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

27 November, 2013


Sweeping societal issues under the carpet has never once contributed to the resolution of those issues.  For years I have been talking to myself in advocating the need for citizens, and that means all of us, to take ownership of the sins of current and past Canadian generations.  I'm talking specifically about racial discrimination in all its various, ugly forms.  There just seems to be a general reluctance to express sorrow and to deal with the truth in the name of reconciliation.

I've talked about racial discrimination against our Black neighbours in small town Ontario when I was growing up, injustices experienced by Japanese Canadians during World War 11, mistreatment of British Home Children at the turn of the 20th Century and the disgraceful abuse of Canadian Indian children in residential schools over a 100-year period -- all cases where there has been a general hesitance by Canadians to take ownership, let alone acknowledge the wrong-doing of past generations.

There have been times when I was labelled a trouble-maker for stirring up the past in my writings.

Keith Randall is a writer, broadcaster and an elder at the Presbyterian Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in Montreal. He lives in Laval.  His personal revelation deserves wider circulation because his thinking at one time was typical, I think, of many Canadians today.  This is what he has to say.

Sometimes the light goes on. It happened one day not long ago while discussing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (a coalition of government and church representatives) hearings in Montreal.

“You know,” I said, “I have Indian friends and I’m pretty sympathetic to the tough times they’re having in some places, but I don’t understand all this guilt about residential schools. It was years ago. I didn’t have anything to do with it. I wasn’t there. What’s this got to do with me?”

“I notice that you stand proud on Remembrance Day,” my friend replied. “You applaud when the vets march by, sometimes with a tear in your eye. You weren’t there for the world wars or Korea, either.”  That’s when the light went on. Residential schools are part of my history, too, along with Vimy Ridge and the Holland liberation. A dark chapter, to be sure, but a thread of my Canadian heritage that I’ve failed to see in our country’s rich tapestry.

Although missionaries had established residential schools for aboriginal children as long ago as 1620, the concept really took hold with Confederation. In the 1876 Indian Act, Ottawa assumed control of aboriginal “governments, economy, religion, land, education, and even their personal lives,” Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners write in their powerful and depressing book "They Came for the Children." John A. Macdonald added to the loose network of church-run off-reserve schools. “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with his parents,” he said in 1883. “He is simply a savage who can read and write.”

Churches seeking to save souls were eager partners. In 1879 Toronto journalist Nicholas Flood Davin cited two reasons for a formal partnership with them in a report to the federal government. Residential schools, he hoped, would turn children into reliable citizens, their aboriginal faith replaced by a better one — Christianity — and motivated missionaries could be hired more cheaply than qualified teachers.

This was not just a reflection of the Dark Ages of the 19th century; it carried into the “modern” era. In 1920, the Indian Affairs Department’s deputy minister Duncan Campbell Scott wrote that the government would “continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department.”  One hundred and forty one residential schools have been recognized by the TRC, and others await judicial rulings. In the last decades of the 20th century, government and churches began to recognize both the ineffectiveness and the injustice of a system that had endured for seven generations, robbing 150,000 First Nations, M├ętis and Inuit children of their culture, heritage and families. Untold numbers were mistreated physically, psychologically and sexually, leaving them in a cycle of abuse and addiction. Early research suggests that at least 3,000 lie in unidentified graves near the former schools.

Were there dedicated teachers who worked diligently within a flawed, underfunded system and warned of impending disaster? Of course. Were there aboriginal children who survived unscathed and went on to lives fulfilled? Yes, again. Aren’t there examples of child abuse in other Canadian institutions? Indeed there are, but none within a system under the formal sanction of the government and participating churches.

In 2008, the government and the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches settled the largest Canadian class action suit of its kind, an agreement that created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC is mandated to record the history and impact of residential schools, promote public awareness through national and local events, and to foster sharing and healing between aboriginal peoples and the rest of us.

The fifth of seven major national events was held at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel earlier this year. Highlights included a Sacred Fire in Place du Canada burning throughout the four days, an education day for local students, films, a variety show and a series of often heartbreaking testimonies by residential school survivors either publicly or in confidence before the commissioners and in listening areas established by the churches.

