New words for the new year

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired of 2014. I thought I’d look up some good words to live by as we approach the new year.

Maybe it’s just that I’m a pessimist:

An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.  Bill Vaughn, American columnist and author

Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past. Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go.  Brooks Atkinson, American theater critic

Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.  Oscar Wilde, Irish writer and poet

New Year’s Day … now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.  Mark Twain, American author and humorist

Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.  Benjamin Franklin, author, inventor and diplomat

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.  Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist

It is difficult to live in the present, ridiculous to live in the future, and impossible to live in the past. Nothing is as far away as one minute ago.  Jim Bishop, American journalist and author

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.  Michael Altshuler, speaker and trainer

Speaking of time, have you seen the movie “The Theory of Everything” at the Art Center Cinema? If you haven’t, run and see it. (It’s scheduled to stay through Thursday.) Stephen Hawking, this exuberant young physicist and cosmologist, becomes imprisoned inside his own body, with only his ideas to offer. He can’t even speak them because he’s lost his voice.

Here’s a quote from Hawking that hints at his quirky sense of humor: Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.

This man seems to be scolding us: I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the year’s.  Henry Moore, English sculptor and artist

And this man seems to be inviting us to not take our resolutions so seriously: May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions!  Joey Adams, American comedian

And now for a poem:

This bright new year is given me

To live each day with zest

To daily grow and try to be

My highest and my best!

 William Arthur Ward, American author

Here’s a lofty one: We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day. — Edith Lovejoy Pierce, American poet and pacifist

Last week, at the end of my column, I shared a quote I’d heard the week before. I tried to find out who said it, but its origin is unknown. says it’s been attributed to Anaïs Nin, the Babylonian Talmud, Immanuel Kant and others: We don’t see things the way they are. We see things the way we are.

I don’t usually collect quotes, but that’s a good one to remember.

We each have our own perspectives, based on our life experiences, our beliefs, our education, the people we hang around with or listen to, and sometimes even the weather and how we’re feeling physically. All of us have a slightly different perspective, a different way of making sense of what’s going on around us.

Helen Keller said it this way: Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.

Here are a couple more, to cheer us on for the coming new year:

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.’  Alfred Lord Tennyson

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on Dec. 25, 2014.

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Climate change solutions

Last week’s column about climate change ended on a decidedly disheartening note, with Bill McKibben, the well-known environmental activist, recounting all the indications around the planet that show conditions getting worse, not better, and saying the lack of political will to get serious about climate change is “pretty damn discouraging.”

This week, we’ll focus on some of the solutions to our perilous situation that I heard while listening to the series “The Future is Calling Us to Greatness,” hosted by the Rev. Michael Dowd.

McKibben did offer some optimism: “On the encouraging side of things, one is the growing understanding that we don’t need to do this, that we have alternatives. The fact that the Germans managed to provide 75 percent of their power some days this past summer from sun and wind is a pretty good sign that it’s not resources we’re lacking. It’s political will.

“The other encouraging thing is there are some signs of that political will starting to assemble itself.”

McKibben talked about the People’s Climate March in September in New York City, saying that about 100,000 people were expected at the event, but 400,000 showed up.

Paul Hawkin is the author of several books, “The Ecology of Commerce,” a New York Times bestseller published in 1993; “Natural Capitalism,” published in 1999 (it’s “about increasing the amount of natural capital in the world, not about capitalism,” Hawkin said); and “Blessed Unrest.” His new book, “Project Drawdown,” is scheduled to come out next year. You can go to a website now,, and learn about how you can be part of the solution.

It’s “organized according to agency,” Hawkin said. “This is what individuals can do, this is what neighborhoods and communities can do … this is what facilities and buildings can do, this is what businesses and utilities can do, this is what cities and towns can do, this is what farmlands can do, this is what we can do with our grasslands, this is what forestlands can do, this is what provinces and states can do.”

What about the cost of fighting climate change?

