Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

21 April, 2018


In a Wrights Lane video I vented about government debt that will most certainly end up being nothing but a tax on future generations. I purposely stayed away from any references to particular federal or provincial leaders.

History, however, is replete with examples of good and bad leaders...Nothing new there.

Queen Elizabeth 1, for instance, was a much respected monarch who said: "It is not given to man to tax and be loved."  One would presume that what she meant was that a ruler cannot tax excessively and be respected by his or her subjects.  She practiced what she preached, taxed modestly and was adored by her nation.

Peter the Great was a Russian Czar who followed a long line of incompetent leaders. He abolished the plow tax and the household tax which together had been crippling the economy and replaced them with a simple and single poll tax on all males.  Peasants who worked hard and purchased new equipment and lands could keep the extra revenues generated.  He at least temporarily reversed the declining Russian economy by remaking the tax system, stimulating economic growth and decentralizing the state.

William Tell is famed in Switzerland not for shooting an apple off his son's head, but for inciting a successful tax revolt against Austria's King Rudolph. In 1315, Rudolph's troops descended on the Swiss infantry outnumbering them almost 10-1 and were still defeated...Apparently the Swiss were stronger when mad than the Austrians were greedy.

Sticking to the good, the bad and the ugly in leadership throughout history, modern Canadiana has had its share of the bad.  In the 1970s the Liberals gave us such an enormous per capita bureaucracy it was laughable on the world stage, and Pierre Trudeau himself will forever be remembered as the godfather of deficit financing.

Despite PC leader Brian Mulroney's '84 campaign promise to give civil servants "pink slips and running shoes," like a good liberal he hired a whole bunch more when he became PM and gave us the GST.  As England's Margaret Thatcher noted in her memoirs, he was a Progressive Conservative who placed far too much emphasis on the adjective.

Sometimes ya just gotta laugh!  It beats crying.


*Click on the arrow and be sure to enlarge the screen for better viewing.

18 April, 2018


It is with a great deal of relief that I herewith announce that I successfully passed my first over 80 driving test yesterday in Owen Sound and for you youngens whose time has yet to come, don't worry -- it is a piece of cake.

It is interesting to note that Ontario has the highest concentration of seniors in Canada and it is the only province to to test drivers over 80 years of age, which in retrospect seems quite logical.

Naturally, it is a shock when you receive that first notice announcing that you will be required to take a compulsory driving test before your license can be renewed, especially when you are still feeling kind of good about yourself because you have just reached that 80 years milestone. I found my initial shock turning to resentment, discrimination and anger, then finally anxiety.  Everyone in my test class expressed experiencing similar emotions, all so unnecessary as it turned out.

It’s a touchy subject. As our population ages, our idea of what constitutes “old” shifts accordingly. “Old” is always someone who is … older than me. Is it discriminatory to obligate someone who has been driving for 60 years to undergo retesting? No. Just like it’s not discriminatory to not allow 15-year-olds to drive, or 18-year-olds to drink, or 54-year-olds to get a deal at Shoppers Drug Mart on senior’s day. We put barriers in place all the time for many reasons.

Driving barriers are usually there for safety reasons. When you’re piloting a tonne of killing machine, there should be barriers. If you’re a lousy driver and rack up demerit points, you can lose your licence at any age. But the same way most places have adopted a graduated licence for people learning to drive, it makes sense to acknowledge the very act of aging can have an impact on those same skills.

That said, and in all fairness, seniors continue to have the best driving record of all driving groups in Ontario, so good on us!

Currently, if you’re 70 and over and have an at-fault collision, you could be required to take the G2 exit road test at a Drive Test facility. This is a strict component of our law. Admittedly, years of driving ingrain some bad habits, and the test forces an individual all the way back to basics.  And there is nothing wrong with a refresher.

When you hit 80 in Ontario, you are required to take part in the aforementioned retesting. In a conference room setting, you’ll be with about 15 other people. Your driving record will have already been reviewed. You will do a vision test, in a machine like the one you’ve seen in an optician's office. You will also view a 45-minute video that presents some scenarios to start discussion. It talks about new laws and road signs along with tips for older drivers. You’ll explore strengths that senior drivers have, from experience and judgment and their sense of responsibility, and limitations including changes in vision, loss of flexibility and compromised reaction times.

Finally, a newly implemented test addresses cognitive impairment. You will be shown a clock face with a time indicated, which is then taken down. You have five minutes to draw a circle, put in the clock numbers, and have the hands indicate the time. This tests visuospatial ability, how you recognize and organize information.

Next, you are  given a sheet of paper containing a block of letters. You have five minutes to cross out all the Hs. This tests psychomotor speed – how fast you can interpret and co-ordinate information.
Cognitive skills aren’t tested by memorizing information, which is why these tests are so important. Deceptively simple to those with no cognitive impairment, they are instantly revealing of those who are cognitively impaired.

After age 65, 10 per cent of the population will have mild dementia, which can increase the chance of a crash by 4.7 per cent. Adjusted for miles driven, Statistics Canada reveals that drivers over 70 are the second highest group to be involved in a collision, behind only teen males. An even bigger danger? It’s those older drivers who are less likely to have good outcomes. With age comes fragility, and fatality rates are higher than for those males. You may not be involved in a high-speed crash, but your ability to recover even from the small ones is compromised.

Years of research apparently went into the new test, spearheaded by CANDRIVE, an international association that combines the work of researchers in many disciplines. Their aim is to keep older drivers driving, safely. The cognitive tests have been used for some time in other settings and they present no language barrier.

Both the Ontario Ministry of Transport and researchers stress this exercise is not about yanking licences, but about keeping seniors driving safely for as long as they can. You could be required to take a road test based on the outcome of this classroom session, or be required to follow-up with your doctor for further medical information.

In my group of 16 testers, one man was not granted a licence renewal due to peripheral vision problems and was referred for further optical tests while a woman was deferred pending a subsequent road test at a later date.  Otherwise 14 of us walked away feeling very much like we did some 65-70 years ago when we received a passing grade from a school teacher.

After all, it isn't every day you get to correctly draw a clock and pick the "H" out of a mass of letters.

The over 80 test is done every two years voluntarily resolve to quit driving or you pass on to your Heavenly reward.  Which ever comes first.

15 April, 2018


WHERE ROSANNE LIVES 24/7:  My wife would shoot me if she knew I snapped this photo.  She has not allowed her photo to be taken since we were married, September, 2002.

There is no end of supportive advice for individuals who find themselves in the unfortunate position of  being a primary care giver for a family loved one.  The only problem is that very little, if anything, has been written by those who actually have lived the life of a care giver.

None of us, young or old, ever dream of living out our twilight years sentenced to a primary care giving role. That is just not the way the cookie is supposed to crumble.

You know, "the plan was idealistically to grow old together – holding hands, in rocking chairs on the porch and enjoying the grand-kids."  For many couples, this part of the dream has not quite come true. For those who have found themselves in the all too common position of being a caregiver to their spouse – the story has changed drastically.

Not too surprisingly, over 56% of the 50 million family caregivers are solely responsible for a spouse, according to the National Family Caregivers Association. I am a member of that not-too-exclusive club, not once but twice during the last 23 years of my life (10 years caring for a terminally ill first wife and 11 with second wife Rosanne.)  It is not fair, but what are you going to do?

Suffice to say, I am a battle-scarred veteran of the caregiver war -- twice over.  Thank God that I will never come this way again.

There is no escape valve for a care giver. Unless you are heartless, there is no alternative but to make the best of a very bad situation: 1) Because you love the other half in your relationship and 2) you are committed to an "in sickness and health" nuptial vow.  Bottom line, you find strength and staying power you never knew you had.

