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

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.

11 March, 2018


Some people have guardian angels looking after them...Me, I have strange guys in parking lots.

It is rather a long story that is difficult to rationalize. I'll try to explain.

Two weeks ago I pulled my 2012 Hyundai Elantra into a parking spot at the entrance to our local Tim Hortons. On the sidewalk in front of me were two middle-aged men and a woman engaged in a conversation.  As I slowly drew to a halt I noticed one man pointing down at the front of my car..."Oh my God," I thought..."What's wrong?"

I turned off the motor and was positioning my arthritic body to make a typically uncomfortable exit when the man doing the motioning hustled around the car to meet me at my partially opened door.   "Did you know your motor is making a bad ticking sound?" he asked with a gruff, yet concerned voice.
The oil was OK.

"Yes I do," I responded, not knowing how to fully accept his query.

"How long has it been doing that?" was his next question.

"About two weeks," I said, still taken aback by the unexpected confrontation.

"What year is the car and how many miles have you got on it? he asked, to which I replied "it's a 2012, with a only a little more than forty thousand clicks on it".

"Might still be under warranty," he offered. "Shouldn't be doing that...It's just not right. Start it up again and pop the hood," I was instructed as he disappeared from my vantage point behind the steering wheel.

"Don't worry," the woman interjected..."He knows a lot about cars!

After about 20 seconds with his head under the hood, my out-of-the-blue mechanic headed back into the coffee shop only to emerge momentarily with the remnants of a paper towel in his hand.  Back under the hood, he lifted the oil dipstick from the engine and gave it a swipe before inserting it once again.  "Well, the oil's okay, so it's not that" he announced after a second dip of the stick."

"You can shut off the engine now," was my final instruction.

But he wasn't finished yet...

"That is just not right," he repeated emphatically.  You've got an engine problem and you'd better get this car into the Hyundai dealership right away.  It will only get worse...They have to make it right for you. I'm serious."

Thanks a lot for that!" I said, still in a partial state of shock.  "I'll take it in first thing next week.

The trio departed, still talking about the noise my motor was making.

After ordering two coffees to go and two Timbits for Lucy, I couldn't help but sit down for a few minutes before leaving to contemplate the almost surreal incident in the parking lot just minutes before.  I rolled up the rim on one of the coffees only to see the customary "Please play again!" and thought to myself "All is not least I got a free engine diagnostic out of the experience."

Four days later I was standing in front of an Owen Sound Hyundai service rep as he broke the news to me: "The bearings in the engine of your car are wearing prematurely.  Bottom line, we'll have to replace the whole thing for you.  Your warranty has just expired, but we'll go to bat for you with the manufacturer."

The replacement engine parts had to be ordered and I am still waiting for word on how Hyundai is going to handle the cost. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Meantime, I can't stop thinking about the guy who took the time and interest in Tim Hortons parking lot to alert me to the pending motor problem. Most unusual...Ultimately appreciated.

Oddly enough, however, this story does not end there.

"Could fly off and behead someone."
Chapter Two: Out of obvious necessity, I'm driving my pickup truck these days. Late yesterday I was walking out of our local supermarket with a cart full of groceries and as I approached the truck I noticed a portion of the plastic wind deflector on the hood had broken off and was laying on the pavement. Someone must have somehow clipped it as they walked or drove past.

I picked up the detached reflector piece and put it back into place, thinking that I could later secure it with a screw or two and some good contact glue. That's when I saw a guy literally running toward me from a car he had been sitting in, about 75 yards away.

Catching up to me, he said "better not do that...You could be driving and that piece could fly off and catch somebody..." drawing his hand across his throat as if suggesting decapitation. "I recommend you just take it off,"

"Whatever you say," was my rather sarcastic response, taking the piece and tossing it in the back of the truck.

As I loaded my groceries, the guy (by appearance, he could have been an off-duty cop) returned to say "It's not apt to happen, but you never know." I nodded agreement.

Back in the truck and about to pull out of the parking space, I saw the guy jump out of his vehicle once again and hurry toward me.  "Oh no...What now?" I thought.
The (not too) soft front tire.

"Your left front tire is soft," he announced as I rolled down my window.

"I know, but thanks for looking after me," I responded.

"You're welcome!" he said, doing an about-turn and heading back to his car.