“It’s an investment,” Hawkins said, “and the return is extraordinary. I have said it costs nothing when you get everything back. That’s what’s at risk is everything we know. In real dollar terms, it is a fantastic investment. It has cascading benefits.”

James Hansen’s interview with Dowd was titled “Saving the Grandchildren of All Species.” Hansen grew up as an Iowa farm boy and became a leading NASA scientist.

“When I was in NASA,” Hansen said, “my bosses always warned me, ‘Just talk about the science, that is the job of scientists,’ and I guess I ignored them. But the point is that scientists are actually trained to connect the dots, to be objective, and we are dealing with complex problems … and for us not to say what the implications are, I think, is a huge mistake.”

Hansen goes on to discuss how the economy is tied to climate change and its solutions.

“(T)he economy is more efficient if the prices are honest,” he said. “Subsidize something, then you make the economy less efficient. So we should make fossil fuels pay their true cost to society, and that would require adding a substantial fee to the cost of fossil fuels because of their health impact of air pollution and water pollution, and the climate impact, which is already beginning to exist and potentially will be much more in the future if we don’t phase down fossil fuel use.”

Dowd agreed: “I love the way (Republican) Bob Inglis (former U.S. representative from South Carolina) says it. He says, ‘I favor a conservative approach that doesn’t increase the size of government and marshals the power of the market. Here it is in a nutshell: Put all the costs on all the fuels, eliminate all the subsidies, and then watch the free enterprise system solve the current energy problem.’ ”

Dowd went on to talk about the moral implications of climate change, saying that religious leaders of all denominations and faiths need to step up and say that “the primary moral responsibility is ensuring a healthy future.”

“If anything deserves to be counted as evil in a modern world, if that word has any meaning whatsoever,” Dowd said, “it’s got to apply to those who are personally benefiting in a way that they know is destructive of the future.”

Hansen was quick to say that the business community is not the enemy, nor is capitalism.

“I’ve met with many of the people that I call the captains of industry, including the CEOs of utilities and other business leaders, and they are not basically bad people,” Hansen said.

“(T)heir job is to make money, so the CEO of a utility will tell me and tell anybody that if the government will put a rising price on carbon, we can solve the problem, but as long as the fossil fuels are allowed to be the cheapest energy, then it’s their job to make money for their stockholders, and they will keep using them.”

Well, this is just a tiny sliver of the 55 hours or so of interviews in this series. To check it out, visit

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on April 18, 2015.

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Sun wins over darkness

Easter holiday has roots in Earth-centered traditions, polytheism and Christianity

Tomorrow is Easter. It’s an interesting holiday. Like Christmas, it has taken on connotations that have nothing to do with its Christian emergence and barely represents any of its nonreligious traditions.

Easter is the most important and oldest festival of the Christian church, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. It’s a hybrid celebration, with roots in polytheism and Earth-centered traditions, as well as Christianity, falling between March 21 and April 25, on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the northern spring equinox. The Christian celebration was established in 325 C.E.

The word “Easter” comes from Old English eastre. According to Bede (an English monk and historian born in 673), the word is derived from Eastre, the name of a goddess associated with spring.

Easter is also a huge commercial enterprise, with Americans spending more than $2 billion on Easter candy and $14.6 billion on all Easter spending (including flowers, clothes and various supplies).

I remember getting a frilly yellow and white Easter frock to wear to church as a young child and finding a basket on the dining room table on Easter morning, full of chocolate “eggs” and brightly colored “grass” with a big chocolate bunny in the center.

And what’s with the ham-for-Easter-dinner thing?

According to a Boston Globe story that ran this past week, eating ham on Easter dates back to at least the sixth century in Germany.

Bruce Kraig, founder of Culinary Historians of Chicago and author of “Man Bites Dog,” says that pigs thrived in northern Europe, where farmers let them roam the abundant woodlands to forage for acorns and roots. The pigs were slaughtered in the fall and hung over winter, and thus provided one of the few meats available to eat during the early spring festival. When Christianity spread northward and merged with the pagan, or Earth-centered, spring celebration of Eostre, the traditions united, “with ham at the center of the feast.” Early American settlers, he said, brought pigs from Northern Europe to the New World, where they were not native.

