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

27 March, 2017

BILL VERKERKE DEDICATED HIS LAST YEARS TO VOLUNTEERISM

Bill Verkerke at his Care Centre stand for the Heart & Stroke Foundation...There was no avoiding him!

In keeping with my interest in ordinary people who have accomplished extraordinary things, I want to talk about a special, unassuming man who left an indelible mark on his community through untold hours of selfless volunteerism.


In Southampton, Bill Verkerke was a legend. For more than 15 years he went door to door canvassing for the cause that he believed in, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and was in fact one of the highest fundraisers ever in the Province of Ontario.

After suffering a stroke himself and having to move to the Southampton Care Centre, Bill continued his fund-raising efforts. Every February, he would 'set up shop' at the front door of the Care Centre to continue his passion and, this year (his 18th fundraising year) he was there once again for what would be his last.

While being recognized by the Heart and Stroke Foundation as one their best-ever fundraisers, Bill Verkerke was also honoured in 2011 by Rotary International with the Paul Harris Fellowship Award. In addition, in 2015, he was the recipient of the Jarlette Health Services 'Making a Difference' award. Beside canvassing for Heart & Stroke, he also volunteered for the Salvation Army (more than 1,700 volunteers hours at the Port Elgin Thrift Shop) and the Canadian Cancer Society.

Sadly, Saugeen Shores lost Bill Verkerke March 18, in his 88th year, but we can't let him go just like that.

Born in the Netherlands in 1929, Bill Verkerke was one of eight children of Willem and Jannette Verkerke. His father was a produce farmer and Bill recalled working alongside his siblings as they would weed their own staked-off rows in the fields. Growing up in the Dutch depression, the German occupation and then the devastating North Sea Flood, the virtues of diligence, generosity and community were firmly rooted in the young man.

After the Flood, with determination and $27 dollars in his pocket, Bill immigrated to Canada in 1953. He was supposed to travel to Saskatchewan but he spotted a map and thought that Ontario “looked so much nicer, more fertile” and he settled in Galt with his younger brother who had made the journey before him. He headed to the employment office and landed a job with Galt Casting. He stretched his 45 cents an hour and took a night course to learn English. All the while, he found time to plant and tend to a garden and shared his produce among his co-workers. 

Bill was homesick for Holland however and was considering a return to the Netherlands when he met Glennys Beechey, a co-worker that caught his eye and who had a knack for baking pies and preserves. Their love bloomed and the couple married in 1967. Bill’s family grew as he embraced Glennys' three children as his own.  In 1978, they purchased a cottage in Southampton where they enjoyed summers together with kids and grandkids. Bill delayed his retirement in Southampton until 1992 and then filled his days watching Lake Huron sunsets and thunderstorms with Glennys.

He was very devoted to Glennys and after her passing in 2004 he needed something to occupy his days. He wanted to make a difference and that's when he took on the role of fundraiser supreme.

A friend recalls Bill Verkerke at his front door on cold winter days, well past 80 years of age. "I always hastened to invite him in to take shelter and find warmth against some snow-filled, blustery streamer roaring over us from across the icy lake. A small man, Bill would stand in our front hall, red-nosed and glasses steamed, as he pulled from his plastic bag a receipt book. He was making his annual pilgrimage down our mostly deserted side street to canvass for the Heart and Stroke Foundation."

"He always called me 'Mr. ...' even though he had spent more years on this earth than I.  In his last years of neighbourhood canvassing, Bill’s hand would shake as he wrote out my receipt. Trudging through the snow and painfully climbing those two front steps, even with the assistance of his cane, was becoming a challenge. But there he was, cold and tired, just fulfilling his chosen volunteer service," the friend adds with admiration.

Statistics Canada reports that in 2013, 12.7 million Canadians were involved in some aspect of voluntarism, contributing almost two billion hours of service to their communities. It is a bit concerning, however, that the number of volunteers has dropped from 13.3 million only three years earlier. One cannot help but worry that the trend may continue downward.

