Nancy Vedder-Shults Born on International Women’s Day, Nancy jokes that she was “predestined” to become a feminist. She has been offering ecofeminist and spiritual growth keynotes, workshops, and classes since 1987.
What an earth-loving tradition these four men created! John Muir — who grew up in Portage, Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin — went on to found the Sierra Club, help protect Yosemite Valley, and urge us all to passionately engage with wilderness. As opposed to Muir — who immigrated from Scotland — Frederick Jackson Turner was born in Portage, Wisconsin. Like Muir, he studied at the University of Wisconsin, to which he returned as a professor. He’s best known for his “frontier thesis,” which suggested that Americans were formed by their experiences on the frontiers of our continent. His insight that a people and their culture could only be understood in connection with the land they inhabit has proven pivotal to what became the environmental movement years later.
Permaculture is a movement whose time has arrived. We’re all concerned about “global weirding” (climate change), and according to Starhawk, permaculture offers a set of simple solutions to this problem. In my last post (and the accompanying video), Starhawk talked specifically about how permaculture would sequester carbon in the soil.
Carbon Farmers of America is a group that’s taking this issue seriously. Star explained that they’re funding research to discover the best practices for large-scale building of soil and paying farmers for every ton of carbon dioxide they capture in new topsoil by marketing carbon sinks to the public to fund the work. Topsoil has the capacity as a carbon sink to capture the excess carbon in our atmosphere. And our soils desperately need that carbon. So this group is creating a win-win situation, really taking the permaculture saying “Pollution is the solution,” and applying it directly to “global warming” and topsoil depletion.
Permaculture for Starhawk is a practical application of Paganism. This is the link that connects the Goddess(es) and our vegetable gardens. The Goddess, as we know her within Wicca and other forms of Paganism, represents the cycles of birth – growth – death – decay – and regeneration, exactly the cycles that permaculture deals with in a more pragmatic way.
To say that the Goddess is sacred doesn’t mean you have to believe in something outside of yourself, according to Starhawk. It simply means that you need to shift your attitude towards viewing these natural cycles as amazing, even miraculous. Spiritually, we need to pay attention to how they’re happening around us all the time. They are the ways we connect with each other most deeply and with all other life forms on the planet. If we approach them with awe, reverence, and respect, these natural processes will lead us into ways of living and working that will create more health, abundance, beauty, and biodiversity as well as more joy and freedom on the planet. And if we don’t, Starhawk admonishes, we’ll get the mess we’re in today.
Starhawk was generous with her time while she was here in Madison a month ago. She granted me two interviews, the first about Palestine and the second — which I will begin to post today now that I’m back from my vacation — about permaculture. For those of you who don’t know her, Starhawk is the best-known Wiccan author alive today. She’s published eleven books, including The Spiral Dance, which introduced many of us to Wicca. From the beginning of her career, she’s been very involved as an activist, and since the 1990s she’s been most active in promoting permaculture.
Star came to permaculture as a natural outgrowth of her Paganism. After many years in the Goddess movement — where we declared that the Earth was a sacred, living organism that manifests Herself in the cycles of birth, growth, death, and regeneration that occur in all of nature, including our own human culture — Star discovered permaculture. She soon realized it was a practical application of her spiritual path.
Israel is building most of the barrier inside the West Bank rather than along the Green Line, in violation of international humanitarian law. In recent months, Israeli military authorities have arbitrarily arrested and denied due process rights to several dozen Palestinian anti-wall protesters.
Starhawk believes that the Israeli government fears this non-violent resistance more than the violent action they’ve contended with for years. Why? Because the government knows the movement’s power to shift public opinion and mobilize people against Israeli injustice. These grassroots efforts undermine several pillars of Israeli control in the occupied territories, according to Starhawk, and start to shatter the story that Palestinians are all evil terrorists.
Like most Jewish kids in postwar America, Starhawk grew up believing that Israel was the salvation of the Jewish people. She collected pennnies to plant trees in the Holy Land, learned Israeli folk songs and Israeli dances, and dreamed of going to Israel. At 15 she finally attended a Zionist program in Israel.
Star believes that she was raised with a compelling story — that Jews were kicked around for 2,000 years, almost exterminated in the Holocaust, and out of those ashes, finally got their own land again. “And by God,” she adds, “nobody’s going to take an inch of it away from us.” This is a persuasive story for many people, according to Starhawk. But unfortunately, the Palestinians aren’t in it.
For Starhawk, as for many American Jews of her age, it was painful to face the injustice that Israel was carrying out against the Palestinian people. Star senses that much of this injustice stems on a deep psychological level from an inability to see the Palestinian people as people — with their own humanity, their own rights, their own desires and flaws. Denying Palestinians that full range of humanity — and acknowledging that their ranks include the good, the bad, the vicious, the kind, the compassionate — is at the root of the unjust treatment they receive. Seeing every Palestinian as a suicide bomber who wants to kill an Israeli will not resolve this conflict. Nor will denying the existence of the Palestinians.