But, make no mistake, it can be frustrating, depressing, exhausting -- and lonely.

It is not my intention to cry on your shoulder with this post, dear friend.  I merely want to tell it like it is in the hope that there will be a few who can relate to my experience and a few more who will understand. Still others, yet to walk in my shoes, can also tuck what I say in their memory bank for, God help them, future reference.

When you become a primary caregiver, for all intents and purposes you give up your previous life. There is no time for hobbies, special interests and previous socializing.  Out of necessity, you prioritize and acquire skills previously foreign to you, like shopping for all household necessities (grocery stores, drug stores, banking) cooking, house keeping, laundry. You literally learn the hard way to become the equivalent of a practical nurse.
RosanneNme, September 14, 2002
Little did we know then...

In my case, Rosanne has become increasingly limited in the things she can do for herself, including toiletry, bathing and personal hygiene in general. She is confined 24/7 to her lift chair in our living room cum hospital room, dependent on me for absolutely everything.  Cancer, colitis, CO PD, gross obesity, fibromyalgia, onslaught of dementia and psychological issues all contribute to her current delicate condition.  I am interrupted countless times a day to attend to particular needs. For instance, I started writing an hour ago and have been called away from the computer three times, first to empty the commode and to attend to her after a bowel movement, then to get a glass of ice water followed by a request to pick up a TV converter that had been dropped...Story of my life!.

Untold times a day I hear "Oh Dick, oh Dick!"  When I ask, "What is it Rosanne?" invariably she replies "Oh nothing...Just Oh Dick." I have come to fully understand the meaning behind those words of exasperation, discomfort and helplessness.

The poor dear girl tries hard not to be overly demanding and needy, but there are frequent times when she cannot help herself.  A disabled person requires a lot of attention and that goes with the territory.

After supper at night I begin to run out of steam, patience and tolerance.  With any luck Rosanne will dose off to sleep and that is my opportunity to escape to my office and trusty computer where I derive therapy through genealogy research, writing and plain and simple mind wandering.  Many mornings I am still at it when the sun comes up and I hear Rosanne asking "Is breakfast ready*?"

Thankfully Rosanne sleeps a lot through the day too and I take advantage of the lull for those blessed cat naps that are such a salvation for any primary care giver. Regardless, I am constantly fatigued.

I find that communication is vital in situations like ours.  I try to keep Rosanne apprised of what is going on in the outside world.  I frequently ask her how she is feeling...and more often than not get a vague answer. When I can draw her away from the television soap operas, game shows and old movies that have become her life, we engage in small talk and -- yes, arguments over silly, small matters that are the result of mutual frustrations and frayed emotions.

Rosanne is a second-guesser by nature, especially when it comes to money management, my shopping choices, meal menus and my frequent lapses of memory.  I have never been a woulda, shoulda, coulda sort of guy and frequently find myself in the position of being damned if I do and damned if I don't....That's when I find it better to turn the other cheek and to develop selective hearing.

One of my major challenges is to keep a sufficient variety of food on hand to meet Rosanne's fluctuating tastes. I insist, however, on not becoming a sort-order chef capable of producing on demand.  Hardly a day goes by when I do not have to run to the grocery store to pick up something I had inadvertently forgotten in the previous day's shopping trip.

I often feel guilty and hate myself when through my anxiety I have been insensitive and said things that I wish I hadn't. I try not to let those types of situations pass without an apology and a gentle hug or a consoling stroke on the arm.  There is something to be said about skin-on-skin contact.

On the upside, Rosanne has a short memory. She does not hold a grudge and frequently tells me how grateful she is a and how much she loves me.  She has a soft heart and is extremely emotional, crying one minute and laughing the next. I make light of situations and tease her a lot.  She, in return, threatens me with physical harm.  We share a unique brand of joviality.

I should probably explain here what I meant when I mentioned being lonely in the introduction to this piece. There is a big difference between being lonely and being alone. Many spouse caregivers talk about the loneliness of being a caregiver – even, or perhaps especially, when their spouse is right there with them. When the person you married is no longer able to be as present in the relationship – the loneliness can feel worse than if they were not there at all. Often there is a sense of resentment and anger that they did not hold up their end of the bargain...that fate has dealt you a cruel blow. We continually make allowances and avoid speaking about what once was. The past becomes but a distant memory.

A long time ago I stopped attending church and other public gatherings because I got tired of well-meaning people asking "how's your wife?"  I simply ran out of answers and meaningful explanations when people, in the end, do not understand the circumstances anyway. Generally, I believe, there is a perception that a gravely ill person either gets better -- or dies.

I see other couples our age enjoying a pleasant repast in a local coffee shop or restaurant, taking vacations together, attending social activities, walking hand-in-hand past our house on warm summer evenings...and I am envious.  My heart aches. If only we could do those things once again. We had so little time after marrying. I had hoped for more.

The stock suggestion for people in my situation is: "Consider giving up the tasks that are the most taxing or perhaps cause the most stress on your relationship. Having a paid caregiver do the bathing, incontinence care and feeding for example, can allow you to get back to being in a marriage with your partner – focusing on sharing, visiting or just being together. Try to allow yourself the time to just 'be' with your partner – not always focusing on what you need to 'do'."

To which I say "very ideal, but in reality much easier said that done."

Allow me to explain.

In the past 10 years, Rosanne has been hospitalized for extended intensive-care stays on three different occasions, the most recent being last spring and summer when she was a month-long respite care patient in Southampton before being transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Wiarton for another three-month period.  She was deemed well enough to return home in August, although I think that more honestly they needed her bed.  If I was not prepared to resume primary care responsibilities at home, officials confided that they did not know what they would do with her, nor where they could send her next. 

As before, we were again provided with home care services that included regular visits by nurses and personal aid attendants, physio and occupational therapists and case mangers. This on top of technicians calling regularly to monitor Rosanne's oxygen equipment. Our home became a glorified Grand Central Station. We are very private people and the constant "invasion" caused us undue stress. 

In time Care Partner visits became redundant and when it was obvious that I was more than capable of taking care of Rosanne on my own, our case was terminated pending future need.  We rejoiced...our home was our own again. Outside help may be the answer in some instances, but not ours. Ultimately I will know when enough is enough.

So we carry on, taking one day at at time.  A few weeks ago we had to cancel Rosanne's final chemotherapy appointment in Owen Sound because she was simply not travel worthy. I do not know what will become of that development.  Meantime we mark time.

I struggle with the thought of what would become of Rosanne if my health started to decline.  I'm 10 years older than her and you never know. In the past 10 years I have had major foot and ankle surgery and a total hip replacement.  Shoulder surgery has been put on hold for obvious reasons and out of necessity I continue to grin and bear it, like I do so many other things in our life.

We soldier on, the two of us.  We'll do this our way because we would not have it any other way.

I'm in for the long haul, come what may.  I'm kind of stubborn that way.

"Oh Dick, oh Dick!"

*NOTE FROM DICK:  If still interested, you are invited to read about my first stint as a caregiver for the first Mrs. Wright, Anne (1940-2000).  See "One Couple's Struggle With Cancer"

12 April, 2018


Kerry Leitch is shown on the left in this 1959 photo with other London Majors teammates, Crawford Douglas, Stan "Gabby" Anderson and Roy McKay.

I am fascinated by people of contrasts, especially those who have the aptitude and motivation to live their contrasts to the fullest.
I don't often write about guys I played sports against but Woodstock's Kerry Leitch is an exception, not only because he was a good all 'round athlete but because of the unusual mix of the two main sports he was involved in -- baseball and figure skating.