It’s interesting, too, that lamb is a common choice for Easter dinner — interesting because Jesus was called “The Lamb of God.” Is this some kind of “communion,” then, that people celebrate with the risen Christ? It could be seen that way.

The origins of the roasted lamb dinner that many eat on Easter Sunday go back to the first Passover, which commemorates the Jews’ liberation by God from slavery in Egypt. Recounted in the book of Exodus, the Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a slaughtered spring lamb so that the angel of the Lord would know to “pass over” the first-born in those homes, while the homes of the Egyptians would be met with plagues. The sacrificial lamb was roasted and eaten, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. As Hebrews converted to Christianity, they brought those traditions with them.

In Easter advertising, we see eggs cracking open, flowers blooming, lambs frolicking and birds singing in the glory of spring, a reminder of the equinoctial (I learned a new word!) origins of the holiday.

Easter reminds me of a time about 30 years ago when I lived in Hawaii; my son, Kris, was about 6 years old. At the time, we were attending a lively evangelical church in Honolulu on Sundays. As Easter approached, Kris and I made a sign on a large black vinyl banner, upon which we glued a bright yellow sun cut out of felt with long yellow sunbeams shining up from the bottom. In big white block letters, we spelled “He’s alive!” above the sunrise we’d created. We made plans to get up before dawn on Easter Sunday to take our banner up a hill on the Pali Highway, which links Kailua, where we lived on the windward side of Oahu, to Honolulu, on the leeward side.

This hill, located just before you get to the Koolau Mountain Range on the Pali Highway, was the site of various “Welcome Home” and “Happy Birthday” signs throughout the year. Having driven past it hundreds of times, it looked like a fairly easy trek to the sign-posting area. So early that morning, I parked my VW Squareback on the side of the road, and we carried our banner up the slope with a flashlight illuminating our way. What appeared from below to be gentle grasses about a foot tall turned out to be scraggly vegetation about waist-high, wet with dew. But we trudged up the hill and tied our sign to a couple of bushes on the steep slope. As morning broke, people in cars below began honking and waving at us, encouraging our efforts. And we waved back, drenched, dirty and happy about our early morning adventure.

This season means a lot of different things to different people — Jesus rising from the dead, bringing hope for life after death; Passover feasts and ceremonies, reminders of God’s grace; blooming life and longer days; chocolate bunnies and colored eggs; frilly dresses and shiny new shoes; marketing and sales; pigs and lambs and hot-cross buns on holiday tables.

Whatever your celebration this weekend, I hope it’s full of sunshine, fresh air and gratitude — winter is over; spring has come.

—  This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on April 4, 2015.

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A walk in the park

Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. — Rachel Carson, American marine biologist and conservationist and author of “Silent Spring”

I go for walks most days with my dog, Booda. While we walk around the neighborhood for a mile or so, I always have earbuds in my ears as I listen to various talks and interviews or audiobooks on my iPod. I blame it on that never-stop-learning gene I got from my mom.

Every week, there’s a new edition of the Daily Evolver podcast, in which my friend Jeff Salzman looks at current events through an Integral lens.

Lately I’ve been listening to a series called “The Future is Calling Us to Greatness,” with the Rev. Michael Dowd, who interviewed 55 experts in the fields of climate change, cultural evolution, economics and other future-oriented topics. Fascinating.

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast from WBUR-Boston’s On Point program. Dr. Scott Sampson, author of “How to Raise a Wild Child,” was the guest. According to Sampson, American kids today are outside for only 4 to 7 minutes a day on average, and they spend 7 to 10 hours a day in front of screens. They’re the first generation to have a life expectancy shorter than their parents. This is alarming.

