Tuesday, April 29, 2014

New Poem: "Buíochas le Día, Thanks Be to God"

Buíochas le Día, Thanks Be to God

“You nonreligious types think, that’s a funny little coincidence, but we Holy Rollers say that coincidence is just God working anonymously.” Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year.

I used to think it was the Luck of the Irish
That led me to you, you to me,
That brought me these three beautiful children, these grandchildren,
These marvelous friends and coworkers, this family.

Sometimes I wonder: Is it the Hand of God?
I know that I can never know for sure.
But this love is as real
                                    As flesh and bone and blood . . .

And I am grateful beyond all words.

[Bob Coughlin / Kirtland, Ohio / April 29, 2014]

Monday, April 28, 2014

Wildflower Season in Chardon! Trillium Time!

Trillium Time in Big Creek Park, Chardon Township:

Large-Flowered Trillium at Big Creek

Red Trillium (also called Erect Trillium, Wake Robin, or Stinking Benjamin!)

Trout Lilly

Cutleaf Toothwort

Fern fiddleheads

Marsh Marigold, Booth Road, Kirtland Hills

Sunday, April 27, 2014

"Miracle of the Multiplication of the Chicken Wings": Kathy Philipps' Presentation at the Annual Peace & Justice Awards

Last night the Catholic Commission of Lake and Geauga County's 24th Annual Peace and Justice Dinner was held at the Center for Pastoral Leadership at Borromeo/St. Mary's Seminary in Wickliffe, Ohio. This extraordinary event will almost surely not get any media coverage so I thought I better write about it.

The evening opened with an hour of socializing followed by dinner, and I think that was the best way to proceed because we got to talk to old friends and meet new ones. One serendipitous meeting for me was with Tony Montanini, the husband of one of the Karpos Ministry workers, Kathy Montanini. Tony grew up in Leroy Township and knew my old Notre Dame/Innsbruck buddy Mike Celizic (as well as Mike's parents, Chuck and Lola, and Mike's brother Charlie). Tony had not heard of Mike's death from cancer a few years ago. I talked with Tony and many of my friends from the Thursday night Karpos meal for the homeless and hungry at St. Mary's Church in Painesville: Jan, Judy, Brian Rice, Ed and Christa Zivkovich, Kathy Flora, Dan Philipps, and others. After the social hour and dinner, Kathy Philipps was introduced and began her presentation.

Kathy Philipps doing her presentation on Hospitality, Hunger, and Homelessness
The presentation, featuring PowerPoint slides, was eye-opening and inspirational
Kathy Philipps' presentation was extraordinary, and gave an intellectual and theological rationale for the work we do in the Karpos ministry for the hungry and homeless--work we do every week of the year. Kathy co-founded this ministry with Gregg Stovicek some 4 or 5 years ago. Even the little things we do (the way we present the food and greet the diners, for example) has an intellectual and theological/biblical basis, and I found that incredible. My own approach to this work has been mostly instinctive rather than intellectual and theological and I really appreciate the framework that Kathy Philipps gave for this work. Her ideas apply to many other programs that encounter the homeless and hungry (and those with similar needs). It really connects with the Catholic Worker approach I experienced in New York City and Tivoli, NY, and in the Davenport, Iowa Catholic Worker where I lived during the summer of 1976.

Kathy told of our work this winter hosting an emergency warming shelter--38 nights during this cold and snowy winter St. Mary's opened the gym to the homeless. Some folks might have frozen to death if not for this. She also told a funny story about how one Wednesday or Thursday night meal we were way short of food. And somehow, let's say miraculously, the 100 chicken wings became 200, and everyone was fed. Often these are miracles of generosity, when in a moment of need someone just walks in with extra food from a reception or a funeral, and all of a sudden we have enough for everyone. Of course, careful planning and thought goes into the preparation and serving of our suppers--but we always leave room for the Holy Spirit and for the miraculous. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker, would have understood and appreciated this.