I sat with my truck idling for a few minutes as I watched the guy pull his rather dirty Ford Focus out of the parking lot and speed into the distance on Highway 21.

Once again I was left wondering what had just happened.  Was the guy being overly officious or was he intentionally trying to be helpful...I simply cannot make up my mind, but will give him the benefit of doubt.

One lingering question remains: Is there something about me that invites this type of uninvited attention?...Quite frankly, however well-intended, I'm starting to develop a complex and it is slightly annoying.

07 March, 2018


Former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was a spiritualist and regularly attended seances seeking to connect with spirits, including his deceased mother. Not only did King hear voices, he was comfortable with them and took great solace in knowing they were there and hearing what they had to say.  He insisted however that he “made it a rule to ignore advice” given by spirits, trusting always in his own judgment.

King, our 10th Prime Minister, was called upon to make many difficult decisions in the running of a country finding its feet and emerging from the shadows of imperialism onto the world stage and all during the decades of financial turmoil, global upheaval and great human conflict. Among those he would seek counsel of were former Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier and another of Canada’s pioneering leaders: his grandfather – William Mackenzie King, leader of the Upper Canada Rebellion and first Mayor of Toronto whose spirit is reputed to still haunt the hallowed halls of that city. 
I have always been of the opinion that hearing voices is not necessarily a sickness or a brain fault, but a human experience more common than we may have been led to believe.

Mackenzie King came immediately to mind last week after learning that one of the co-hosts on ABC's The View stirred controversy by mocking U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence's deep Christian beliefs.
It all started when the co-hosts played a video clip segment featuring former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault, who warned that Americans shouldn’t sleep too comfortably at night because their vice president believes “that Jesus speaks to him.” Co-host Joy Behar then took a shot at Pence, pointing out that “it’s one thing to talk to Jesus, it’s another thing when Jesus talks to you.” She then took things a step further: “that’s called mental illness, if I’m not correct. Hearing voices.”
Mike Pence
The comments quickly made the rounds on social media, and eventually elicited a strong response from Vice President Pence himself. Criticizing the attacks on his beliefs, Pence said it was “simply wrong for ABC to have a television program that expresses that kind of religious intolerance.” 

The incident was a clear example of “how out of touch some in the mainstream media are with the faith and values of the American people,” he insisted. Unsurprisingly, conservative Christian groups voiced overwhelming agreement, and pounced on Behar’s comments as an example of Christian shaming and the so-called “War on Christianity” in the U.S.

So, what to make of this claim? Is there really a growing intolerance toward Christian faith, or are people simply being oversensitive?

Christian Shaming in America

Christians who feel slighted will point to numerous instances of their beliefs being mocked or thrown under the bus.
For example, former NFL coach and media personality Tony Dungy unwittingly came under fire recently when he praised Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles and insisted his faith was an important factor in the Philadelphia Eagles’ victory.

“NBC pays me to express my opinion,” Dungy replied. “And it was my opinion that Nick Foles would play well because his Christian faith would allow him to play with confidence. And that he’s a good QB. I think I was right on both counts.”

Keeping in the world of sports, former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow was widely and frequently mocked for his open displays of faith. Tebow became notorious for kneeling in prayer before games and sporting Bible verses beneath his eyes – habits for which he was picked on by fans and media alike.

More broadly, evangelicals and others who instinctively call for prayer in the wake of tragedies are increasingly accused of hiding their heads in the sand.
Even "Thoughts and Prayers” has gone from an acceptable form of expressing condolences to a cynical meme.“ Blind faith isn’t helpful, critics say, and it certainly cannot take the place of action. In the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, even the seemingly-innocuous phrase “thoughts and prayers” has become a lightning rod for criticism.
A meme about the phrase "thoughts and prayers"
      The seemingly-innocuous phrase “thoughts and prayers”           has become a lightning rod for criticism.

When to Criticize Religion

Critics claim they’re pushing back against such statements because religious justification is a slippery slope. Sure, some people sincerely want to extend prayers to those suffering. But others might seek to weaponize their faith in order to impede progress or promote intolerance.
In a 2016 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil RightsChairman Martin R. Castro argued that Christians often hide behind “religious liberty” as an excuse to discriminate against people or treat certain groups poorly. “In the past, religion was cited to justify Jim Crow laws, and oppose women’s suffrage,” said Castro. “Present day ‘religious liberty’ efforts are aimed at discriminating..."
Is this fair criticism, or further evidence of creeping Christian shaming? No question in my mind that there is a growing cynicism in today's society and that may be another subject to be pursued on another day.
Perhaps we’d all benefit from toning down the rhetoric a bit. It does no good to automatically attribute bad motives to those who profess strong Christian beliefs. Furthermore, I give full marks to any politician who listens, even if some of those voices are from on high.