Every once in a while, I go to my favorite walking spot in Salina, and I bring my iPod and earbuds, but I rarely use them, because I become entranced in the sights and sounds of Mother Earth.

I hesitate to tell you about this spot because it appears to be a very well-kept secret, and I’d like to keep it that way. But if you promise not to tell too many people, I’ll let you in on Salina’s secret prairie hideaway.

If you go east on Cloud Street, past the new Dillons, past the yellow sign that says “No Outlet,” all the way to the end of the road, you’ll find a tiny parking lot. A sign says “Salina Trails” and shows a map of the walking and biking trails in the area.

Walk up over the levee trail, and on the east side of that, turn right and follow the path about a quarter of a mile, past a little inlet, or slough, to a small blue sign that says “River Woods Nature Area” and enter a little piece of prairie heaven. I start the trail by going left, following it clockwise around the park.

I always think, “I’ll put the ear buds in later,” but I just never get around to it because I love hearing the birds singing and the breeze whispering in my ears.

It takes about 40 minutes to walk the winding trail along fields of young trees and swaying prairie grasses that give way to areas of forest where you feel as though you could get lost in the trees. But just follow the trail as it winds its way along. If you want to drink in some extra tranquility, stop for a few moments at spots where the path branches off along the banks of the Smoky Hill River and enjoy a cool breeze on your face as you gaze at the rippling water.

Down in quiet hollows you might come across simple structures someone has built out of large limbs, using gravity and creative engineering, but no nails or other building supplies.

I can’t help but be thankful for Salina Parks and Recreation workers, who have carefully trimmed and groomed the meandering trail so we can walk comfortably there.

On any given day, I’ll see maybe two or three people on the trail, occasionally someone on a bike. Everyone seems to have the same kind of reverence for this little patch of peace. I hope it remains that way.

What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans. — Evo Morales, president of Bolivia

I’ve been thinking about this idea of personifying Earth as mother, provider, nurturer.

Mother Earth feeds me, she warms me, she holds me. There is nothing in my life materially that didn’t come from her.

We may think of God as the giver of all good gifts, but even so, it is through our planet, our environment, that all these gifts arise. She surrounds us with predictable laws, feeds us, clothes us and dazzles us with her beauty.

When we recognise the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection; love is born. — Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist

Surely those statistics about American children can’t be true of Kansas kids. Aren’t they busy raising calves and rabbits in 4-H and helping out on the farm?

But if your kids aren’t spending lots of time outside, I suggest you kick ’em out and let them discover the wonders of the great outdoors. If you take them to my secret hideaway, remember to listen for Mother’s quiet voice.

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on March 28, 2015.

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Metaphors for Holocaust

Republican Rep. Dick Jones, of Topeka, said that abortion-rights supporters are committing “a holocaust against fetuses” during a hearing March 9 by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee on what’s being called “dismemberment abortion,” the procedure during which a fetus, usually in the second trimester, is cut into pieces before removing it from the womb.

It sounds grisly, and I’m sure it is.

Nobody is for that; nobody wants to think about it, read about it or take part in it. Because it’s so disturbing, it gets our attention.

But should it be compared to the Holocaust — the elimination of 6 million Jews, as well as Gypsies, some Poles and Russians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals and others whose political or idealogical ideas weren’t in line with the Nazis?

Obviously, the comment was made to demonize anyone who would defend such a practice.

The science concerning when fetuses can feel pain is unclear and complex. Laws banning abortion at 20 weeks after conception under the contention that fetuses can feel pain by that point have been enacted in a dozen states since 2010.

But Dr. Nicholas Fisk, a senior maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital in Australia, and a former president of the International Fetal Medicine and Surgery Society, said neurological research has convinced him that pain “is not possible at all” before 24 weeks gestation.

Even so, according to a New York Times story, fetuses do receive anes-thesia during an abortion, when it is given to the woman during the procedure. Dr. Scott Adzick, a fetal surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said that “fetuses receive muscle relaxants and narcotics.” The drugs that are given to prevent maternal pain also immobilize the fetus and relax the uterus.

