MSU Bias Busters project highlights Hmong Americans, still struggling for recognition half a century after the Vietnam War

Click this cover image to visit this new MSU Bias Busters book’s Amazon page.

Hmong Americans disagree with a U.S. Census classification

Director of the MSU School of Journalism Bias Busters project

Nearly 50 years after their evacuation to the United States from Southeast Asia in significant numbers, Hmong Americans are still fighting for an accurate portrayal by the U.S. Census.

Hmong people, who fought in the CIA’s Secret War, were hurriedly flown to the United States and fled to refugee camps when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam. Today, they are fighting for proper recognition of their origins.

In March—as the Associated Press reported—the U.S. Office of Management and Budget announced several revisions in the way the census categorizes people. It plans to classify Hmong people as East Asians, according to one Associated Press article. Representatives of the group say this is a misclassification that ignores their history and amounts to an erasure of their ethnic group. It can also perpetuate the Model Minority Myth.

The issue is keenly sensitive to Hmong people, whose history has left them without a homeland, in part because of the way they were treated in China.

A second Associated Press article explains the problem. Hmong people say the federal government has incorrectly decided Hmong people originated in China. the big player in East Asia. However, Hmong origins are older and farther north than their years in China. The nomadic Hmong people are asking to be recognized as coming from Southeast Asia, where they settled and fought for the U.S.

The East Asian classification stings because their trek through China led to persecution. Their written language was banished. They were not allowed political standing. They kept searching for a home and fled south into Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia—places in Southeast Asia. Having never had an opening to establish a homeland of their own, Southeast Asia is the closest thing Hmong people have to one.

The issue is about far more than history and identity, which are important in and of themselves. Given the way the U.S. government uses Census data to allocate federal resources there is a practical reason to be correctly classified. According to the bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey, income among Hmong people in the United States was about $26,000 per person. For East Asian Americans, it was almost double that. Being put into the East Asian category buries this important disparity and could cost Hmong people opportunities once again.

In AsAmNews, Valentina Lewis quoted Southeast Asia Resource Action Center Executive Director Quyen Dinh: “One of the biggest harms is the mistrust that now exists within the community from the youngest generation to the elders, who don’t even want to be counted in the next census 2030.”

The Census Bureau reports it is reviewing decisions about how Hmong people will be classified by the 2030 census.

100 Questions and Answers About Hmong Americans: Secret No More,” will be available on Amazon on July 2. It addresses many questions tied up in Hmong identity and history and the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision. The guide is published by the Michigan State University School of Journalism as part of its Bias Busters series of guides to cultural competence

Our Authors: ‘Out there doing something good for the world’

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine and books

“Be the change you wish to see,” Gandhi says on bumper stickers. Personally, I prefer to repeat the words of a pastor friend, the Rev. Marsha Woolley, who ends her telephone voice-mail message with, “I hope you’re out there doing something good for the world.”

Over the past week or so, our authors have been out there doing so much good that we are devoting our Cover Story this week to just a handful of these inspiring examples. Making the world a better place by publishing important new voices has been the core vocation of ReadTheSpirit, since our founding. That mission now is fueling a major expansion this year to bring even more authors and cutting-edge publishing projects into communities everywhere.

Let’s start with the story of David Gaynes, a man who was a complete stranger to us one week ago …



Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation is a landmark book that tries to help the countless congregations divided by evangelical denunciations of gay and lesbian men and women. As a pastor, Ken saw many families divided within his own congregation; he also was heartbroken by the way religious condemnation can fuel teen suicides. So, Ken’s book takes a new approach to reading the Bible—an approach Ken calls “the Romans road.” You can read the three introductions to the book by Phyllis Tickle, Tanya Luhrmann and David P. Gushee here. You can read much more about the book and the controversy it has touched off here. Ken recognizes that many evangelicals vigorously disagree with him and welcomes civil dialogue. However, some critics have crossed over to angry personal attacks.

Down in Asheville, NC, veteran writer and media professional David Gaynes had never heard of Ken Wilson until recently. Gaynes and his family were celebrating Passover with the traditional retelling of the Exodus story and discussion of how we all should defend freedom everyday. At one Jewish community seder in Asheville, Gaynes recalls, the rabbi challenged each person: “How are you helping to make the world more free?”

That was the very day Gaynes’s media agency received a request from an old client. He hadn’t worked for this client for a while, so he did his homework and discovered that the project involved an evangelical publishing group. Then, he discovered that this group had recently published a particularly pointed attack on an author named Ken Wilson. This attack troubled Gaynes, whose family includes a gay son, and he wanted to learn more about this Ken Wilson. So, he dug further, finding a Detroit Free Press profile of Ken and his new book. (We’ve got a link here.) Gaynes was particularly struck by Ken’s words in that story “that being evangelical is about ‘welcoming previously excluded groups … to make the good news accessible to those who haven’t had access to it. That’s my task. That’s what a church is supposed to do.'”

Gaynes knew full well that his old client was offering a good-sized payday—but, right away, he sent a long letter to the client, declining to take on the new project. In the letter, he explained his own perspective on Ken’s inspiring book: “I do not believe that my son should repent of his homosexuality any more than I intend to repent of my heterosexuality. Both equally inherent and un-chosen personal attributes arise from the same source: our Creator. Loving my son as I do, and feeling as I do, I respectfully decline the current project with thanks. I am sure that you and your client will be better served by someone and anyone more aligned with your publisher’s viewpoint than I am.”

And then? Gaynes published the entire story, including the letter, on a Jewish blog. The headline? “A Passover Freedom Story

As editor of our online magazine and publishing house, I spotted Gaynes’ column, Googled his office telephone number and soon was talking to Gaynes himself. I told him: “As one media professional talking to another, I’ve got to say: This was a remarkable thing to do. It was courageous that you turned down the contract. It was amazing that you published the story for the whole world.”

“I’m completely OK with sharing my story,” he said. “I’m speaking from both my heart and mind here. My reactions here were instantaneous. There wasn’t any: Wait a minute. Now, if I do X or Y, then … Not at all.”

“Why such a strong response?” I asked, and he said what I’ve heard countless parents and loved ones of gay men and women say over the years.

He said: “I would never want to do anything that would render me unable to look my family in the eye.” And, that’s precisely why millions of younger Americans are staying away from gay-condemning churches—as documented by the Public Religion Research Project.

As a skeptical journalist, though, I pushed Gaynes harder. “Come on,” I said. “Didn’t you have some internal struggle? I know from talking to you, today, that you needed this payday—and it would have been a good-sized check. Didn’t you struggle a little bit?”

And I could hear the smile in his voice as he responded. “No, it wasn’t like that at all,” he said. “It seemed beyond coincidence, uncanny really, that this happened right after the Passover seder. It was as though some Power in the universe was saying: ‘You really feel this way? Let’s find out.’ And as much as that was a needed payday, I think of it as a tiny price to find out beyond any question that my values are not for sale.”

I praised him. “Well, it’s terrific to meet you on the phone here and I’m so impressed …”

But he cut me off. He shouldn’t be praised for doing the right thing, he said. “This is our work as human beings on the planet.”

And to that, I could only say: “Amen.”

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: As we prepared to publish this column, we got word from the well-known emergent-church writer and activist Tony Jones that he has written a new piece about Ken Wilson’s book that will be appearing soon in the widely read Christian Century magazine. Thanks in advance, Tony, for all your good work on the planet!



Speaking of high praise, as Editor of our publishing house, I learned that—as this school year ends at the University of Michigan—our long-time columnist and author Dr. Wayne Baker was honored among his colleagues at the Ross School of Business. Wikipedia’s tracking of business school rankings says that, in recent years, the Ross school sometimes has been ranked No. 1 in the nation and nearly always in the Top 5. The award presented to Dr. Baker was a major career-spanning honor, partly due to his research on American values.

