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

Gratitude: What a Chore


by: on November 24th, 2010 | 4 Comments »

Why is it so hard to be grateful?

In the churches of my childhood, the ministers would intone, “Let us give thanks,” perhaps after the collection plate had been passed, and we would all bow our heads and go through the motions. I don’t remember feeling actual gratitude.

But that wasn’t for lack of reminding. A hymn too exhorted us, “Count your Blessings. Name them one by one, and you’ll be surprised at what the Lord has done.” I do not recall ever literally counting my blessings or being surprised, except in a bad way, at what the Lord had done. Being the pious kind of person who read the Bible from cover to cover on summer vacation, I must have gone through the exercise, in prayers on my knees, but I do not recall feeling grateful. Maybe I thought my blessings wouldn’t add up to much, or maybe I didn’t know how to be grateful. Gratitude was hard to muster; however, sardonic and sarcastic responses arose with great ease.

Isn’t gratitude just happy talk, denial, and bullshit? Isn’t it masochism?


The Tea Party, a Middle Class Mob; and a Return to the Fifties


by: on September 22nd, 2010 | 10 Comments »

Little Rock, 1959. Rally at state capitol, protesting the integration of Central High School.

In April, I was riding the DC Metro to the Capitol Mall, when several Tea Party demonstrators got on and sat a few seats away from me. The first, a young white man, wore red-and-white striped shoes with blue tops and other Uncle Sam garb; the young, white woman with him carried a hand-made sign on which was glued an old document titled “The Constitution” and the words, “Miss me yet?”

Their origins, judging by hair, clothes, accent, and where they got on seemed to be lower middle class church goers. Not rich. Not sophisticates. And not stupid. I wanted to ask the woman, “Which part of the Constitution do you see as lost?” Had she read it all the way through?

Tea Party rally March 13, 2010 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Credit: Flickr Fibonacci BlueWho Are These People?

Who dresses up in red, white, and blue costumes, demonstrates, and now, votes for astonishingly extremist candidates in New York and Delaware? What motivates them?

We hear from investigative reports that the Tea Party is, by and large, a middle class group, including ironically people with jobs in the Department of Defense (never a waste of tax dollars), and nourished behind the scenes by wealthy conservatives like Dick Cheney and his daughter, but it has spread. Looking at those two, I caught a glimpse of a world they probably longed for, a world I grew up in, a place that we, as a country, have been before.


The Uses of Unemployment: Art


by: on August 26th, 2010 | 4 Comments »

Still from Scar Tissue Dance Video - section 'Scar Writing', The Olimpias, 2005

“AIDS is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Those words from an exhibit a decade ago at the California College of Arts, struck me speechless. I stood, riveted to the wall-sized set of panels. The honesty and courage of the words and images impressed me profoundly. I felt I was in the presence of something significant and wholly unexpected, something I would have thought impossible.

How could the artist make this claim? The notes revealed the reason: the calamity had transformed his art and his personal relationships, his very identity.

I would never suggest that everyone should have this attitude toward suffering. But that it was possible at all made me ponder.

Unemployment, too, can hit us like a heavy diagnosis; where in this disaster can we find meaning and healing while we send out applications and wait for change? How can we walk through the gaping door into the unknown?


Unemployment, Fear, and What We Can Do


by: on July 20th, 2010 | 14 Comments »

  • A manager in a failing department store runs to the bathroom and throws up, consumed with the fear of losing her health benefits which, even with COBRA, will cost too much.
  • A teacher wakes up multiple nights a week with his whole body clenched, dreading that California’s annual pink slip won’t be retracted this time.
  • A factory worker grieves the loss of friendship and socializing at work as much as the lost income.

Very likely everyone reading this knows someone who has recently lost a job. Unemployment is a strange word; defined negatively, it fails to convey the meaning of an often devastating experience (though one that, together, we can mitigate). In a society that has allowed many supportive institutions to atrophy, job loss looms even more menacingly than it would elsewhere. Added to the practical economic blows are wrenching emotional wounds: fear, self-blame, despair, and lowered self-esteem.

The late Cambridge University professor Marie Jahoda (a Jew and former prisoner of the Austrian Fascists) noted in an important 1982 article, that having a job “imposes a time structure on the waking day; it compels contacts and shared experiences with others outside the nuclear family; it demonstrates that there are goals and purposes which are beyond the scope of an individual but require a collectivity.” Unfortunately, for too many, work is the only significant collective activity they have outside the nuclear family.