I first learned about Kerry Leitch when reading The London Free Press sports pages in 1954 and '55. His name cropped up frequently in connection with the London Majors of the Senior Intercounty Baseball League.  I came across him in person in the summer of  '55 when teams from Wallaceburg and Strathroy met in a neutral grounds OBA playoff final in my hometown of Dresden, ON.  Kerry was a catcher and his battery mate in that game was Paul Langlois of River Canard (Windsor) who would later become a member of the Intercounty's St. Thomas Elgins and a life-long personal friend.

In those days, as I recall, London Majors had a working arrangement with nearby Strathroy, where younger players would spend a season developing their skill before moving up to the big team.

Kerry was an excellent defensive catcher with a better-than-average bat and good enough to earn tryouts with the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals. He became a full-fledged member of the Majors in 1956 and played with the team well into the 1960s, winning several Sr. I-C titles along the way.  In fact during his time the London team would go through three names -- Majors, Diamonds and Pontiacs. (Strange that he had a habit of being absent for a number of the team's official photos.) The thing I remember most about him was that he was the first catcher I ever saw wear a peakless helmet under his mask when behind the plate.  Always kind of an innovator.
Kerry, circa 1960

But that is only half of the Kerry Leitch story.

Growing up in Woodstock, he also wanted to play hockey and this desire led to lessons in figure skating to improve his skating ability. At the age of 10 his parents enrolled him in the Woodstock Figure Skating Club so he could learn to skate properly for hockey. As a youngster he had always wanted to be a professional baseball player. He idolized Major League players like Yogi Berra, Mike Hegan, Mickey Mantle, Bob Feller, and in hockey, he looked up to Teeder Kennedy, Max Bentley, Gordie Howe and Turk Broda.

“I found I really enjoyed figure skating and consequently played hockey and figure skated throughout my youth,” he once explained.

At the age of 17 he began coaching part-time to help pay for college. He wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, and attended the University of Detroit in pursuit of that dream. But it was expensive and proved too costly for him to continue, so he returned to semi-pro baseball and coaching figure skating since he enjoyed working with young people.

He couldn’t have known then that his decision to enter the coaching ranks while still playing baseball would transform the world of Canadian figure skating for decades to come.

Many of his skaters would go on to compete at the World Championships and Olympic Games, and he became one of the most highly touted figure skating coaches on the planet and virtually a household name in the sport.

Based in Cambridge at the Preston Figure Skating Club, his first students of note would be pairs skaters Paul Mills and Josie France-Jamieson. Other Preston Figure Skating Club athletes to win  awards in subsequent years included Lloyd Eisler and Katherine Matousek – they were two-time winners, in 1984 and 1985 – Cindy Landry and Lyndon Johnston (1989), and Doug Ladret and Christine “Tuffy” Hough (1992).

Kerry was the consummate coach. His job didn’t stop with the end of the workday. Typically, he would work 12-15 hour days, though often it was -even more than that. An extremely driven and motivated person, he always had a passion for his work, something that separated him from many others. His challenge? To develop world-class athletes.

Along the way he has been an innovator, pioneering the concept of Team Coaching, where he would surround himself with talented coaches. Together they built nothing less than a skating empire in what was then the small town of Preston. For two decades, from 1975 to 1995, no skating club in Canada produced as many Canadian champions as the Preston Figure Skating Club.

The club’s success bred more success, with skaters coming from far and wide to study their sport under an acknowledged master.

By the mid-70’s, the now retired baseball catcher had carved out a niche as a world-class skating coach. He knew that coaches play a far larger role in the development of a young athlete than most people realize. “I always believed it was very important to work diligently to develop each athlete’s skills in life,” he was once quoted as saying.

Which is why he emphasized things like sportsmanship, manners, and public speaking. “I always wanted the athlete to leave the sport of figure skating as a well-rounded and good person. The medals and championships won on their path to success as a person were just a bonus.”

“The sport is a beautiful sport and the only tarnish is the bureaucratic political influence of the officials who have sacrificed their once good intentions for self-gain.” This political dishonesty in some quarters somewhat spoiled the latter years of his coaching career, “but the memories of the wonderful athletes I have been fortunate enough to train, will always be with me,” he emphasized.

And he pointed to the Kurt Brownings, the Scott Hamiltons, and the Barbara Ann Scotts as representing the “true meaning of the sport.”
Kerry, today

As a former Figure Skating Coaches of Canada President and board member of the Canadian Figure Skating Association (now Skate Canada), Leitch helped to push the sport forward through his roles as a coach and sport administrator. He authored figure skating coach certification courses in both Canada and the USA, and was a featured presenter at many Canadian, US and ISU seminars for coaches, skaters and judges.

Actually, his list of credits would run on for a couple of pages. He was chief referee at the Goodwill games in Lake Placid in February, 2000, and was a multiple winner of the Longines-Wittnauer Coaching Excellence Award presented by the Coaching Association of Canada. He is a also a Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame inductee and a member of the Skate Canada Hall of Fame...Not bad for an old baseball catcher!

Kerry's coaching career eventually took him to Florida in the 1990s where he eventually retired in Bradenton with his wife Kathy.  The Leitchs of course are grandparents, a number of times over.

I'm kind of glad that I knew Kerry Leitch when...

10 April, 2018


"Personally, I am going to miss these boys. My boys. I’ll miss seeing them on the couch chilling with our kids or having a Nerf gun battle. I’ll miss watching them play ridiculous games like trying to throw chocolate-covered almonds into each other’s mouths at the same time. I’ll miss hearing Cavin sing every song off the radio and I’ll miss watching Kolten shaking his head while Cavin sings. I’ll miss chatting with them after their games while we make a plate of nachos. I know they’ll miss my famous smoothies in the morning. Most of all, I’ll miss watching these fantastic hockey players hit the ice to play a sport they love. I’m so glad we chose to billet and I feel fortunate to have played a role in Kolten and Cavin’s lives. They are and always will be part of my family by choice."  -- Recently spoken by a hockey "billet Mom".

I posted an item on my Facebook timeline about a wonderful woman from Humboldt, Saskatchewan, who was the "billet mom" for three of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey players who died in a horrendous bus crash last weekend.  "Goodbye my sweet sons!" she said in the caption accompanying a heart-wrenching photo showing the three smiling young hockey players sitting around her kitchen table.

Not only did that image tug at my heart strings, but it reminded me of my youth when five dear women opened their doors to me in a period between 1955 and 1960.  Two were baseball billet moms and three were more in keeping with traditional room-and-board land ladies.  Four of the five were definitely second mothers to me.

The fifth, I don't know...She was very regimental and had a strange way of showing her motherly love, chastising me for taking too much time in the bathroom, being late for breakfast and making too much noise chewing my food once I got there. Oddly enough, however, I was her favorite go-to-guy for household chores and driving her to weekend visits with relatives.  Maybe she felt she could pick on me because I was the youngest of her four boarders.  As I say, I don't know...

What I remember most about my billet moms and landladies in Florida, St. Thomas and Toronto is that they all took a personal interest in me, like they would do with their own sons. Their homes were my home.  At no time did I feel confined to my bedroom.  They were all excellent cooks, providing breakfasts and nourishing evening meals along with brown bags lunches.  Laundry was always part of the package arrangement, $15.00-$17.00 a week inclusive.

I was even included in special family functions, including holiday weekend activities. Hot chocolate and other snacks were often delivered unannounced by Rita Tunstead for me and a roommate in her East Toronto home.  I kept in touch with Rita and her husband Ernie for years.