We have recently read startling, depressing and often puzzling headlines about protests and blockades, treaty claims, resources, reserve management and political grandstanding. This TRC event offered us a unique opportunity to begin learning about just one element of the complex maze of issues rooted deep in our past that will play out in our future to a conclusion that’s still very much uncertain.
NOTE DROM DICK: Although the subsequent apologies and acknowledgements made by the federal government and churches are important steps forward in the healing process, Aboriginal leaders have said that such gestures are not enough without supportive action. Communities and residential school survivor societies are undertaking healing initiatives, both traditional and non-traditional, and providing opportunities for survivors to talk about their experiences and move forward to heal and to create a positive future for themselves, their families, and their communities.

I still think that similar apologies to our black friends who suffered denial of rights and blatant racial discrimination in the last century are very much in order and long overdue, but that's another story that I will not reserect at this time. Been there and done that!

While we have much in Canada for which to be proud, we also have a lot of unfortunate history to reconcile -- even though we were "not there at the time."  We must never forget that it is OUR history and that it is irresponsible to disassociate ourselves from it, or to conveniently sweep it under the carpet.

It is all about dealing with inequities in life and righting wrongs of the past...And never letting them happen again.

10 November, 2013



Left, 1949 Plymouth 

Right, 1950 Monarch

I was thinking today about all the cars that I have owned since I purchased a 1949 Plymouth Coupe from Spackman Motors in St. Thomas for $450 in 1956. To the best of my recollection I have had 21 cars and one truck in a 58-year period, which I would imagine would be about average for someone in their mid to late 70s today.

Over the years I have owned Plymouth, Monarch, Dodge, Ford, Chevrolet, Buick, Meteor, Pontiac, Chrysler, and Hyundai vehicles.  While I have to dig deep into the memory bank to remember some of the cars, the two that I remember most are the first two on the list -- a black 1949 Plymouth Coupe and a two-tone blue 1950 Monarch, maybe because in a way they are like your first girl friend.  You just always have a soft place in your heart for them.  But for me, those first two cars were unquestionably the most memorable because of the bitter-sweet stories attached to them.

I don't know what ever possessed me, but I found myself in Spackman's used car lot one day in the summer of 1956.  "Hey Dick old buddy," shouted baseball friend and car salesman Al Topping as he emerged from behind a red 1954 Pontiac. "Wanna buy a car?"

"Naw, just looking Al," I responded.  I was 18 years of age and didn't even have a driver's licence for crying out loud.  As a matter of fact, I had never even been behind the wheel of a car let alone drive one.

"Know what? I think we've got just the car for a guy like you," enthused Al as he took my arm and ushered me over to a gleaming black two-door coupe with the driver's side door open and motor running.  "I just had this little Plymouth out for a test drive and it's a beauty.  It was owned previously by a Salvation Army widow in town."  As Al lifted the hood to expose a motor that was completely foreign to me, I kicked one of the front tires because I'd seen others doing it and it seemed the thing to do at a time like this.

"It looks like it's in good shape...How much is it?" I made the mistake of asking.  "We'll work something out for you," Al answered, rather evasively.  "Come on, I'll take you out for a ride before we talk about price."

"Well, I don't have a driver's licence and I don't think I can buy a car without one, can I?" I asked sheepishly with the hope that this would let me off the hook.  "Sure you can, as a matter of fact if you buy this car I'll teach you how to drive," was my persistent friend's quick response.  "Look Dick, because I know you, I think that I can talk my manager into letting you have this car for a steal, maybe around $450."  It just so happened that between playing semi-pro baseball with the St. Thomas Senior Intercounty baseball team and my wages from Jack Fraser Stores ($45.00 a week) that summer, I had saved up almost $500.00, so it wasn't as though the price was out of reach for me.

Long story short,  20 minutes and my signature on a dotted line later, I was the proud owner of my first car and sitting in my landlady's driveway with Al showing me how to manually shift gears and simultaneously engage the clutch with my right foot.  "Think of your gear shift as the letter H.  You have first and second gears, reverse and park with neutral in between," he explained.  "Just keep practicing going forward and backwards in the driveway for a few days and I'll check in with you this weekend to see how you are doing," Al added as he climbed into his smiling sales manager's car as it idled at the curb.

I didn't practice driving much the rest of the day...I just sat there on the front porch very much overwhelmed and trying to replay in my mind what had just transpired.  Long after dark I kept going out to check on the car to see if it was still there and to confirm that it had not been all a dream.