No anesthesia was given to Holo-caust victims when they labored, were starved, or gassed or burned to death. And as fully formed adults and children, there’s no question they experienced the pain inflicted on them.

But if we want to compare suffering to that seen during the Holocaust, maybe there’s a set of pain-feeling creatures that fit the metaphor better.

Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, who was a Holocaust victim sent to Dachau, wrote in his “Dachau Diaries,” “I believe as long as man tortures and kills animals, he will torture and kill humans as well — and wars will be waged — for killing must be practiced and learned on a small scale.”

A story we ran last week talked about how the “meat industry is seeing red” over new dietary guidelines that recommend people eat less red and processed meat.

Meat executives say red meat is rich in nutrients and helps people get enough protein in their diets. And processed meat is often lean, they say.

But the notion that we need to eat meat to get enough protein is simply not true. According to the Food and Nutrition Board, Americans eat about twice as much protein as needed. The American Dietetic Association has said that vegetarians and vegans “meet and exceed requirements” for protein. Too much animal protein in a diet is linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones, heart disease and some cancers.

Of course the meat industry wants us to eat more meat. But not because they’re worried about our well-being.

In terms of pain and suffering, consider these conditions for nearly all factory-farmed animals in the U.S. today (as listed on the ASPCA website):

Battery Cage: A wire cage roughly the size of a file drawer in which up to 10 egg-laying hens are housed. These cages are arranged in rows and stacked several levels high. Outlawed in California (effective 2015) and Michigan (effective 2019).

Similar to the quarters in concentration camps.

Branding: The practice of burning or freezing an identifying mark onto the body of an animal using an extremely hot or extremely cold iron stamp, or “brand,” pressed into the animal’s flesh for several seconds. It’s typically performed without anesthetic.

Prisoners at Auschwitz were tattooed with serial numbers.

Castration: All piglets and 88 percent of beef calves raised in the U.S. are castrated, commonly performed without anesthesia.

Homosexual prisoners were often castrated.

Gestation Crate: A 2-by-7-foot concrete-floored and metal-barred crate in which factory farms confine female breeding pigs during their four-month pregnancies. The crates prevent sows from turning around and engaging in a wide variety of other natural behaviors. Just before giving birth, the sows are removed from their gestation crates and placed in a similar-sized farrowing crate for birth and nursing. After a few weeks of nursing, the piglets are removed and the sows are placed back in a gestation crate for another pregnancy.

Again, in prison camps, quarters were extremely overcrowded; pregnant women were often gassed or treated brutally. Homosexuals were often put in tiny cells alone.

This is a tiny portion of the ASPCA list and doesn’t include the kinds of cruelties that can occur in transit (Holocaust victims were transported in cattle cars) nor at the slaughterhouse.

The metaphor isn’t perfect, I realize; the Nazis didn’t eat their captives. But animals do feel pain and distress. Some live in wretched conditions for their entire lives.

Like abortion, all of it is legal. Like the Holocaust, maybe someday we’ll wonder how man could be so blind and cruel.

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on March 21, 2015.

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Prostitute or victim

What’s the difference between a prostitute and a 17-year-old who is being trafficked by nefarious criminals?

For the young woman confronted by law enforcement, there is a huge difference in the way she is treated in the legal system if she is seen as a prostitute rather than a victim.

I went to a well-attended workshop on human trafficking a week and a half ago at First United Methodist Church. The subject has interested me for many years. While I was never trafficked, I have had experiences of sexual and physical abuse in my life, so I feel a certain affinity with young women who find themselves in tough circumstances from which there seems to be no escape and around which there is so much shame.