Researchers have documented two other trends in voluntarism. More Canadians now prefer to give money to a cause rather than their time. A primary obstacle to volunteering is lack of available hours. A third shift is that volunteers increasingly want to engage in “ knowledge philanthropy,” offering a time-limited contribution where their specific talents and professional experience can be utilized to meet an organization’s particular need.

A previous Statistics Canada survey (1998) found that 49% of contributors made their financial support or time commitment primarily through a place of worship, Another 17% responded to a door canvasser while 13% contributed after receiving a mail request. That same survey noted that 31% of Canadians were supportive of voluntarism, either through giving time or money. Motivation for giving ranged from a desire to use one’s skills, a wish to contribute to the community or because one had been directly affected by the cause they now represented.

None of these statistics would have meant much to old Bill Verkerke and the amazing contribution he made to his retirement community in the last couple of decades of his life.

Metaphorically speaking, his friend can picture Bill now at the Pearly Gates, about to quietly announce his arrival with a tentative knock on that massive door which opens to Heaven and eternity. "Saint Peter has already heard about Bill’s good works, welcomes him home and quickly throws wide open that heavy door; this time Bill won’t even have to knock. A heavenly choir then greets him with this old Biblical chorus:

'Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter now into thy rest'."

23 March, 2017

I REALLY DO MISS OUTDOOR PICNICS IN THE SUMMER

My dad Ken and I cleaning up our dessert after one of many outdoor suppers prepared by my mother, circa 1945.
In sorting through a massive collection of family photographs, many predating me by a good 30 or 40 years, I recently realized that casual photography is a relatively modern phenomena. Picture taking of yesteryear was more formal and generally recorded rather sober (people had yet to learn to say "cheese") family gatherings of some description. I have also come to the conclusion that good old-fashioned picnics are pretty much a thing of the past...And what a shame!

Growing up in the 1940's, I probably got in on the tail end of the picnic era.  I have fond memories of not only family picnics in the summer months, but of outdoor community dinners and socials on church grounds.  My folks ate "suppers" outside three or four times a week in our backyard in Dresden and went on picnics virtually every weekend, generally along the St. Clair River or at Rondeau Park (then known as Government Park) on Lake Erie.  It was just "the thing to do" in the months of June, July and August.

Summers were truly meant to be lived outside.  Virtually every evening was spent on comfortably appointed front porches where friends and neighbors would drop by for visits and, more often than not, a spot of tea -- hot or iced.

Whether a picnic was a community affair or just a family or party picnic, the picnic basket was the all-important item for the occasion (coolers were very rare in those days as were fire pits and barbecues for on-the-spot grilling). When it was a community picnic, it was essential to bring a well-filled basket since one could usually find some friend or neighbor who was alone or who failed to bring certain eats along.
My mom's metal picnic basket.

The success of a picnic depended in great measure upon the packing. For this purpose two wicker baskets were usually brought along -- one, for the food and the other for the utensils, paper plates and cups for drinking. My mother's favorite "basket" was made of metal with plaid decoration and I will forever associate it with family picnics. Sandwiches formed the standby at a picnic lunch, and there was practically no limit to the variety in which they were created. Also included was fried chicken, a beef loaf, or a cold boiled ham sliced very thin and served with dressing.

My favorite picnic meals consisted of potato salad, deviled eggs, cabbage salad, cold sliced chicken or roast beef, ice tea and lemonade (always made from scratch), raisin or apple (with cheddar cheese) pie and lots of cookies.  In season, fresh sliced tomatoes,strawberries and peaches from our garden were the order of the day.  If we were eating outside at home, my mom would often make a casserole of some description.  Hot dogs and hamburgers were unheard of and there was never any wine or liquor. A table cloth for the picnic table, if you were lucky enough to find one, was a must as were a couple of blankets if you decided to eat on a sandy beach or grassy knoll in a park setting.