The Senior Faculty Research Award was given to Dr. Baker “in recognition of his influential research, his stellar international reputation as a thought leader in the study of management & organizations and his dedication to building and maintaining a strong research environment at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.”

And this week? Dr. Baker is one of the featured presenters at the Ross School’s first annual “Positive Business” conference. All this week, Dr. Baker is writing about the conference in his popular OurValues column. At the conference, his new book United America will be featured.

You can read much more about the nationwide response to United America here. And, you can download many free resources related to the new book in this United America resource page, including two different full-color charts of the 10 uniting values.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: Dr. Baker just wrapped up a series on Moms for the centennial of Mother’s Day and was featured, for his research on parents’ values, in this Washington Post column. Also, his book was covered by Dick Meyer (a top journalist who formerly headed divisions for BBC, NPR and CBS) in a new Scripps column that is syndicated widely across news sites nationwide. Here’s Dick’s column as it was presented in Cleveland. To all the journalists covering United America—thanks for doing something good for the world!



This week, we also were pleased to watch author Debra Darvick on television, talking about her ongoing visual project: “Mom’s 10 Commandments of Health.”

If you haven’t read about this unusual project, then click here to read Debra’s story about appearing on TV this past week. Her “10 Commandments” are a re-voicing of the traditional Decalogue or 10 Commandments as if a Mom (or other wise and caring Parent) were voicing timeless wisdom about living a healthy and happy life. Debra had the text printed in poster form, designed by our ReadTheSpirit art director Rick Nease, in a format suitable for hanging on a refrigerator door or bathroom wall.

And—hurray—the idea is catching on!

Thank you Debra for all the good you’re doing for the world!



This is just a sampling of the exciting stories that inspire our colleagues as we wake up each morning and get to devote another day to working for our readers. Among the other recent news …

This ongoing project at Michigan State University School of Journalism now has welcomed dozens of students preparing a half dozen guides under the direction of the school’s instructor Joe Grimm. Learn about the launch of their three latest guides, which combat bigotry by clearing up the real questions that real people ask every day about “the others.”

Global peacemaker, author and activist Daniel Buttry continues to circle the world as a representative of American Baptist Churches, the denomination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not only is Dan organizing the publication of uplifting new stories online in our Interfaith Peacemakers department—but he’s also spreading his collected peacemaking stories around the world. We just got word this week that a new translated edition of one of his books may be prepared for use in a particularly important region of Asia. (Stay tuned for more on that later.) That spread of Dan’s message—and the messages of our other authors—is possible because of the unusual, fast-and-flexible publishing system we have developed.

We heard more news, this past week, about the national conference coming to Detroit (at Wayne State University) in mid-August, called the North American Interfaith Network. That’s a wonderful opportunity to come and meet me, as Editor of ReadTheSpirit, and many of our authors as well. Learn more by following the links from this story about our MSU students. (For news on NAIN, read the first item in that story, headlined “Join the MSU Project.”)



Did you know that the famous “Gandhi bumper sticker” isn’t directly quoting the Mahatma? In fact, the slogan does express Gandhi’s teachings, but the actual quote is believed to have come from his grandson—also a global peace activist—Arjun Gandhi. About a decade ago, Arjun contributed to a book that summarizes the Mahatma’s teachings—and the phrase, “Be the change you wish to see,” was born. The quotation, usually attributed to Mahatma Gandhi was researched by The New York Times in 2011. Turns out, that line appears nowhere in the 98-volume collected works of Gandhi.

The closest Mahatma Gandhi got to crystallizing that message: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As we changes our own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards us. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

And to that word of wisdom, we also say: Amen!

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

MSU journalism students launch 3 new ethnic guides

BIG NEWS: Students at the Michigan State University School of Journalism are dramatically expanding their popular series of books: 100 Questions and Answers About … Individual readers, nonprofits, companies and other schools are ordering these books to encourage “cultural competence”—helping Americans from diverse backgrounds to build positive relationships.

Your Opportunities …

Come to Detroit in August for the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) annual conference and you’ll meet MSU project director Joe Grimm. At NAIN, Joe’s MSU team will announce another expansion of this project—and invite NAIN participants to help shape that next phase. (Here is the NAIN-Detroit-2014 website.) The ReadTheSpirit team, including authors Wayne Baker and Lynne Meredith Golodner, also will be presenting workshops. We’ve already published one earlier story about some of the key people coming to NAIN from across the U.S. Please, join us!

Many groups are ordering special quantities of these books for incoming students, employees and other new residents. Unlike other publishing projects, these books can be modified to include the sponsoring group’s logo and background information. That makes these books a valuable form of outreach for your group. Learn more here.

Thousands of books have been published about ethnic groups. So, why are readers snapping up these slim new books from MSU? Because they answer the questions real people are asking every day. We invited MSU’s Joe Grimm to explain this distinctive approach …



Students at Michigan State University have been busy using new publishing tools to help increase cultural competence. This spring, they published two new 100-question guides. There will soon be six guides in the series. In a program we call “Bias Busters,” MSU journalism students conduct interviews across cultures to surface the simple, everyday questions that people ask in coffee shops and cafeterias. Some Google analysis also helps find the questions people are asking.

The students select and research the questions and write the answers, which are then vetted by experts nationwide. After everything is edited and polished, these slim paperback guides are published in print and digital formats. It takes about 10 weeks from when the students first meet each other to when the guides are listed for sale on Amazon. The speed and flexibility, which comes from Front Edge Publishing tools, means “Bias Busters” can respond to current events—just perfect for journalists. At a time when so many people are pessimistic about journalism, these young creators find that traditional skills and new tools mean they can publish information that helps people, do it quickly and explore a promising business model that they can carry with them after school.

The guides are intended to be just the first step toward deeper conversations about race, ethnicity and religion. Besides the guides, the students have built a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. A facilitator’s guide is in the works.

Let me introduce three of our new guides …

100 Questions and Answers
About Hispanics and Latinos

100 Questions and Answers about Hispanics and Latinos was created by 14 students in the spring “Bias Busters” journalism class. About the time the guides went to press, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that Latinos became the largest group in California, our most populous state. Other nuggets in the guide:

  • WHAT’S IN A NAME? Hispanics and Latinos go by a wide variety of names and, except for in Texas, do not show much preference for either of those labels. Many prefer names like “Mexican American” or Puerto Rican.” The guide uses Hispanic and Latino interchangeably. Other names described in the guide are Tejano, Boricuano, Chicano and even Chican@ and Latin@. Some academic departments have begun using those terms to reflect the fact that Spanish refers to males as Latinos and Chicanos and women as Latinas and Chicanas.
  • DID YOU KNOW? We were surprised to learn that the quinceañera, a celebration that signifies a 15-year-old girl’s transition to adulthood, is now being used in some families for boys who turn 15. Then, it is called a quinceañero.
  • We were reminded about the complicated status of Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens by birth, but who cannot vote in presidential elections if they are living on the island because only people living in states have that right.
  • Pope Francis is the first pope from Latin America, but many Latinos do not consider him to be the first Latino pope because his parents are Italian.
  • By 2050, Hispanics will account for about a third of the U.S. population.
  • Most Hispanics in the United State were born here.
  • The state with the highest proportion of Hispanics is New Mexico, with 47 percent.
  • About a quarter of public school students in the United States are Hispanic.
  • The Hispanic market in the United States was $1 trillion in 2010 and is projected to be $1.5 trillion in 2015.
  • Hispanic people should not be lumped into one political camp. Their political affiliations mirror the country overall. Although they usually vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, they are as likely as the overall U.S. population to identify themselves as socially conservative.
  • The large number of eligible Latino voters who do not vote is widely regarded by political analysts as a sleeping giant.


100 Questions and Answers
About East Asian Cultures

100 Questions and Answers about East Asian Cultures had the benefit of a cross-cultural creation team. Members were students in an international advertising class taught by Dr. Dawn Pysarchik in the MSU Department of Advertising and Public Relations. This team included students from China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and the United States. They worked in cross-cultural pairs, learning from each other as they researched. This guide was done, in part, because Michigan State and colleges and universities nationwide have large enrollments from East Asian countries. Americans have questions. These are some of the answers.

