1.) Samantha, tell us a
little bit about yourself (where you are from, undergrad, previous work).
I was technically born in southern California, outside of LA, but I grew up in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. There are pieces of my life and personality strewn across every part of this country it seems from moving so much. So, when asked, “Where are you from?” or “where is home?” I have no idea how to answer that question. Sometimes my heart skips a beat when I fly home to Philadelphia see the, “Welcome to Philadelphia. Home of the Philadelphia Eagles,” sign at Philadelphia International. When I lived on the East Coast or even in Chicago, I found myself craving the mountains, the intoxicating smell of the ancient Redwoods, and the chill of the Pacific Ocean.
I earned my bachelor’s at a small, liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. I studied English, theater, and art history. Passionate about the Arts, I was determined to be a writer and desired to work in theater that spoke to the injustices of the world. My career took me on a vastly different journey than what I originally conceived for myself as a twenty-something. I taught ESL in the Czech Republic, worked in an after-school program in Philadelphia, served the homeless population in Philadelphia, provided direct support to those in the disability community in San Francisco, and ran a literacy program for immigrant families in Chicago. While at IPS, I did CPE at Rush Memorial Hospital, Contextual Education at the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Human Dignity and Solidarity, and worked the American Library Association. In between all of that, I did freelance writing and even taught a few acting classes here and there.
2.) You just graduated from IPS
what was your major?
I earned a Masters of Divinity and Masters of Social Justice.
3.) What made you choose that
While in San Francisco, I was working with aging adults with developmental disabilities. Learning about gerontology and the aging process, particularly as it connected with the clientele I was serving, I became fascinated with how the brain works and decided to study psychology. I earned a Master’s of Science in psychology and was discerning doctorate programs in clinical psychology, when my spiritual director at St. Ignatius parish in San Francisco asked me, “Samantha, have you ever thought of an M.Div.?”
After that spiritual direction session, I went home and entered into Google, “M.Div. social justice. Jesuit” and Loyola’s dual program popped up. Reading about the program, it became very clear to me that this was the path that I had been craving my entire life.
4.) You are currently in
Seattle doing some amazing things. Where are you working and what is your job?
I currently work as the Justice Educator for Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center (IPJC) in Seattle, WA.
First, I facilitate our Justice Café program geared towards young adults in their 20s and 30s to build community, deepen spirituality, and act for justice. I create host kits that go out to the café “hosts” or leader of the group ( campus minister, young adult minister, volunteer in intentional community, etc.) to lead a gathering in café, pub, coffee shop to talk about social justice concerns. This fall, we covered Root Causes of Migration and the Feminization of poverty.
Second, I am also the editor of our quarterly publication called A Matter of Spirit which combines critical analysis, theological reflection, and action on justice issues. Our most recent issue tackles the complexities of childhood today under the backdrop of pervasive violence.
Third, I give presentations, talks, and webinars for parishes and schools on human trafficking.
Additionally, I support our organization through advocacy efforts and collaborate with members from partnering organizations and ministries on an array of social justice issues.
5.) How is the knowledge you gained
during your time at IPS helping you in your job?
Much of what I have learned at IPS has been very helpful in the work I do.
With collaborative efforts, having practical knowledge from some of my assignments has really paid off. For example, I took the Religious Education Class with timone davis and she had us create a nine-month plan for a ministry. I just sent that project off to the Director of Young Adult Ministries for the Archdiocese of Seattle to review for programming ideas for YA ministry. Other times, I need to write, lead, or create a prayer reflection and I have had to that for several past classes. Our use of technology and presentations at IPS developed a very necessary skill set for the work I do. I lead editorial board meetings in which some of our members are remote and having had the hybrid learning experience from IPS, I can easily navigate my way around the digital communication piece. Whenever I assemble host kits for our Justice Cafes, I am constantly recalling things I learned from the Catholic social ethics course with Peter Jones or Global Economics and Politics with Dan Rhodes.
Other little surprises that have popped up for me has been in networking. One day I might be writing an email and it could be to a former IPS graduate or someone from Catholic Worker, L ’Arche, JVC, etc. and I get the privilege of asking, “do you know x person, we studied together.” Also, Jesuits West is one of our sponsoring communities and I am never far away from those Jesuit roots!
