Another Flock in Search of a Good Shepherd

 

Sculpture of St, Francis at Pacem in Terris - Photo by Luz Piedad Lopez

Sculpture of St. Francis at Pacem in Terris – Photo by Luz Piedad Lopez

If you want to get to heaven
Over on the other shore
Stay out of the way of the blood-stained bandit
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep… From the song “Good shepherd” by Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane) 

As the world awaits that rising plume of white smoke signaling the selection of a new pontiff, one might wonder why a species so dominated by secularism is still so enthralled by the somewhat byzantine rituals and vagaries of the Vatican. By now you would think that we would not be looking to an institution so rife with scandal and controversy to reset the moral compass. And yet there is that aspect of the human spirit that causes us to hope that those foundational organizations that are central to the well-being of society, whether they be governmental, educational or religious, will at some point rise above those inherent corrupting forces that challenge all of mankind.

As to my own personal search for the “good shepherd”, I chose a path that would not lead to Rome, but instead  to the small village of Warwick, New York. My place of spiritual reflection would not be a  marble covered cathedral, but rather the restored ruins of an old stone mill. It was here that the late author, painter and sculptor Frederick Franck would construct and create Pacem in Terris–a trans-religious retreat and sculpture garden honoring  the work and humanity of both Albert Schweitzer and Pope John the XXIII. Although himself an  agnostic, Franck had developed an affinity and a deep respect for the Pope while sketching the sessions of the Second Vatican Council.  

Just two months before his death from cancer, on April 11, 1963 , John the XXIII issued his final papal encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth).  The same man who had saved so many Jewish lives during the Holocaust while serving as the Apostolic Nuncio to France during the Second World War, and who as Pope had worked tirelessly to bridge the divide between the faiths, would now call upon his fellow Catholics and all of human kind to strive to achieve global peace, economic security and international justice. In the midst of the nuclear arms race, Communist aggression, racial inequality and worldwide poverty a truly good shepherd had come to pass–giving us some  reason for hope concerning the outcome of the current conclave.

It was during some of my more contemplative wanderings and moments of meditative seclusion at Pacem in Terris that I would  find myself leaning toward the notion that there are those among us who might just have a more direct line of communication with the divine.  But then my own personal struggle between the secular and the sacred would take hold, and I would find my doubting self in need of some additional solace and inspiration. Thankfully, the village of Warwick is also home to Yesterdays Restaurant and Pub–the perfect place to renew ones spirit while partaking of the holy water.  

Yesterdays Restaurant and Pub - Warwick, New York

Yesterdays Restaurant and Pub – Warwick, New York

Posted by: Chris Poh

Blue Tag

We the Fearful People

S&W 357 Magnum

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

In the last few days, I’ve allowed myself to become a party to no less than three heated bar stool discussions concerning the current national debate over the Second Amendment, and the potential impact by way of regulatory legislation on our rather well-armed citizenry–I myself being among our gun-toting populace. As usual those on both sides of the argument are armed with their  statistics, perceived truths and enough claims to the moral high ground that it might appear to the average detached  American that both sides are right. And to some degree both sides are in fact justified in wanting to cling to their much cherished positions on the matter. Because the national discourse of the moment reflects some of the very concerns expressed by the framers of  The Bill of Rights in 1789.

Concerning the Second Amendment, there were those founders who felt that the only way to insure the future freedom and security of the new nation against the possible tyranny of government, be it foreign or domestic, was to make sure that a citizen’s right to own and carry arms was  enshrined in the Constitution. But there were also those equally wise and well-educated men of the time that were fearful of the potential mayhem, mob rule and anarchy posed by arming a civilian population. So like those much revered fellows of the eighteenth century, we find ourselves once again bringing our own exaggerated personal fears in regard to the proper and legal role of the gun in American life.

There are those who live in  fear of  that armed threat lurking in the shadows that wants to take away their lives. And there are those that live in fear of that threat lurking in the legislature that wants to take away their arms. But for better or for worse, we have as much of a right to our fears, no matter how unfounded, as we have to our rights concerning firearms and freedom of speech. So perhaps we would be better off  if both the gun advocates and the gun control people admitted that their passions are more likely fueled by fear than by actual facts. And at this particular juncture in our nation’s history we might consider a respectful dialogue in lieu of demonizing those with an opposing  point of view. 