  • DID YOU KNOW? Asian countries, cultures and languages are incredibly diverse. While there are some shared cultural values, the differences among countries are incredible.
  • Differences between China and Taiwan or South and North Korea are profound. Millions of Asian people learn English, but do not know Asian languages other than their own.
  • Value systems such as collectivism, Confucianism and high-context communication play out in everyday activity.
  • In Japan, it is not uncommon for people to practice more than one religion.
  • Colors and numbers can have special significance in gift-giving, weddings and ceremonies, commerce and luck.
  • Japan gave us anime, manga, karaoke and Hello, Kitty.
  • South Korea gave us Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and K-Pop, part of the “hallyu” wave of pop culture.
  • China gave us eight major cuisines, not just the one or two you have heard of.
  • Speaking of food, chopsticks are not traditional in all Asian countries.
  • East Asians are adaptable, with Japan having become a strong U.S. ally since World War II and China easing its one-child rule and greatly enlarging its education system.

100 Questions, 500 Nations:
A Guide to Native America

100 Questions, 500 Nations: A Guide to Native America, originally published by the Native American Journalists Association in 1998, helped inspire the Bias Busters series. It has now been updated, redesigned and republished to reflect developments of the past 25 years. These are a few:

  • DID YOU KNOW? As the title reflects, there are now more than 500 federally recognized Indian nations. The guide includes a list of 566.
  • The tribes are sovereign, a concept that has been in the news in recent stories about Ukraine, Taiwan and the Middle East.
  • Tribal sovereignty is affirmed in treaties, court case law and the U.S. Constitution, but is still the subject of dispute.
  • It is OK to use the term “Indian Country” and many prefer “Indians” to “Native Americans.” Many prefer to identify themselves by their tribal affiliations.
  • Of the estimated 350 Indian languages that once existed, about 200 remain. Navajo has about 80,000 speakers, about 40,000 speak Chippewa and some others, in danger of extinction, have just a handful.
  • Indian casinos had $27.9 billion in revenue in 2012, but most tribes do not have casinos and this is only 8 percent of total gaming revenue in the country. Some Indians oppose gaming; some see it as a traditional activity.
  • Some people oppose the nickname of the Washington Redskins professional football team because, they say, it is on a racial par with the N word.


Other guides in the series

  • 100 Questions and Answers about Indian Americans has been available from Amazon since mid-2013.
  • In 100 Questions and Answers about Americans, we flipped our reporting perspective 180 degrees to produce a book intended for newly arriving students, workers and immigrants—answering the real questions newcomers to these shores commonly have about puzzling aspects of our American culture.
  • 100 Questions and Answers About Arab Americans (Coming in May)

COME TO NAIN in Detroit in August to learn about the next expansion of our project! Want to follow plans for the NAIN conference on Facebook? Here is NAIN Connect.

The Geri Larkin Interview: Cooking up enlightenment in 7 steps

Many people only follow their thinking, their desire, anger and ignorance. So they get suffering in situation after situation.
But if you wake up—right now—you get happiness.

Which one do you like?
Zen Master Seung Sahn

Geri Larkin is one of America’s most popular Buddhist writers, releasing her 11th book and ranking now with such prolific American Buddhist authors as Jack Kornfield and Robert Thurman. Are you questioning this claim? Consider: The best-selling Dalai Lama, of course, has written much more, but he is Tibetan, and Thich Nhat Hanh is Vietnamese. There are only a few American-born-and-grown Buddhist writers of this stature. And, as you may already have noted: Geri is the only female in this list. She is distinctive in other ways, as well.

The real-life stories in her books sometimes are heart-breaking, but more often than not, they’re full of inspiring twists and sometimes downright funny. On that scale, only the quirky American Buddhist writer Brad Warner is more likely to amuse readers with the surprising turns in his true tales. However, for most of us, Geri is the perfectly brewed and carefully steeped cup of tea. While Brad Warner tends to surprise with chapters such as his interview with a porn star in one of his memoirs—Geri makes us smile unexpectedly in her new book with stories like the day her young grandson encountered a ladybug that landed on his hand in a park. That’s a pretty stark contrast: Discovering enlightenment with a porn star vs. a ladybug. As Seung Sahn asks: Which one do you like?

Plus, to our knowledge, Geri is unique among these writers in sprinkling recipes into her books. To be fair, there are many Buddhist-themed cookbooks on the market, and Geri has published only a precious few of her recipes over the years. Still, Geri’s notion that cooking can be a gateway to mindfulness is a lesson we don’t hear so much from the Buddhist guys.

WANT TO TRY ONE OF GERI’S RECIPES? That’s the subject of this week’s Feed the Spirit column by Bobbie Lewis.

WANT HER BOOK? Geri’s newest book is called Close to the Ground: Reflections on the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. Click on this link or the book cover, above.

This week, Read The Spirit Editor David Crumm talked with Geri via telephone from her modest home in Oregon.


DAVID CRUMM: Let’s start with food. Among the many Buddhist books I’ve got in my home library, I don’t see other leading Buddhist writers paying this much attention to recipes. You clearly enjoy food! Your one children’s book—Drink Juice, Stay Loose—is all about the place of food and meal times in the course of a happy day for children and their parents. Then, in this new book, Close to the Ground, you share a couple of wonderful recipes.

Why do you write about food?

GERI LARKIN: Yes, I have put in one or two recipes per book. In The Chocolate Cake Sutra: Ingredients for a Sweet Life, of course, I give my chocolate cake recipe. And in Plant Seed, Pull Weed: Nurturing the Garden of Your Life, I give a recipe for stir-fried dandelions, which I like to serve over buckwheat noodles. So, yes, I’ve given out a number of my recipes over the years.

In this new book, I write about the mindfulness in cooking a meal. If you give yourself permission to really focus on the process of cooking a meal for others, as I describe it in the book, then cooking can become a great introduction to mindfulness. Cooking for others also is related to generosity. Really, cooking a meal for guests can wind up touching on all the seven factors I describe in the book: Mindfulness, Investigation of Phenomena, Energetic Effort, Ease, Joy, Concentration and Equanimity.

DAVID: In a moment, we’ll talk about that list of seven factors, which come from early Buddhist writings, but first: Explain more about why you chose to write about something as apparently simple as making a home-cooked meal in a book about these ancient principles.

GERI: In this book, I was determined not to get too Buddhist-y. Many Buddhist teachings and practices take years to appreciate and develop. It takes a long time in life to approach what might be called mature spirituality, but we have to start somewhere. And we all can start, every day, with small things we experience and choose to do. One way to begin to come close to mindfulness is through really focusing on the preparation of a meal. Mindfulness often involves a focused activity and cooking is a great activity to choose.

You know, over the years, I’ve eaten food at so many retreats and I’ve been served so many meals as a guest. And I can always tell when things were prepared mindfully, when the cooking itself was a spiritual practice.

DAVID: So, how is a recipe like a ladybug? Readers of this interview are probably wondering about the substance of this book, since they’ll first see the ladybug and now we’re talking about food.

GERI: These seven factors can be difficult to understand and to practice. I’m trying to give readers a lot of different triggers that can help us to begin feeling what I’m writing about. So, in the first part of the book, I write about my grandson discovering that ladybug in the park.


DAVID: That’s the first of the seven sections in this book: Mindfulness. And, I suspect, that’s such a well-known part of Buddhism that a lot of readers will be tempted to skip over the first chapter. What do we “all know” about Buddhism? Mindfulness. You write, “every dharma teacher I have ever known has emphasized mindfulness over just about anything else.”

