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Lita Kurth
Lita Kurth
Lita A. Kurth is a Jungian Anarcho-Syndicalist teacher and writer



My Own Private Unorthodox Lent, Day 5

Mar5

by: on March 5th, 2017 | No Comments »

Angels and Devils

Today’s lesson is a tough one: angels and demons. “Angels are pure spirits without a body [so much for harps and halos] created to adore and enjoy G’d in heaven.” Hmmm, glorified servants, perfectly useless for us here below. But wait. “also appointed our guardians.” Nice idea. Lovely idea.

I really don’t believe in angels. Unless the term refers to a gracious, benevolent archetype, one of the aids our unconscious provides. That I subscribe to. But as for the wings and robes, I might as well believe in Batman. Angels get a lot of business including literal profit-making business. Nowadays, they appear lacy, childlike, almost always pink and feminine—though the only angels mentioned in the Bible have manly names—Gabriel, Michael, Phanuel, and Raphael (no manly parts, of course)— and engage in manly struggles such as wrestling and rolling away giant stones.

Demons, on the other hand, get less attention and trade except from Satan worshippers and Pentecostals. “Bad angels” feature in Halloween costumes as sexy red demonesses and goateed, lusty devils. Dehorned demons, you might say. Nothing dangerous or powerful. The Sunday School Companion tells us “many of them sinned and were cast into hell and these were called devils or bad angels.”

I definitely believe in demonic aspects of the personality, addictions, compulsions, a seemingly willful refusal of compassion, inability to empathize. I’ve tasted all these and take them seriously.

Is there a small devil in the compulsion to hang onto possessions? I’m struggling to work my way through a vast store of books and papers I’ll never use again. What is the sin that turned the angel of preparedness, safekeeping, memory, and care into fearful clutching and pointless piling? Let me run through the seven deadly ones: Anger? Pride? Lust? Gluttony? Greed? Sloth? I can’t remember the seventh one: Simony? Usury?

Pride could be at play: “Remember that one time when I was semi-important?” But that’s not really it. Anger? Sometimes I hang onto evidence of unresolved events as if I’ll be able to fix them someday, as if I’ll get another chance. And fear– that if I let go of this thing, I’ll need it someday. What does it take to let possessions go?

Faith—that there will be plenty more good things in the world. I know this is true. Hope—for the present and future. And love. Ah yes, love comes in when I give things away. I have a compulsion to keep things because they are high quality even though I don’t use them. There’s a colorful term for that: a “dog in the manger” attitude. A dog can’t eat hay, but he lies in the manger and won’t let the cows eat it either.

My act of contrition? I’m deciding to give away some good possessions that I’ve been saving but not using. And I’m going to go through one box of paper today, armed with Faith, Hope, and Love. I imagine many of you face similar challenges, and I’d love to hear about your approach.

 

 

 

 

 

My Own Private Unorthodox Lent, Day 4

Mar4

by: on March 4th, 2017 | No Comments »

In my Sunday School Companion, each Lesson begins with official definitions, definitions that have the imprimatur of numerous Catholic officials. The Catechism asks, “How shall we know the things which we are to believe?” and answers “…from the Catholic Church through which G’d speaks to us.”

These words are strangely relevant to a recent experience: an eloquent speaker called out people who appropriate another culture – by wearing dreadlocks, for example, or, in my case, having a yin-yang tattoo, or even, also in my case, bearing a name from another culture. It seems I’m a cultural appropriator both by choice and by birth. When I got home, I realized even in this unorthodox Lenten journey I’m a cultural appropriator!

The speaker was angry and justifiably so. How often have sacred symbols been used to make money or cover over the destruction of the very culture they purport to hold up? Too often to count.

And yet, is it always harmful to cross, and mix and blend cultures? Is there a way to share culture in a world where culture changes constantly, sometimes through bitter force but also through chance and choice?

As with so many issues, power enters in. People of less power have been banned from partaking of the objects, places, and even the language of the more powerful, yet perversely, they’ve also been forced to partake of it. White people have been able to cherry-pick without permission and often in complete ignorance.

Yet I want to say something for cultural sharing, for each person’s right to individuate, to seek and find among the myriad offerings of the world that which, often for mysterious reasons, speaks to their souls. Haven’t important movements and groups arisen from such mixtures? The Black Muslims, for example, or Norteño music.