Starhawk hopes that another compelling narrative will begin to take the place of the one that she grew up with. This is a tale that’s very familiar to readers of Tikkun. It’s the story that Judaism stands for justice, for the regneration of the world, for tikkun olam. This, too, is a powerful story. And Star believes that if we can call people back to that story — as painful as it is to face the truth of what Israel has done to Palestine — then we can actually stop this injustice.
For those of you who don’t know her, Starhawk is the best-known Wiccan author alive today. She’s published eleven books, including The Spiral Dance, which introduced many of us to Wicca. And from the beginning of her career, she’s been very involved as an activist, most recently supporting Palestinians in the occupied territories.
After spending last week with Starhawk, I realized that she’s a “meta-activist,” a node of many different types of activism, and a font of knowledge about how to act most effectively when demonstrating, educating, and building a new world. She’s been active in the women’s movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the anti-globalization movement, in creating greater sustainability and a permaculture for the Earth, as well as in supporting Palestinian non-violence for the creation of a Palestinian state. Fortunately for all of us, as an active workshop presenter, Star has been passing along what she’s learned in all these areas. I interviewed her about two of those movements, the two p’s: Palestine and permaculture, and want to share those interviews over the next few days, beginning with her thoughts about Palestine.
This past December, Star planned to participate in the Gaza Freedom March, a demonstration of 1,400 people from 38 different countries that included a large contingent from France. The purpose of this gathering was to bring in much-needed humanitarian supplies as well as to call attention to the inhumane conditions in Gaza after the yearlong Israeli blockade that followed their bombing of Gaza.
As you may recall, Israel attacked about a year ago in response to rockets that Hamas shot into Israeli settlements. As Star reiterated in her comments, the international demonstrators came to support Palestinian non-violent resistance to Israel, and in no way condoned Hamas’ hostility. But Israeli aggression a year ago worsened an already difficult situation in Gaza, killing 1400 people, destroying 4,000 homes and 88 public buildings. Since then the Israeli blockade has kept needed supplies from reaching Palestinians in Gaza, resulting in abject poverty, malnutrition, and bad drinking water, as well as a lack of building materials and equipment to rebuild the devastated area. The state of affairs has deteriorated to the point where Gaza has become essentially an open-air prison with little to keep it going.
Growing up I believed that you could get either love OR respect in life, but not both. This was my mother’s understanding of the way the world worked — one she taught me from day one — and maybe it was true for her or even for women of her generation. But over the years, I’ve discovered that without respect, love is a hollow sweetness, and that without love, respect can result in a distance that undoes its best intentions.
These insights came back to me Sunday at First Unitarian Society in Madison as I listened to our associate minister Karen Gustavson offer one of her best sermons ever. It was well-crafted, contained great stories and great intelligence, but I disagreed completely with what she had to say. The sermon was also about a topic that I care about with every cell in my body — about our need to love and care for the Earth. And so I feel compelled to present a different viewpoint.
We in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) are considering changes in the language of our “Principles and Purposes,” the statements that guide our work together as an association of free, but interdependent congregations. Karen was responding on Sunday to the rewording of the seventh principle, a change that would substitute the word reverence for the word respect in the phrase “we covenant to honor and uphold … respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” She made an effective appeal for retaining the original language –respect — because she believes that to revere something implies a certain passivity — true for our fundamentalist brethren, but not for me and other people on the left hand of God — while respect indicates an active response. Obviously, this is not my experience.
What all Unitarian Universalists want in this rewrite of the seventh principle is language that reflects care for the Earth as a religious imperative, not an optional activity.
As many of my readers know, I feel incredibly lucky to live in Madison, where wild birds and animals are plentiful. In fact, my first post on this blogsite last summer concerned a mink I saw in my backyard. Lately I’ve been enjoying a gaggle of turkeys in our neighborhood (or a covey or flock — whatever it’s called).They sleep in the trees close to our house and feed on the nearby golf course during the day. I’ve never had any trouble with them, but some folks have recently found them aggressive. Four people out walking were chased by several, and a child walking to and from school was harassed as well. When a bird reaches the height of four feet with a six-foot wingspan, they can appear quite menacing. And since turkeys can run up to 25 mph and fly at 55 mph, they’re a force to be reckoned with.
One of the reasons for this problem is that some of my neighbors have been feeding them. This is always a mistake when it comes to wild animals. It’s not that they become domesticated; they just become dependent on our handouts, and lose their natural fear of humans, simultaneously becoming more belligerent. If people want to help turkeys survive our difficult Wisconsin winters, their best bet is to create sustainable habitats for them. When you think about it, this makes sense, since wild turkeys existed in the north woods way before people could think of feeding these birds in winter. In fact, research by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources indicates that even the toughest winter we’ve had in recent years (1995-1996) had a negligible effect on the turkey population. They add:
Turkeys can remain in roosting areas for up to two weeks during especially severe weather and can lose up to forty percent of their body weight before dying of starvation.