GERI: You’re right. The problem is that people don’t really understand what we’re saying, at first. I think most people when they think about mindfulness, they hear us saying: Pay attention. And that’s not a bad first cut at the meaning—but it’s only the first cut. What most people miss is the “fire of attention.” There’s a huge difference between just paying attention and being truly mindful. So, in the story of my grandson finding the ladybug on his hand—we both became completely involved with that ladybug. An asteroid could have struck behind us and we wouldn’t have noticed! Mindfulness is the portal into all the rest of these seven factors.

DAVID: You just mentioned a phrase I was going to ask about—”fire of attention.” Partway through the chapter on mindfulness, you describe the achievement of deeper mindfulness with that phrase.

GERI: The Buddha used that: “fire of attention.” When you do your meditation and you sit, you should be putting so much energy into your mindfulness that it’s like your head is on fire. Think about how different that idea is than just trying to pay attention. But you can’t get to the fire of attention without starting at paying attention. The next step up from that is: What’s your body feeling like? What’s your mind feeling like? So many things go into this practice. You move along this whole process until you can reach a point where there is nothing else left out of your attention. When you get there, so much else drops away. You don’t have energy left for anxiety. You don’t have energy left for all this other stuff that keeps us from truly living our lives.

And, this fire of attention is available to everybody. Oh my God, I can’t give you enough fabulous words to describe this! But, you really don’t have to believe anything to do this. You don’t have to trust Buddha or anything—you can just practice putting this kind of energy into what you’re doing. You start to feel how this stuff really works. For me, it’s almost like—well, it’s almost like burning up all the negative gunk that accumulates in your heart and mind. There’s a cleansing that happens. I’ve heard Catholic monks who go deep into contemplative prayer describe this. When I talk to them about these experiences, it sounds very much like we are talking about the same kind of energy.

DAVID: A lot of our readers know something about monastic practices of prayer. Most people recall the name Thomas Merton, who was making connections between contemplative prayer and Buddhist practice toward the end of his life. ReadTheSpirit has featured an interview with Father Thomas Keating and, last year, we published an interview with Keating’s friend and disciple David Frenette.

In writing this book, you didn’t simply draw on interfaith insights, or your walks with your grandson, or your recipe box. You’re reaching way, way back to the Pali Canon. So, explain that context.

GERI: Right. The Buddha lived more than 2,000 years ago, and the Pali Canon surfaced some hundreds of years of years after he lived.

DAVID: For Christian readers, we can say: These teachings were handed down through an oral tradition in Buddhism that eventually was written down before the time of Jesus. It’s ancient and it’s considered authentic, right?

GERI: Yes, you’ve got it. Another way to say it—this is from the horse’s mouth. This is real teaching—fundamental Buddhist teaching—that many people have no idea exists. Specifically, this comes out of the Digha Nikaya within the Pali Canon. Most Americans probably have never hard of it, but it’s a portion of the Buddha’s teachings that are really practical advice. It doesn’t occur to many people to think of Buddha as giving out practical advice. But he did! All kinds of people came to him with questions about how to be good people and he gave them advice. I wish people knew more about this.

DAVID: Well, in this book, they’ll learn a lot about these seven factors from that body of teaching.


DAVID: We’ve talked about mindfulness. I want to conclude this interview by asking you to try to summarize—in just a few words—a couple of the other sections in your book. But first, let me ask a practical question. It’s possible that readers will misunderstand your list of seven factors: Mindfulness, Investigation of Phenomena, Energetic Effort, Ease, Joy, Concentration and Equanimity. Readers might think this list sounds like “prosperity preaching.” But, I’ve known you for years, Geri, and I know how you live your life. You live on next to nothing, right?

GERI: Well, you know, David, that most authors can’t support themselves by writing books. Most authors don’t make much at all. I decided to write this new book, first, to help support Rodmell Press and, second, if I ever see any royalties from book sales, I plan to give the money away. You know how we describe some people as having eyes too big for their stomachs? You know what my problem is? I keep thinking I can give away more than I can! (she laughs) Seriously, I’m always giving away as much as I can. I am living, right now, at what we call the poverty level. I call it living truly close to the ground.

DAVID: And we’re back to the title of the book.

GERI: What I’m trying to tell people is: If we follow these practices, it’s about letting things go in our lives. In the end, how happy we are doesn’t have anything to do with how much stuff we have or how much money we’re earning—period. You might think of this book as lots of baby steps we can take to help us let go of things that are gunking up our lives.

DAVID: And, that’s a great set up to let me ask about a couple of your individual sections in the book. Let’s start with: Joy. Christian readers hear a lot about joy as a spiritual virtue. I recommend that our readers buy your book and read the whole thing to understand your message on joy. But, give us a few words, here, about joy.

GERI: Oh, what can I say in a few words? First, the word joy is so overused that it almost loses its meaning. I’m talking about the kind of joy that we can discover in the great wonderfulness of simple daily life. I’m talking about the joy you can discover in picking your own vegetables from your own little garden. You know, just the other day, I got home and I found these two little neighbor kids standing in the driveway. One of them had pulled a carrot. Another one had an onion from the garden. And they were just standing there, so pleased with these vegetables they had pulled! I had time—so I talked to them. I said, “Well, you’re all ready for supper tonight!” The kids and their wonderment at the vegetables—it was a beautiful little moment so full of joy! It’s the kind of thing you’d miss entirely if you were rushing around all day trying to make a lot of money and didn’t have the time to enjoy such tings right there in your neighborhood.

DAVID: Those are a few words about joy. Then, please, talk about another section in your book: Ease.

GERI: The bottom line in Buddhist teaching on ease is that it’s about being OK with what is. Now, “what is” includes the fact that we’re all going to die. And learning how to have ease in our lives includes being OK with whatever is. This can be a difficult teaching, but if we begin to experience the kind of ease I’m describing in the book, then something happens.  Some readers may describe that “something” as realizing God—or, in my world, we would say that we are realizing Buddha nature. We realize we’re held up by this great loving energy that is generous and joyful and always there, no matter what. But we must have the courage to fall into that pillow.

DAVID: And, there’s much more in the book! Before we end, though, I want to share the book’s final line: “Take good care of yourself.” If you’ve read the whole thing, those words really resonate. That’s what you hope people will do as they close your back cover, right?

GERI: I hope that people will close the cover and walk away trusting themselves more as possibilities—trusting that they really deserve to live a life that’s full of joy and ease. That’s what I wish for. I really do wish that people would take good care of themselves.

If people only knew how precious they are!


WANT GERI LARKIN’S NEW BOOK? You can order Close to the Ground: Reflections on the Seven Factors of Enlightenment by clicking here or on the book cover, at top.

WANT TO TRY ONE OF GERI’S RECIPES? That’s the subject of this week’s Feed the Spirit column by Bobbie Lewis.

BE KIND & GENEROUS—SHARE THIS WITH FRIENDS: Please, share this column with friends by clicking on the blue-”f” Facebook icon or the envelope-shaped email icon. You also can email us at [email protected] with questions.

The Ram Dass interview: Smiling as he teaches about ‘Polishing the Mirror’

Baby Boomers know Ram Dass as an American celebrity from the 1960s who came back from India in 1971 to publish a strange square-shaped book: Be Here Now. Some call that book “the Baby Boomers’ Bible”—and there is a good argument behind such a claim. We recently reported on pulp magazine pioneer Ray Palmer, who began bringing Americans popularized stories about Asian religion even before World War II. But it wasn’t until the era of Be Here Now that millions of Americans could immerse themselves in full-scale Asian spirituality.

Since its debut, Be Here Now has racked up a stunning total of 2 million copies sold—and counting. Ram Dass has built on his original message in 11 additional books, a series of audio recordings, documentary films and short videos. Ram Dass also is famous for his 1978 establishment of the Seva Foundation, a highly respected charity that primarily focuses on curing illnesses of the eye in Asia, Africa and Native American communities.

Then, in 1997, Ram Dass made headlines once again for suffering a devastating stroke. As Baby Boomers, we were confronting our own looming mortality as we watched this perennially smiling genie of the ‘60s utterly humbled by his own body. As Ram Dass puts it himself: “I went from driving my sports car wherever I wanted to go—to being a passenger.”