Quality of Life, the Tea Party, and Jack Kornfield


by: on June 21st, 2010 | 5 Comments »

Bristol Cathedral

What is a High Quality of Life?
I once lived for an entire year as an exchange student with a British family in Bristol, UK. Their house, one end of a three-house row, contained three bedrooms, one bathroom, small living and dining rooms, and a tiny kitchen, too small for eating in. They owned one car, a little Vauxhall, and one TV, yet considered themselves well able to feed, house, and entertain a stranger for an entire year.

By American middle-class standards, this family was practically poor, yet their four children received great educations. They attended excellent live theatre all the time; I saw eight professional plays, a handful of concerts, and numerous movies that year, not to mention visiting art museums, historic parks, and nature reserves. The mom sang in an impressive city choir, and their small hallway contained a piano. Their street and tiny front yard were well-cared for and attractive. My school was safe and good. The National Health Service tended to their illness and dental needs (and mine). Their local library was big and well-stocked. We ate healthy breads, fresh fruit and vegetables every day, fresh creams, cheeses, small amounts of good meat. They read good newspapers and watched the BBC. They volunteered both officially, for organizations, and unofficially helping neighbors and relatives. They took vacations to Cornwall and to Spain as well as weekend excursions. In terms of health, personal development, and community, their quality of life was enviable.

Supposedly, in the Bay Area and especially San Jose, we’re a lot more fortunate.


How Spiritual Progressives Can Celebrate International Workers Day: Social Justice, Anarchists, and Stewart Acuff


by: on April 28th, 2010 | 11 Comments »

Credit: FlickrCC/Chaz_Wags.

I once worked for a small greeting card company in Berkeley, piecework packing cards into plastic bags: $7 for a box filled with twelve-card bags. After a while, I became quite efficient and could fill almost two boxes in an hour. The owner, however, was outraged at what my hourly wage had become and moved to cut it.

Clearly she had earlier decided she could afford $7 a box, but now, apparently, the idea of a mere worker getting a decent wage was more than she could stand. Disgusted and furious, I left as soon as I could find another job.

Little injustices like that and far bigger ones are the reasons we have a labor movement. It has been a long, long, bitter struggle for workers to have a small share of democracy at work. Their rights are won and then eroded or circumvented.

Now, so many people work 12-hour shifts or wildly fluctuating hours; several part-time jobs or full- plus part-time jobs that the eight-hour day and forty-hour week, designed for rest, human development, and Sabbath, are moving out of range once more. It’s symptomatic that few American workers could tell you what May 1 is about.


April Fools: Jokes, Friendship, and Erasmus?


by: on April 1st, 2010 | 2 Comments »

“Have a seat!” I’d say on April Fool’s Day, offering a classmate a little wooden chair. If she were foolish enough to accept my kindness, I’d jerk it back and she’d fall on her butt. Or I’d point to a friend’s shirt: “Oh my God! There’s a spider on your pocket!” He’d look, and everyone would laugh.

I’m sorry to say I delighted in these pranks, even occasionally when played on me.

There’s a certain jocular joy to April Fool’s Day that children and immature people love. And you can’t celebrate it alone. Jokes and pranks require others. Could even April Fool’s Day have a crazy spiritual aspect?


Every spiritual tradition has a wise fool. The Jewish tradition offers Badchan, the wedding jester, who warns the bride of the groom’s faults (We have to recognize the wisdom in that, no?) and whose quips can be quite off-color.


Good Deeds on a Small Scale #3


by: on February 6th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

I’m fascinated by the germination of good deeds. Where do they begin? How do they grow from a mere idea to an actuality?

On the 26th of January, I caught up by phone with José Chavez, a custodian in the San Jose, California, Unified School District who’s been instrumental in creating a library for the village school in Limón, Michoacán, Mexico, where he grew up. (I learned of his project through a librarian friend who was soliciting books in Spanish.) Not only did he lead the library project, but he helped (physically) build a concrete plaza and paved areas in the village. When that was finished, the priest in the village called him up and said, “Why don’t you help us make a little room behind the church for people to meet?” So he raised $3,000 from among his friends and relatives in the immigrant community, many of whom gave $50, $100, $200.

I imagine that many people, like me, dream about all the good we’ll do someday when we acquire enough wealth to have a personal foundation. Here was a working class person who didn’t wait to be rich before taking action.

Below are extracts from our conversation:

LK: Tell me about how you started this library.