Kathy's presentation showed the incredible extent of the hunger problem, even in prosperous Lake and Geauga Counties. At a given time there can be around 9000 children in wealthy Geauga County who are hungry. Lake County has many more than that. And in Cuyahoga County--the hunger problem is huge.

Kathy left me with an image of the new Pope Francis, with a lamb held over his shoulders, and the smell of the sheep on his skin and clothes. This is exactly what the Pope has asked of his priests and those who work with the poor--live with them, get the smell of the sheep on themselves:

“This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, lose heart and become in a sense collectors of antiquities or novelties — instead of being shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep' . . . This is what I am asking you, be shepherds with the smell of sheep.” 
*          *          *

Another nice feature of the evening was chatting with old and new comrades in the work of furthering peace and justice. I got to eat my meal next to Pat Denny and maybe talked her ear off all evening. We sat at a table with Fr. Mark Riley and Missionary Sister, Lisa Valentini (a real character!), and they both told funny stories about their missionary experiences.

Here are a few photos of my Karpos and St. Mary colleagues taken at the dinner last night:

Linda and Jan
Kathy Flora

Pat Denny
Fr. Mark Riley, Dan Philipps, and Sr.Lisa Valentini (missionary sister)
At the end of the evening, the "Sowers of Justice" award was presented to Terry and Donna Hawk, from St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Mentor. Terry and Donna have lived out the gospel injunction of serving the poor and needy for over 25 years, providing meals 2-3 times per month at St. Patrick's on Bridge Avenue in Cleveland, and working with a parish program involving a food pantry and emergency help with rent and utility bills. I felt that their work dovetailed nicely with our work in Painesville and Kathy Philipps' presentation.

A closing prayer was offered by Sr. Rita Mary Harwood, a sister of Notre Dame, who gave us a picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus, untying knots. Such an odd image. Sister said this picture was beloved of Pope Francis. Here is the image:

Sr. Rita Mary connected this image to our own mothers, maybe to all mothers. I felt so deeply moved by the reflection. Click here for Wikipedia's discussion of this painting.

It was such a grace for us to be at the Peace and Justice dinner last evening. We felt renewed and inspired.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Poem Set in April in Floyd County, Kentucky

April on Right Beaver
Floyd County, Kentucky

In early April,
head north along Right Beaver
from Caney Creek to Wayland . . .

Our winter hearts bloom forth
amid the slagheeps and junked cars,
the garbage on the creek banks.

Out from our heartbreak,
a piercing beauty of dogwood
a riot of redbud in impossible bloom
limn the twisting road for miles.

On the steep hills over the creek
sarvis trees in full flower shine through
the early spring gray,
remind of another era
when circuit-riding preachers held “sarvices”
for the winter’s dead
(and we have felt like the winter’s dead!).

This exuberant beauty peaks in Passion Week,
and we know both our wounds and our healing,
our blood, his blood, and this surprising grace--

Our lives so filled up
brim over with sorrow, pain
gratitude and beauty

all mixed and blended and tossed together;
Who can view this beauty, who can live it,

without weeping and singing

Robert M. Coughlin / April 4, 1999]

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Flowers

What a beautiful Easter! Warm temperatures, greening grass, daffodils galore. Visits with Karla and Andres Quintero; dinner with Julia, Ed, Colin, and Robby. Children's choir at St. Mary's in Painesville. Mary Ann Ratchko-Gamez playing her flute and whistle; Francesco Binda on piano.