My own personal instincts on the issue tend to put me in league with those that believe that additional laws banning the use of certain types of weapons will do little to stop the type of carnage recently experienced in Newtown, Connecticut. On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded 32 others at the University of Texas in Austin, using only a shotgun, an M1 carbine and a couple of standard hunting rifles. On the other hand though, if some of the measures being suggested today, such as using mental health records as part of an overall background check were in effect at the time, that tragic event may have been avoided. Charles Whitman purchased weapons at two separate locations on the day of the shootings. Months earlier he had sought out both medical and psychiatric help, expressing concerns about trying to cope with the suppression of his extreme violent impulses.  

Lastly, the term well regulated was apparently key in the penning of the Second Amendment. And even though the case can be made that rules and regulations don’t necessarily change behavior,  it is those decrees coupled to the force of law that says who we are as a society. We the people might want to consider foregoing a few of our own fears in the interest of domestic tranquility, and the possibility of actually achieving that more perfect union.

Posted by: Chris Poh

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The View on the Way Down Might Not Be Half Bad

Killarney ParkWhile I can be potentially as pessimistic as any American about the ability of our elected officials to shepherd us through these difficult and dangerous times, on this rare occasion, I applaud the combined  political aplomb of both Democrats and Republicans. By keeping a crisis weary nation focused on the possibility of going over the so-called fiscal cliff on January 1st, they have effectively shifted our attention away from the pending December 21st end of the world supposedly prophesied by the Maya. This clever bipartisan manuever will ensure that Americans will press on with their holiday plans, thus insuring a robust fourth quarter in consumer spending. Now as to whether or not Mr. Boehner or President Obama can marshal their troops in order to deal with our long-term fiscal concerns, in the event that the Mayan timetable proves to be no more accurate at predicting the future than my 2011 Worlds Cutest kittens calendar was–is well beyond my powers of prognostication.

I find myself equally puzzled by the prospect of this nation enduring further economic hardships as a result of government inaction caused by the irrational self-serving behavior of a handful of political hacks that have no true sense of either patriotism or public service. So the big question remains, are we better off striking that grand bargain, or would we be better served by taking a leap of faith off that pecuniary plateau?

The results of the November election strongly suggest that Americans long for those compromises that will restore stability and faith in the marketplace. But as is often the case, deals that are acceptable to both parties, while they make for great signing ceremonies, tend to inadequately address our problems. So perhaps a bit of a free fall after the first of the year might not be such a bad thing. I’m all for giving a new Senate and Congress the chance to spread their wings. Who knows, they may even take the nation to new heights.

But just in case they are unable to live up to my optimistic metaphors, and we hit our heads on the next dept ceiling and come crashing down to the canyon’s floor–here is a bit music from our friend Matt De Blass to help soften the landing.

Matt De BlassClick on Matt’s picture or the title to hear his original uplifting Irish ditty – “Bartender I’ll Have What the Man on the Floor Has Been Drinking

Posted by: Chris Poh

Enhance your enjoyment of the Irish Pub experience by following us on at Parting Glass Media.

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A Dress Code for Democracy

Cowboys at the Rusty Spur in Scottsdale, AZ

With less than two weeks left before Americans decide on who will become the 45th President of this grand old Republic, I will once again try to wrestle with the paralysis of the pen that has plagued my armchair political punditry for the better part of this election cycle. After all the mindless and mundane chatter mixed in with a boundless measure of mercurial shape shifting, neither candidate has done all that much to move the ball down the field. And while I must apologize for my overuse of hackneyed sport’s metaphors, as we come around to the homestretch this really does appear to be a bona fide horse race.

Unfortunately, I suspect that if there were not those troubling tendencies that continue to cause a segment of the population to make their decisions based upon race and religion, the poll numbers would be very different. Added to that the fact that neither candidate has adequately articulated a clear or attainable vision of  how one might govern a nation in the grips of  ongoing economic and geopolitical peril–we are left with yet another presidential contest that will be decided by pandering to the disheartened and disenchanted mob on the extremes, and a handful of undecided voters in a few key counties around the country. So it is not much of a stretch to suspect that both parties might resort to a bit of chicanery in order to affect the final tally.

I happened to grow up in an area of New Jersey where the local Democratic machines had a propensity toward bribery and outright bullying if the usual promise of patronage was not enough to swing the vote in their direction. Thankfully, these transgressions against democracy were  mostly isolated local events, and did not have national implications that might determine the outcome of a presidential election. And while I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as the next gullible Gus, I tend not to believe that our fates have been altered and decided by the likes of the Illuminati, Free Masons, or those children of privilege that perform clandestine rituals while worshipping the remains of Geronimo’s cranium in the darkened bowels at Yale’s Skull and Bones Society. But at this particular moment in time, I might acknowledge the possibility that there was indeed a well orchestrated effort by Republicans to put in place a national policy of voter suppression in those potential battleground states that embraced a majority of like-minded governors and legislators. 