Now, flash forward 16 years to 2013 and here is a personal note from me, David Crumm, as Editor of ReadTheSpirit: Over the decades, I have interviewed Ram Dass a half dozen times. This summer, I read his new book, Polishing the Mirror: How to Live From Your Spiritual Heart, with great interest.

In the opening pages, Ram Dass briefly retells the dramatic story that many Baby Boomers know so well: As a rising star in the Harvard faculty, 30-something psychologist Dr. Richard Alpert teamed up with psychologist Dr. Timothy Leary. In the new book, Ram Dass understates their titanic collision: “Meeting Tim was a major turning point in my life.” No kidding! The two Harvard scholars experimented with psychedelics, beginning with the mushrooms common in ancient Native American cultures. Leary and Alpert, later to become Ram Dass, were twin lightning rods, interacting with a Who’s Who of leading spiritual lights—from Aldous Huxley to Alan Watts and far beyond. They grabbed hold of the forces they were discovering—Ram Dass soon studying in India with his Hindu guru. Collectively, they pumped high-octane spiritual fuel into Baby Boomer culture.

When I learned that, these days, Ram Dass prefers to do interviews via video Skype, I was even more curious. Most Read The Spirit author interviews are conducted via telephone. On Skype, how would he look at age 82?

The answer: He’s old. Ram Dass says it that way in his book—he’s old. He’s noticeably slower and more deliberate in his expressive hand gestures. But, those who recall Ram Dass in his prime will be pleased to know that his sparkling eyes are undimmed and, when he gets going, he still likes to throw his head back and smile with that big, toothy grin we know so well. Post-stroke, aphasia continues to slow his speech. He must consciously think through his responses, so the words in this hour-long interview came slowly and often with pauses between phrases. Sometimes, we would stop so that I could read the words he had just spoken back to him, letting him gather his thoughts so he could choose his next words. (I haven’t included those repetitions in the following highlights of the interview.)

There is great inspiration in the 2013 life and work of Ram Dass, whether you are drawn toward Eastern religious traditions or not. As Baby Boomers, we take heart in seeing one of our most colorful mentors take old age and disability in stride. Sure, he’s a passenger these days—but, whatever seat he’s occupying in that sports car, he’s still speeding ahead of us toward our collective horizon line.


DAVID: The last time we talked, it was 2000 and you were just finishing Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying. I was a newspaper correspondent, specializing in reporting on religion. Now, more than a decade has passed—feels like far more than a decade! We’re professional colleagues, you and I, but more than that—a lot of Baby Boomers think of you as a character in our own life stories. You’re our “friend,” in that sense. You’ve been an influential teacher and writer and, like a genie, you keep popping up in our lives. So, as an old friend to many, tell us a bit about what life’s like there at your Maui home.

RAM DASS: I came to Maui some years ago and vowed that I wouldn’t fly anymore. After a life of traveling city after city—moving all the time—I got here and decided to explore contentment. And, I am content. It’s just wonderful here. As we’re talking, I’m looking out and can see the ocean. The rains come very often here and I’m surrounded by such beautiful flowers.

DAVID: I’m also a longtime friend and colleague of Don Lattin. Several years ago, we featured an in-depth interview with Don and recommended his book The Harvard Psychedelic Club. I know Don talked to you while reporting that book about you and your old friends, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil and Timothy Leary. So, tell us what you think. Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Do you recommend Don’s book?

RAM DASS: I’ve known Don since he was religion editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, but I am not completely comfortable with that book. There were many other people active in that whole era and the story was more complex than what he writes. So, no, I wouldn’t recommend that book.

DAVID: But you certainly haven’t repudiated that wild era. In fact, you write about it honestly in the opening pages of your new book. This new book is mainly focused on spiritual teaching, which we’ll talk about in a moment. But, in the first few pages, you write about your early career. I’m fascinated especially by the way you still emphasize the importance of your three most famous words: “Be Here Now.” After more than 40 years, you’re still saying: There’s great wisdom in that phrase. Is that a fair thing to say?

RAM DASS: Yes. Yes, that is fair to say. When you delve into the moment, the moment right now—and you’re right now in the moment, the moment, the moment—then you are going into the spiritual life. The moment doesn’t include time and space. It’s just here. (And Ram Dass gently taps his heart.) In here. In here. Is there wisdom in those words? Yeah, I think: Very much so.


DAVID: Because you’ve been such an influence on a whole generation, I asked other writers what questions I should ask you in this interview. The one I’ve chosen is from Tom Stella, who was a Catholic priest for many years and now is an author and teacher of spirituality from his base in Colorado. Tom said, “Ask him about the line that I’ve repeated—and I’m sure lots of others have as well. Ram Dass says, ‘We’re all just walking each other home.’ Ask him to talk about that line.’”

When reading your new book, Tom’s question jumped out at me because one of the first sub-chapters is called “The Road Home.” So, please, talk about what you mean in this metaphor.

RAM DASS: Well, “home” is the one. It’s God. When I went into psychedelics, I had an experience where I felt everything being stripped away from my self. I was in my heart, my spiritual heart. All I could say was: “I’m home. I’m home. I’m home inside.”

Then, when I went to India, my guru looked at me with unconditional love. And I remember that as: “I’m home. I’m home. I’m home.”

We all spend so much time living in this outer world, then we encounter things that force us into our inner world. The inner world is what I consider to be home.

In “walking each other home,” I’m talking about how we as individuals—individual persons or individual countries with all of the separation that we experience—through moving toward inner consciousness, can become one. That’s a shift in consciousness. If we can find a way to walk each other home, we could reach a point where there is no more conflict between egos and nations.


DAVID: This is a good place to ask you about the hard and rewarding work of “spirituality.” It’s a term you proudly use—and so do millions of American men and women, many of whom prefer that term to “religion.” This spring, the famous Rabbi David Wolpe issued a challenge in TIME magazine to anyone who claims to be “spiritual but not religious.” Wolpe pretty much described spirituality as easy and selfish. He wrote, “It’s important to remember that it is institutions and not abstract feelings that tie a community together and lead to meaningful change.”

RAM DASS: Institutions don’t change the world in fundamental ways. The way the world changes is heart to heart to heart by individuals, not by institutions.

DAVID: We are speaking, today, on the same day that the Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai is addressing the United Nations. TIME magazine now calls her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. In her address to the UN, she said, “On the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullet would silence us. But they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, courage and power was born.”

RAM DASS: (smiling, then laughing out loud) That’s just what I’m talking about! I’m sure that is affecting many hearts in the august gathering of the United Nations—and I’m sure it will affect the hearts of all the people who hear her story.

You know, this was true when we began the Seva Foundation. This is what happened to the ophthalmologist Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy. He began working in a very poor village in India with just a small eye hospital that he and his family supported. But it was the heart-to-heart spiritual connection that changed everything. He was working with patients, but he really saw them as souls. He saw his hospital and all that he was doing as a way to come to God. The repercussions of that model expanded his hospital and now this work is being done all over India. It began with his spirit and it spread heart to heart.


DAVID: Then, let’s talk about the title of your new book, Polishing the Mirror, which comes out August 1 and already is on sale at Amazon. At first glance, the title could sound like the very complaint that Rabbi Wolpe raised in TIME magazine—spirituality as narcissism. But you’re not talking about polishing mirrors so we look better to ourselves, are you?

RAM DASS: We polish the mirror of our spiritual hearts, so the beauty of our soul becomes visible. That means, we polish the spiritual heart so that, from our heart, we can radiate love and compassion and consciousness and other people can get in touch with their spiritual heart, too.

These days, when I roll down the street in my wheelchair, (tapping his fingers on his chest, over his heart) I love all the people I encounter. This is really true. I really do. And when I look into their eyes, I feel that I am mirroring their spiritual heart.