04 March, 2018


The Rev. Billy Graham, the magnetic, movie-star-handsome preacher who became a singular force in postwar American religious life, a confidant of presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, died last week at 99. Known as “America’s Pastor,” he was laid to rest on Friday at a funeral service in his hometown, Charlotte, North Carolina.  I would be totally remiss if I did not write about him this one last time.

The worldwide Christian community was left to mourn the loss of one of its most revered, albeit at times controversial, spokespersons of the Twentieth Century. And his ministry was truly worldwide; the Citizen Times (USA Today) noted in its recent obituary that Graham led 417 preaching crusades in 185 countries and territories, reaching 84 million people face to face and a further 215 million by satellite.

The story of his life is familiar to many North Americans, especially those who define themselves as Evangelical Christians:

---home-birthed in 1918 on a humble dairy farm near Charlotte, NC

---raised in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

---attended Bible College then Wheaton Seminary

---married to Ruth in 1943 (who died in 2007) and the father of five children

---as a young man, hired by the fiery Canadian Evangelist, Charles Templeton, to lead Youth For Christ ministries

---ordained as a Southern Baptist preacher. (facts from Wikipedia)

Eventually, Graham moved beyond providing local pastoral care to become best known for his “crusades” These large rallies were typically held outdoors and designed to reach mass audiences with his simple message, inviting each one to experience a deep faith in God through the person of Jesus. (Today, even the term “crusade” would be offensive in many circles, calling to mind the medieval forcible conversion of Jews and Muslims to Christianity and the waging of warfare to “liberate” Jerusalem from Islamic rule.)

By contrast, Graham’s crusades were nothing but gentle in their persuasion. When accepting an invitation from local church leaders to preach in their city, he would first insist that planning for these proposed rallies be ecumenical in nature. In an era when Charismatics were often theologically estranged from Fundamentalists over “speaking in tongues,” Protestants historically separated from Roman Catholics, Evangelicals divided from Liberals over Bible literalism and inerrancy,

Graham brought these diverse groups together for a greater good: to present the message of God’s love. If brought to faith at a crusade, new believers were encouraged to remain in their own local churches, rather than being fought over by other clergy seeking to fill their own pews.

He also insisted that his meetings be integrated; this being most remarkable, given that many churches in Graham’s own denomination remained staunchly segregated during the decades of his ministry. As a fellow minister, he remained a good friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King during the turbulent 1960s’ civil rights struggles and even posted bail on one occasion to free him from a Southern jail. Graham remained resolutely opposed to same sex marriage even after public opinion had shifted in the opposite direction. For this stance he has been long criticized by gay rights advocates.

I was among a busload who excitedly drove to a Graham crusade at the then new Air Canada Centre in Toronto in the early 1900's. In the weeks before the meetings, I witnessed how his advance people brought together different denominations to discuss logistics for his pending crusade. I clearly recall the highlight of his service in the cavernous centre holding 25,000 of the devoted, the searching, the uncertain, the troubled and the curious.  I truly felt in awe, simultaneously inspired and sensing that I was part of a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual occassion.

The resonant bass voice of George Beverly Shea (or an alternate vocalist in the person of Micheal Smith) led the massed choirs in singing a favorite traditional hymn “Just As I Am.” Graham would invite those among his huge congregation to begin a relationship with God through Jesus by coming to the altar. Initially, a few cautiously stepped forward, then dozens and soon hundreds slowly streamed down from the bleachers and toward the platform where Graham and local ministers waited prayerfully to receive them into the Christian family.

There was nothing magical or soul-saving about the physical act of rising from one’s seat and moving forward. The step was only symbolic but powerfully felt by those who came forward: theologians would describe it as a visible and public witness, a response to the prompting and calling of God’s Spirit.