While the idea of having to provide a valid photo ID in order to exercise ones franchise in these times of heightened security threats and concerns about illegal immigration seems reasonable on the surface, take it from someone who has spent over forty years in the tavern trade–if you want to discourage certain clientele from gaining access to the bar simply initiate a dress code. The call for top hats and tails after six will certainly eliminate  those whose resources limit them to Levi’s and Stetsons. This allows those in charge to be selective without appearing to be discriminatory. So in the case of massaging voter turnout, one need not suggest something as offensive as a poll tax in order to statistically impact an election. Consider this political engineering a type of dress code for democracy.

Heard's Brigade at Re-enactment of the Battle of Monmouth

And now that some thirty states have enacted some form of voter identification law, it is more important than ever that we rise above our collective national inclination to sit out the game when someone attempts to make the path around the bases a little harder to negotiate. We owe it to those that have lived up to a much more serious code of  dress and decorum from the fields of Concord to the streets of Kandahar. Honor their service and sacrifice–Vote!

Posted by Chris Poh

Once in a Blue Moon

Neil Armstrong - Apollo 11 Mission - NASA Photo Public Domain

Black boy in Chicago
Playing in the street
Not near enough to wear
Not near enough to eat
Don’t you know he saw it
On a July afternoon
He saw a man named Armstrong
Walk upon the moon
                                From the song “Armstrong” by John Stewart

It seems both appropriate and bittersweet that we have honored the achievements, and marked the passing of Neil Armstrong on the occurrence of a blue moon. I was fifteen years old during that momentous summer of 1969 when we placed two men in the Sea of Tranquility, as a third crew member orbited  Earth’s only natural satellite. But truth be told, I was much more interested in that which transpired among the sea of humanity that had landed on Max Yasgur’s farm near Woodstock, New York. But within those two very different events there was a common measure of human potential. In the midst of generational conflict, civil unrest, political upheaval and a brutal war in Southeast Asia, we could still overcome our shortcomings and failures to achieve greatness. And there was a collective appreciation of those accomplishments that transcended our differences. 

As I listen to the  current political dialogue during this summer’s presidential campaign, I wonder to myself if these times could even produce the likes of  Collins, Aldrin and Armstrong, or for that matter even a  Crosby, Stills and Nash. Currently our national discord certainly seems to have a decided edge over any possibility of  national harmony.

After the Apollo 11 Mission, I remember spending a bit more time peering into the night sky. There was a time when even my old Gilbert 80-power 3-inch reflector telescope found its way back to the front lawn. The small bits of light in the dark silence rekindled some of that wonder and awe that was lost to the self-absorbed ways of adolescence. Today most of my celestial gazing seems to be limited to those long walks back to the car after closing some pub. Unfortunately, like so many of us I find my self spending too much time in that mundane inner space  where the light of the heavens is obscured by incandescent pollution and our own pointless incessant chatter–a place where humans tend to only react according to their own individual self interests–a place that is the source of both our internal and external strife–a place of big egos and small ideas.

Over the next several weeks there will be the usual clarion calls from both sides of the political divide to join them on the road toward the reclamation of our American potential and preeminence. Our eyes will be bombarded with the well orchestrated persuasive partisan messages coming to us by the light of our  computer screens, smart phones and television sets. But in reality, we need not look  any further than into the light of our children’s eyes, or into the light of that endless night sky to understand our place in human history. It is those illuminations that will fire our intellect and imagination–and allow us to leave our footprints on the path to a better America. Let’s just hope that we can make those small steps toward another giant leap sometime before the next blue moon.

Posted by: Chris Poh

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Reaching Across the Divide

It has been some time since I have made any contributions to this particular forum, in fact, the last word came from my cohort and compadre, Ed Petersen, who back in April again posed that vexing question: “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Now after having endured the close of yet another presidential primary season, the beginning of the main event, and the first two days of the Republican’s gathering of funny hats in Tampa, the prospect of getting along seems as unattainable as ever. But in the interest of promoting our policy of  defusing the prevailing air of pessimism, we will continue to voice our own unique brand of hope and optimism.

