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Nancy Vedder-Shults
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.

Finding Hope in the Newspaper?


by: on January 8th, 2010 | 7 Comments »


Newspaper Vendor


My newspaper this morning gave me hope. And brothers and sisters, that doesn’t happen very often. On the front page, taking up about one third of the sheet, there was an article entitled “Trying to open the ‘inner eye.’” It was a piece that described the new Center for Conscious Living, an offshoot of the Church of Religious Science, which the pastor said is “reinventing the idea of church, with ‘stand you up music,’ meditation, singing, chanting and ‘an inclusive message of self-empowerment.’” Above this article, the top story was about our governor’s clean energy plan, in which 25 percent of the Wisconsin’s energy must come from wind, solar, biomass, or other renewable sources by 2025. My friend Jack Kisslinger, whose website is called Planet for Life, tells me that 25% might be a good number, but it has to be 25% of reduced overall energy consumption. So the governor’s goal is at least a step in the right direction. These days we’re at less than 5%!?! But the miracle is that some of Wisconsin’s business leaders are lining up behind the governor, including executives of Johnson Controls, an auto parts and building products manufacturer. All of this combined with the EPA’s stricter standards for smog-causing pollution made me ebullient.

I’ve been really angry at the Obama administration lately, so it was nice to agree with them for the first time in what seems like months. The last straw for me was Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech, coming right on the heels of his announcement about expanding the war in Afghanistan. Until then had I tried to see his incrementalism as “realism.” But Rabbi Michael Lerner‘s editorial in the latest Tikkun, “Afghanistan: Obama Capitulates to the War Makers,” says it all. I agree with Rabbi Lerner that Obama’s announcement represented “a decisive endorsement of the strategy of domination.” And then Obama’s Nobel Prize speech tried to justify his decision by saying that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes, that “Evil does exist in the world.” When Obama used that final phrase, I stopped listening to him. Christopher Hedges‘ article in the same Tikkun, “Celebrity Culture and the Obama Brand,” describes the shift in my opinion at that point: “President Obama does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another.” I stopped believing in Brand Obama.

It’s hard to be optimistic given the world situation these days. But I believe that the three stories that filled me with hope today are related in a way that may not be immediately apparent. Without more spiritual exploration, people in this country will have trouble opening their minds to the changes in store for us. And those changes are going to be very fast, whether for the better or for the worse. As I said in a post several months ago,


Pagans at the Parliament (1)


by: on January 7th, 2010 | 5 Comments »

Angie Buchanan and Phyllis Curott at the PWRIn 1993 representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church publicly pulled out of the Parliament of World Religions (PWR) to protest the inclusion of “godless” Pagans. They haven’t come back. But that may change if Angie Buchanan has her way.

Angie, as well as two other Pagans — Andras Corban Arthen and Phyllis Curott — are on the 35-member Board of Trustees of the Council of the Parliament of World Religions. They’ve worked diligently to build bridges to other faith traditions since they were elected to the Board — Angie in 2002, Andras in 2006, and Phyllis just this year. As a result of their efforts, Pagans (in which I include Wiccans like myself) are finally coming into our own. I know it’s been a difficult road, and there’s still room for improvement.

But when people develop meaningful personal relationships while working together — as Angie, Andras, and Phyllis have with the Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, American Indians, Protestants, Jains, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, etc. on the Parliament’s Board — they begin to see each others’ religions through the lens of their respect for that other person. That’s a very good thing for Pagans, since so many misconceptions and prejudices exist about us among mainstream religions.

In the past the spectrum of disrespect for Paganism has extended from branding us as Satanists to dismissing us as superstitious. From the perspective of Abrahamic traditions, Paganism has essentially been viewed as a heresy. Thus the Greek Orthodox walk-out. But at this Parliament, Pagans made it very clear that we’re aligned with other indigenous religions. Wiccans and Pagans practice the remnants of the pre-Christian, indigenous religions of Europe. Like other indigenous religions, we practice an Earth-based Nature religion. And like other indigenous religions, ours was persecuted by conquerors, who forced us to go underground during the Christianization of Europe.


The Sacred Feminine at the Parliament of World Religions


by: on December 31st, 2009 | 14 Comments »

Goddess of Willendorf, 22,000-24,00 BCE

Goddess of Willendorf, 22,000-24,00 BCE

I’m surprised that almost none of us blogged about the Parliament of World Religions (PWR) in Melbourne, Australia (12/3 – 12/9). I realize that the US Congress was still discussing the health care bill, Obama had just given his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, and the Copenhagen Climate conference was underway. So we all have good excuses.

Here at Tikkun Daily, we heard from Dave Belden, who wrote about Rabbi Michael Lerner’s workshop on the spiritual progressive movement. And Rabbi Lerner also wrote about the great disappointment world spiritual leaders at the PWR felt at Obama’s speech in Oslo. But otherwise, there wasn’t a peep about this important gathering that happens every five years.