Skeptics will argue that the whole exercise is merely an emotional catharsis disguised as a religious happening. Admittedly, in inviting people to the altar over past years of Charismatic ministry, I have seen many come bringing copious, flowing tears or shouts of joy. But even if it were only a catharsis, it would still provide release and relief from whatever was being carried as an inner burden. Further, anyone who has experienced a spiritual, soul-enriching moment in life, will testify that their encounter also included a deeply-emotional component.

One can also acknowledge that so-called spiritual moments can be mostly the result of manipulation, intentional or innocently induced by the person leading the service. Endless, mind-numbing repetition of a verse of music, scary exhortations to “be saved” to avoid hellfire, seductive appeals to come forward “if you love Jesus” can quickly fill the altar spaces. (Think of the film Elmer Gantry.) But the effect is short lived, and once the hype is left behind , the glow recedes. I have met more than one person who has confided that they have been “saved three or four times,” only to lose their enthusiasm and religious conviction in the cold dawn of the next morning.

"Billy Graham was different: he mostly let the Spirit do the work of drawing seekers to faith. America’s Pastor only provided that opportunity, without manipulation or coercion. Graham is now safely in the care of his God whom he loved, followed and faithfully served over a lifetime! May he rest in peace!" says Rev. Bob Johnston in a Saugeen Times tribute.

We are not apt to see Billy Graham's equal in our lifetime.

23 February, 2018


We understand the benefits of mentoring young people when we hear the powerful stories of teens whose lives have been changed by a single, caring adult. If you listen, those stories are everywhere. Like me, you likely have a story about a mentor from your own youth.

I was thinking about all of this recently and realized that I could actually have a story for at least 50 people who influenced or mentored me in some way during 18 years of growing up in a small, tight-knit community -- parents, school teachers, church leaders, Boy Scout leaders, sports coaches, music instructors and first-time employers. Quite remarkable when you stop to think about it and there is a place in my heart for every one of them.

This all gives credence to the expression “It takes a village to raise a child.” It was for that reason that I tried to “give back” to my communities as a minor sports coach, Boy Scouts Leader, Sunday School teacher and Big Brother when I graduated to adulthood.

It is only natural that mentoring is a factor in positive youth development. Now, one of the largest mentoring studies ever conducted continues to support this thinking. The five-year study was sponsored by Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Canada and it found that children with mentors were more confident and had fewer behavioral problems. Girls in the study were four times less likely to become bullies than those without a mentor and boys were two times less likely. In general, young people showed increased belief in their abilities to succeed in school and felt less anxiety related to peer pressure.

Mentoring relationships with youth are complex and there is more to be learned about what makes them succeed, particularly when mentors are matched through organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters and other kinds of nonprofits. In my own experience, young people naturally develop mentee-mentor relationships with adults sometime during their middle and high school years. Non-parent mentors – teachers, clergy, and civic leaders – are highly instrumental in how these teens learn to believe in themselves and tackle challenging goals.

We know too that mentoring is particularly beneficial to disadvantaged teens. A university study showed that youth from disadvantaged backgrounds are twice as likely to attend college when they have a mentor, particularly a teacher. It also showed that less than half of disadvantaged students have any adult mentor at all and that only seven percent named a teacher as a mentor.

We also know that young people who experience discrimination, family stressors, and abuse are less likely to break the law or engage in substance abuse if they have a positive mentoring relationship.

In these the lean and mean days, however, community isn't always what it is supposed to be. We'd all like to think we live in a place where people care about others -- where people pitch in to help when things get rough -- where it's safe to leave the doors unlocked and let the kids play outside.

This isn't always what we experience though, is it? Instead of community, we find alienation, envy and hate. Being poor these days just isn't what it used to be.

During the Depression, there was plenty of poverty and misery. But people connected with each other. They had family and friends around them. Everybody was broke and so everybody was in the same boat. And as everyone who is poor knows, there is nobody who is more generous than another poor person. So people helped each other out. Not only with the physical necessities of life -- such as food, clothing and shelter -- but also with the spiritual and emotional necessities. It's pretty awful when you feel like you are all alone and the whole world is against you. Life is a lot easier when you are part of a network of friends and family, a community, a neighborhood.

Today poor people are pawns in games of poli-tricks. People say, "Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, my grandfather did". That may be true, but many of those "bootstraps" are no longer available today. And the first and foremost problem is that the supportive community of our parents and grandparents day, “the village”, the neighborhood, that place where people looked out for each other and supported each other, where they shared joys and sorrows, good times and bad times, in many places is no more. It has gone the way of the gaslight, the horse and buggy. And we're paying a really big price for that loss.