Mrs. Gladys Reid of St. Thomas still holds a special place in my heart.  We sat in evenings sharing personal stories, frequently laughing and sometimes crying. She rejoiced in my achievements and consoled me when I did not do well in baseball or broke up with a particular girlfriend of the day. I can't remember what we had discussed one evening, but not too long after retiring she slipped into my bedroom and gave me a kiss on the cheek. (It should be explained that Mrs.Reid was at least 70 years of age. She had facial paralysis and I still feel that quick hen peck with misshapened lips sweeping past my cheek.)  She exited as swiftly as she had entered.  No words were spoken. A boy never forgets something like that.

The remarkable thing about Mrs. Reid was that she regularly accommodated three and four young men at a time in her small two-bedroom bungalow -- two beds were in her enclosed front porch.  For years she slept on a pull-out couch in her living room. I am convinced that she did not do it for the few dollars that would be left over from her grocery bill each week.  She did it because she wanted to.

I was a pall bearer at Mrs. Reid's funeral not too long after that.

Another land lady, Mrs. Velma Neil, was also so special that she was an invited guest at my wedding in 1960, sitting along with my mother and other family members.

I conclude by thanking all those remarkable women everywhere, then and now, who give impressionable young men a home away from home as they find their way in the world, sports or otherwise.  God bless their souls!

08 April, 2018


The following simple but heartfelt Facebook letter was written by Deanna Leigh.  It needs to be considered by all of us in the wake of the Humboldt (Sask.) Broncos hockey team disaster.

Dear Saskatchewan Truck Driver,

As we all sit back and contemplate everything that has occurred since the collision and start to process the massive emotional impact of the death of 15 people, I want you to know you are in our minds too. Please know that some of us are thinking of you as well.

Although the exact cause of the collision and the events leading up to it remain unknown to us, we do know that you didn’t set out to do harm as you turned the ignition that fateful day.

You survived. You need help to overcome this tragic incident that is taking a significant toll on you and your family as well. I sincerely hope you will be able to heal and I know that other Canadians wish the same.

From the heart,
A fellow Canadian.

03 April, 2018


In our Internet age, there is a plethora of information available at the click of a button. So much so, that it’s hard to know what to believe anymore and leading me to ask for the umpteenth time "Is truth under assault?"  I am continually disturbed by the countless websites and politically-biased blogs that  have been masquerading as legitimate news outlets and publishing outlandish articles that grab people’s attention. 

Writers create stories full of embellishment and false claims from “unnamed sources”, slap on sensationalist titles, and then share them with the world. And it works! Curious readers can’t help but click on these catchy headlines. Granted, some of the misinformation floating around on the Internet is relatively harmless. However, given the contentious times we live in, fake news stories run the risk of further dividing us.  Consider too, that I am not even touching on the hate and   bigotry that is frequently spewed on social media (a subject unto itself).  I am equally bothered by the malicious, mean and hurtful personal attacks levelled against individuals -- public figures or otherwise -- with gay abandon and often without deserved provocation.  But that too is another story.

Historical Context

It is worth noting that fake news is not a modern creation. In fact, news publications have been writing bombastic stories and stretching the truth for years. Known as “yellow journalism”, it became a popular strategy for selling newspapers around the turn of the century. Even today, yellow journalism continues in the form of tabloids and gossip magazines. 
So, what’s the big deal? Fake news has been around forever. Why are people worried about it now? Partly, it’s the times we live in. The newspaper industry is in the midst of a decline, and more people than ever before are relying on the Internet to keep them up-to-date. Only a minority choose to read online versions of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Toronto Star or Globe & Mail.  In fact, studies show that roughly 62 percent of adults are getting their news from Facebook. How unfortunate!Facebook has been accused of spreading fake news
Fake news articles are thriving in the Facebook environment, where users scroll quickly through their feeds looking for interesting stuff. People often share links based on the headline alone – without bothering to look at the authenticity of the source. This allows phony articles to spread like wildfire as they get shared over and over again.
* It should be underlined here that along with a new computer, I have installed a new security system that blocks potential malware when I am foolish enough to click on what looks to be an interesting graphic, video, news item, clever saying or expression.  Almost unbelievably, 80 percent of friends' Facebook posts that I have clicked on in the past week have been rejected for security reasons.

So, dear friends, when you think that you are sharing useful or inspiring tidbits from unknown sources there is a very good chance that you are innocently picking up viruses and passing them along to equally innocent friends and in so doing lending yourselves to the scammers and phishers of the world who are ruining social media in general...and for you and I in particular.

Some fake news outlets even use legitimate-sounding names to further confuse people. For example, an article posted by “The Denver Guardian” was shared over half a million times on Facebook. As it turns out, “The Denver Guardian” doesn’t exist. A curious news reporter decided to visit the listed address, and all they found was a tree sitting in an empty parking lot.

Moving Forward

There’s no getting around it: a lot of nasty rhetoric has been thrown around over the past year and there is a sense that many of our brothers and sisters are feeling increasingly divided. However, the last thing we need moving forward is more finger pointing and name calling. There are many problems in the world, but we don’t stand a chance of solving them unless we work together.

Upholding the virtue of truth

All the hubbub surrounding fake news also serves as an important reminder about staying true to one’s values and beliefs. One of the core tenets is “to do that which is right”. This means upholding a standard of truth and honesty at all times. Especially in these politically polarized times, it’s important to engage honestly with one another – even if we disagree. Starting a dialogue and listening to opposing ideas is the first step toward developing a mutual understanding.
Sure, there may be people out there seeking to make a buck by spreading lies and misinformation – but that does not mean we have to stand for it. As individuals, we are obligated to resist these petty efforts to create divisions in our society. We cannot assume everything we read on the Internet is true, nor should we allow ourselves to pass judgment without getting both sides of the story.

Do your due-diligence research before jumping to conclusions on any issue or cause.  Truth still matters...and eventually wins out in the end.

01 April, 2018


The word "Grace" has special meaning for me. First and foremost, it was my mother's name.

Other meanings of grace:

---the ballerina moved with grace across the stage; her form and fluid motion were a delight to behold.

---the family always said grace before their meal, thanking God for the food they were about to receive.

In Christian orthodoxy, however, grace takes on special meaning. A simple acronym has been memorized by many student ministers: God’s Redemption At Christ’s Expense.

On Good Friday, the church paused to recognize with humble gratitude its belief that when Jesus died, he carried our sins to the cross. By paying the price for our wrongdoing, He enabled us to receive God’s forgiveness---unearned and unmerited by us, simply a gift freely bestowed.

If grace is an unmerited gift from God (or from the universe, our lucky stars or blind fate) then it can also be as well found outside church walls and beyond traditional theology. Nadia Bolz-Weber described that concept this way: "God’s grace is not defined as God’s being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is a source of wholeness which makes up for my failings." 

We can cling to that source of wholeness to help us practice self-acceptance despite our many shortcomings. Following some scary, near-miss in heavy highway traffic, a driver might be heard muttering with relief: “But for the grace of God, I could have been killed.” We gratefully accept such Divine intervention, knowing that our driving “failings” could have produced fatal results. (A mystery then arises: why did another driver killed in a wreck not receive that same grace?)

Grace is evident when many of us recognize that the blessing of being born in Canada had nothing to do with our efforts or earned merit but was a freely-bestowed gift of the universe. Similarly, "as I stopped to gaze in awe at the sparkling purity of those mini-icebergs decorating our hushed Huron lakeside this past week, I experienced a sacred moment of grace, also freely given to anyone else taking the time to receive it," wrote oft-quoted Bob Johnston in the Saugeen Times on Saturday.

In relationships, we might be fortunate enough to receive forgiveness from someone whom we have wronged. Despite our many imperfections, we may also be the unmerited beneficiary of unconditional love from another human, a gift we could never be perfect enough to earn on merit. That too is grace.