Truthfully, today I cannot remember the last bonafide picnic that I have been on.  Generally, I think that picnics are just too much trouble now and air-conditioned fast-food outlets too plentiful and convenient.  In my case, Rosanne is house-bound because of health reasons but when she was able she preferred not to eat outside because of hot temperatures and bugs (those "creepy-crawly things") and I suspect that she is not alone in that kind of thinking today.

But, just think about it...When would a picnic really be a picnic without a few uninvited guests? If you asked ants and flies, they'd probably tell you that they don't crash picnics uninvited. They would argue that it's you who decides to have a picnic on their turf!  It is simply Mother Nature as she should be and it all goes with the territory.

While it is no fun going on picnics all by oneself, I do grasp every opportunity to take a coffee or a sandwich and cold drink out to my porch on nice summer days.  Everything just tastes so much better outside.

...And a nap in the fresh air afterward is glorious!

22 March, 2017

INSPIRATIONAL STORY OF GRIEVING MOM WHO RAN BOSTON MARATHON

Mary Lou Hills in the Boston Marathon jacket that proved to be her motivation in crossing the finish line.
I like stories about ordinary people who have accomplished extra-ordinary things...There is generally an inspirational message in the telling and something special to tuck away in the back of our minds.

Take Mary Lou Hills of Southampton, for instance.  A homemaker and business woman approaching middle age, she preferred going for casual walks around town as a form of recreation until the year 2000 when her 20-year-old son was tragically killed in a car accident.  She started running after that for the therapeutic benefit and as a way to help her deal with debilitating grief.

"Running became a passion," she admits.  Runs around the block became extended runs along the streets of the Lake Huron community.  Her bedtime reading evolved into books on running strategies and techniques.  Then came the competitions -- five and 10-kilometre races, and a handful of half-marathons.

Mary Lou even completed the 30 km Around-the-Bay Road Race in Hamilton, but it was a half-marathon in Niagara Falls in 2010 that really changed her approach to her growing passion for running.  As fate would have it, she met Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon in 1967.  (A race official tried to rip off Kathrine's number partway through the event and disqualify her because women were not officially allowed to compete in the marathon in those days...She had entered the race "illegally" by registering as K. V. Switzer.)  Today, half of the Boston Marathon's participants are women.

From that point on, the 56-year-old Mary Lou dedicated herself to qualifying for the world's best-known and iconic marathon, drawing in excess of 30,000 competitors and more than 500,000 spectators annually.

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon is no simple feat.  There are stringent rules, Competitors must run in an officially sanctioned marathon and meet time requirements.  Based on her age, Mary Lou had to run 26 miles and 385 yards (42.195 km) in four hours and 15 minutes. In a year of advanced training, she ran five days a week, anywhere from seven to 20 km per day.  On her "rest" days, she stretched, did yoga and worked on exercising her core muscles.  Then there was a strict sleep schedule and an even more strict diet.

"It was carbs, carbs, carbs," Mary Lou recalls.  "I basically ate nothing but bananas and pasta for 365 days."  She admits that she may not have made it without the patience and support of her husband, Mike who became chief cook and bottle-washer in preparing her special training meals.  He also went out on training runs -- Mary Lou running and Mike on a bike, loaded down with water bottles and energy snacks.

"Most of all, he gave me emotional support.  He understood what qualifying for the Boston Marathon meant to me and he helped overcome any doubts that I may have had," she said on reflection.

Mary Lou decided on the Mississauga Marathon as her qualifier.  "It's a relatively flat course," she explained.  "I thought that would help my time."  And the strategy worked with Mary Lou crossing the finish line in four hours, 13 minutes and nine seconds -- with more than a minute to spare.

A few weeks later the long-awaited invitation arrived in the mail...A card with her name embossed on it read: "You Have Been Accepted Into the Boston Marathon."

"I'll never forget that moment," she said in an interview.  "I had done it...I had qualified for the Boston Marathon!"
Mary Lou enroute to her four-hour,
44 minutes finish of the Boston
Marathon in 2012.