I am sorry that I am not more eloquent in speaking with you, (moving his fingers to point toward his mouth) but you understand that since my stroke my words come with difficulty.

DAVID: Your words are very engaging, today. And this is a good transition to talk about what I find to be the most fresh and hopeful part of your new book: the final section on the process of aging. Some of the insights in these pages are well known to us. But, I really was struck by your teaching that describes the central question in aging as: “Can you find a place to stand in relation to change where you are not frightened by it?”

RAM DASS: When you get old, everything changes—your body changes, your family changes. You can’t do what you’ve always done, anymore. And, either you can complain about things changing—or you can be content. Instead of complaining, you can say: “Oh, yesss! Look at all this change!” You can welcome it.

When I stroked in 1997 and then was lying in the hospital, all the people around me were saying: This poor guy! He’s had a stroke! I started to think that I must be a poor guy. Somebody put up a picture of my guru on the wall of my hospital room. I looked up at that picture and I said: Where were you!?! You know: Where were you in this stroke?! You’ve been raising up my life—all the way up to this stroke.

DAVID: You describe yourself in the book as depressed and angry, your faith deeply shaken.

RAM DASS: I thought I knew about aging and changing. (He smiles broadly.) As it turned out, this stroke has been an incredible grace for me. It is true that, in the past, I played golf and drove around in my sports car and I liked to play my cello. Now, I can’t do any of those things.

Instead, I’ve turned further inward—and that has been wonderful. That was grace.

In 1985, I wrote a book with Paul Gorman called How Can I Help? After the stroke, I found myself asking: How Can You Help Me? Instead of being this big, strong, powerful helper who could go anywhere and do anything—I find myself now dependent on so many people around me.

Now, as I say these things, you have to admit: It sounds bad doesn’t it? (He smiles knowingly.) Our culture says it’s bad to be dependent on others, right? Not a good thing! But, you know, we are all souls. That’s what Dr. Venkataswamy discovered in his clinic.

DAVID: And now we’ve come full circle to our previous interview, haven’t we? I remember interacting with you, at that time, just a few years after your stroke when Still Here was coming out—and that book supposedly held your teachings on Aging, Changing and Dying.

RAM DASS: (Still smiling broadly.) When we talked, I had written that book about what I thought aging and dying was all about. But I was in my 60s. Now, I’m in my 80s and this new book talks about what it’s really like. Now, I am aging. I am approaching death. I’m getting closer to the end. (He pauses, tilts his head back and looks out at the Pacific.) I was so naive when I wrote that earlier book. Now, I really am ready to face the music all around me. (And he laughs.)

Care to read more on similar themes?

Read The Spirit publishes a series of books on caregiving, from end-of-life decisions to everyday coping with chronic illness—even a humor book by cancer survivor Rodney Curtis, called A (Cute) Leukemia. Check it out in the We Are Caregivers department of Read The Spirit.

Share this Ram Dass interview with friends! Please, start a conversation with your friends by clicking on the blue-“f” Facebook icons connected to this interview. Or email this interview to a friend using the small envelope-shaped icons.

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

AMAZING Ray Palmer, the pulp pioneer behind the flying saucer craze

“Ray Palmer gave voice to people nobody else would take seriously.”

That’s the most important line in today’s interview about the life of Ray Palmer, the truly “AMAZING” writer and publisher who whipped Americans into a post-World War II flying-saucer craze, who first published a story by teen-ager Isaac Asimov and who ultimately shaped the realms of sci-fi and fantasy that are so popular around the world today. Along the way, Ray Palmer’s talent as a pulp publisher included early promotion of Asian religious traditions, a fascination with angelic apparitions and all manner of mystical experiences in small towns and big cities coast to coast.

Stirring America’s imagination

Ray Palmer certainly wasn’t a scholar of world religions. His Mystic magazine sometimes described India’s main religious tradition as “Hindoo.” In one of his most notorious publicity campaigns, Palmer actually claimed that the spiritual secrets of planet Earth involved a civilization hidden in caverns deep underground. Ray Palmer was as much P.T. Barnum flim flam as he was a promoter of spiritual inclusion.

Nevertheless, throughout his pulp career, Palmer regularly inspired readers in grassroots communities like South Bend, Indiana, and Pikeville, Kentucky. Farmers, school teachers, teenagers and even elderly women who regularly attended Bible study classes were moved by Ray Palmer’s mystical vision of the cosmos. We know that because many of these men, women and teens eagerly sent their mystical testimonies to Palmer, hoping that a few paragraphs of their “True Mystic Experiences” would appear in the next issue of a Ray Palmer magazine.


Despite his titanic impact on American culture, Ray Palmer never became a celebrity. Few photographs of him exist. That’s mainly because he was a tiny man with a deformed back, the result of a tragic childhood accident. Yet, his disability did not prevent him from becoming an unseen media giant whose creative legacy influenced hit TV shows like the Twilight Zone, Star Trek and X-Files—and comic books, too. In 1961, DC Comics renamed the popular super hero The Atom after Ray Palmer. Palmer’s ideas live on today in  blockbuster Hollywood movies featuring comic-book superheroes and outer-space exploration.

Ray Palmer was the king of “What if …” In the 1953 debut issue of his pulp magazine, Mystic, the first feature story opened with this classic Palmer pitch: “When you read this story, you will tell yourself that it is fiction; the editors assure you that it is. But what if—it isn’t? What if, by some strange coincidence, the writer has hit upon the truth? What if, as you read, you find yourself repeating the word ‘fiction’ to yourself in order to feel reassured—because what you are reading stirs some deep conviction, coupled with dread, that it is not fiction?” Anyone who recalls Rod Serling’s 1959 debut as the host of The Twilight Zone can see the influence of Ray Palmer’s pulp fiction in full flower.

If Ray Palmer could spring back from his grave to promote his first full-scale biography, The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey, by Fred Nadis, Palmer would write (as he did in penning one advertisement for his own book on flying saucers): “At last! The authentic story of the mystery that has shaken the complacency of the world. On-the-spot answers to the top question of the century! An amazing array of factual evidence, gathered under incredible difficulties and actual risk of life, shorn of the official ‘smog’ that has hidden the truth from the very outset. An incredible array of evidence—the result of years of investigation! The Only Book That Tells The WHOLE TRUTH about …” Ray Palmer.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews Ray Palmer’s biographer Fred Nadis …


DAVID: Ray Palmer’s life began like the “origins” issue of a super-hero comic book. As a boy, he was playing in the street near his Milwaukee home and his foot got caught in the wheel of a truck that spun his body against the pavement. His spine was severely damaged. Then, he became the first patient in the United States to receive an experimental spinal column bone graft. That’s the stuff of comic books. But it didn’t turn out as Palmer’s family hoped.

FRED: The accident happened when he was 7—a very energetic kid with an energetic mind. He was running out in the street. When I talked with Ray Palmer’s son, he told me that the accident involved a motorized milk truck, but one that had old-fashioned spoked wheels. The boy’s foot got caught between the spokes and, before the truck could stop, he had been dragged down the street and nearly killed. He wound up spending years trying to recover and undergoing treatments. And you’re right, the doctors were not able to straighten his back. He had a hunched back all the rest of his life. He was 67 when he died in 1977.

DAVID: This is a fascinating chapter in Palmer’s story, because another person might have become an enemy of science. After all, the doctors failed him and he really did suffer under their care. Why did he remain so hopeful about the possibilities of science?

FRED: They key is that, during this period, he had nothing else to do but read. He consumed adventure stories by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs, who wrote Tarzan but also the John Carter on Mars series. Ray Palmer fell in love with these narratives. He took Hugo Gernsbach seriously!

DAVID: Gernsbach is a foundational figure in what unfolds during Palmer’s life. He often is called “The Father of Science Fiction,” because in 1926 he founded Amazing Stories magazine. He’s the reason that one of the most prestigious awards in science fiction, to this day, is the “Hugo.”