On March 23rd, a gunman in the French town of Trebes took hostages amid his deadly rampage. A police officer, Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, age 44, volunteered to take the place of a female hostage in exchange for her freedom. She was freed; he was murdered. All those involved in that terrorist attack witnessed an unforgettable act of supreme grace.

It may then be said that courage and grace often go hand-in-hand.

27 March, 2018


Wouldn't you know it!  I got a new computer on the weekend and now I can't think of a single thing to write on it...The well has suddenly gone dry, so to speak.

I find it rather strange how attached I became to the old virus and malware infected word processor that I reluctantly traded in for an upgrade Lenovo "Think Centre" with all its bells and whistles.  I am sure that this too shall pass, but it may take a day or two for me to make the adjustment.

Meantime, as a pump-primer and speaking of my old computer, I was totally shocked to learn that in a little more than a year's time I had unknowingly amassed more than 800 forms of malware...and here I thought that I was being particularly security conscious and careful of what I click on.  I first became suspicious when I began receiving pop-ups when working online.  Then came bogus emails from friends promoting all kinds of products and services (Viagra, health foods and exercise programs being some of the more popular).  Eventually my identity was stolen and our online banking disastrously compromised, causing untold inconvenience. Ultimately the computer crashed and I could no longer gain access to my data.  So don't think it can't happen to you because IT CAN.

Every time you click your cursor on a Facebook "shared" bit of wisdom, a clever expression from an anonymous source, or a video that sparks your curiosity, there is a 90 per cent chance you have added malware to your computer. We've all been exposed, no one escapes.

One of the straws that finally broke the camel's back may well have come early last week when I innocently and happily accepted a bogus Facebook friendship request from an old friend who (as it turned out) had been the victim of identity theft.  I honestly do not know how they got my name in this case, but there you go...Once I accepted the request, they had me.

Malware, short for "malicious software," refers to a type of computer program designed to infect a legitimate user's computer and inflict harm on it in multiple ways. Malware can infect computers and devices in several ways and comes in a number of forms, just a few of which include viruses, worms, Trojans, spy ware and more. It's vital that all users know how to recognize and protect themselves from malware in all of its forms.

So what is malware? It comes in a bewildering variety of forms. Computer viruses are probably the most familiar type of malware — so named because they spread by making copies of themselves. Worms have a similar property. Other types of malware, such as spy ware, are named for what they do: In the case of spy ware, it transmits personal information, such as credit card numbers.

Now, the next logical questions are, "who is creating malware, and why?" The days when most malware was created by teenage pranksters are long gone. Malware today is largely designed by and for professional criminals.

These criminals may employ a variety of sophisticated tactics. In some cases, as technology site Public CIO notes, cyber criminals have even "locked up" computer data — making the information inaccessible — then demanded ransom from the users to get that data back.

But the main risk that cyber criminals pose to heavy computer users like me is stealing online banking information such as banking and credit card accounts and passwords. The criminal hackers who steal this information may then use it to drain your account or run up fraudulent credit card bills in your name. Or they may sell your account information on the black market, where this confidential information fetches a good price.  In my case the perpetrator operated out of India of all places. At one point after the accounts had been blocked, he even contacted me by telephone posing as a bank security officer wanting more information in order to "help clear up the matter" for me. These people stop at nothing!

So now that leads to the biggest question of all: "How do I make sure my computer or network is malware-free?"  The answer has two parts: Personal vigilance, and protective tools. (My new computer is now monitored 24/7 by an off-site professional security technician.)

As I say, one of the most popular ways to spread malware is by email, which may be disguised to look as if it is from a familiar company such as a bank, or what seems to be a personal email from a friend asking you to "check out this cool site." (I get at least two or three of these every day.) Never, never let your curiosity get the best of you and click on links accompanying any suspicious email messages.  Trust you gut instinct on this.

Be wary also of emails that ask you to provide passwords. Personal vigilance is the first layer of protection against malware, but simply being careful is not enough. Because business security is not perfect, even downloads from legitimate sites can sometimes have malware attached. Which means that even the most prudent user is at risk, unless you take additional measures.

Malware security protection provides that second vital layer of protection for your computer or network. A robust antivirus software package is the primary component of technological defenses that every personal and business computer system should have.

Well-designed antivirus protection has several characteristics. It checks any newly downloaded program to ensure that it is malware-free. It periodically scans the computer to detect and defeat any malware that might have slipped through. It is regularly updated to recognize the latest threats.

Good antivirus protection can also recognize — and warn against — even previously unknown malware threats, based on technical features (such as attempting to "hide" on a computer) that are characteristic of malware. In addition, robust antivirus software detects and warns against suspicious websites, especially those that may be designed for "phishing" (a technique that tricks users into entering passwords or account numbers). So shop around. It is an absolute necessity if you want to continue participating in any form of social media.

If you regularly copy and share third party Facebook posts and free online snippets on any number of topics (motivational, political, religious, humorous, cute babies and animals) on your timeline, chances are you have already subjected your computer to large doses of malware and you will ultimately experience the ramifications at some point.

No protection is absolute, of course. But a combination of personal awareness and well-designed protective tools will make your computer as safe as it can be.  Trust me, I've learned the hard way and in the future I will be extremely careful of what I chose to view on Facebook and Twitter.  I will ere on the side of caution and, consequently, will not enjoy the online experience quite as much.  Sad but true!

Don't say that I didn't alert you, my friend! 

19 March, 2018


I'm probably not like the average reader of Wrights Lane(?).  I have done things wrong in my life, both knowingly and unknowingly.  I have made errors in judgment. I have made mistakes to the point that my deceased loved ones surely would be disappointed in me -- if, in fact, they were somehow looking down, or watching over me.

Another for-instance in a similar vein:  My first wife passed away after 40 years of marriage. In life she was a brutally frank person, never hesitating to give me the benefit of her opinion when she was unhappy with something I'd done. What does she think of me remarrying and more to the point, does she approve of the life I now have with another woman? I can't express it any more tactfully than that. Suffice to say, down deep it has all kind of bothered me.

But, God have mercy...Surely that is not the way it is.  How completely inhumane for both the living and the dead if this was actually the case. How contrary to the concept of heaven as described in the Christian Bible.

We often hear Christian people say that deceased loved ones are watching over them, taking care of them, smiling down on them, or sending them signs. Mediums make a living by advancing the theory. Granted, it is a nice thought, but the Bible doesn’t specifically have much to say about this topic, although there are several clues in Scripture that seem to show that this is not true.

Humans do create unsubstantiated beliefs that feed into their best interests and those of others at difficult times.

1. He will not return to me.

In 2 Samuel, we see David, a distraught father who has lost his only child. He has been fasting and praying that God might spare his son’s life, but when the child passes away, David makes this statement:

"But, now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me. (2 Samuel 12:23)"

David shows here that the child is now gone, never to return to this Earth. He talks about how they will one day be reunited in Heaven, but until that time, David indicates that they are separated. He does not seem to expect the child to leave him signs of any kind or to be a presence in his life.

2. Present with the Lord.

In 2 Corinthians 5:8, the Bible tells us that when we are absent from the body we are present with the Lord. In other passages we get glimpses of what being in the presence of the Lord might look like. Isaiah and Revelation both paint vivid pictures of the singular focus of those in Heaven, as they gather round the throne of God singing an eternal song of worship and praise, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

There is no indication in these descriptions of Heaven or any other place in Scripture that those in Heaven are involved in, or cognizant of, the things that are happening on Earth. Although some claim that the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1 indicates that our loved ones are watching us, John MacArthur, teacher, pastor, author and creator of the Grace to You ministry, explains why this passage doesn’t support that idea:

"The witnesses in that verse are not modern-day loved ones, but the faithful saints in Hebrews 11 who lived victorious lives by trusting God. Those saints are witnesses to us because their lives testify about the value of trusting God no matter what hardships we face. They are active witnesses who speak to us by their example; not passive witnesses who watch us with their eyes.