The following piece was recently published in our new online publication Parting Glass Media:

Having spent a substantial portion of my adulthood on both sides of that barrier that separates the patrons from the potables, I know from experience just how territorial people can be about what they perceive to be an almost God-given right to a particular place at the bar. And any newcomer to the establishment that infringes upon that preordained seating arrangement, at the very least, might be subject to a less than welcoming glance from those that believe that their time at the tavern affords them special considerations.

I have always believed that if you observe human behavior on a small-scale, one will gain much insight into the overall nature of mankind. And watching the masses jockeying for position at the bar in the hope of getting those rewards that await them on the other side reminds me very much of our current attitude towards those that may have entered the saloon, or crossed our borders, without the proper credentials. And with another heated presidential election season in full swing, the hand wringing and wrangling over the issue of immigration will once again be at the forefront of the fear mongering laundry list of political issues. Our mercurial position on the matter has always been dictated by economic self-interest, and by our own personal prejudice for or against that particular group seeking safe haven on these shores.

During my time as a bartender at Manhattan’s Peter McManus Cafe during the late 80s, I experienced a very different response to some of those that were here in the country illegally. Although these new Irish immigrants were not facing anything equal to the hardships and devastation caused by the Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century, an abysmal economy at home had driven them to seek employment throughout the five boroughs of New York. And while these expatriates were not about to take on anything as ambitious as digging a canal or building a transcontinental railroad, a number of rundown city neighborhoods did experience gentrification as a result of this ready, willing and able-bodied pool of affordable labor.

The same friendly pubs that cashed the checks of these undocumented workers would garner a quick reward for their blind eye courtesy in the form of an ever-increasing thirsty patronage that could spend many hours treating their homesickness with a generous dose of beer and whiskey. The local collection plates also benefited from those displaced souls who still adhered to the tradition of mass on Sunday, no matter how many pints were consumed during the previous evening’s session. So it was no small wonder at the time that there would be advocacy and a call for amnesty from both the politicians and those in the pulpit who shared a common heritage with those that were now living in the shadows of America’s promise.

As we once more face the challenge of constructing policy that is just and reasonable not only for those who are coming into the country, but also for those that have established their rightful citizenship, let us be mindful of the fact that much of this nation’s good fortune and success can be attributed to that longstanding tradition of inclusion. Furthermore, the vast majority of immigration, legal or otherwise, is driven by conditions that if faced by any human being would prompt those people to seek a better life elsewhere, regardless of the cost or personal risk. In the course of our own history, Americans have crossed or moved the borders to suit our individual and national needs—and in many instances without sufficient concern for the wellbeing of those who would be impacted by such actions.

Lastly, let us not forget that within most of us resides this deep-seated desire to bridge the divide that separates all humans from our point of origin in the universe. In an attempt to make that journey we have adopted principles, philosophies and religious beliefs that call upon us to transcend culture, race, and national identity in our dealings with each other. For if any of us are to draw from that wellspring of knowledge, or to partake of that holy nectar—we must first find a way to sit together on this side of the bar.

Posted by: Chris Poh

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Shaken, but Not Stirred

Bluecoat Gin

I was in the middle of one of my favorite afternoon delights, a martini made with Bluecoat American Dry Gin, when the great tremor sent shock waves through much of the original thirteen colonies. From Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts the talk was only of the big quake, and how even the President of the United States may been thrown from his beach chair while enjoying the usually serene sands of Martha’s Vineyard. Meanwhile, our compadres on the West Coast were glued to their television sets–their eyes searching the eastern urban scapes for the gaping chasms, collapsed highways, bent bridges and smoldering rubble. But alas, that morbid aspect of human curiosity would have to be satisfied with tales of interrupted soap operas and rattling china. 

As for myself, once I digested the uniqueness of the occurrence so close to home, my thoughts quickly turned to the politics of the situation. I was relieved to know that we were not as of yet burdened with a balanced budget amendment. Because had New york and Philadelphia been reduced to a  collection of  fallen brick and twisted steel, I’m not sure the current Congress would approve of additional assistance from Washington, and Wall Street shows little interest in wanting  to help in the rebuilding of America. 

These little wakeup calls, that are thrown our way every once in a while, should serve as a reminder of just how vulnerable we really are, and how dependent we are on one another–and a government that is strong, functional and flexible. As usual, I’m sure our politicians were likely a bit shaken by the event–but probably not stirred!