FRED: Yes, Gernsbach was an early evangelist of science fiction. He wanted everyone in the country to become an inventor and he wanted to hook kids early with science fiction. Gernsbach was an editor but he also was a true believer that, together, people could create a new future for the world with this kind of education. It was this noble pursuit that caught the imagination of the young Ray Palmer as he spent those years reading one thing after another.


DAVID: Your biography very quickly jumps into the heart of Palmer’s career. Before age 30, Ray Palmer had become the editor of Amazing Stories. In a way, this was both Ray Palmer’s heaven—and it was a rude awakening about the nature of pulp, right? At one point, you refer to him as a “Happy Hack.”

FRED: The reality of wanting to make a living as a pulp writer and editor made him realize that he couldn’t hold purely to the Gernsbachian vision of science fiction as a noble pursuit of a better future for the world. By the time he became editor of Amazing Stories,  he had tried his hand at various genres: Westerns, true crime and other pulp formats. By the time he became editor, at age 28, he had put some of his early ideas behind him. He quickly understood that the bottom line of this business was selling magazines. His own salary was dependent on sales. So, he began to push what I would call the Edgar Rice Burroughs formula of romance, adventure and lots of action. I would describe his mid-career approach to publishing in contrast to the Verne and Wells style of trying to write as close as they could to where they thought science could go.

RAY PALMER, ISAAC ASIMOV and The Shaver Mystery

DAVID: We should make it clear for readers of this interview, though, that Ray Palmer wasn’t all hokum. He had a real passion—and a brilliant editor’s eye—for serious writers who would have their own influence on American culture. Palmer kept spinning off various pulp magazines and fan-zines. He had his fingers in a whole array of publications. Here at Read the Spirit, we recently published an interview with Aldous Huxley biographer Don Lattin, who writes about Huxley’s enormous impact on spiritual diversity in American culture. Through FATE magazine—one of Ray Palmer’s various ventures—Aldous Huxley was featured on multiple occasions. We can say that Ray Palmer played a role in helping Huxley to reach an audience of spiritual fans.

Among Palmer’s other claims to fame is spotting the talent of teen-ager Isaac Assimov.

FRED: Yes, Ray Palmer’s tenure at Amazing Stories was notable for his purchase of Isaac Asimov’s first professional story, Marooned Off Vesta. Written in 1938 while Asimov was still 18, the story was rejected by one magazine before Amazing Stories published it in the March 1939 issue.

DAVID: This is fascinating partly because, as a teenager, Asimov had a love-hate relationship with Amazing Stories. Before he was published in the magazine, Asimov had slammed Palmer’s choice of cover art in earlier issues. Palmer was famous for pushing the envelope with sexy and violent cover illustrations.

FRED: Asimov also did not like Palmer’s tendency to anti-Soviet themes. In a 1938 letter to the magazine, Asimov said: “Entirely too many stories are being printed part or all of whose theme is the reaction against some form of despotism.”

DAVID: So, in Palmer’s career we have this rather high-brow kind of exchange with Asimov and the publication of Asimov’s early work. Even though Asimov objected strenuously to some aspects of Amazing Stories, he apparently was happy to have his short stories appear in its pages.

But, we also discover in your biography that Palmer could play fast and loose with the truth. He had no qualms about publishing the notorious Shaver Mystery and related stories. These days, the Shaver controversy is long forgotten, except to die-hard sci-fi buffs. Basically, here’s what it involved: This writer named Richard Shaver, a guy with a very checkered past, burst into the pulps with a claim that an evil species of sub-human “Doros” lived in caverns beneath the Earth’s surface and would emerge to reshape our planetary future. It was pure fiction, but Palmer really pushed hard on his “What if …” publishing style and pretty much told readers that this Shaver stuff was true.

FRED: Yes, this was a tipping point in Palmer’s career—publishing Shaver’s pieces and claiming they were true. I think this started as a sales gimmick to outrage people and to see how far he could push the promotion of this Shaver Mystery. You have to remember that a lot of Palmer’s work developed through letters he received from fans. As with Asimov, Shaver had been sending Palmer letters. Of course, Shaver was different from an Asimov—and would never become that kind of author. Shaver was this working man who bounced around various places and was a science fiction fan. Eventually, Shaver began claiming that he had arcane knowledge. The first thing he claimed was that he found an alphabet from outer space, which he said was a key to languages. Another editor wanted to throw Shaver’s stuff in the garbage can, but Palmer pulled it out and said, “Let’s print it.”

DAVID: While we might question Palmer’s ethics in the way he presented the Shaver stories—there’s no question that, from a publishing point of view, this was a hit.

FRED: Readership grew as Palmer kept publishing material from Shaver. A lot of the magazine’s pure science fiction fans complained, but Palmer picked up a lot of fans who were drawn to occult and arcane ideas.

DAVID: What’s your bottom-line judgment on this portion of Palmer’s work with Shaver?

FRED: Shaver definitely had some mental illness in his life—but he also had a brilliant, creative mind. His fiction was his outlet for making sense of the world. He was trying to create a detailed vision of the cosmos, or we might say he was trying to write a Gospel, or chart a new science. In common terms, Shaver was your classic inspired crackpot. He was a visionary. Palmer realized it was good business to publish his stories.

RAY PALMER and The Flying Saucer Craze

DAVID: So, this Shaver Mystery—and all the hoopla from the rising sales to the growing controversy—sets the stage for the far more famous contribution Palmer makes to American culture: the flying saucer craze.

I’m sure our readers will be amazed to learn that our U.S. Central Intelligence Agency actually has a website dedicated to the history of UFO sightings. The CIA tells part of the story of the flying saucer craze: “The first report of a ‘flying saucer’ over the United States came on 24 June 1947, when Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot and reputable businessman, while looking for a downed plane sighted nine disk-shaped objects near Mt. Rainier, Washington, traveling at an estimated speed of over 1,000 mph.” What the CIA never mentions, not even in a footnote, is that Arnold’s experience would have faded into the deep dust of old trivia games—except for the super-charged work of Arnold’s co-author and promoter: Ray Palmer.

FRED: That’s right, a lot of people credit Palmer as one of the most important voices whipping up the awareness of flying saucers. It makes sense. This was a great new mystery for him! By the time Kenneth Arnold came along, the Shaver Mystery had created a lot of negative feedback. Shaver was a problematic figure.

DAVID: But not Kenneth Arnold! This is one of the most exciting sections of your book.

FRED: Arnold wasn’t a science fiction fan or an occultist. He wasn’t like Shaver. He was a former Eagle Scout, football player and Olympic-class athlete.

DAVID: Ray Palmer realized that this was a golden ticket in the pulp world. He and Curtis Fuller founded FATE magazine in 1948 mainly to showcase Arnold’s story. Top of the cover of Issue No. 1 was Arnold’s “The Truth about the Flying Saucers”—complete with a vivid, full-color illustration.

FRED: FATE magazine largely was founded because of the flying saucer phenomenon. After Arnold’s report, there were many other sightings, too. This was quite different from the Shaver Mystery. Curtis Fuller, as Palmer’s co-founder of FATE, was a no-nonsense journalist and flying enthusiast. They all were asking questions of the U.S. military about flying saucers—and they became convinced that they weren’t being told the truth. According to Palmer’s version, his other magazine publishers didn’t want him to go fully into flying saucer stories, so FATE was born.

DAVID: Did Ray Palmer believe in flying saucers? I think he knew that Shaver’s stories were pure fiction. But what about the flying saucers?

FRED: Oh, I think he definitely believed there were flying saucers. He later broke with Curtis Fuller and his wife around this question. But it’s not hard to see why Palmer would become convinced of the truth of flying saucers. There were so many sightings emerging after Arnold’s first report—and they kept coming from so many different countries—that it was hard for Palmer to believe that these sightings didn’t have substance.