"Hebrews 11 shows how the great fathers of the faith lived out that faith. Their stories witness to us about trusting God, and they are the witnesses mentioned in verse 12:1. These aren’t our loved ones witnessing what we do, but Abraham, Isaac, and others whose lives witness to us."

3. No tears in Heaven.

In Revelation 17:7 and 21:4, we read that in Heaven God will wipe away every tear: “There will be no more death or tears or crying or pain.” If our loved ones can look down on this tragedy-filled world and watch us struggle through it, watch us lose people we love, watch us make mistakes that grieve God, how can they be without tears? How can they exist with no pain if they are aware of or involved in our daily struggles?

...Unless, of course, God equips the spirits of our deceased loved ones with blinders so that they can selectively see only the good we do in this world and not the bad.

It seems it would be impossible for our loved ones to enjoy Heaven as the Bible says we all will, to live in perfect peace with no fear or worry or sorrow, if they are witnessing the many terrible things that go on here on Earth. Even a great day on Earth is marred by sin and imperfections the likes of which are abolished forever in Heaven, so it seems unlikely that our loved ones are looking down, sending rainbows, or helping us through situations. So, even though it may be a comforting thought to imagine that we still have a connection with our loved ones after they die, it is likely that only our memories and the hope of being reunited with them in Heaven remain.

Losing those we love is indescribably difficult. But, we can take comfort in knowing that our believing loved ones are safe, at peace, and in the presence of God, no longer concerned by all of the many worries of our world, but resting in the arms of the Savior. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says that in after-life we do not grieve like the rest of the world, which has no hope. We don’t have to look for signs or hope for the spiritual presence of our loved ones. We can know without a doubt that they are happily escaped from a world of great sorrow and pain, and we can console ourselves, knowing that they would not wish to be privy anymore to the sadness and troubles of this life, and the things that they might not approve of if they were living.

We can choose to trust God on this. We can believe His word, and we can enjoy the memories of time with our loved ones until, perhaps, we see them again in Heaven.

So dear friends, if you are like me and have done some things wrong in life, you are only human and belong to a very large club. Know that God has forgiven you. Mistakes are made for us to learn by and ideally not to be repeated.  Some things in life should be private and just between you and your maker.  No one else "up there" is watching you in surveillance camera fashion.  Continue being the good person those close to you have come to know and love...After all, they don't need to know any differently, neither here nor in the hereafter.

That's the way I look at it anyway.

18 March, 2018


In my active church days I joined a group of singers (primarily choir members) who each Christmas visited a local nursing home and the residences of members who were shut-ins. While our carol renditions were always graciously received, I often wondered just how much our "invasions" were actually appreciated and what impact our singing may have had.  The "Threshold Singers" idea, however, has taken this concept to a different level and has given me reason to rethink my assumptions.

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light". -- Dylan Thomas 

This renowned 20th Century Welsh poet wrote these lines of verse as his own father was dying. It reflects Thomas’s aggressive approach to that inevitable end-of-life journey which every human must someday take. His own death at age 39 came in New York City, hospitalized and in a coma. One wonders whether, despite his avowed admonition to do otherwise, he went “gentle into the night.”

Most of us would prefer to die peacefully. "The recent growth of hospice and palliative care resources in our region makes this possibility more likely," says Rev. Bob Johnston of Saugeen Shores. "In western Canada, services available to the dying can now include musical groups called Threshold Singers. While I initially assumed music would be more appropriate for a wedding than a deathbed, I quickly learned my assumption was misguided."

Threshold Singers are small groups of 2-4 vocalists who offer their gift of gentle choir music at the bedside of a person on the “threshold” between life and death. Members are chosen for an ability to hold their part in harmony, carry a note and maintain pitch. More importantly, each volunteer must bring a caring, calming presence to ease a patient’s transition from this world to whatever lies beyond.

Threshold Singers began in California. In 2001, Kate Munger and a group of friends were helping to care for a patient dying with AIDS. Along with providing practical assistance with meals and cleaning, she recognized that singing at his bedside proved to be comforting.

About 10 years later, Munger developed and organized small musical groups to deliver this complementary component within existing palliative care services. Currently about 150 Threshold Choirs are providing this service in the United States and more recently, six in Canada

"To be honest, if I were in my last weeks of life trapped in some hospital bed and forced to endlessly listen to most contemporary 'music,' I would already feel I was in hell! Threshold Singers provides a far different service. They create their own songs, lyrics related to the patient’s threshold of life and death experience. Their music is presented in the form of gentle lullabies," Johnston explains.

Each choir enters a patient’s life only when invited. While remaining sensitive to the spiritual dimension of dying, they bring no religious affiliation. There is no cost for their services. When interviewed, patients describe a sense of reduced pain and anxiety. Breathing becomes more regular and relaxed.

Caregivers and bedside family members can also receive comfort and strength from the presence of these musicians. What takes place is clearly not a performance but the voluntary presence of a small group of compassionate singers briefly entering into a patient’s end-of-life journey and walking with them on that road.

You can access which provides a link to a Charles Adler Tonight podcast interview with Karla Combres, the founder of a threshold choir group in that city. Other links on the same site lead to a Global News video and CBC interview featuring the work of these singers.

Even Dylan Thomas, who lived a reckless life, may have finally found peace in his own dying days if surrounded by such an angelic choir. My hope is that our own Western Ontario region will one day have this resource available as we prepare to cross “into that good night,” accompanied by gentle lullabies to ease us on our way.

I honestly believe that there is something about music that penetrates the soul of a dying person -- when words fail.

There is a Threshold Singers group forming in nearby Owen Sound but I'm not just dying to hear them sing...Not yet!

15 March, 2018

NO. 2 IN A SERIES: Many Native families today have been devout Christians for generations. Still others have retained their aboriginal traditions more or less intact.

Dancers from across the country participate in the annual Three Fires Confederacy Pow Wow held the second weekend in August in the Saugeen First Nation, just north of Southampton, ON.  Native dance, music, traditional foods, handmade beadwork, quill baskets, black ash baskets and other handcrafted items are featured.

In my previous Wrights Lane post I took a look at Japan's indigenous spirituality where it is believed that every living thing in nature (e.g. trees, rocks, flowers, animals - even sounds) contains kami, or gods, and could not help but see a marked similarity to the spirituality of our Native North Americans. Spirituality may be the most contentious and poorly understood dimension of Native North American communities today. For generations the religious beliefs and practises of our First Nations people have been the subject of public fascination and scholarly inquiry. Unfortunately, this ongoing interest has all too frequently been fueled by facile generalizations, inaccurate information, or inappropriate methods of investigation. It is for this reason that I am attempting to remove some of the mystique surrounding native spirituality. In so doing, it is my hope that I can gain a clearer sense of spirituality in my own life.

There is no recorded beginning to Aboriginal religions. They probably were brought to Canada by the Native people as they migrated here following the retreat of the last Ice Age between 8,000 and 9,000 years ago.

All Aboriginal peoples in Canada have their own religious faiths. Some have fallen into disuse, but many more are undergoing a revival.

All the Native peoples resident in Canada prior to contact with Europeans had their own religious belief systems. Europeans felt compelled to convert Canada's Native people to Christianity; early missionaries believed that by doing so the Native people were being saved from spending eternity in Hell.