1-22-2020|Comments Off on Meet Samantha, former IPS student who decided to “Go forth and set the world on fire (St. Ignatius).
Hard times pose particular challenges for persons and communities. Times of crisis can threaten to erode the cohesion of selfhood, even as they force communities and persons to confront heretofore unforeseen threats and challenges. Although such times can have the effect of disorienting the self and its communal base, it can also have the effect of crystallizing self and community into a new concentration of strength, resourcefulness and transcendence. The word often used to describe this latter outcome is “courage”, a word we need in times of upheaval and uncertainty.
At first glance it would be easy to
ascribe the label “courage” to any bold action of confronting a danger or even
death, but this would miss the internal complexity of such an activity. If courage
is a supreme virtue, its true nature and operations cannot simply be equated
with an instinct, however bold or fearless it seems to be. True courage is not
automatic in the sense of an unconscious or inevitable action that flies in the
face of danger. It is rather, a highly self-reflective activity in which the
true nature of a self or community reveals itself.
A Psychoanalytic Exploration
A formidable explorer of the nature
of courage can be found in the person of Heinz Kohut, a Viennese Jew who escaped
the Nazi takeover of Austria and eventually settled in Chicago. Kohut ultimately became the Director of the
Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute, and in 1964-1965 even became the head of the
American Psychoanalytic Association. As his biographer Charles Strozier notes,
Kohut became particularly interested in the topic of courage, perhaps in the
aftermath of his own battles with the psychoanalytic establishment, in which he
took on the ideological edifice of his day and profoundly transformed it. 
Kohut’ s particular interest in
courage was shaped by his taste of totalitarian oppression as a young man, and
his attempt to understand how some persons did not only survive that
juggernaut, but courageously engaged and challenged it.  As he engaged the task of understanding this
phenomenon called courage, Kohut selected the stories of three Austrian and
German war resisters who each paid with their lives for their resistance. The three were Franz Jagerstatter, an
Austrian Catholic peasant, and Hans and Sophie Scholl, the Munich medical
students who wrote and distributed underground newspapers calling their fellow
citizens toward non-violent resistance, until they were caught and
executed. Franz Jagerstatter was
especially selected by Kohut as exemplary of the conflicts, struggles, and
resolutions that occur as courage is born.
His story has been given new and welcome visibility in the feature film
“A Hidden Life.” (December
Kohut concluded that Jagerstatter
was not the only devout Catholic in his community, and certainly not the only
one who realized that his religious values were in conflict with the total
loyalty demanded of the Nazis. However, most persons ignored or set aside their
reservations about the regime and joined the majority. Their psychological and
spiritual equipment was not adequate to allow them to set their core self
against the overwhelming presence of Nazi ideology and power. The quality that
Kohut surmised was present in Jagerstatter and the Scholls’, but absent in most
of his contemporaries, was the capacity not to withdraw from an inner conflict
of intense and extreme proportions.
This internal conflict contains
several interrelated tasks revealing three specific and discernable features:
1) one must identify with one’s core self (ideals), 2) one must resist the
tendency to disown one’s core self, and 3) one must resolve to shape one’s
attitudes and actions in accord with one’s core self despite inner doubts and
external threats and seductions.
What Kohut’s conclusion reveals is
that such courage is not simply easily arrived at, nor is it simply given. It
is not like being on automatic pilot without inner struggle. It involves an often agonizing self-scrutiny,
and out of such soul-searching the full meaning and implications of one’s core
In examining the lives of these
quiet heroes, Kohut concluded that they all manifested three features that gave
their courage the quality of groundedness and non-psychosis, but also allowed
them to transcend the entrapment of the status quo. These three features were not necessarily
equally present in these different individuals but they all seemed to manifest
them in obvious measure so that it was clearly discernable by others. These three features are: 1) a sense of
humor, 2) the ability to respond to others with empathy, and 3) a deep sense of
peace. This latter attribute was
especially noteworthy in spite of the intense inner struggle underway in them
as they faced their choices and its agonizing consequences. Their personalities
seemed filled with a profound sense of serenity, perhaps close to what we would
call wisdom. These three elements,
especially the sense of peace or serenity, always seemed evident to observers,
even to their torturers, persecutors and executioners.