Is culture to be strictly fenced, walled, and patrolled so that petty thieves like me are kept out entirely? Where do the boundaries end? Is it possible to honor as well as appropriate? I’ve always felt a certain softness toward men who like to wear dresses and makeup, shave their legs, etc. as many women do in modern Western culture. Wow, I think, Even though we have less power, they want to join us and be like us. Well, go ahead. Welcome. Does it sometimes seem a caricature of femininity? Maybe, but even so, I can honor the spirit.

I wonder how I, as an impoverished American, could relate so strongly to a 17th-century French nobleman, Voltaire? Yet I felt him as a kindred spirit. I learned French, not “my” culture. I also studied Spanish and Hebrew. Come to think of it, even my English isn’t native. I should be speaking German, Norwegian, Swedish, and Russian. Sometimes, for mysterious reasons, people feel a strong and deep connection to an “other.” I’m reluctant to criticize all such connections. As my friend, Arlene, pointed out, Catholicism itself is a mixture, a combination and amalgamation of multiple traditions.

On the other hand, if everything blends into a mush, might we lose some important legacies? Maybe we need both: cultural magpies and cultural guardians.

Being Called Out for Cultural Appropriation

Once, my first response to anger and shaming would have been to cower and apologize whether I thought I was in the wrong or not.

Later, I responded with hurt feelings and resentment that someone did not recognize me for who I truly am.

Is there a third response? How can I apply faith, hope, love, and contrition here?

Maybe I have faith that if I really knew this speaker better, I’d see her suffering. Maybe I can have hope that what feels like antagonism can someday be healed or at least accepted. I can think of what I love about that speaker, for example, vocal allegiance to many causes I also support, the speaker’s important work with youth.

And finally, contrition. What can I amend? Can I bring more thought and awareness to the symbols I wear or display, and perhaps accept that no matter what I choose, others may have a different perspective from mine, maybe forever, and, even though at times it may be painful, it’s also important, and necessary.

My Own Private Unorthodox Lent, Day 3

Mar3

by: on March 3rd, 2017 | 3 Comments »

What does Good News Mean to Me? An Act of Contrition?

Near the beginning of my 1888 Sunday School Companion, I find An Act of Faith, An Act of Hope, An Act of Love, and an Act of Contrition. Interesting order.  First, faith, hope, and love, and only in the end, contrition. I like that. Our culture seems rife with self-hatred, self-critique, self-rejection. I can see how we might need to focus on faith, hope, and love first so that contrition doesn’t become “I’m horrible and worthless and there’s no hope.” Maybe the “good news” resides in faith, hope, and love; faith to trust in the power of truth and love; hope that we can make a difference; love, well love is the healing balm that needs no explanation.

Much of the language of these “acts” does not speak to me.

I especially want to roll my eyes at “I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee” as if it doesn’t even matter that another person was hurt. G’d’s the only one that matters (Because in the Jewish tradition, people don’t speak the name of G’d, I’m using this replacement.) And one part just goes in the trash: “I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven…” Isn’t that like saying, “I could kick myself for mouthing off because now I can’t have the car”? Apparently, the philosopher Levinas has worked hard to avoid the eye-popping selfishness of “virtue” done for gain.

But one thing I do love: each Act begins with “Oh my God!” That’s exactly how I felt yesterday when I realized I had not been “vocal and visible” as my friend Kari put it. Those words are such a meme in our culture—OMG!—that it’s funny to find it at the beginning of sober and orthodox prayers from 1888. I’m interested in this idea of doing an act of faith, of hope, and of love and then contrition. I wonder: could I do them all in one day? They might be really small.

For example, I trust, I have confidence in the people who put together a certain program I’m going to read in. Is that an act of faith?  I feel optimistic and hopeful about the experience. I want to do it with love for my fellow participants, the audience, and myself, maybe even “the world”.

And then, contrition. Wow, looking it up, I see contrition includes older meanings of “to rub, wear, scrape away, destroy.” Strong language.

But maybe strong language is needed. I am often burdened with regret. Sometimes even after making amends, I can’t let go of it. Old regrets stay with me: the time I was so rejecting of a nice person in 7th grade. I can still see her hurt blue eyes. And it was all about being popular. It was all about distancing myself from someone low-status. These “sins” (I’m not fond of the word) form a tough, burnt layer that apparently requires major scraping! Maybe that scraping, rubbing, destroying” is needed so that I can not only forgive myself but let go of longterm grudges against others. I strongly suspect the two are intertwined. Hmmm. There’s a lot of freedom in letting both go. A lot of lightness and room for new things to take their places.