From the 1830s onwards, church-operated residential schools in Canada were sometimes brutal in their attempts to convert Native people to Christianity and to stamp out traditional religions. Mercifully, the last of these schools closed in the 1970s and First Nations people have been returning to their traditional belief systems in increasing numbers.

Close to home for me (just two miles north) is The Saugeen First Nation which is home to many denominations of Christianity, such as the Wesley United Church, Saugeen Full Gospel Church, Baptist Church, Roman Catholic, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a small multi-denominational Church on French Bay Road. Many residents, however, are going back to the traditional ways or co-practising Midewin and Christian religions.

In general, most Aboriginal religions share the belief that all natural things, all forms of life, are inter-connected. No distinction is made between the spiritual life and the secular life; Aboriginal spirituality is a total way of life.

Creation is explained in the Earth Diver story, in which either the Great Spirit or the Transformer dives, or orders other animals to dive, into the primeval water to bring up mud, out of which he fashions the Earth; this belief is held by Indians of the Eastern Woodlands and Northern Plains.

The Trickster creation story frequently but not always represents the Transformer as a comical character who steals light, fire, water, food, animals, or even mankind and loses them or sets them loose to create the world. This explanation is heard among West Coast and some Prairie tribes.

Among the Mi’kmaq and Abenaki of the East Coast, the Transformer appears as a human being with supernatural powers who brings the world into its present form by heroic feats. Across the Great Plains, there are said to be two Transformers. They compete with each other in feats of strength, ability, or cunning. The result of this contest is the formation of the world as it now exists.

All Aboriginal religions have elaborate ceremonies and rituals. These are performed to please the gods so rain will come for the crops, or hunters will be successful in finding game. Other rituals involve fertility, birth, and death.

As an example, let's look at the Shaking Tent Ritual  where a client would pay a shaman (a kind of priest or healer) to build a special cylindrical lodge or tent. The shaman would enter the tent in darkness and singing and drumming would bring his spirit helpers. The arrival of the spirits would be signaled by animal cries and the shaking of the tent. The shaman would then use his spirit helpers to cure the client of whatever ailed him or her or to ward off black magic or a curse.

Among First Nations there is usually a belief in an afterlife but the world of the dead is thought to lie at a great distance from the living. The dead usually have to make a difficult journey often beyond a great river, on islands far out at sea, in the remote mountains, or in the underworld to get to their place of rest. Occasionally, there is contact between humans and the world beyond.
Northern Lights

Spiritual stories are needed to explain spectacular events such as a thunderstorm or an earthquake. A Native shaman might explain the Northern Lights by saying that the dancing waves of colour are powerful guardian spirits; the spirits of ancestors dance across the northern sky, weaving their way through the black of night, moving in harmony with the eternal rhythms of Father Sky and Mother Earth.

A key concept among Indian and Inuit societies is the notion of the Guardian of the Game. This is a supernatural person who looks after one or all of the animal species, especially those hunted by man.

Typical examples are to be found in the Bear ceremonial of the Abenaki and Montagnais-Naskapi, the Spirit of the Buffalo in Plains societies, and Sedna the sea goddess and Guardian of the Seals among the Inuit.

Inuit religious thought is grounded in the belief that anua (souls) exist in all people and animals. Individuals, families and the tribe must observe a complex system of taboos to ensure that animals continue to make themselves available to the hunters.

The underwater Goddess Sedna watches to see how closely the tribe obeys the taboos and releases her animals to the hunters accordingly. There are other deities who release land mammals. Many rituals and ceremonies are performed before and after hunting expeditions to ensure hunting success.

There are no written texts; Native spirituality is contained in stories told by the Elders. Most of these religious tales have a moral or ethical dimension in which behaviour patterns are ordered, banned, recommended, or condemned.

Religious Tolerance quotes an unknown Native woman as saying: "If you take [a copy of] the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Our bible IS the wind."

Sources used in this series:

Religions in Canada, Directorate of Human Rights and Diversity, Government of Canada.

The Encyclopedia of World Religions, Robert S. Ellwood (ed.) Facts on File, 1998.

Religion for Dummies, Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman, For Dummies Publishing, 2002.

Religious Tolerance, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance

Religion, CBC Montreal

14 March, 2018


I envy my daughter Cindy, her son Ryan, daughter Madison and several cousins who are planning a trip to Japan this summer.  For various reasons and apart from sight seeing, they all have an interest in Japanese culture and spirituality.  Their itinerary will be full of temples, monuments, gardens and festivals.

As the next best thing for me, I thought that I would take a superficial look at the country that many North Americans know so little about.  For the purpose of this exercise I referred to 

Religion in Japan is a wonderful mish-mash of ideas from Shintoism and Buddhism. Unlike in the West, religion in Japan is rarely preached, nor is it a doctrine. Instead it is a moral code, a way of living, almost indistinguishable from Japanese social and cultural values.

Japanese religion is also a private, family affair. It is separate from the state; there are no religious prayers or symbols in a school graduation ceremony, for example. Religion is rarely discussed in every day life and the majority of Japanese do not worship regularly or claim to be religious.

However, most people turn to religious rituals in birth, marriage and death and take part in spiritual matsuri (or festivals) throughout the year. Until World War Two, Japanese religion focused around the figure of the Emperor as a living God. Subjects saw themselves as part of a huge family of which all Japanese people were members.

The crushing war defeat however, shattered many people's beliefs, as the frail voice of the Emperor was broadcast to the nation renouncing his deity. The period since has seen a secularization of Japanese society almost as dramatic as the economic miracle which saw Japan's post-war economy go into overdrive.

However, much of the ritual has survived the collapse of religious belief. Today, religion defines Japanese identity more than spirituality, and it helps strengthen family and community ties.

Shintoism is Japan's indigenous spirituality. It is believed that every living thing in nature (e.g. trees, rocks, flowers, animals - even sounds) contains kami, or gods. (In that regard I find a marked similarity to the spirituality of our Native North Americans and I plan to elaborate on the subject in my next Wrights Lane post.)

Consequently Shinto principles can be seen throughout Japanese culture, where nature and the turning of the seasons are cherished. This is reflected in arts such asikebana (flower arranging) and bonsai, Japanese garden design and the annual celebration of sakura - or cherry blossom.

Shinto only got its name when Buddhism came to Japan by way of China, Tibet, Vietnam, and ultimately Korea. Buddhism arrived in the sixth century, establishing itself in Nara. Over time Buddhism divided into several sects, the most popular being Zen Buddhism.

In essence, Shintoism is the spirituality of this world and this life, whereas Buddhism is concerned with the soul and the afterlife. This explains why for the Japanese the two religions exist so successfully together, without contradiction. To celebrate a birth or marriage, or to pray for a good harvest, the Japanese turn to Shintoism. Funerals, on the other hand, are usually Buddhist ceremonies.
Visiting a Shinto shrine is tightly woven into the
daily life, culture and history of Japan.

As a general rule of thumb, shrines are Shinto and temples are Buddhist. Shrines can be identified by the huge entrance gate or torii, often painted vermilion red. However you'll often find both shrines and temple buildings in the same complex so it is sometimes difficult to identify and separate the two.

"To appreciate a shrine, do as the Japanese do," says one travel brochure. "Just inside the red torii gate you'll find a water fountain or trough. Here you must use a bamboo ladle to wash your hands and mouth to purify your spirit before entering. Next, look for a long thick rope hanging from a bell in front of an altar. Here you may pray: first ring the bell, throw a coin before the altar as on offering (five yen coins are considered lucky), clap three times to summon the kami, then clasp your hands together to pray."

At a temple, you'll need to take your shoes off before entering the main building and kneeling on the tatami-mat floor before an altar or icon to pray.