"Qualified" is the key word.  Actually running in the marathon is something else again.  There are no shortcuts. It took another excruciating 12 months of preparation. This time she had a program specifically designed for the granddaddy of all marathons with emphasis on longer runs, faster times...and hills.  The Boston route is known for its uphill climbs, one of them being "Heartbreak Hill" that has proven to be the undoing of countless marathoners.

To make matters worse, the race is held in the early spring, so Mary Lou had to do her peak training through a Grey-Bruce winter of snow, sleet, rain and high winds.  A few days before the big race she developed pain and tightness in her hips that got so bad that Mike had to load a mattress into the back of their car, enabling his wife to stretch out on the trip to Boston. To make matters worse, much to the Hills' surprise, when they arrived in Boston after having their supply of bananas confiscated by U.S. customs, the area was in the middle of a spring (2012) heat wave.

"We thought the weather would be like Grey-Bruce in April, cool, maybe a bit rainy," Mary Lou said. Instead they were greeted with desert dry temperatures reaching 93 F, or 35 C.  Concerned about the extreme heat, officials strongly advised participants to consider deferring their participation in the race until the following year and thousands took the advice, but Mary Lou was not one of them.

"I wasn't going to let hot weather scare me away," she said.  "Although, to be honest, what really kept me from deferring to 2013 was the thought of another 12 months of training."

On the morning of the event, hundreds of school buses transport the participants to the starting line outside of Boston.  The runners are sent off in waves, with those in wheelchairs going first, followed by the top seeded competitors, then batches of 5,000 to 10,000 at a time...It was 45 minutes before Mary Lou's wave even started moving.

The heat was the worst of it, but the hills were a close second.  "It seemed like every time I looked up, there was another hill to climb," she remembers.  Gatorade Endurance, the drink of choice among runners, was freely handed out by the cup full at water stations along the course and kept our Southampton girl going at a determined and steady pace.

She also credited spectators with motivating her.  "There wasn't a metre along the whole route that wasn't deep in people, cheering and pushing us on."

I know from experience as a one time distance runner, that there can be a lot of negative thinking in the early stages of any race, especially one that is 42 kilometres long.  At some point, an inner voice speaks up and tells a runner that there is no turning back, similar to a second-wind.  Unfortunately for Mary Lou, that voice was a long time coming on this occasion and she found herself wondering if she would be able to finish.

She, however, had purchased a commemorative race jacket at a Boston Marathon Expo the day before and she remembered thinking "If I don't finish, I'll never be able to wear my jacket."

That thought was enough to push her aching, sweat-drenched body onward.  She crossed the finish line without stopping and in a more than respectable time of four hours and 44 minutes.  "I did it -- I ran the Boston Marathon!" she remembers screaming to herself.

The next day Mary Lou went out on the town to celebrate, her medal for finishing the marathon proudly hanging around her neck.  She and Mike ate the best cannoli available in Boston and had a beer at Cheers on Beacon Street, before taking in a Boston Red Sox baseball game at Fenway Park.

The best part of the day following the marathon, however, was waking up in the morning, opening the Boston Globe newspaper and seeing her name and time included in the race results.  "That's when what I had accomplished really sunk in...I was part of an elite club of runners who had finished the Boston Marathon," she states with understandable pride.

She thinks her son would be proud too.

Without question, Mary Lou Hills demonstrated that with determination and supportive motivation, it is possible to turn a tragic personal loss into an amazing accomplishment.  She has been an owner of a general insurance brokerage in Southampton for 25 years and continues to be active in the community as a volunteer advocate and vice-chair of the Business Improvement Association.

19 March, 2017

A LITTLE FUN AND ENJOYMENT FOR MY MUSIC-LOVING FRIENDS

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, and flight to the imagination.“ Plato

(Some of the songs in this post have been blocked for copyright reasons...Sorry!)