From my garden
Linda, Karla, and Andres at St. Mary's

Me with Linda and Robby

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Beloved Community--at St. Mary's in Painesville, Ohio. A Way to Celebrate Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday was special at St. Mary's Church in Painesville, Ohio. Before the church service, we celebrated the diverse and special community of our church with a potluck dinner. Everyone was invited, including the normal Thursday night Karpos crowd (some of whom are homeless), as well as the diverse members of the parish--Anglos, Latinos, rich and poor. I think of the hymn by Marty Haugen, "All Are Welcome in This Place." I also think of the "Beloved Community," spoken of by Martin Luther King Jr. This event was an embodiment of the Beloved Community. The meal was prepared by Karpos Ministry volunteers, including Jan, Kathy Flora, Judi, Susan Allsip, Linda Coughlin, and many others. Jim helped with set up. Louise and Ken Fitzsimmons helped with set up and clean up, as did Brian Rice. Bea was heroic on dishwashing (what seems to me the toughest job), I was involved in serving and clean-up, as were many people (including some very young people) that I don't know well. I can't begin to mention all the people who were involved in preparing the meal, serving, and cleanup!
Musicians singing and playing before the meal (Mary Ann Ratchko, on flute)
 Before the meal began, Fr. Mark Riley said a blessing in English and in Spanish, and musicians, led by Mary Ann Ratchko-Gamez, played and sang a hymn. Accompanying her was her husband Feliciano, with Bea leading the singing.
Louise and Ken Fitzsimmons

Jim, Linda, and Bea doing the dishes
Dan Philipps, passing out the chicken drumsticks
 Kathy Philipps, super busy these days finishing up her dissertation for the University of Toronto, stopped by for a while. Kathy is the co-founder of the Karpos Ministry. We were all so happy to see her.
Some of the diners. Servers, in background, including Jan, far right
 Among the diners was Fr. Steve Vellenga, pastor of St. Mary's. Father Steve should get a lot of credit for the Beloved Community developing at St. Mary's! Thank You, Fr. Vellenga!
Homemade cabbage rolls and ham
Susan Allsip

A view of the crowd before the meal began
The diverse diners present--many races, languages, nationalities. Everyone contributed, everyone got something out of this event. In many ways, we reenacted the Holy Thursday Passover meal Jesus celebrated with his friends the day before he died on Mt. Calvary. I felt the event was as sacramental as anything held in church--it was a holy communion.

Postscript: Oddly, the sense of communion was not present just in the serving and the eating of the meal. It was also in the preparation and the clean-up.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Poem for the Easter Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter

Triduum—But Who Can Believe in Resurrection?

Yes, Holy Thursday we understand;
Have shared communion, broken bread,
Sipped wine in sacred union with lovers, friends, and family.

And yes, Good Friday, we understand too well.
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
We have uttered that ourselves,
Have known too much of sorrow, suffering, and death.

But Easter? Resurrection?

We know it every March when the crocus spring miraculously
From the frozen earth; when our frozen souls
Recover after heartbreak; when our bodies
Heal after illness. We know resurrection well,

It is deep in the marrow,
Will be a wonderful surprise—

Not totally unexpected.

[Bob Coughlin / Holy Thursday 2014]

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You Can Overcome Anxiety

In my lifetime I have dealt with serious anxiety and panic attacks. Amazingly, in the past ten years or so, this problem has disappeared (but you can hear me knocking on wood!). I even had anxiety as a schoolkid, with no vocabulary or knowledge to talk about it or to seek out help--I just suffered. In retrospect, this suffering was a kind of strange gift. It deepened my spirit, enlarged my sympathy for human beings, and even toughened me up. But try to tell that to someone suffering! Good luck!

The good news about anxiety is that it won't kill you (you often think it will) and that you can learn to manage it. At its worst point, there are medicines available that can stop the terrible panic. Since it's been a long time since I went through this, my knowledge of medicines for panic and anxiety is rusty indeed. When I first was seen by a doctor for panic attacks, 1982-83, I was treated with one drug that didn't seem to work, Elavil, and then treated successfully with a related drug that worked very well--Triavil. The latter drug had something extra in it that allowed me to sleep, for the first time in a while. and I think the sleep is what helped heal me. Those two drugs are called tricyclic anti-depressants, and I don't think they are used as much anymore.