For members of my religion — both feminist pagans and members of the Goddess Movement across a variety of faiths — it seems to have been a very exciting experience. From what I’ve read, both the Goddess movement and paganism were well-received, something that has rarely happened before. In fact, Phyllis Curott was quoted on the Women at the Parliament blog site as saying that back in 1993 she had difficulty finding anyone else who would appear on a panel about the Sacred Feminine and very few attended. She went on to say that

Things certainly seem to have changed with this Parliament and the Sacred Feminine was clearly rising!


Solstice Evergreen


by: on December 22nd, 2009 | 3 Comments »

Mill Creek FallsEvery year at winter solstice, I perform in a Interfaith Yule celebration at First Unitarian Society in Madison. Every year I tell a story and sing a song. This year I told a T’salagi (Cherokee) tale explaining why some trees are evergreen. In the spirit of the season, I’d like to share it with you.

In order to really understand the Cherokee story, you need to know that the T’salagi or Cherokee people lived in the southern Appalachian mountains until they were forced onto the “Trail of Tears” by white settlers who wanted their land. This part of the world is extremely luxuriant. In fact, there are more plant species in the mountains of Georgia and the Carolinas than in all of Europe. As a result, the T’salagi — living as they did in harmony with the land — knew a lot about the flora of their native territory and respected its medicine. The evergreens were among the most sacred plants and were only harvested by a shaman for healing purposes.

Another fact also brings this story alive. When Cherokee children went through their rite of passage to adulthood, they participated in a vision quest, during which they were to stay awake for seven days and seven nights. Here’s my retelling of the story:


Nice Guys Finish First


by: on December 10th, 2009 | 9 Comments »

“Nice guys finish last.” That’s what we believe in this country. Without that assumption, advertisers couldn’t sell their latest energy drink and “Turn Boys into Monsters” as Derrick Kikuchi told us yesterday. Because of this notion, boys are besieged with images from marketers and the media that they have to compete rather than cooperate, go for the selfish power play rather than take part in the team, and become a macho man rather than a pansy. It’s every man for himself, these commercials say. If you don’t look out for number one, you’ll lose.

Well, it turns out that we’ve got it all backwards in this patriarchal, heterosexist, individualistic, might-makes-right society. And I have to add, “Thank goodness!” Because as a woman, many people assume that I throw like a sissy before anyone even tosses me the ball.

Scientific evidence has been accumulating over the last twenty years that shows what should have been common sense before now — that instead of being hard-wired to be selfish, human beings have evolved to be compassionate and collaborative. The social scientists fostering this research call their new understanding “survival of the kindest” to distinguish it from the social Darwinism of the past. They’re showing that we’ve been successful as a species precisely because of our altruism, nurturance, and compassion.


“Lights” and the “Dinner Party”


by: on December 7th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

Place Setting from Judy Chicago's "Dinner Party"

Place Setting from Judy Chicago's "Dinner Party"

When I take a vacation, I love the freedom it offers. And the experiences I would otherwise miss. This time those events included hearing our daughter Linnea sing and play drums with her band Lights (magnificently, I might add). They were at the end of their eastern tour and it was her 28th birthday, so all-round it was a unique occasion. If you want to hear (and see) them, check out their music video. (Linnea’s the drummer. She faces directly into the camera in the first frame with faces, and her music partner Sophia Knapp is in profile on the left). They’re now on their southern tour, so go see them if you’re nearby. Here’s the schedule.

This was a special time for both sides of the generational divide. I’m a proud mama and surprised as well, because in her youth, it didn’t look like Linnea’s future included composing songs for a rock band. And during the concert, I heard my daughter exclaim in exuberant tones that all her best Brooklyn buddies were there “with her parents in the front row!” We think she’s amazing, and I guess she returns the favor.

Besides wonderful ethnic food, which we always savor while in NYC — this year the best was a sushi fusion outing — we also spent time enjoying the Dinner Party. This installation is perhaps THE iconic artwork of twentieth century feminism. Judy Chicago envisioned and designed much of it, and hundreds of other women helped her create the runners and ceramic pieces that adorn the triangular banquet table that pays homage to 39 historical and mythical women. It took all of them five years to complete this gargantuan project, and when it came out in 1979, the entire feminist community was breathless with anticipation. I’ve seen photos of most of the place settings, but I had never been in the presence of the entire dinner party. I say “in the presence,” because that’s what it felt like. As I walked through the banners that led into the banquet hall, I began to tear up, overwhelmed with the immensity of what I was about to experience.