JC: I was born in Limón, Michoacán, and when I came here in 1974, I was thinking one day, ‘We don’t have any books [in the village].’ Three of us came from the same school, and [when we went there] the government only gave us three or four books, so I said to my friends, “Why don’t we try to build a library for the kids in that school?” So we [Salvador Andrade, Mario Andrade, and José] filled out an application to the government in Sacramento [Mexico] to see if the government will help us. The government said it would give 75 percent, if we would give 25 percent. So we started to collect the money [from other immigrant friends and family in the San Jose area].


Good Deeds on a Tiny Scale


by: on January 6th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Truly healing and mending the world can seem like an overwhelming task, beyond the capacity of everyday folks. It’s easy to feel that only big actions — starting an organization, a publication, a nonprofit, or a school and reaching at least thousands — counts. In today’s post, I’d like to say a word in favor of one-to-one generosity because recently I experienced several instances that were balms and blessings.

Case One, the Restaurateur

Over winter break, my family and thousands of others attempted to visit the Academy of Science. It should have been a tip-off that vehicles lined even the furthest edges of Golden Gate Park, so, after learning that we’d have to wait three hours or make alternate plans, we began trudging back to our distant, expensive parking lot. Along the way, my husband noticed a vegetarian Indian restaurant with a buffet lunch.

I wasn’t hungry myself, so we debated whether or not the proprietor would believe we weren’t pulling a fast one — a party of three paying for two all-you-can-eat meals.

“We might as well ask,” I said, expecting a not-unreasonable rejection. We entered the little hole-in-the-wall where the woman behind the counter greeted us in a kind and quiet manner, devoid of salesmanship. I asked my question, and, without weighing it, she assured me my non-customer presence would be no problem. I didn’t have to present an argument or plead my integrity.


Good Deeds on a Small Scale No.1


by: on December 27th, 2009 | 4 Comments »


Twenty years ago (already!), I belonged to an activist church with a woman minister, gay leaders, and a social justice agenda. I chose it and similar organizations because my life of getting and spending, work and amusement, politics and personal life, felt empty and insufficient. So I took up a two-stranded way, spiritual and political, protests and potlucks, rallies and fund raisers, services and singing, meetings and celebrations. The church became an important community to me, but I needed further growth. Let me illustrate:

Our church owned and rented a tiny house to a woman and her teenaged son who were not parishioners. I lived close by, so they were my neighbors though I didn’t know their names and never introduced myself. At some point, I heard, the woman became ill with cancer, and then she died. Her son held a garage sale to raise funds; I browsed, but saw nothing I wanted and, with a vaguely uneasy feeling, walked away. Some weeks later, he came around selling Ginsu knives. I didn’t need knives, so I didn’t buy any. I don’t remember how many other attempts he made, but eventually he couldn’t make the rent and had to move out. That was the end.

At some point, I came to view this incident with horror, remembering my lack of response, the feeling I had that the situation was too bad but not my concern. I was focused on grand causes, so many ways to change the world that I could not help a neighbor even when he knocked at my door. Did it matter that I didn’t need an old kettle or Ginsu knives? Why couldn’t I have given money? Why couldn’t our whole church have put our heads and resources together to help? I’m sad and disappointed that our bottom line, the rent, prevailed over loving our neighbor and caring for the orphan, a literal neighbor, a literal orphan. It was almost a test case for living by principle, and I failed it. I remained passive (though sympathetic) in the face of need and pain; I often wonder if that struggling son thought, Churches and their ” love”: what a joke.

Big changes came about in both my personal and organizational life. I began to pay more attention. Those were the Reagan years when one effort after another came to heartbreaking failure. I began to ask the question: with all my hours of effort, all my meetings, whom exactly have I helped? Could I name one individual? I couldn’t – outside of family members. I became convinced that I needed to integrate long-term efforts with short-term acts and daily responses to unexpected opportunities, the kind that arise when heart and eyes are open. I wanted my destination and my journey to match. It’s a goal I still pursue.

This and my future posts on Tikkun Daily, then, represent an effort to remind myself and others of what small groups or individuals are doing right now and can do to heal and mend our local worlds, to celebrate the wonderful efforts we imperfect humans are capable of . May it strengthen us to– as the great French socialist, Jean Jaurès, put it –”live every day in a socialist state of grace,” to live now the battle that is “never won and never lost.”

Blessings on the journey!

Spotlight on Immigrant Service Day, August 29, 2009