The next evening after supper, I ventured out to do some practice gear shifting in the driveway.  I was excited on one hand, but apprehensive on the other.  After a half dozen trips back and forth, I suddenly felt a sense of false courage and kept going forward out onto Horton Street where I had no choice but to make a right turn.  A few hundred all-too-quick yards and I found myself at the busy intersection of the city's main street.  Again, I turned right on to Talbot Street at the first opportunity, primarily because I was afraid to turn left across two lanes of traffic.  Suddenly I was in a do-or-die situation...I had no choice other than to grit my teeth and keep going.  And keep going I did, five miles out of town, all the way to the village of Talbotville where I was finally able to turn around in the parking lot of the landmark Wayside Inn.

Then it was back to St. Thomas and living the nightmare of six traffic lights on Talbot Street all over again. But a funny thing happened on the way back to good old Horton Street -- I began to feel pretty damn good about my new-found driving ability, to the point that I was actually quite comfortable at the controls of that little Plymouth car that had previously been so intimidating to me.

When I finally arrived home and pulled back into the driveway,  my landlady (Mrs. Reid) was on the front steps literally wringing her hands.  "Dick, for heaven's sake, where have you been?  I've been worried sick ever since I saw you disappear on Talbot Street.  I was expecting to get a call from the police at any minute. Get in the house right now and tell me all about it."  The poor dear lady was like a mother to me and I was at least thankful that I would not be facing the wrath of my real mother on this occassion.

The next day I was so confident (or ignorantly stupid) that I drove back up Talbot Street again to the motor licence bureau (sans licence) where I asked if I might take a driving test.  A very accommodating inspector agreed to take me out for a 10-minute test drive which I subsequently, and surprisingly, passed in spite of the fact that I parked in a no parking zone when we got back to the office.  With no further questions asked, I walked away as a qualified driver, 48 hours after I had purchased my first car.  A miracle?...Maybe so.

Now it was time to face the biggest hurdle of all -- my mother.  That Saturday afternoon I made the 65-mile trip to my home town of Dresden, arriving just in time to pick my mother up at the drug store where she worked at the time. She was so shocked when she saw me that she flatly refused to get in the car.  "You can't drive!...Do you think I've taken leave of my senses...I'm staying on the sidewalk where I know I'm safe," she yelled as she retreated in horror.

She arrived home on foot 10 minutes later and it took me another hour to calm her down and to convince her that I actually could drive and that I had a licence to prove it.  In due course she did eventually get in the car with me, but it took another trip home to Dresden a few weeks later to make that significant breakthrough.

My car salesman friend Al never did show up for a second driving lesson.  Guess he forgot!?

I have another story to tell about that little Plymouth coupe and how I came about my second car, the 1950 Monarch.  But I'll save that for my next post.

06 November, 2013


The concept of visualization as a means to attain a desired result first interested me as an over-the-hill athlete and I have spent considerable time studying the technique over the years.  In fact I have written more than a few times about what I first called "stepping outside of yourself", which to me is an extension of visualization.

I have also often used the cautionary expression "Be careful what your wish for (or pray for) because it just might come true."  In other words, make sure that you are prepared to receive the things you wish and pray for because chances are very good that you will receive them.  If you are going to dream about something, and in the process visualize it, make sure that it is something that is in your best interests and has potential to enhance the life you want to live.

Don't fantasize aimlessly...Dare to dream the impossible dream and believe that it will come true.

Natalie Ledwell, co-founder of an interesting visualization tool called Mind Movies, sent me an email the other day that really reinforced what I believe to be true on this subject.  She even gave "Be careful what you wish for..." a slightly different twist.

"I think you should be fearless when it comes to your dreams and wish for things beyond your wildest imagination. Your dreams should awaken your soul and spark a deep passion within you. And when you find a dream that provides a true purpose for your life, it's important that you don't let it just pass you by," she stated.

Natalie offers five reasons to follow your dreams.

1. They make life worth living.  If you love what you're doing, it won't feel like work. Your dreams are the reason to keep going even when life seems hard.

2. You can be an inspiration to others.  If you follow your dreams, you'll inspire others along the way and this will lead to many meaningful relationships and experiences.