According to the Kansas Department of Children and Families, Kansas is a hub for traffickers and their victims, partly because of major interstates and highways in Kansas that crisscross in the center of the country. Eighty percent of trafficking victims are girls, with the average age of initial exploitation between 12 and 14 years old. Trafficked children younger than 12 are frequently exploited by family members, often by a parent using drugs, sometimes when the mother is also a victim of human trafficking.

Kansas has taken long strides in recognizing that even the words we use to describe those involved in sex crimes have to reflect what’s really happening: Any person younger than 18 involved in sex acts is a victim, not a prostitute, even if she (or he) acts like a willing participant.

Most promoters (or pimps), I learned, have just a ninth-grade education or less. But they can make $250,000 to $500,000 a year off their victims. Most buyers (or johns) are white, middle-class married males.

In 2011 in Kansas, there were 359 misdemeanor arrests made in connection with prostitution. Only 12 percent of those arrests were for promoting, 15 percent were for buying, but 73 percent of the arrests were for those providing the “service.”

Kansas has come a long way in fighting human trafficking, I’m glad to report. In 2011, Kansas earned an “F” grade from Shared Hope International, an organization that rescues and supports girls and women nationally and around the world who are caught up in human trafficking.

That grade was raised to a “C” in 2013. The designation is calculated by evaluating each state’s provisions for criminalization of minor sex trafficking, criminal provisions addressing demand, criminal provisions for traffickers and facilitators, and protective services for child victims. Shared Hope’s state grading sets a national standard to fight domestic minor sex trafficking.

In early 2013, Gov. Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt proposed a crackdown on sex trafficking and child sexual exploitation in the state by increasing fines and penalties in an effort to lessen demand.

Kansas now takes a victim-centered approach so that children found in trafficking situations are taken to a safe location, are carefully evaluated and get counseling and other services in an effort to find long-term solutions. Does she need medical or psychiatric attention? What about housing — is there a home to go back to safely or a relative she could stay with?

Tougher penalties are in place for promoters and buyers of sexual relations. Even hotels and motels can be prosecuted if young victims are found engaging in sex acts on the premises.

A human trafficking victim assistance fund provides support for victims; it’s funded with fines paid by those convicted of trafficking and related sex crimes.

One of the most important aspects to be aware of is the invisible, secretive nature of the sex industry. Medical professionals, teachers, even neighbors are called on to identify possible victims of exploitation: Does a minor have a “boyfriend” who is noticeably older? Is a young woman with someone who seems controlling? Is there a sudden change in behavior or attire? Has a student been missing from school?

I was so encouraged by the full room of professionals at the workshop. Some have been working for decades to eradicate human trafficking.

One organization represented there is called The Homestead. It’s a residential house that supports women who have left the sex industry. The shelter, a ministry of Westview Community Church in Manhattan, offers life-skills training, education, job apprenticeships, professional counseling, health care, self-defense training and Bible study. A woman with the program happened to be sitting next to me at the workshop. She said she and others from The Homestead go to strip clubs as part of their outreach to bring gifts and roses to women working in the sex industry.

While women at a strip club on any given night may or may not be involved in human trafficking, I found The Homestead’s approach a refreshing change in perspective toward young women who get little help or encouragement from their community.

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on March 14, 2015.

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A different kind of Top 10

This past Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, where I usually hang out on Sunday mornings, the topic of discussion during the forum hour (basically adult Sunday school) was Refugees from Christianity. Many Unitarian Universalists (often referred to as “UUs”) have a Christian background. Up for discussion were the values we learned during our earlier years in church — did those values hold up after we left our Christian churches? And which Scripture passages were our favorites — which ones did we still go back to for understanding, comfort or wisdom?

Early in the discussion, our facilitator passed around a sheet of Ten Non-Commandments.

Where did that come from? Well, an executive at Airbnb and a humanist chaplain at Stanford University, Lex Bayer and John Figdor, respectively, got together to write a book called “Atheist Heart, Humanist mind.” According to an article on, “Bayer said the book forced him to clarify and articulate his own beliefs, and he thought others could benefit from doing the same.”

