation is important, but how to achieve it. In three years the organization has mushroomed, but that’s not enough. They hope to spread the message throughout communities of faith. Indiana is one of the highest per capita coal burners and seems to be, on principle, extremely resistant to environmental stewardship. H-IPL hopes to change that—for our children’s sake.

I’ve had trouble remembering my job title:  “Affiliate Developer.” The first word is a noun, not an adjective. Not like assistant professor, but like “developer of affiliates.” I will be a resource, guide, organizer, encourager, teacher, whatever, with existing and new affiliate groups. It’s a little intimidating. But every meaningful job starts out looking intimidating. If it didn’t, where would the challenge be?

There are two other staff people: Larry Kleiman, the new Executive Director, a “retired” (sort of) United Church of Christ pastor, and Mike Oles, the Faith Community Organizer, a United Methodist member. There is also a bevy of board members of all stripes, workshop leaders, and other volunteers. A lot of energy, powering Indiana’s future and lighting the way. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Walk on the Wildflower Side

Last weekend I drove with some friends to the Red River Gorge of eastern Kentucky for a wildflower walk organized by Father John Rausch, a Glenmary priest and ecological advocate. He arranged for Dr. Tom Barnes to lead us, the wildlife extension specialist from the University of Kentucky’s Department of Forestry and an accomplished naturewriter and photographer. GO TO HIS WEBSITE! You'll get lost in the beauty there! 

This turned out to be much richer than we imagined. I’ve enjoyed many wildlife walks at national parks, seeing three times more than I would have seen on my own, taking home information that makes the forest vivid with specificity—no longer “tree, tree, tree” but “poplar, pawpaw, pin oak.” The tiny wildflowers, so easily
overlooked, reward their viewers even more, especially since there are some we have often seen without remarking. If humans find it challenging to get to know other people without learning their names, it is all the more so for us with trees and plants.

There were nine of us. It rained all morning, but we circled the narrow roads, jumping out in ponchos and hiking boots to gaze at yellow and pink lady’s slippers (native orchids--the yellow is featured on the cover above), Solomon’s seal (picture to left--not mine), valerian, wild ginger, and a host of other flowers that in a couple weeks will disappear into the next stage in their plants’ annual cycles, while some other flower shows its stuff. Mute and mostly still, they nevertheless announce, to any audience and no audience, in their intricacy, variety, and beauty, their maker’s glory.


Since I know so little, each such outing doubles my memory bank, while reinforcing details from previous walks. To travel with a group small enough to ask, “What’s this?” yet large enough to share infectious zeal, made the day more festive still. We stayed in the moment: no one cared that it rained, and no one dampened our spirits by rehearsing their week’s troubles, many and varied as they were. The day’s sensory richness will long linger, cultivating affection for nature and commitment to its flourishing.


Inspired by this walk, I took my tree guide to a familiar meadow Sunday evening to

catalog some specimens I often pass by. A farmhouse once stood here, and a floorless summer kitchen and outhouse still stand on the field edge next to some stray Stars of Bethlehem that someone may once have tended. It’s easy to imagine a clapboard home framed by youthful trees, which are now doddering past their prime: catalpas scantily clothed in last year’s seedpods and tentative spring leaves; sugar maples branching past their neighbors to hoard the sunlight; senescent slippery elms; black locusts, not yet blooming; white ashes past their bloom; an adolescent buckeye; a tulip magnolia someone left behind decades ago; a ghostly sycamore by the frog pond.

It’s hard to protect what we do not love. It’s hard to love what we do not know. And it’s hard to know what we do not stop to observe firsthand. The more we relearn nature, the more we’ll adjust our habits to assure its continuity. This is a sacred endeavor. As Sir Thomas Browne said (and I got this from Tom Barnes): “Nature is the art of God.” 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cooking Joy

Several people I know are skilled at carpentry, metalwork, sewing, and other constructive arts. Just about the only thing I know how to make from raw materials is dinner.

Early evenings, I love to close my laptop, turn on NPR, and cook. Whatever I find outside has first priority; second is what’s fresh from the nearby farmer’s market, or the organic grocery. I choose local to encourage farming infrastructure and local prosperity, and organic to avoid poisoning farm workers. When fresh vegetables are not available I use what we canned or froze last fall, foods untouched by corporate hands.