It truly does take a village to work with the family to raise a child and weather the storms of life. If we want that kind of support, the place to begin is with ourselves. We can start by reaching out to our network of friends and acquaintances. 

There are many things that we just don't have much control over. But like eating good food, building community is something that we all can do right here, right now, in the places where we live -- whether or not we have a job, an education, or a car. We can make our neighborhood our village and find the truth that humans have always learned the hard way. United we stand, divided we fall -- cooperation is as important as competition. Maybe, at certain times and places, it's more important.

Every kid today deserves a village to grow up in...Sadly, some more than others.

21 February, 2018


Ontario PC Party Leader Patrick Brown's sexual harrasment charges the past couple of weeks have over-shadowed other similarly distasteful stories developing in Canada and the United States.
Just a for-instance:
Despite its supposed “zero tolerance” stance on domestic abuse, it would seem the Church of Latter Day Saints really dropped the ball this time. Two female members of the church – who both happen to be ex-wives of American White House staff secretary Rob Porter – claim LDS church officials tried to cover up abuse they faced at the hands of Porter.

Forced to resign last week amid the brewing scandal, Porter has continued to deny any allegations that he physically abused either of his ex-wives. With his resignation official, attention has now shifted to the Mormon church’s handling (read: ignoring) of the abuse. Church officials are under fire for putting the reputation of a prominent male church member above the safety of vulnerable female members – a grave violation of their professed “zero tolerance” policy on domestic abuse.

Jennifer Willoughby and Colbie Holderness each brought the abuse to the attention of Mormon faith leaders, desperate for help. But instead of confronting Porter or offering assistance, the LDS bishops took the side of the abuser and remained reluctant to believe the women’s stories. Most damning – they even tried to dissuade them from seeking justice, cautioning that it could hurt Porter’s career ambitions.

“When I tried to get help, I was counseled to consider carefully how what I said might affect his career,” Willoughby wrote in a blog post last year. “Friends and clergy didn’t believe me. And so I stayed.”  When she tried to bring up her husband’s anger issues, the clergy members seemed more concerned with Porter’s image than her well-being.

Holderness even documented the abuse (see photo above) – taking a picture of a black eye she insists was her husband’s doing. She says the Mormon church completely let her down.

“It wasn’t until I went to a secular counselor at my workplace one summer and told him what was going on that he was the first person, and not a male religious leader, who told me that what was happening was not OK.”

While the LDS Church has refused to directly address the claims of both women, they did release a general statement: “It is difficult to speak to specific circumstances without complete information from all involved, but the position of the church is clear: There is zero tolerance for abuse of any kind.”

But this doesn’t seem to jive with behavior patterns within the church. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, a professional therapist and fellow Mormon, explains why clergy members tend to side with the husband during a domestic dispute. “Since it is more likely that the bishop knows the husband (because they’ve been in church classes together, maybe even served together in callings),” Hanks said, “it is more likely that the bishop will sympathize with the male.”

Unfortunately, this story isn’t exactly a break from the norm. Religious institutions have a long history of engaging in, sanctioning, and covering up abuse. The most infamous example is of course the Catholic Church, which hid and then denied its own sexual abuse scandal for decades, defending scores of predatory priests in the process. But this problem runs much deeper than one single institution – it’s an unspoken epidemic.

Whether it’s battered women or helpless children, or sexual harrasment in its varied forms, these tales of abuse reveal a terribly uncomfortable truth: that the individuals we see as “most holy” in our society sometimes act in the least holy ways.

Here’s a question: If victims of abuse cannot expect help from faith leaders when they need it most, how can the church honestly claim to be looking out for the most vulnerable among us?

Now, don't get me started on charges against politicians Patrick Brown...and Kyle Dykstra...and Kent Hehr in the past few weeks!

17 February, 2018


See for important up-to-date revisions to this site, including crucial new information on Henry Wright.