My Own Private Unorthodox Lent, Day 2

Mar2

by: on March 2nd, 2017 | 5 Comments »

On Ash Wednesday, I received a letter from Casa de Clara, the Catholic Worker House in San Jose. In it, the letter connected Executive Order 9066, the Japanese Internment order, with recent events. Which is regrettably easy to do.

The letter also mentioned that on Ash Wednesday, when Catholics receive the ash on their foreheads, they also receive the words, “Repent and believe the Good News.” That was news to me. I’d forgotten or never known that Ash Wednesday was connected to repentance. But a point to ponder.

Repentance

Near the end, came a Dr. King quote, “a time comes when silence is betrayal,” which I found too a propos. Earlier in the day, in an open space with numerous half-enclosed desks, a pal whose politics are more conservative than mine mentioned Trump’s speech. Though he hadn’t voted for Trump, he liked the speech and criticized Democrats for remaining seated while a Navy Seal’s widow was being honored. He has never been a ranter, and I wanted to have a respectful conversation.

I said maybe they were remembering Trump’s treatment of the parents of a Muslim soldier who had died. I mentioned how polarized the country is and how hard to hear another point of view, but offered that the left, too, could use a better tone. We parted on cordial terms, and I walked to the kitchen passing an African-American colleague and a Japanese-American colleague. I wondered: if they overheard me, would they have considered me an ally? Had I been so eager to be nice and avoid conflict that I didn’t say my truth clearly?

I wished I’d responded, not heatedly, but openly, to one point: “Why can’t they give him a chance?” To do what? Is what I wish I’d replied. When his actions harm people, and choices for the Dept. of Education and Dept. of Labor, in particular are people who oppose the mission of their posts? When I thought of repentance, that failure stabbed me. I followed up with an email to my pal in which I mentioned Trump’s Cabinet choices in particular and left no question which side I was on, while never ranting. Of course, my colleagues would have no way of knowing I did that.

P. S. My wonderful activist friend, Kari, mentioned the importance of being “vocal and visible.” In some ways, I have been, but I commit to being more so.

So that’s the repentance side for me.

My Own Private Unorthodox Lent

Mar1

by: on March 1st, 2017 | 5 Comments »

Recently, I went to Niles with my friends to have tea and lollygag in the antique stores. One of the treasures I departed with was an 1888 Sunday School Companion with an actual literal imprimatur from an Archbishop! That gave me an idea.

I wasn’t raised Catholic, but from my years at a Jesuit university I gained a greater awareness of the enormous scope of Catholicism, many pieces of which I now see as valuable for me. Even Lent which had once seemed an unpalatable and needless mortification of the flesh to achieve social control through self-degradation (or possibly because by early spring, people were running low on food) suggested meaningful possiblities. I read a few works whose names I wish I could remember which made me think some Lenten practices might be helpful psychologically and spiritually.


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Do we want Democracy? Or the Electoral College?

Jan31

by: on January 31st, 2017 | 4 Comments »

It’s time to make a choice: do we want democracy or a dangerous tradition? A few efforts were made, after the last split between electoral and real, i.e.,popular votes, to shrivel the Electoral College and make sure it never stands between the people and their will again. Now it’s time to get serious and stay serious.

Consider this: how do American advisors sell our system overseas to the “less enlightened” nations where we are endlessly “spreading democracy”?

Dictator: so how does democracy work?

American advisor: “Well, you hold elections, the people vote, and sometimes the loser gets to be President.”


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Trauma and Community in San Jose

Nov12

by: on November 12th, 2016 | Comments Off

Trauma and Community in San Jose

Some drank. Some called in to work, sickened. Some wore black. Some sobbed. Some stayed up all night, unable to escape the pain and dread in their stomachs. Two therapists I know were flooded with crisis appointments. One of my students was on suicide watch. Those who were lucky had a community.

San Jose Public Library rally

The first community I turned to was my Facebook friends who provided these comforting words: “We must now be better. In France, after Hitler’s ascendancy, there was the Resistance. That must be us. Stand up. Protect the vulnerable. Volunteer locally. Donate globally. Say something when you see something. Be courageous. If we are the privileged, for goodness’ sake, for God’s sake, for our country’s sake, for our friends’ and families’ sake, for the least of these, use that privilege. If there is someone you don’t know, or understand, get to know them. Make friends, like kids do. The Muslim man, the trans woman, the Black little girl, the frightened little boy…”

Another friend reminded me, “I never thought I’d make it through the Reagan years but dancing and community and protest were certainly at the center.”