Years later, a doctor prescribed an SSRI drug for me (Prozac). It made me even more anxious and very sick, and did nothing to relieve my suffering. The doc then switched to a different SSRI drug, and that seemed to work, slowly but surely. It did take some weeks to work. I used this drug for about three to six months, and then gradually got off it. I have never had to use it again. The doc also gave me some Xanax for acute episodes of panic. I learned that just having this medicine available helped me. Also, I learned that if I took a half or third of a table I got enough relief--and quickly! Was this a real effect or a kind of placebo effect? I just don't know. Again, I stopped taking that medicine and haven't taken it at all for many many years now.

It was not primarily medicine that helped me recover from panic attacks and anxiety. I think it was knowledge; relaxation techniques; breathing techniques; and yoga. The first book on anxiety that I read is still my favorite. It is by Dr. Claire Weekes, and is titled, "Hope and Help for Your Nerves." Another similar book by her is "Self Help for Your Nerves: Learn to Relax and Enjoy Life Again by Overcoming Stress and Fear." Another one is "Pass Through Panic: Freeing Yourself from Anxiety and Fear." These books are all similar in content and concept.

There are many other fine books on overcoming anxiety, but I would begin with these simple, inexpensive books by Claire Weekes. Dr. Weekes had a great sense of empathy and a powerful conviction that anyone, with some knowledge and techniques, could overcome anxiety and panic. She helped me tremendously. That is a good place to start.

There is a website for Dr. Weekes: Dr. Weekes' Website

And there is a Wikipedia entry on her: Wikipedia entry.

Some other time I will talk about relaxation techniques and breathing techniques for overcoming anxiety.

One final thought: I don't think anxiety is a kind of punishment; it's not always the result of life's mistakes; often it is not even related to traumatic events you live through (also that is certainly possible). I think very often it's caused by a trigger-happy flight-or-fight response, hardwired into one's body. It is often this sensitive response system that saved the lives of our ancestors. Our modern environment often makes this hair-trigger fight-or-flight response system problematic. That's my take on it.

We Know This Drill! Snow in April. A Fine Denise Levertov Poem

Sunday it was 79 degrees and we walked around Holden Arboretum au naturel looking at all the spectacular spring flowers (well, part of that sentence is not 100% accurate). This morning it is 29 and snowing, with a few inches expected. We know this drill well in Northeast Ohio. Was it around 2008 when we had 4 feet of snow in April in Hambden Township, outside Chardon (around 2 feet around April 8th; another 2 feet around April 24th)? Of course that was after I had put my snowblower away for the season. My neighbor Bud came to my rescue with his front-end loader. There was no way to shovel that wet, heavy snow off my 100-foot-long driveway. Thanks Bud! So we know the drill. Yet every year we are surprised.

Somewhere in the early 1970's, 1973 or '74, Denise Levertov spent some time at the University of Cincinnati teaching poetry and holding workshops. I'm pretty sure that an old friend, Sarah Cotterill, was in those workshops and was influenced by Denise Levertov. I haven't seen Sarah since the summer of 1976. She was driving through Iowa and I was working at the Catholic Worker House in Davenport. Sarah and I had dinner at a restaurant in the Amana Colonies (a former utopian community). Anyway, I lost track of her and have only seen a bit of her poetry since then.

Somehow Sarah or someone else from the University of Cincinnati gave me a poem Levertov wrote that spring 40 years ago in Ohio. Here it is:

April in Ohio
By Denise Levertov
Each day
the cardinals call and call in the rain,
each cadence scarlet
among leafless buckeye.
and passionately
the redbuds that can’t wait
like other blossoms, to flower
from fingertip twigs,
break forth.
as Eve from Adam’s
cage of ribs,
straight from amazed treetrunks.