In support of Richard K. Wright's United Empire Loyalist certification

I was delighted to come across a 600-page Commemorative Biographical Record of Essex, Ontario, "Sketches of prominent and representative citizens and many of the early settled families," published in 1905.  The following extract is the impressive and detailed entry for the Wright family with Great Uncle Arthur as the subject:

"ARTHUR WRIGHT, a well-known citizen of Colchester South, is a worthy representative of one of the pioneer families of the township, and is of pure English extraction. Henry Wright, his great-grandfather, was born and reared in England, and in young manhood emigrated to America, settling at Rutland, Pennsylvania. There he married Mary Klingensmith. Being a United Empire Loyalist, he left Pennsylvania and removed to Canada when trouble arose between the colonies and the mother country. He had a brother, however, who remained in the States.

"Henry Wright lived for a short time at Grosse Ile, but left there as soon as he discovered that it was not English soil, and then settled at Malden, on the Big Creek, later moving to the lake shore, where he took up land. Here his death occurred and here he was buried. His children, all born before his removal to Canada, were as follows: William married Betsy Lipps (he became the grandfather of Ellis L. Wright); Philip married (first) Miss Dowler, and (second) Delilah Malott, and became the grandfather of our subject; Henry married (first) Miss Hitchcock, by whom he had one daughter, Deborah, who married Matthew McCormick, and (second) Hannah Lipps; Thomas married (first) Jennie Little, (second) Mary Leighton, and (third) Abbie Larabie; Betsy married John Brush; Mary married Asa Wilcox; Mattie married Samuel Watson; Katie married Henry Lipps.

"Philip Wright, the grandfather of Arthur Wright, was born Jan. 5, 1775, at Rutland, Pennsylvania, and came with his parents to Grosse Ile, and later to Malden, where he was first married. The daughter of this first union was Anna, born March 30, 1796, who married Capt. John McCormick. His second marriage was to Delilah Malott, who was born June 30, 1786, on Grosse lie, and they had the following children: Lucy, born Nov. 28, 1802, married Isaac Ferriss; Catherine was born Nov. 18, 1804; Peter, born Sept. 30, 1806, married Betty Snider ; William, born Nov. 14, 1808, was twice married, first to a Miss Buchanan, and died in the States; Sarah, born Nov. 12, 1811, is the widow of Charles Larrabee, and at the age of ninety- three is still in the possession of unimpaired faculties; Philip S., born Dec. 4, 1813, married Mary Quick; Theodore, born Nov. 10, 1816, married Arabella Leighton, and they reside at Ludington, Michigan; Ebenezer, born Sept. 20, 1818, is mentioned below; Mary Christine, born Oct. 16, 1820, married Thomas Leighton, and died at Wyandotte, Michigan; Susannah, born Dec. 9, 1824, married Peter Larrabee and died in the States. The father of this family died Sept. 30, 1849.

"Being of age when he came to Colchester South township, Philip Wright received a 200- acre grant of land adjoining that of his father, but for a time all lived under one roof. When he started independently he took the rear half of Lots 75 and 76, arid upon Lot 75 chose a most desirable site for his home. This spot is now marked by a pear tree, and a few rods south of the spot is located a fine spring, which is stoned to a depth of twelve feet and flows sixty-five barrels every twenty-four hours. In the log house here erected, many, if not all, of the numerous family were born. The place is further marked by a stately elm, measuring seventeen feet in circumference, which towers over and shades the spring, and it is stated on good authority that this tree was planted by the daughter Lucy. At that time it was but a small shoot, which was guarded with care; its roots were nourished by the spring which it was designed to shade, and it stands a living memento of a generation almost faded away.

"Ebenezer Wright, of the above family, father of Arthur Wright, was born Sept. 20, 1818, in the old house near the spring, and spent his life on that farm, where he died Feb. 28, 1900. He married Eliza Stockwell, born Aug. 22, 1818, who died May 18, 1881. He occupied the old French frame house that was built nearly seventy years ago, which he later moved nearer to the Potleg road, and which is still standing, although not now occupied as a residence. Some two years ago our subject built a fine modern home. Ebenezer Wright received the west half of Lot 76, and gave his whole attention to farming, reaping much success. In his political views he was a Reformer. Religiously he belonged to the Methodist Church.

"To Ebenezer Wright and his wife were born the following-named children: Salathial, who lives in Gosfield South, married (first) Lucinda Bertrand, by whom he had five children, and (second) Barbara Shaw, by whom he had two children. Annie is the widow of Sidney Patton, of Harrow, and has five children. Wesley, a farmer of  Dresden, County of Kent, married three times, and had three children. Arthur is the subject of this sketch. Burwell, a barber of Harrow, married Minnie Bingham. Erie died at the age of three years.