I Decided to Stand Up


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A Multicultural Immigrant Christmas

Dec25

by: on December 25th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Decades ago, nudged by subterranean wishes and memories, I hesitantly stepped into the nave of a Protestant church in my neighborhood. Like many of its kind, this congregation was small, old, and white. The only diversity it expressed, pretty much, was diversity of sexual orientation – and some diversity of opinion about diversity of sexual orientation. It was in many ways, an activist church, and for a time, gradually gathered to itself more young folk like me, gay and straight, and overwhelmingly white, who raised funds for AIDS programs, protested nuclear weapons, and pressed for inclusion of gays in the ministry.

A different church, but similar

For financial reasons, the church shared space with renters, a robust Asian congregation, far more conservative in theology, overflowing with young families who sat through a loud, hour-and-a-half sermon without blinking an eye. Despite our proclamations of diversity and multiculturalism, I’m sorry to report the two congregations remained quite separate, and some in our social justice-oriented church commented quite vehemently on diapers left in the nursery, heating bills, and I don’t remember what. We lived in two different worlds without a lot of warmth and welcome on our side. Eventually, divisions yawned even within our group, and I stopped attending.

I moved to another city. Decades passed. A friend began attending that church again. Reluctant and ambivalent, but curious, I agreed to visit one Sunday. The physical side of the church was little changed, same clay roof, dark pews, stained glass. But, mercy, how the constituency had changed! Now, the minister of the “white” church was a Korean-American immigrant. A South Asian guy led music, and the choir featured Koreans, Chinese, Latinos, and just a sprinkling of old white women and men. The children’s minister was African-American, and a family of African immigrants took up an entire pew. Suddenly, the congregation was as multicultural as a community college.

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Hoovervilles for the Homeless? or Legalized Camping?: San Jose

Aug9

by: on August 9th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Hooverville 1932 credit Tony Fischer

Herbert Hoover, like many politicians in the Bay Area today, believed that the market and private philanthropy could solve all ills even while shantytowns (similar to San Jose’s Jungle) cropped up around every major city: the direct result of mass unemployment, mass eviction, and bankruptcy.

Then as now, people constructed homes of cardboard, lumber, tin, and canvas. They dug holes in the ground. And they situated themselves near waterways. One of the largest Depression-era “jungle” was located outside St. Louis by the Mississippi River, a settlement of 5,000 people with a “mayor” and four churches! Another major Hooverville sprang up in Seattle. Then as now, local governments tried to evict them only to have them return. In Seattle, they reached an agreement on co-existence and self-government that lasted through the bad times.

Recently, San Jose’s mayor Liccardo spoke at the Vatican about moving forward with motel conversions, micro housing, and finding jobs for the homeless. The mayor mentioned a site where 150 micro-houses will be installed, but no one in the housing activist community seems to know where that site is. Some say private philanthropy has been slow to materialize. Maybe San Jose’s wealthy need to have “thrift parties” as they did in the 1930′s where socialites paid a lot to wear old clothes and eat hot dogs, and the proceeds went to shantytowns.

It’s true that some formerly homeless, perhaps several hundred, are now housed. That’s important. Others have gone through rigorous austerity-education programs only to discover that, rationally, they cannot afford to live in San Jose at all.


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Pay to Play II: Testing and Punishing Students, Testing and Punishing Teachers

Jun10

by: on June 10th, 2015 | Comments Off

A stylized open math workbook with a pencil.

While wealthier schools give teachers leeway for creativity and local emphases, standardized tests, Common Core, and the cookie-cutter approach to curriculum are forced on poor schools and students. Credit: CreativeCommons / Bill Selak.

What happens when you close a struggling school “for the good of the students” and farm the kids off to charters? Very few researchers have talked about public schools as a source of precious jobs in desperate communities. What happens to the student whose mom used to be a “lunch lady,” a job with benefits, who now is unemployed? What happens to the children of the custodians, the school secretaries, and teachers’ aides, now unemployed? How does the parent’s loss of a good job affect the student’s education? This question came up at a Working Class Studies panel at Georgetown University recently where Jose-Luis Vilson, a teacher and education blogger, pointed out that the loss of public employment hurts the black community especially.

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