Although Kohut does not pursue these
features directly, it behooves us to understand their place in the emergence of
courage. First, the presence of humor reveals the capacity to have perspective,
and to recognize the absurdities and ironies of one’s life and situation. Humor
indicates that one doesn’t take oneself too seriously even in the face of grand
and noble pursuits. Humor is a mode of transcendence and it restores a sense of
proportionality. It is an antidote to grandiosity.
Secondly, the presence of empathy
names the factor of heart as central to the emergence of courage. Indeed, the
word courage comes from the French word “coeur”, meaning heart. This heart or empathic factor suggests that
one is connected to one’s own humanity and the full humanity of one’s neighbor,
and, that one is prepared to act radically upon this knowledge.
Thirdly, the feature of peace and
serenity emerges because the commitment to the truest center of the self,
including one’s core ideals, generates a profound balance, equilibrium and
harmony within the person, and the whole personality becomes aligned with this
center. There is sense of peace and even joy released in us when our ideals and
our personality and our actions have become one.
It is for these reasons that Kohut
concludes that courage has to do with not only staying true to one’s core
values, but to one’s core self. This core self is akin to an amalgam of one’s
deepest ideals, most authentic goals, purposes, and life themes; in short, an
expression of one’s deepest sense of self. The courage emerging from this core
self is defined by Kohut as “the ability to brave even death…rather than to
betray the nucleus of one’s psychological being, that is, one’s ideals.” 
The Contemporary Challenge
Kohut’s hero models are certainly
exemplars of courage, and inspire us to deepen our commitment to cultivating
our core self, including our deepest values and ideals. But our call to courage
is not a call to resist totalitarian regimes, nor are we likely to be faced
with the prospect of running back into burning buildings to rescue others, or face
perpetrators of mass shootings in our churches, synagogues, mosques, or public
I would propose that courage regularly
needs re-framing given the new and multiple challenges which confront every
age. In fact, courage may be understood as the capacity to confront the unique
and perhaps unfamiliar challenges of new eras. Our era faces the crisis of dystopia, of
massively unstable ground under our feet.
We are bombarded with the cultural realities of polarization,
radicalization, and weaponization of our social fabric. Xenophobia, nationalism, racism, public and
private dishonesty, etc., all produce a cynicism and a new form of paralysis in
the form of exhaustion. It seems every
era needs to redefine and reaffirm courage in relation to the particular
challenges of the day.
I would therefore define courage as follows: “Courage is the freedom to fully engage
the reality of one’s life situation while remaining radically committed to
overcoming the Spirit and life-denying aspects of one’s experience.”
There are two specific challenges
which confront our contemporary environment and warrant the cultivating of
courage. The first challenge facing
contemporary life is to cultivate that very center of self or center
of values that would constitute one’s core. As many clinicians,
counselors and pastoral persons know, many persons in our world are threatened
with an eroding center. Kohut’s protagonist, Franz Jagerstatter, had a center
out of which he could make choices. What if there is an eroded center, or if it
is fragmented? Strengthening our own and
one another’s cultivation of our center of purpose and meaning is the key to
The second challenge facing our
current world is to find courage in the face of exhaustion and its twin, cynicism.
To succumb to cynicism is to grant ultimacy to our human potential for despair,
and to lock oneself into a world of withdrawal and self-paralysis.
Three dimensions of courage
To resist these decentering and
paralysis-generating forces of our lives requires cultivating three aspects of
courage. The first courage needed in times of trial and tribulation is the courage to face reality in all
its starkness. Reality is hard yet it
leads us to truth. Resisting one’s own
temptation for denial takes courage and staying power. None of us can hold in our heads and hearts
the multiplicity of all personal and social ills. But what we can do is to find focus. There where your heart is most burdened, you
will find your path and your necessary mobilization.
If the ecological crisis is where
your inner fire burns most brightly, be there, and your focus will ground and
inspire you. If your fire burns there
where refugees are violated, and children are separated from their parents, be
there, and you will find the animation it demands. If your fire burns there where racism,
sexism, classism abound, be there, and your focus will bring clarity and discernment
in the face of the risk of a scattered and frenetic flailing about. One needs courage to face the reality of one’s
situation, including one’s corresponding grief, sorrow, anger, and the despair
we may carry.