"Arthur Wright was born May 25, 1855, at the old home farm, where he was reared through a healthy boyhood, spent much in the open air, to a sturdy manhood. He attended the local schools up to the age of sixteen and then began to assume charge of a great part of the agricultural development of the farm. He now owns the homestead, and there are few farms in the township more valuable as to location or productiveness. Mr. Wright devotes himself to a general line of farming, and successfully raises the grains, vegetables and fruits of the climate. Politically Mr. Wright, like his father, is a member of the Reform party. Fraternally he belongs to the Order of Workmen and is a valued and useful member of the local agricultural society.  He is a practical, well-informed, up-to-date farmer, whose methods are founded on knowledge of climate and soil, and whose success demonstrates their value."

* NOTE: Here is another newspaper clipping on the death of Uncle Burwell Wright, 1858-1908, one of my grandfather Wesley's brothers and the son of Great Grandfather Ebenezer Wright. The detail in these two accounts is incredible and substantiates much of the information published on my blog site "The Wright Story".

As published in the Amherstburg Echo, July 24, 1908

12 February, 2018

PM Justin Trudeau Regrets ‘Peoplekind’ remark: "I Made a Dumb Joke"

11 February, 2018


I was thinking earlier today about the contrasts in life and came to the conclusion that we fulfill our destinies through the manner in which we understand and deal with those contrasts.  You know -- haves vs. have nots, weaks and strongs, goods and bads, happies and sads, lovers and haters, the rich and the poor, the sick and the healthy.

Humans are not all the same all the time and I suspect that was by creative design. We are put on this earth to balance off each other. It is all a matter of how we manage those contrasts, just as an artist balances color and a musician balances rhythmic sound for a symmetrical effect.

I believe that God, who created heaven and earth, also invented the concept of contrast. He created opposite seasons, like winter and summer. He departs from evil and abides in righteousness. Even through His death, He gave us life. Perhaps this is why contrast is such a powerful element, because it is in the building block of literally everything we have come to know through the millennia as a race, and throughout our own lives as individuals.

The above came to mind after an on-line conversation with a very dear friend who is experiencing the devastation of an extremely sick daughter, all the while providing care and support for an aging mother, not to mention dealing with health issues of her own. "I can't see the good of such suffering as many go through who are ill but I have to trust that God has some plan I cannot see,"

My friend was echoing the sentiments of many who ask "Why is God making this happen?" or "Surely God has a plan in all of this..."

My only answer to those questions is that the most significant plan God has, and the one that we ought to pay closest attention to, is the one revealed in Romans 8:28-30, which tells us that the burden really does not rest on our ability to perceive God’s plan, but rather His faithfulness to the plan He has for our salvation, as well as His sovereign ability to bring us through to the destination he has ordained.

God, from his lofty position on high, is not up there making bad things (or good things, for that matter) happen for the 7.5 billion inhabitants of the world, rather he has gifted all of us with the necessary positives to deal with every negative in life. That's why we are given certain ability to deal with, or counter , the needs of life -- strength to deal with weak, health to deal with sickness, rich to provide for the poor, love to overcome hate. The things that make the world go around.

So, my friend, balance of contrasts keeps things in perspective for us.

We’re pulled in so many different directions—work, family, church, and so much more. How in the world can we find balance?

“How can I have a more balanced life?” This is perhaps another common question. Hidden behind the idea of “balance,” what people usually really look for is a to-do list -- the secret to getting more done, in less time, without as much stress.

The answer may be a bit shocking..."Focus less on the things (or people) you need to take care of, and more on yourself."  Balance starts with you. If you want to have more balance in your life, and hence the world around you, you need to know yourself well, manage your commitments, and steward the gifts God has given you.

In the end, with faith, we come out of it all as better people...Ready to take on the next challenge we have been equipped to face, if that is our destiny.

We are all tools of God in this maintenance job we call life.

10 February, 2018


Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think.

The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.”

When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues. 

When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.
As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.
I crave silence, but I never seem to get enough of it!  My invalid wife has the TV on a good 18 hours a day and it's driving me crazy.  That's why I found this subject so interesting.

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Silence relieves stress and tension

It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to.

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood  in the brain.

The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making. The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise. 

Summation: Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good...and it will cost nothing.

I can't wait for the weather to improve so I can get out there to hear the sounds of silence.