DAVID: We’ve come full circle here from the pure love and noble hopes of science fiction—through some of Palmer’s obvious hucksterism—into this realm of Cold War flying saucers and other serious, if speculative, themes. Many of Ray Palmer’s issues were packed with mystical, spiritual stories. His magazines weren’t particularly accurate about world religions, but they certainly inspired Americans to find out more about ancient religions from around the world, as well as what sociologists today call “new religions.”

FRED: Remember that science fiction really has religious undertones. A typical science fiction story is an apocalyptic tale—the death of an old world and the birth of a new world. We can think of so many science fiction classics that are spiritual as well as scientific visions of the future.

DAVID: Would Ray Palmer object to what you just said—or applaud? I think he’s probably smile and nod in agreement.

FRED: Ray Palmer was a remarkable personality with a mind that shaped American culture in ways far beyond his own work and life. He certainly had a problematic side. We might think of him as a classic trickster figure trying to guide people, but guiding them along weird pathways. It took tremendous courage for him to announce so many controversial views over the years and then stand up to so much ridicule.

Here’s a guy who would jump into things fearlessly. While other people were still quietly discussing these ideas in private circles, Ray Palmer was splashing them across the front covers of magazines. And, it wasn’t just Ray Palmer talking to the nation. He encouraged fans to share their experiences in letters they wrote to him—and he set aside pages in every issue for their letters and stories.

Overall, his spiritual vision was remarkable! Now, talk about shamanism and yoga and mushrooms and Eastern religious traditions is everywhere you turn. But, in the era when Ray Palmer was in his prime, you didn’t find that in mainstream American media. In mid-20th-century America, these things were lumped together as occult and paranormal—and they were not fashionable.

Ray Palmer gave voice to people nobody else would take seriously.

PLEASE, help us spread the news to friends: Click the blue-”f” icon, either at top or bottom of this story, and share this article with your friends on Facebook.

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)

Dag Hammarskjold: His spiritual writing and peacemaking genius are shaping lives to this day

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Dag Hammarskjold's Legacy

Dag Hammarskjold inspired so many of our readers to respond, over the past week, that Read the Spirit is adding one final part to our series on the Nobel Peace Prize winner and author of the spiritual classic, Markings. (Use our convenient series index, below, to enjoy the rest of our Hammarskjold coverage.)

Dag Hammarskjold:
from a spider

First, today, we’re sharing an email from Hammarskjold’s biographer Roger Lipsey, who sent us this recent “find” in his ongoing research. Roger writes:

Thank you for the Read the Spirit coverage. This week, I am speaking about Dag Hammarskjold to a lively, intelligent audience of young United Nations people from all over the world. Here is one passage about him that  I came across too late to include in the biography, but am sharing with audiences, now.

Hammarskjold once revealed something of his shrewdness. The report is from Christian Pineau, French foreign minister during the Suez Crisis:

He had no illusions about the possibilities for settling the great conflicts that divide the planet, nor even the difficulties among neighbors in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. His sole objective was to avert or limit bloodshed.

“To that end,” he explained to me one day, “I start by seizing on the problem in the name of the United Nations. Then I guard against proposing a solution too quickly. Coming from me, it would immediately be suspect and rejected. But I complicate matters as much as possible; I multiply exploratory conversations. I act like a spider tying up an insect to immobilize it before eating it. I weave my threads around the problem to the point of making it invisible or, if you prefer, incomprehensible. In the end people no longer have a clear notion of what made them adversaries—and renounce fighting.”

“Alas,” he added, “it’s not always a success.”

Thank you Roger Lipsey for sharing this vivid anecdote!

Dag Hammarskjold: Indelible Childhood Memories

As Editor of Read the Spirit, I was not surprised this week to hear a number of childhood memories from adults in their 50s and older. As Editor, I was moved by a childhood memory myself to interview Roger Lipsey about his new biography (the interview is Part 1 in this series). In the mid-1960s, my own father literally preached Dag Hammarskjold’s message. My father, now-retired United Methodist pastor the Rev. Donald Crumm, bought Markings the week it was released in English. He was the pastor of a mid-Michigan congregation, at the time, and wound up preaching a month-long series of sermons on the spiritual lessons of this great peacemaker. I was 9 years old and those sermons are some of the first I can remember to this day.

This week, we’ve selected one extended childhood memory to publish. This moving memoir was sent to us by Deborah Taylor Valencia, 52, of Northville, Michigan. Her father was James Clagett Taylor Jr., a native of Sebring, Fla. Debbie currently facilitates an interfaith study group at Northville United Methodist Church continuing to broaden the insights gleaned from living abroad and the inspiration her parents instilled about lifelong learning.

Debbie writes:

“Who is Dag Hammarskjold?” Jeopardy fans of all ages recognize that question. But, Hammarskjold is far more than an answer in a trivia game for me.

Each time I hear his name, I recall my own awakening to this great soul. It was in the mid-1970s while living in Lusaka, Zambia, as the daughter of a US Diplomat that I came to know of Hammarskjold. My family was adventuring in the northern regions of the Zambian Copperbelt. After a day of wandering along bumpy roads, we had one more stop. As three weary tweens we were bordering on uncooperative with our parents and their deemed “worthy, must see site.” They lured us by telling us details of a suspicious plane crash and so we were keen to spot the crash site, hidden in the dusty haze.

Traveling down a long dirt road, I do recall stands of tall trees as we arrived and parked near the landmark. We crawled out of the cramped Ford Cortina to notice a simple marker with a notably Scandinavian name. In an exasperated fashion we had the air of “This is it Dad? We drove all this way out here for this!?!”

We had no idea of the enormity of this loss to the world.

My father, along with my mother, then talked about the importance of honoring and remembering Dag Hammarskjold. Oddly, the facts my parents shared that day now seem fuzzy, while the intrigue of a “suspicious” plane crash remains. Most importantly, however, is the experience of visiting the site—and my father’s actions.

My diplomat father showed us such strong reverence to this great diplomat and statesmen, who held Service above Self (also a Rotarian, my Dad). As he impressed upon us how the world lost a peacemaking hero—tears rose up in my father’s eyes, and he wiped them away.

I knew at that moment that we were on sacred ground. I saw clearly and understood well that my parents were passing on the universal belief that all nationalities are here to serve and give back to the world. As we see the dignity in each other we are capable of humbly showing mercy, seeking justice, and creating peace through mutual giving and understanding. We are united, as the human family.

Currently, a museum now stands at the site of the memorial we visited long ago. I imagine too there are much improved driving conditions. Back in the USA over the many years when showing slides at local schools we would always include the picture of the memorial to ensure that the name Dag Hammarskjold was introduced to younger generations.

My father, as a diplomat, understood the brave efforts of Hammarskjold, and at the same time I sense he recognized a shared spiritual connection in Dag’s efforts to heal the world. As I read the stories in Read the Spirit this week, I see similarities to my own father’s faithful character. Hence, as we approach Father’s Day (my father’s 50th and last was 2011), I consider this a tribute to Dad, a person of great insight and courage. His service taught us the true value of loving, understanding and honoring your neighbor. To this day, I am drawn to courageous, humble, peace-abiding “heroes” who inspire a universal belief in humanity.

Desmond Tutu has often said, “We are made for Goodness.”

Dag Hammarskjold and my father would have agreed.

Care to Read More about Peacemakers?

ReadTheSpirit publishes three books by global peacemaker Daniel Buttry: Interfaith Heroes, Volume 1, with profiles including Gandhi, St. Francis and Rumi; Interfaith Heroes, Volume 2, with profiles including Pope John Paul II, Hans Kung and Thich Nhat Hanh; and Blessed Are the Peacemakers, with profiles including Dorothy Day, Pete Seeger, Diane Nash and Ken Sehested.

And speaking of Ken Sehested: You may also enjoy reading Ken’s remembrance of the late civil-rights activist the Rev. Will D. Campbell.

PLEASE, help us spread the news to friends: Click the blue-”f” icon, either at top or bottom of this story, and share this article with your friends on Facebook.

(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)