A friend came to me Yesterday, and told me All You Need is Love. Well It was One Sweet Day and I knew I Just Wanted to be Your Everything. I had a touch of Night Fever and felt it wouldn’t be long before Another One Bites The Dust, so it was vital for me to Apologize knowing I’m A Believer and that We Can Work It Out. Truthfully I’m a pretty Smooth guy and never one to fool around with other people’s emotions, so I suggested that we play a game called Foolish Games knowing in the back of my mind that I Will Always Love You.
The rules are simple, and it just takes two to play. You start by Tumbling Dice and adding a spoonful of Brown Sugar, and then You Start Me Up understanding that You Can’t Always get What You Want. After long languorous weeks in the sun I announced to my partner, “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”  We found Satisfaction in a Villa in The South of France, and lying in bed looking into one another’s eyes I said to her, Are You Lonesome Tonight.” She replied “Call Me Maybe.” (I’ll call her Maybe maybe, although her name is actually Billie Jean)

For the next six months we played the game constantly. I became her Daydream Believer and she became my everything, and I told her You’re My World. I asked her to Help as we spent every hour in each other’s company. Then suddenly, without warning She Walked Out The Door Right Out Of My Life.........
I concentrated on Stayin’ Alive but finally broke down and picked up the phone and called my Lady who accused me immediately of being a Gold Digger. Deeply offended I responded saying, “You hussy, you playboy Centerfold. With a demur chuckle she answered Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright and I suddenly realized. Wow It’s Just Like Starting Over, I felt like I was Blowing In the Wind to which she answered angrily...”well That’s What Friends Are For. You and I are like Fire and Rain," and she slammed the phone down.
Every Breath You Take is still like a knife to my heart, I thought to myself What A Feeling. When I’m Rolling In The Deep or writing some Iambic Pentameter I generally discover that if I’ve been Tossin’ Or Turnin’ or singing some other Silly Love Songs I become unusually hungry, and need a snack. I find my mind wandering like a Candle In The Wind knowing always that I Want To Hold Your Hand while I’m Shadow Dancing because I’m trying to stand Side to Side as I eat my snack by the fridge. It’s all quite confusing really, but at least it makes perfect sense to me.

I was never the same after we broke up. I Heard it Through The Grapevine, that Billie Jean had found someone new, and just a month ago I received a text from her with just three bitter words that said simply: “You’re So Vain."  I immediately shot back a four-word manifesto You’re Still the One. “That’ll teach her,” I thought.
A great song can’t be written One Moment In Time. It’s always about Respect and with patience I could become a Party Rock Anthem. It’s important to understand How I Live, when I’ve Got A Feeling that just won’t quit, especially when things turn Physical. You see...when I look into your eyes I realize that You Light Up My Life, you’re My Girl, my sweet little Doo Wah Diddy Diddy because I can’t Imagine life without you. I’ve been Running On Empty for so long now that without question We Belong TogetherYou’re my Uptown Funk baby my little Ruby Tuesday. You’ll never Unbreak My Heart, oh you with those Betty Davis Eyes. You’re my sweet lovin’ Dock of the Bay, My Girl, but God Only Knows, that When a Man Loves a Woman There Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, but baby You Are the Sunshine of My Life, my True Colors so I Say a Little Prayer  for you. Sadly though, the harder I tried, the more I realized our love was dead.

Life went back to normal, and became an American Pie moment. I started to write again, at first depressing poems about lost love but finally coming to a point of being proud of my work again. I wrote a new song that was (little did I know it at the time) going to change my life. I spent All Night Long writing it and knew...yes I really knew that this song was The One. Oh Baby, Baby It’s a Wild World and then I realized that We Will Rock You, because as the great poet Wordsworth once said, She’s Only a Woman To Me. I was drawn to a frenetic emotion -- slipping away, wanting as always to Keep On Rocking in the Free World, but then without warning I bounced back and suddenly was singing You Raise Me Up. Wow...it truly is a Wonderful World.