They asked atheists to offer what they thought were the most important ideas to live by, and they offered $10,000 — $1,000 per commandment — to the winning submitters.

There were more than 2,800 submissions, from 18 countries and 27 U.S. states, and 13 judges picked the Top 10.

Here are the winners:

1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.

2. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.

3. The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.

4. Every person has the right to control of their body.

5. God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.

6. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.

7. Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.

8. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.

9. There is no one right way to live.

10. Leave the world a better place than you found it.

That’s quite a bit different from the Christian commandments. You know them, right? Here they are, abbreviated for space:

1. I am the Lord your God … . You shall have no other gods before Me.

2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image — any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;

3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

5. Honor your father and your mother.

6. You shall not murder.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

8. You shall not steal.

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house … nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

Sam Harris, the atheist neuroscientist and author, wonders whether people are familiar with the punishment for breaking the commandments:

“What, after all, is the punishment for taking the Lord’s name in vain? It happens to be death (Leviticus 24:16). What is the punishment for working on the Sabbath? Also death (Exodus 31:15). What is the punishment for cursing one’s father or mother? Death again (Exodus 21:17). What is the punishment for adultery? You’re catching on (Leviticus 20:10). While the commandments themselves are difficult to remember (especially since chapters 20 and 34 of Exodus provide us with incompatible lists), the penalty for breaking them is simplicity itself.”

In his book “Letter to a Christian Nation,” Harris offers the central precept of the Jains as a superior list of rules, encapsulated in a single sentence: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.”

Jainism is an ancient religion of India, the core teaching of which is concern for the welfare of every being in the universe, including animals and plants.

Personally, I think we could get by with the Golden Rule: “Treat others (including animals) the way you’d like to be treated.” I also especially like No. 10 in the Non-Commandments: “Leave the world a better place than you found it.” That’s a tall order indeed, considering the amount of damage and detritus we leave in our wake as we pollute the air with our vehicles and factories, dispose of our trash in mountainous piles and send islands of plastic out to the oceans.

Christians need not worry that the world would go to hell in a handbasket if the nonreligious commandments were adopted by most of the world. A story on our Religion page a few weeks ago verified what many of us already knew: that children raised in secular families turn out just fine.

According to Vern Bengston, who has overseen the Longitudinal Study of Generations — the largest study of religion and family life — for nearly 40 years: “The vast majority (of secular parents) appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and a sense of life having a purpose.”

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on March 7, 2015.

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Be here now … get smarter!

Mindfulness meditation is continuing to fill the news. Have you tried it yet?

As I’ve talked about before, it’s been shown to have a wide variety of benefits for the body. It’s also helpful in dealing with emotional ups and downs and is good for the brain, helping people focus and make decisions more easily.

The journal Developmental Psychology recently published results of a trial that showed that elementary school students got better math scores after they’d spent time doing mindfulness exercises. They also improved their social skills.

The program the kids were involved in is called MindUP, and it’s being used in schools across five continents, including in the U.S. and Canada.

In the study, 99 fourth- and fifth-grade public school students in British Columbia were divided into two groups. One group had four months of mindfulness exercises and the other group got four months of a “social responsibility” program that was already being used in public schools there.

The mindfulness group did a three-minute meditation three times a day, focusing on their breathing. They also did exercises that involved doing kind things for others and practicing thankfulness.

The study measured all kinds of things, such as behavioral assessments, cortisol levels, children’s accounts of their own well-being, reports from their peers about sociability and math scores.

The results were dramatic.

Children with the mindfulness classes had 15 percent better math scores, and they were 24 percent less aggressive. They also did better than their peers in stress levels, emotional control, optimism and empathy, among other positive outcomes.

“Doing these kinds of programs in school does not take away from academics,” said Kimberly Schonert-Reichla, a co-author of the study. “It adds to a growing research literature that’s showing, actually, these kinds of programs and practices increase academic gains. By adding this on, you not only create more academically capable, successful students, but actually create more caring, less stressed, kind students.”