The Sacred Feminine


by: on November 17th, 2009 | 14 Comments »

I love reading emails from the GoddessScholars list serve. This group of women includes some of the most knowledgeable people in the world when it comes to the divine feminine. The core members — out of several hundred women — are scholars, but the e-list contains artists, musicians, story-tellers, and ritualists as well. Reading their posts, I discover what’s new in the “Goddess Sphere.” I discover where the current controversies lie. And sometimes I discover just how ignorant much of the rest of the world is about this area that’s intensely meaningful to me.

A few months ago the controversies surrounded whether or not new archaeological finds were Goddess figures or not. Then it was on to the Catholic parish worker here in Wisconsin who was fired for her feminist views. After that it was the fact that Marija Gimbutas’s work has been hidden from view, even in events seemingly spawned by her research. And the latest battle seems to concern the very center of our connection with each other — the sacred feminine.

This latest brou-ha-ha began when one member wrote about a friend who was completing her M.A. in Art History. The friend wanted to concentrate on Botticelli’s representation of a variety of Goddesses. But when she approached her advisor, he told her that the sacred feminine was NOT a scholarly topic, but instead a term Dan Brown made up to sell The Da Vinci Code. Whoa! I think every woman on our e-list felt personally assaulted by this unbelievable statement.

We’ve been studying, celebrating, painting, telling stories, ritualizing, and singing songs about the sacred feminine for over 30 years, many on this list — including myself — for that entire time. My response was immediate and critical:


Bridging Difference


by: on November 12th, 2009 | 2 Comments »

I think the hardest interactions in my life have been the ones where I expect similarity, and then I’m confronted with difference. This can occur anytime. But in my life, it happens most often when I’m confronted with a man who seems like a touchy-feely guy, and then turns out to be anything but.

The problem sometimes happens at the semantic level, where words I think have obvious overtones — whether of judgement, of criticism, or other kinds of negativity — are seen by my counterpart as having no such nuances. Sometimes it happens when the man I assume to be my (feminist) ally turns on me for what seem like (masculinist/macho) reasons. And sometimes it’s just about interactional style. You know, men want to fix the problem, while women want to smooth the process.

Today I had one of those interactions. And I’ve got to say, it pushed me to the edge of my tolerance. My emotions were screaming — “What the hell is going on?” while my intellect was trying to calm me down — “If you believe what he says, then you have to deal with him in ways that are unfamiliar.” Fortunately for all of us (I believe), my intellect won out. But my emotions are still jangled, and I have to bring them into harmony with my mind. So here goes:


“Quest” Mentoring, Not Spiritual Direction


by: on October 30th, 2009 | 6 Comments »

We’ve started a new program named “Quest” at First Unitarian Society (FUS). FUS created Quest in order to help members who want it to develop a deeper commitment to their spiritual journey. Some of the introductory writings about the program describe it as “a journey toward wholeness, holiness, and peace.” It’s a very exciting two-year “pilgrimage,” and I’m blessed to be a part of it as a mentor to two women who are participants.

Today one of my partners contacted me. I’d just finished re-reading a chapter from Parker Palmer‘s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life about “Being Along Together,” a good metaphor for my role in this process. And yesterday I had finally bought two chairs for my meditation room, where I hope to meet with my partners –if that’s what they want. So synchonicities are lining up to indicate the “rightness” of this choice.

For several years now, I’ve been considering spiritual direction as a new option in my life, and being asked to become a Quest mentor helped strengthen this interest. Sometimes referred to as spiritual guidance or spiritual friendship, spiritual direction like mentoring takes place in a one-to-one relationship, in which a person who wants to become more attentive to their spiritual life meets regularly with a “spiritual director,” in order to awaken more fully to the presence of spirit and how it moves through their existence. I’m not using “God language” here, because not all UUs are comfortable with it. But what I realized while re-reading Parker Palmer is just how uncomfortable I am with the term “spiritual direction.”


Leaf ($#@^*) Blowers


by: on October 29th, 2009 | 3 Comments »

It’s that time of year again! Leaf blower time! Yuck.

I love the fall. It’s full of color and change. And usually I love my neighborhood. It’s located behind a big hill, so we don’t hear much of the street traffic from the major thoroughfare in our area. And, of course, it’s on the lake, so the vista and the quiet — even when it’s raining, like it is today — are beautiful. But there are certain times when the noise level is literally deafening, namely when people should be raking.

It’s important for those of us who live on the lakes in Madison to deal with the leaves that fall in our yards. Every leaf that goes into the lake produces fodder for the next season’s algae growth — one pound of phosphorus from any source, including leaves, results in 500 pounds of algae. In fact, this time of year you can see yard signs all over town, stating “Love your lakes — Don’t leaf them.” So I guess I should be glad that people are blowing their leaves away from the water. But it would probably be better for them as well as for me and their other neighbors, if they raked rather than using leaf blowers. They’d get some exercise, and I wouldn’t have to walk around with my fingers in my ears.