3. You'll meet amazing people. When you are motivated and excited about your dreams, you'll meet other high achievers that will continue to support you in everything you do.

4. You'll make yourself proud.  When you go after something you're passionate about, your confidence will skyrocket and you'll be ecstatic that you achieved something you've always wanted to do.

5. You'll achieve amazing joy. Life without purpose can be bland and unsatisfying. When you go after your dreams - you'll notice a positive transformation in your outlook on life.

"Life is short, so why not spend it doing something you love? " adds Natalie.

I find these words of special value for young people starting out in life. How wonderful it is to know that you can have the life you want if you dream about it in the right way and for the right reasons. Now if only I could turn the clock back about 60 years.

Nevertheless, I can still dream...can't I?

We all can!

02 November, 2013


I wonder how many people calling themselves Christian today, actually remembered (knew?) that Thursday, October 31, was the 496th anniversary of "The Reformation".

Just for background purposes, the 16th century in Europe was a great century of change on many fronts. The humanists and artists of the Renaissance would help characterize the age as one of individualism and self-creativity. Humanists such as Petrarch helped restore the dignity of mankind while men like Machiavelli injected humanism into politics. When all is said and done, the Renaissance helped to secularize European society. Man was now the creator of his own destiny -- in a word, the Renaissance unleashed the very powerful notion that man makes his own history.

But the 16th century was more than just the story of the Renaissance. The century witnessed the growth of royal power, the appearance of centralized monarchies and the discovery of new lands. During the great age of exploration, massive quantities of gold and silver flood Europe, an event which turned people, especially the British, Dutch, Italians and Germans, money-mad.

Despite these things, and there is more to be considered, especially in the area of literature and the arts, the greatest event of the 16th century -- indeed, the most revolutionary event -- was in fact the Protestant Reformation. It was the Reformation that forced people to make a choice -- to be Catholic or Protestant. This was an important choice, and a choice had to be made. There was no real alternative. In the context of the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, one could live or die based on such a choice.
Martin Luther

The Reformation was a movement begun by Martin Luther (1483-1546) that ended up fragmenting the Christian church. Originally, Luther did not have in mind a move to create his own church. He was a devout priest who wanted to reform the church from within. His famous Ninety-Five Theses, which he nailed upon the door of the Cathedral at Wittenburg, Germany, in 1517, were actually a single argument against the sale of indulgences or pardons (the absolution of sins in return for good works or money).

Luther's arguments against indulgences were only a small part of the complaints that were being levied against the church. Its efforts to maintain papal lands and the propensity to get mixed up in politics on the Italian peninsula had turned the Papacy into a political rather than religious organization. This worldliness was a problem not only in Italy but all over Europe where so many devout people had given large estates to the church. As much as one-third of all cultivated lands was in the hands of the church. The church in many ways was becoming a business, administering its properties rather than pursuing its stated purpose, which was to be the shepherd of souls. Unfortunately, a certain amount of corruption and cynicism had found its way into the church hierarchy.

One of the problems with all of the lands owned by the church was that it brought it in direct conflict with the state. Posts within the church were coveted because they were lucrative positions. Kings wished to make the appointment of bishops in order to reward their followers and have some control of the revenues of the attached lands. Kings also wished to tax the holdings of the church. The Papacy, naturally, was loathe to give up its rights and revenues.

Meanwhile there were religious currents swirling among the people. Erudite and fiery preachers who had problems with the doctrines put forth by the church wanted to go back to a more literal interpretation of the Bible. Esoteric arguments arose over such issues as trans-substantiation and whether priests could marry. People wished to have control of their own destiny, separating their salvation from dependence on what was seen by many as a corrupt church. Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses was only the fuse to a powder keg just waiting for a match.

Luther had challenged the income the church received through the sale of indulgences. The doctrine he preached of humans being saved by "faith alone" challenged the role of the clergy as the means of communication between the people and God. The Papacy went after Luther. Many of the German princes, whether from conviction or the desire to get their hands on the accumulated wealth of the church within their regions, decided to support him. When Luther was attacked by the church, certain German nobles insisted that their states had the right to choose a religion. When the Pope denied this right, the German nobles wrote a formal letter of protest. This was how the movement got the name "Protestant". The sheltering of Luther allowed his movement to incubate and grow, and so the Lutheran church was founded, closely allied with particular German states.