This week: vegetable soup with green beans and tomatoes from last summer’s garden; Indian chickpeas from garbanzos frozen last fall; vegetarian tamales with last year’s jalapenos and cherry tomatoes, and fresh spinach and spring onions; roasted vegetables including garden asparagus and organic sweet potatoes; salads of garden kale and spinach and new lettuce. At table we say grace over the dishes, their ingredients, and the friends who helped supply them.

Last night, listening to All Things Considered: broccoli-cheese souffle of farmer’s market eggs, last year’s broccoli, and milk, flour, butter, cheddar cheese, all local. And an amazing tomato chipotle soup: saute onions and garlic; add canned tomatoes and almond butter (the recipe said roasted pecans, which would have been exquisite if I had some), and half a chipotle pepper. Hit it with a hand blender. Add last year’s corn. I wish you could taste it. It all took about an hour.

Last summer a friend introduced me to a woman who had turned her corner lot into an edible Eden, outlined in strawberries and sweet potatoes. When I sat down, her two chickens climbed into my lap. She inspired me to mix more foods into our own flowerbeds (see Monday's post on apples, berries, greens, and herbs). I also learned that the daylilies that keep expanding are edible, as are the redbud blooms. Each adventure invites another.

Some call cooking work. I call it creativity. Eating out is fun sometimes, but most restaurant fare is not worth the losses to pocketbook, principles, and diet. Prefab grocery store meals in boxes, cans, and frozen trays are high in price, packaging, salt, corn, and unpronounceable substances. Cooking makes us stronger: healthier, aesthetically richer, calmer, more accomplished. It’s one of our most reliable introductions to our own community, both its people and its plants. Through daily food choices, we vote for the future we desire.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Resurrection Miracles


I was curious to see what would survive the harsh winter.

Several greens flourished in the garden, including some kale that is still producing salads. The spinach that slept through in cold frames, often under piles of snow, leaped up toward the sun when we removed their storm window rooftops. Fat asparagus stalks begged to be plucked and roasted, and we complied.

Every day in April I inspected two new apple trees—lifeless sticks when planted last fall—and watched buds swell and leaves fluff out. They may grow branches by summer’s end. The blackberries we thought had died rose triumphant, Christlike, portending summer breakfasts al fresco. The coffee grounds I dumped on the blueberry patch through the winter have now resurrected as flowers that might just turn to fruit. The strawberry plants scattered throughout the flowerbed last fall are blooming too, and the honeyberry and gobi berry sticks that I planted and promptly lost are now beginning their ascent into bushdom.

The rosemary unsurprisingly died, but I replaced it with one I’d kept inside. The sage that died won’t be missed. Very surprisingly, the relentless, invincible English ivy that dominated the northern hillside—keeping the yard from eroding into the street, but also harboring mosquitoes and weeds—croaked. Every hydrangea died to the ground, but now they’re preparing to give it another go.

Here is the biggest miracle: A couple of years ago I

Friday, April 11, 2014

Presbyterian Outlook Review

The first review of Inhabiting Eden is out in the April 14, 2014 edition of The Presbyterian Outlook. The author, Rev. Susan Zencka in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, says that she tested a couple of chapters with a group from her church, and they wanted to keep on reading. 

It's always gratifying for a writer to realize someone "gets" what you are doing. Rev. Zencka says, "The book is gentle in tone.... Often when I read books about the state of the earth, I feel guilty and ashamed for not doing enough. After reading Tull's book, I feel empowered to do more." Thank you so much!

Here is a link to the review. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Damascus Road, British Parliament, Seneca Falls, DDT

What a joy it was to preach this morning at Louisville Seminary for the Festival of Theology. Marian McClure snapped this shot of President Michael Jinkins and me just before we began.  

And while we are on pictures, here is one Greg Bezilla snapped while I was talking at the lovely Canterbury House at Rutgers University last week....

I spoke today about the problem of wrapping our minds around the changes we know we need to make, and the help we find when we look to forebears who faced other life-shattering challenges to habit and viewpoint, such as the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, William Wilberforce introducing the abolition of slave trade in the British parliament, Lucretia Mott starting the women's rights movement in Seneca Falls, and Rachel Carson speaking out to the public on DDT through her book Silent Spring. "The world we take for granted is founded on decisions to keep turning from a familiar but flawed present toward destinations only imagined, unprecedented, unknown, decisions risking failure, moves we only regret if we fail to make them."

Now to finish preparing tomorrow's sermon on Genesis 1 and 2.