Posted by: Chris Poh

Published in: on August 24, 2011 at 1:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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Kicking the Proverbial Can Down the Road

Pabst Can

Of all the metaphors that made their way around the media during the debt ceiling debate, the one that seems to have scored the most airplay was a reference ad nauseam to kicking the can down the road. If the recent precipitous drop in the stock market is any indication of Washington’s ability to put off having to deal with the toxic economic brew that is filling the cups of so many Americans,  we have finally reached that point in our nation’s history when our politicians, to use another tired worn-out metaphor, are no longer capable of even  passing the buck.

In response to my own  debt ceiling debacle and employment crisis, I, like the Federal Government, am considering painful cutbacks to certain key programs. My “Drink Only imports and Microbrew Program” will probably have to be downsized by the implementation of a less costly domestic policy. Thankfully, Becker’s Corner in Quakertown, PA features “Turn Back Tuesdays,” a very affordable celebration of those classic American brands that satisfied the palates of past generations.

Becker's Corner - Quakertown, PAQuite frankly, there is something rather heartening and reassuring about drinking those beers that saw my father and uncles through the hardships of their times. So while our elected representatives are pondering what to do next about our ailing economy during their summer recess in places like Palm Springs and Martha’s Vineyard, I will be popping open several PBRs–knowing full well that all we really need to get this party going again is a can of creativity, a six-pack of hope, a case of good leadership and a keg full of caring!

Posted by: Chris Poh

Raising the Bar Instead of the Ceiling

Gold Hill Saloon - Virginia City, Nevada

With any luck, by the time this piece is published the political posturing will subside, and the wiser minds in the debt ceiling debate will prevail. The truth be told, this grand experiment in democratic rule was founded on a mix dedication and debt. By 1791, the country owed in excess of 75 million dollars to those creditors who bankrolled her revolution. And with the exception of a two-year period beginning in 1835, the United States has had unsettled obligations ever since Ben and the boys emerged from the Pennsylvania State House to make public their intent to break ties with King George the Third.

While it has always been a popular notion that it is the misdeeds and inefficiencies of government that are the root cause of our unbalanced books, it is in fact, those less than admirable traits in humankind that have left the public holding a rather large unpaid tab. Historically, most of Washington’s deficit spending has been the consequence of military conflict, or the missteps and misappropriations in the marketplace. Perhaps if those at the helm of our economic institutions were a bit less greedy, or if we had a healthcare system that was fair and affordable, or if we could just find a more peaceful way to settle our differences—we might just be able to get our financial house in order.

Abandoned Sluice at Gold Hill

But as I raise a glass of whiskey at the saloon of the Gold Hill Hotel, which sits atop those spent silver veins of the Comstock Lode that helped to finance many bloody Northern campaigns during America’s Civil War, I realize that we are still a ways off from raising the bar on human behavior. So for the foreseeable future, we will remain dependent upon a Congress that raises the ceiling on public debt.

Posted by: Chris Poh

“Welcome Home,” Mr. President

 Obama at Ollie Hayes' Pub

With the simple front-page headline “Welcome Home,” The Evening Herald, a leading Irish newspaper, put to rest any further questions about Barack Obama’s true pedigree. An endorsement from the land of long pours and long stories trumps the long form birth certificate every time. So Mr. Obama now becomes the 29th of the 44 US presidents to trace his roots to the old sod of Erin.

In a scene reminiscent with  Sean Thornton, played by John Wayne in The Quiet Man, in which the celebrated Yank returns to Ireland to lay claim to the ancestral cottage in which he was born–the President arrived in Moneygall and was escorted by Henry Healy, his long-lost eighth cousin on his mother’s side, to the humble abode from where Falmouth Kearney. his great-great-great grandfather, had emigrated to America in the 1850s.  

And like all great tales involving the Irish, there was of course the obligatory public house scene. At day’s end the President and his entourage adjourned to Ollie Hayes’ Pub to hoist a few pints.

As I watched the coverage of  this  event unfold, I came to the realization that in the grand scheme of the universe the  odds of  being raised up in the Rapture in America during this past Saturday were probably about the same as the odds of  pints of Guinness being raised up by a black  US president in Ireland on any given day of the week. 

S0 here’s to raising up a good pint, a good man–and to beating the odds every once in a while!

Corrigan Brothers

Click here  to experience how the good people of Moneygall and the Corrigan Bothers  marked this extraordinary occasion.

Posted bt: Chris Poh

  

 

 

 

       

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