As we engage reality in the
contemporary arena we will face two major questions. These are the (1) “Why now”? and (2) “Now
what”? questions. To face the “why now”
question takes courage because it forces us to look at the contextual reality
of our situation beyond the simplistic good vs. evil, black vs. white
ideologies of the day. If we only
respond to personal communal alienation by demonizing our adversaries, how is
our world to find redemption? To ask the
“why now” questions means we must be prepared to face the raw alienation
visible in our reality. We must find the
courage to examine our place in the world and the courage to hear what the
world is saying to us. It takes great
courage to listen.
courage to face reality also includes being able to ask the “now what”
question. In confusing and polarized
times one is tempted to demonize “the other” even as we ourselves may feel
victimized or “othered.” Ideological, political, religious, or a moral
self-righteousness reinforces reactivity and deepens alienation. We may be tempted by the false belief that
vanquishing the reactive forces of our world through force and power can
resolve our dilemmas or restore our world to wholeness.
must find the courage to affirm justice and assure its centrality in what we seek. In seeking justice for the causes we hold
dear, we must become advocates of justice for all peoples of our world. It is not sufficient to serve justice when it
serves us, but we must have the courage to pursue justice when it is not
necessarily popular to do so, and this requires an awareness of the dynamics of
privilege or power, a necessary humility that recognizes that we all contain
our own blind spots.
The second dimension of courage
required of us is the courage to face darkness in ourselves and in our world. Darkness is a force, an energy field that
threatens to draw everything into itself, a black hole of the Spirit. The darkness that confronted Kohut’s
protagonists was the darkness of totalitarianism. His examples of courage questioned the high
priests of power of their day and Kohut’s hero’s challenged these power systems
through non-violent resistance.
Our world confronts a somewhat
different darkness. Our darkness is not
so much a darkness of total power, but a darkness of violence, annihilation,
and radical polarization. It is the
darkness of an alienation that runs away with itself and consumes its
world. In Kohut’s day, the enemy was
obvious, visible, and strutting. Our
so-called enemy is invisible and non-substantial; it is not fixed in time and
place. When indiscriminate violence and oozing hatred threatens our lives, it
unleashes inner dangers every bit as threatening as outer dangers.
These dangers include the darkness
of fear and demonization, which can settle in our soul as a spiritual cancer,
the form of paranoia, where ultimately the world itself becomes our enemy. Such fear itself becomes an enemy of
Spirit. The effect of this darkness of
fear is that we project it outward onto others who have no connection to the
source of our fear. We then run the risk
of succumbing to scapegoating persons or communities, or of hiding from the
world in fear. These dual dangers of
indiscriminant blame and withdrawal and isolation, are two of the dangers of
the darkness we face.
But perhaps the deepest darkness one
faces in an alienation-driven environment is the inner darkness of
despair. Despair is the product of the
loss of perspective, the product of allowing darkness to define our world.
Courage is a commitment toward transcending the darkness one encounters in
one’s world. Persons of faith have
always known that darkness never has the final word. Darkness can only snuff out the light if one
succumbs to it. A single candle can
banish darkness into the furthest corners of any room. Courage is the name we give to any effort to
kindle one’s Spirit as light-bearer.
The third dimension of courage
needed today is the courage to permit our Spirit-Center to lead us where we
would rather not go. Courage, as our
commitment to overcoming the life and spirit-denying aspects of our reality,
comes with a direction, a path. Courage
goes somewhere, takes persons somewhere, toward a habitation of Spirit that is
not yet their own. To be of good courage
is to be on the move. But this movement
is not necessarily one in step with prevailing cultural or political attitudes,
beliefs, or goals. The norms of the day
may not coincide with one’s truest inner center, and this center calls us first
and foremost into integrity with ourselves.
When we embrace this deep inner “felt rightness” it compels us to act
accordingly. Sometimes that path means
joining in solidarity with others who are on a parallel journey of seeking
truth, justice, or goodness. Sometimes
this path is a solitary path, where we are called by our inner Spirit to be a
voice crying in the wilderness of reactionary forces.
It takes courage to face darkness,
both the darkness that others may impose upon us, as well as the darkness that
resides in our own hearts. The courage our world needs is the courage to be
faithful to a larger vision of wholeness than the merchants of hatred and violence
would have us believe. There is a larger unity that seeks to be born in our
world, and it takes courage to be champions of that unity.