After this, Huldreich Zwingli converted much of Switzerland to his Reformed Church. The Calvinists, under a dynamic preacher named John Calvin, later arose in Geneva (which for a time became a theocratic state run largely by Calvin himself). It is interesting to note that the places where the new churches succeeded they also had powerful state support. At the time, state and church were intimately tied together. It was felt that for a state to be powerful the people had to be homogeneous. To allow different belief systems within the state would be divisive and create internal problems. The Calvinist state served as a teaching ground for preachers who would create religions all across northern Europe including John Knox who founded Presbyterianism in Scotland.

We have to ask why something like the Reformation took place when it did. In general, dissatisfaction with the Church could be found at all levels of European society. First, it can be said that many devout Christians were finding the Church's growing emphasis on rituals unhelpful in their quest for personal salvation. Indeed, what we are witnessing is the shift from salvation of whole groups of people, to something more personal and individual. The sacraments had become forms of ritualized behavior that no longer "spoke" to the people of Europe. They had become devoid of meaning. And since more people were congregating in towns and cities, they could observe for themselves and more important, discuss their concerns with others.
Replica of Luther's theses

Second, the papacy had lost much of its spiritual influence over its people because of the increasing tendency toward secularization. In other words, popes and bishops were acting more like kings and princes than they were the spiritual guides of European men and women. And again, because so many people were now crowding into cities, the lavish homes and palaces of the Church were noticed by more and more people from all walks of life. The poor resented the wealth of the papacy and the very rich were jealous of that wealth. At the same time, the popes bought and sold high offices, and also sold indulgences. All of this led to the increasing wealth of the Church -- and this created new paths for abuses of every sort.

Finally, at the local level of the town and village, the abuses continued. Some Church officials held several offices at once and  lived off their income. The clergy had become lax, corrupt and immoral and the people began to take notice that the sacraments were shrouded in complacency and indifference. Something was dreadfully wrong.

These abuses called for two major responses. On the one hand, there was a general tendency toward anti-clericalism, that is, a general but distinct distrust and dislike of the clergy. Some people began to argue that the layperson was just as good as the priest, an argument already advanced by the Waldensians of the 12th century.  On the other hand, there were calls for reform. These two responses created fertile ground for conflict of all kinds, and that conflict would be both personal and social.

The deepest source of conflict was personal and spiritual. The Church had grown more formal in its organization, which is hardly unsurprising since it was now sixteen centuries old. The Church had its own elaborate canon law as well as a dogmatic theology. All of this had been created at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. That Council also established the importance of the sacraments as well as the role of the priest in administering the sacraments. 1215 also marks the year that the Church further elaborated its position on Purgatory (see Purgatory: Fact or Fantasy). Above all, the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 established the important doctrine that salvation could only be won through good works -- fasting, chastity, abstinence and asceticism.

The common people, meanwhile, sought a more personal, spiritual and immediate kind of religion -- something that would touch them directly, in the heart. The rituals of the Church now meant very little to them -- they needed some kind of guarantee that they were doing the right thing – that they would indeed be saved.

The Church gave little thought to reforming itself. People yearned for something more while the Church seemed to promise less. What seemed to be needed was a general reform of Christianity itself. Only such a major transformation would effect the changes reflected in the spiritual desires of the people.

The goals of the 16th century Reformation reflect the principles that Christian churches continue to advocate and attempt to live out to this day, i.e. to bring into the polity (governance) teaching  and preaching of the church; to bring a sense of vocation (calling) into secular life and to give lay ministry more authority and leadership in order to maintain a balance of power within the church.  Singing as a form of prayer and worship can also be traced to early Reformation.

We who stand in Reformation churches today are survivors. But to continue surviving we need to recover the potential for unity that  has eluded our grasp.  We should therefore long for and pray for, our ability to remember the Reformation – not as a celebratory moment, not as a blow for freedom, but as the sin of the church.

Pray for a healing of our disunity, not the disunity simply between Protestant and Catholic, but the disunity in our midst between classes, between  races, between nations. We should be asking our Heavenly creator to make us a new people joined together in one mighty prayer that the world may be saved from its divisions.

Could it be that we need another world church reformation?...A reformation that allows our rather insular and stand-pat churches to catch up with a society that has constantly changed from generation to generation over the course of  the last four centuries.