12 March, 2017

STEP ASIDE MEN, A DOMINANT LEGACY AWAITS WOMANKIND

Last week we celebrated International Women’s Day and on that subject a writer friend has posed an interesting question: "How different would life be today if the role of women had remained unchanged over these past six decades."

Statistics Canada notes that only 24 percent of women between ages 15 and 54 were part of the labour force in 1953. Some of us recall that many of those jobs were in so-called traditional female occupations -- nursing, secretarial work, waitressing, teaching, retail sales or social work. In that same year, 96 percent of men were gainfully employed. More significantly, in 1951, only 11 percent of married women were working outside the home.

Fast forward to more recent statistics: In 2014, now 82 percent of women between ages 15 and 54 were in the labour force, while male employment declined slightly to 91 percent. By 1994, job rates for married women had reached 58 percent.

Why the dramatic increase in the numbers of women in the labour force? Availability of the pill in the 1960s meant females finally had gained control over reproduction choices. Fertility rates tumbled from 3.9 children per female in 1959 to 1.9 children by 2011. Employment became a viable option or addition to motherhood. The women’s movement opened the doors to many occupations and professions formerly considered less welcoming of women. The rapid postwar expansion of the Canadian economy created far more demands for workers than could be filled by men alone.

Let’s assume none of these sociological factors had occurred. Let’s imagine today’s Canada remaining stuck in that above-mentioned 1950s culture. What would our nation look like if only 24 percent of females and 11 percent of married women worked outside the home.

The many downsides of  the "what if?" question are obvious:

-- society would lose the vital contribution women have made to the workforce through their creativity, intelligence, education and experience

-- females who rightfully seek to fulfill their vocational potential and dreams are denied that opportunity, which would be grossly unjust

-- men would have to continue carrying the heavy load of being sole income-provider and those resultant longer hours on the job would rob them and their family of time together

-- women not working outside the home would not have created wealth which would have increased consumer spending which, in turn, would create more jobs and subsequently more wealth.

The role of full-time homemaker -- or lead parent -- is a worthwhile calling, a viable option for those women (or men) freely choosing that path.  Stay-at-home dads were unthinkable 60 years ago, but are quite common today in situations where the wife/mother's earning capability exceeds that of the husband/father. No question that the male place in family life has also evolved, toward a greater involvement in parental and domestic roles and that is a good thing.

As a parent and grandparent of females, however, I am also thankful we are not stuck in the 1950s. More choices for women obviously are now available. Yet, while much progress has been made, further equality of the sexes still remains to be achieved.  And have no fear, it will happen.

While I will not live to see it, it would not surprise me in the least if in time women become the dominant species.  More and more, they carry all the cards and men will have to play along in order to get what they want.

05 March, 2017

SINS OF YESTERYEAR NO LONGER SINS IN TODAY'S SOCIETY

It is quite coincidental that I often find myself pondering the sins that I have been guilty of committing over the years and acknowledging that while I have asked forgiveness of higher authority, I still have difficulty "forgiving" myself.  I'm self-abusive that way.

Having said that, I also wonder if some of the "sins" that weigh heavily on my conscience would actually be considered sins in the current day and age.

Lo and behold, and much to my surprise, a retired man-of-the-cloth friend has been thinking along the same lines.  It must have something to do with our advanced age.

Rev. Bob recalls a rainy December day in 1964 when he ventured into his bank to purchase some mutual funds. The young woman behind the desk filled out his application then proceeded to ask a very personal question.  The conversation went something like this: “What are the numbers of your sin?

“Well, I guess three or four, depending on whether you consider sneaking a second dessert is sinful. But why do you need to know about my personal behavior before selling me mutual funds?” he asked.

“Sir, I certainly do not need to know; I just needed your Social Insurance Number.” Her face had turned a bright red to match the colour of her woolen sweater, Bob recalls.