Luck, fate and superstition are important to the Japanese. Many people buy small charms at temples or shrines, which are then attached to handbags, key chains, mobile phones or hung in cars to bring good luck. Different charms grant different luck, such as exam success or fertility.

Prayers are often written on votive tablets: wooden boards called ema that are hung in their hundreds around temple grounds. At famous temples such as Kyoto's Kiyomizu-dera, you'll see votive tablets written in a variety of languages.

A final way to learn your destiny is to take a fortune slip. Sometimes available in English, a fortune slip rates your future in different areas: success, money, love, marriage, travel and more. If your fortune is poor, tie your slip to a tree branch in the temple grounds; leaving the slip at the temple should improve your luck.

The most important times of year in the Japanese calendar are New Year, celebrated from the 1st to the 3rd of January, and O-Bon, usually held around the 16th of August. At New Year the Japanese make trips to ancestral graves to pray for late relatives. The first shrine visit of the New Year is also important to secure luck for the year ahead.

At O-Bon it is believed that the spirits of the ancestors come down to earth to visit the living. Unlike Halloween, these spooky spirits are welcomed and the Japanese make visits to family graves.
A Japanese O-Bon dancer.

Births are celebrated by family visits to shrines. The passing of childhood is commemorated at three key ages: three, five and seven, and small children are dressed in expensive kimono and taken to certain shrines such as Tokyo's Meiji Shrine. Coming of age is officially celebrated at 20. In early January, mass coming of age ceremonies (like graduations) are held in town halls followed by shrine visits by young people proudly dressed in bright kimono.

In Japan today, marriage ceremonies are a great clash of East meets West. A Japanese wedding may have several parts, including a Shinto ceremony in traditional dress at a shrine as well as a Western-style wedding reception in a hotel or restaurant. In the second part it is now popular for a bride to wear a wedding gown for a howaito wedingu (white wedding).

Funerals are overseen by Buddhist priests. 99% of Japanese are cremated and their ashes buried under a gravestone. To better understand Japanese funerals, InsideJapan Tours highly recommend the Oscar-winning film Okuribito, or Departures, about a concert cellist who goes back to his roots in Yamagata and retrains as an undertaker.

Japanese matsuri are festivals connected to shrines. In a tradition stretching back centuries matsuri parades and rituals relate to the cultivation of rice and the spiritual well being of the local community.

Other religions: According to Article 20 of the Japanese constitution, Japan grants full religious freedom, allowing minority religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism to be practiced. These religions account for roughly 5-10% of Japan's population. However, the spiritual vacuum left by the Emperor's renunciation was also rapidly filled by a plethora of new religions (shin shukyo) which sprung up across Japan.

Mainly concentrated in urban areas, these religions offer worldly benefits such as good health, wealth, and good fortune. Many had charismatic, Christ-like leaders who inspired a fanatical devotion in their followers. It is here that the roots of such famous "cults" as the "Aum cult of the divine truth", who perpetrated the Tokyo subway gas attack of 1995, can be found.

However, the vast majority of new religions are focused on peace and the attainment of happiness, although many Japanese who have no involvement appear suspicious of such organizations. Tax-dodging or money-laundering are, according to some, par for the course.

Some of the new religions, such as PL Kyoden (Public Liberty Kyoden) and Soka Gakkai, have, however, become very much a part of the establishment in Japan, and it seems their role in politics and business is not to be underestimated.

For those who have an interest in Buddhism or Shinto, Japan is full of fascinating places to visit. Nara, in the Kansai region near Osaka, is thought to be the original home of Buddhism in Japan and features an extensive museum of Buddhist art and artifacts, as well as the huge statue of Buddha that is Nara's central visitor attraction.

Kyoto is full of beautiful shrines and temples and can provide a unique look back through history to a time when religious belief was a more significant part of everyday life, as well as being simply stunning to behold.

So, have fun you guys.  Take lots of photos!

12 March, 2018


I have written before on the disturbing decline of newspapers and the need for "reliable" news sources in today's ever changing and conflicting climate.

Now, over to broadcast news: With a record number of news outlets showcasing numerous differing opinions, it has also become increasingly problematic for society to discern fact from fiction in all news of the day. As people turn away from conventional news sources in favor of social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, the reporting by major news outlets are questioned, fueling the propaganda that is “fake news.”

In today’s thousand channel news environment, it is difficult to envision a time when everyone was, more or less, on the same page; to recall a less contentious and fractured framework for disseminating information.

Such a time did truly exist. Sometime between Marconi and Musk, viewers enjoyed a reliable and secure sense that their news was true. It was the heyday of global network news coverage. Like today, viewers opinions differed wildly and like today, the narratives told often featured protagonists and antagonists. It was the delivery mechanism then that so contrasts the way we get our news today.

This was a time when the news landscape was owned by the “Big 3” networks. Yet, it was far from a monopoly. Each “Net” fervently represented their own historic brand and whose founders and stewards viewed news gathering and reporting as a sort of civic responsibility. The news divisions, with their vast assemblage of domestic and international bureaus, were everywhere and anywhere news happened. Their fact-based reporting and broadcasting were void of the talk show opinions and interpretations so omnipresent today. Budgets were enormous because viewership was enormous. Everyone’s ‘set’ was ‘tuned-in’ to the national news to get the straight scoop on what was happening in the world. Anchormen were more trusted than Presidents and Prime Ministers. The reporting was riveting, the stories were real. There was nothing ‘Fake’ about it.

But alas, that was then...this is now!

There is a general reluctance today for the consumer to pay for news in any form, especially when they can get it on line for free.  The problem is, can free news be trusted.

When it comes to self-tailored media, or “echo chambers,” of current times, the main causes are twofold. The first is that many people share and interact with news stories they agree with or of which they approve. In addition, social media users are free to select which media outlets to follow, and which ones to block.

The result is a potential bubble of information that may discourage engagement with challenging viewpoints.

Even more, if the view or information reinforced by these media choices are inaccurate, it may lead to a personalized information trap of unreliable sources. This has created concern among readers who don’t want to miss challenging viewpoints.

To address this issue, some consumers are turning to news aggregates. In fact, according to the Reuters Digital News Report, 57% of respondents said they prefer news aggregates in order to access a variety of sources.

News aggregates like Google News and Yahoo Japan are already quite popular with people whom prefer to receive news from multiple sources. In China a new app called Bingdu combines news aggregation, user-driven advertisements, and Facebook-style recommendation algorithms to attract around 10 million active users.

Another Google DNI funded initiative comes from Europa Press ComunicaciĆ³n via a news platform that aims to “facilitate the use of open-data both as a source of news and as a fact validation instrument.”

The problems of fake news and echo chambers will not be solved overnight. We have already seen a shift in news production by leading media companies to ensure credibility in this changing media ecosystem. Innovative emerging publishers should continue to foster a strong relationship between publishers, readers, and researchers. This is an essential first step in building a more positive media landscape for the future.

Some people are “news bumpers,” meaning they primarily get their news by bumping into it without seeking it out or turning intentionally to particular sources. Other people are “news seekers,” meaning they look for topics and issues they are interested in and actively and intentionally hunt for them. In subsequent studies of all age groups, we have seen the same pattern. There are seekers and bumpers across all demographic groups. Older people are more likely to be seekers, though there are plenty of younger people who also seek out news rather than simply bump into it.

Three-quarters of those who pay for news fall into the category of being news seekers. That suggests seekers are the largest and most likely group for publishers to try to understand.

The challenge is intimidating for one who has lived in the "old" world of news gathering.  Would that I could provide answers that are conclusive and today oriented.