Lumps of snow
are melting in tulip-cups. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Breaking the Bavarian Purity Law--the "Reinheitsgebot" / Making Beer

This afternoon I made beer with my two sons-in-law, Ed Kleppel and Brian Homan, at a place called The Brew Kettle in Strongsville, Ohio. We decided to make a Czech Pilsner-type beer, similar to the great beer called "Pilsner Urquel." The process was very interesting and took about 2 and a half hours. It involved boiling bags of barley mash (like gigantic tea bags), adding malt extract, several types of hops in a certain order, and a secret clarifying agent--and boling all this stuff for a couple hours. The clarifying agent probably violated the Bavarian Purity Law or Reinheitsgebot (of 1487 or 1516). All I can say is, "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!" I am guilty and I am sorry!
Violating the Purity Law--I felt so dirty!
It was great fun doing all this with Ed and Brian. We will come back on May 10th to bottle this beer, which Ed has named "Christmas Present Pilsner." Between the three of us we will have about 70 22-ounce bottles.
Ed and Brian

The Brew Crew

Non-Consumer Advocate's "Buyerarchy of Needs"--Great Idea

I saw this image on Facebook:

I don't know who drew the image or invented the idea (I think some of my old Peacemaker friends, from way back when!), but I really liked the concept. So I googled the term and came up with this website:
Non-Consumer Advocate.

Of course the idea of a Buyerarchy of Needs is a play on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. We Americans (and not just Americans!) often can't distinguish between wants and needs. If we learned to do that, we could spare the earth.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Flowers Galore at Holden Arboretum!

Spring has shifted into high gear at Holden, with much more to come!

Pussy Willow

Colt's Foot

Skunk Cabbage

Dwarf Iris?

Red Maple

Near the Entrance to Holden's Parking Lot


Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring Peepers Peeping! An X-Rated Spring Song

A very very short video in which you can hear the wonderful song of spring nights--the mating song of the spring peepers (just outside my door):

Here is a link to the Wikipedia article on these critters: Spring Peepers

Here's what those little buggers look like:

Peeper Peeping--Looking for Love
This was found on a Google image search

Early April Hallelujah Chorus

The spring peepers singing their hearts out last night
Right outside my window, in the wetlands, near the creek,

Chirping their love
Seeking out their Romeos and Juliets

Reckless frog lovers
One green inch of high C

Chanting to the drumbeat
Pulsing in their peeper souls

The hum in the blood,
The need for a mate

Louder than the call for food or sleep
Or anything else --

Not so different from
Human peepers of spring!
[Robert M. Coughlin / April 2002]

Steve Sanders on Kentucky's Erosion of Coal Mine Safety

My Brother-in-Law, Steve Sanders, responds to
Kentucky's erosion of coal mine safety.

Steve is the director of the Appalachian Citizens'
Law Center, an organization devoted to protecting
the health and safety of miners.

In February 2007, widows and children of coal miners convened at the Capitol in Frankfort to testify before a House committee about an important mine safety bill.
The landmark legislation, sponsored by Rep. Brent Yonts, followed one of the deadliest years in recent history for coal miners in Kentucky. Sixteen miners had been killed on the job in 2006, and five of those deaths were from an explosion at the Kentucky Darby No. 1 mine in Harlan.
Four months before Darby, 12 miners were killed in the Sago Mine in West Virginia. Both disasters received extensive national coverage and legislators recognized that it was time for Kentucky to act on mine safety.
The Appalachian Citizens' Law Center worked with the United Mine Workers and others to pass legislation to improve mine safety. While parts of the bill were ultimately compromised, one important component survived: the number of mine inspections per year was doubled from three to six.
Now lawmakers are trying to do away with this requirement — without the usual process of holding public hearings and engaging in public discussion. Instead, the Senate quietly proposed a state budget that would significantly reduce funding for the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing. And, in a last minute addition to the budget discussion, the budget conference committee agreed to reduce state inspections of coal mines to four per year.
Mary Middleton, whose husband, Roy, died in the 2006 Darby blast, told the Herald-Leader: "They're looking out for coal operators, same as always. It's the men who go underground and do the work and risk their lives, but the politicians will always cut corners for the coal operators. The politicians don't have to go through what we have, with the loss of a husband and a father."
Stella Morris lost her husband, Bud, to injuries in another Harlan County mine and she helped campaign for the mine safety bill back in 2007. As she told WYMT-TV last week, "If there's something going on in the mines and they're not being inspected on a regular basis, there can be fatalities there and we just don't want any more families to go through what we went through. ... Even though you only have a few mines operating, those mines need to be safe."
The cuts to OMSL's budget are drastic and will significantly curtail the agency's ability to ensure miners' safety. The biggest disasters of coal mining make the news — like the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in 2010, which killed 29 men. But the day-to-day dangers of working in and around high-speed mining equipment, of roof falls and rib rolls, and of breathing excessive amounts of dust, are threats that debilitate and kill an untold number of miners. Such individual deaths and injuries occur out of the public eye and are often normalized as the everyday costs of mining. Because mining conditions change quickly, it is vital that OMSL perform frequent inspections for mine safety to be maintained.
The way in which the cut to the OMSL budget and the reduction in the number of inspections was moved through the legislature — with no recommendation from the agency in charge of mine safety, without a public hearing and with no public discussion of how many inspectors and inspections are needed — is not the way to properly legislate mine safety.
If the reduction in mining activity lessens OMSL responsibilities, there should be a study of what changes can be reasonably made to OMSL without a reduction in the enforcement of safety standards — not an arbitrary decision to cut funding and reduce the number of inspections.
Regardless of the outcome, the cavalier manner employed by legislators in addressing the safety of Kentucky's miners is an affront to the hard work and dedication of deceased miners and their families.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/04/09/3186321/ky-voices-stephen-sanders-says.html?sp=/99/349/#storylink=cpy