The confusion was understandable. The Federal Government had only just implemented an innovative tracking system in June of that year. Having one's very own SIN would forever identify them to Ottawa bureaucrats for purposes of taxation or CPP contributions and it took some getting used to.

“Sin” as a theological concept has lost its prominence and power in our contemporary world. In fact, we mutually agree that this is a great time to be a “sinner!” Consider these three realities offered by Bob:

-- With over three-quarters of us not attending church nor other places of worship, the idea of an angry, vengeful God seems only a relic from the cast-aside religion of our ancestors. Sinners are safe!

-- With sermons no longer filled with fearsome warnings of “Hellfire and Brimstone,” mainstream churchgoers leave Sunday services feeling reassured about God’s unconditional love, not frightened by his condemning wrath. Even Evangelical, more Fundamentalist, denominations balance a recognition of our universal sin nature with teachings about God’s grace, His promise of redemption through Jesus.

-- Society no longer condemns many kinds of behavior which, at one time, were quickly labeled as sinful. Today’s “sinner” will not be judged nor shunned by their community. At worst, they might encounter friends or neighbours who live by different values but who have learned never to insist others follow those same standards.

What then does that word “sin” really mean?

In its most basic form, a sin is moral wrongdoing, or in theological language, a transgression against God’s law. Unfortunately, “God’s law” may indeed leave the Deity’s infallible mouth, but inevitably lands into very human and fallible ears. In other words, mankind (and I do mean ”males”) has too often interpreted and bent God’s law to suit human purposes. This had led to horrible results such as the medieval Inquisition and the current atrocities of ISIS in the middle-East. This has also led to relatively trivial past edicts against supposed sins of movie-going, wearing makeup, card-playing, consuming alcohol, partaking in Sunday sports, eating meat on Friday and many other behaviors deemed at one time to be wrong. It was these trivial rules that were the first to go.

Prohibition failed in the 1920s. In the 1950s, Toronto’s Mayor Allan Lamport unlocked the theatres, pools and ballparks for citizens to enjoy on Sundays. Mainstream religious leaders relaxed rules around social drinking and buying lottery tickets. Evangelical movements moved beyond a preoccupation with lipstick, earrings, long hair on men and short skirts on women, to focus on far more important issues of serious sin and social justice.

Over the past 50 years or so, many of the proscriptions against non-trivial behavior, these serious sins, also began to crumble. Historically, it had been the power and influence of the institutional church that originally pressured governments to legislate moral laws into legal code. As the influence of religion waned in the 1960s, newer, secular voices led the way toward relaxation and ultimately abandonment of many of the legal constraints controlling human choice.

Behaviors once illegal and socially condemned, became allowable and socially accepted or at least tolerated. Laws permitting divorce were drastically broadened and, subsequently, remarriage made possible. Behavior, once unlawful----same-sex marriage, pre-marital sex, abortion, medical-assisted death (and soon-to-be-legalized personal use of marijuana) has become permissible without penalty.

What remains of sin? Friend Bob suggests it may be preferable to let go of the word entirely because the term has become so distorted and contaminated as to be undefinable by society."Perhaps one can speak of wrong behavior instead. The Biblical Ten Commandments continue to provide an ethical foundation, condemning murder, theft, adultery and social injustice, while encouraging love, right living, charity and justice. Society still is guided by these principles even if rejecting their source."

In the church calendar, today, March 5th, is the first Sunday of Lent. While traditionally a time for “giving up” of some habit or food, it is also a time to reflect upon those guiding principles by which we live our lives. You may end up examining your own sin numbers -- real and imaginary.

And that is exactly what I have been doing -- examining...and feeling guilty for certain personal failings of the past 60 or so years.  What do you do when God has forgiven you as you have asked ("God have mercy on me, a sinner"), but you cannot find it in your heart to forgive yourself?

Are the Christian teachings of my formative years a saving grace, or a guilt-trip yoke around my neck today. Good question. I'll get back to you on that!