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hallelujah! A Wonderful Wedding Surprise in Meath, Ireland

My brother Kevin sent this to me. Reminds me of Fr. Paul Desch's approach to things (he sang "Du, Du, Liegst Mir Im Herzen" at my daughter Emily's wedding). This is Fr. Ray Kelly and the wedding took place in Meath, Ireland.

Here's an article from the Irish Times on Fr. Kelly: Fr. Kelly article

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wonderful Poetry Reading at Lakeland Last Evening

We had our 15th annual Poetry Month reading at Lakeland Community College last evening, Kathy Fink was emcee, and the featured readers were Bill French, me, Alynn Mahle, and Tobin Terry. Open microphone readers included Bob Speer, Joy Christianson, Robin Crawford, Christopher Franke, Suzanne Ondrus, and others. The open mic readers are all accomplished poets in their own right and could easily have been featured. I read the following poems:

  • "Still Life, With Grand Babies" [a poem for Linda]
  • "Thanksgiving for Companions" [a poem especially for Kathy Flora and my St. Mary's friends]
  • "Dream Haiku in Three Languages" [in English, Irish, and German, for Linda]
  • "Short Memory Needed in Lake and Geauga Counties" [about our late-late snows in Ohio's snowbelt]
  • "Klara im Zwielicht" [a poem in German--for an old friend]
  • "Blood Root" [a poem set in the spring rain at Holden Arboretum, with thanks to K.O.]
  • "Lucky (Stones) at Mentor Headlands (1964)"
In "Lucky Stones" I got to sing a bit of the Everly Brothers' song "Cathy's Clown," which is mentioned in the poem.

So many wonderful poems. I particularly loved Tobin's brilliant "Nursery Crimes," in which he sings, quite a bit, the somewhat twisted songs he learned at his mother's knee (a mother I would like to meet!). Alynn's final poem, which is about poetry and the writing of poetry, is flat-out brilliant. Bob Speer, one of the elder statesmen of the night, was exceptional with his narrative and dialect poems. Joy Christianson had wonderful linked haiku poems. Christopher Franke is one of a kind--he is very good and often wickedly funny. And Suzanne Ondrus read us a beautiful and sexy short poem from her new book, Passion Seeds. She will do a featured reading and book signing in a couple weeks--can't wait! Thanks to Kathy Fink for organizing and emceeing this wonderful event!

Kathy Fink

Bill French
Alynn Mahle
Tobin Terry

Bob Speer
Robin Crawford
Christopher Franke
Suzanne Ondrus
Bob Coughlin, Bill French, Alynn Mahle, Tobin Terry