Can we get this going in Salina’s schools?

Some people have a hard time getting started with meditation. I know it’s not easy at first.

First, there’s that odd feeling of sitting down and doing nothing. We just don’t do that. We tend to sit down and eat, sit down and call someone, sit down and read, sit down and get on the computer or watch TV — anything but sit down and do nothing.

“There’s got to be more to it than that,” we think to ourselves. “Surely this is a complete waste of time … and I’ve got lots to do, and I’d better get up and get going before this day gets away from me. I’ve gotta get something done!”

Then, there’s the persistent thought, “Am I doing this right?”

“Really? I’m just supposed to sit here? What good does that do? I’m sure other people get something out of this, but my brain just doesn’t shut off like that.” (It’s not supposed to.)

And some people just feel uncomfortable alone with their own thoughts. It’s an acquired taste.

Well, no time like the present. Let’s try it.

First, how about you take a nice breath or two, however that feels comfortable. … (Wherever you see an ellipsis (…), just pause for a brief moment.)

Feel your breath filling your lungs; feel your chest rise and fall, your belly expanding and sinking. Do you feel the cool air as it enters your nose? And the slightly warmer air as you breathe out?

Imagine there’s a string tethered above, pulling gently on the top of your head, so that your head feels a little like it’s floating above your shoulders. …

How’s your posture? See that your spine is straight but relaxed.

Notice your face — your forehead, eyes, cheeks, jaw — just let your face soften and relax.

What about your neck and shoulders? How do they feel? Are they loose and relaxed, or tight, or somewhere in between?

Now your arms and your hands, resting however they are. …

Notice how you’re seated and note your posture again, relaxed but upright.

Notice how your thighs, calves and feet are situated. …

What about the temperature in the room: Do you feel warm, or cold, or just about right?

What do you hear? How many different sounds can you pick up in your space; what about outside your space? What’s the farthest sound you can hear? …

And back to the breath. Notice the chest rising and falling, the belly expanding and sinking and the cool air in your nose and the slightly warmer air coming out. Focus on wherever you feel the breath the most. …

Notice that the breath constantly changes from moment to moment, yet it’s relatively steady and ordinarily completely unremarkable, while absolutely central to our lives.

Well, there you are, you’ve meditated. If you read at an average adult American rate of speed, 300 words per minute, and observed the pauses, you’ve meditated for about 2 minutes. Just continue like this, if you like, and as thoughts come up, and they will, over and over again, just go back to noticing your breath. That’s it.

You’re no doubt smarter and nicer already.

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on February 21, 2015.

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Embracing my resistance

“Resistance is not something you should avoid. It’s something you should seek out.” — prolific author and entrepreneur Seth Godin

Whenever we feel resistance — that bit of fear mixed with excitement and nervousness — that’s when the best things in life can happen. In the interest of embracing that which I normally resist, I bring you my secret fear.

Roshana Ariel

This was taken the day after my 60th birthday.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in my life, I began to recoil from cameras whenever I saw them pointed anywhere near my direction.

I’m not the only one. Lots of people don’t like having their picture taken.

I have a friend who moved away a few years ago. She’s a lovely woman with a beautiful, warm smile, but in almost every picture I see of her on Facebook, she looks worried or pained. I think she must share my disdain for cameras.

People in some cultures still believe that cameras can steal a person’s soul. I’ve never worried about thievery. It’s more about humiliation.

The picture that has run with this column up until today was taken in February 2012 — the only one of 100 or so (I’m exaggerating a little) that I thought didn’t look horrible.

Every time we reach a five-year milestone around here, the Journal wants to congratulate us publicly by creating a full-page ad with all the “milestoners” for that year. Usually, they want a new picture taken for the congratulatory ad. Ask the photographers here: I’m the worst. They have to talk me down from the edge of an imaginary cliff and take numerous photos of me before I slink away in despair.

The truth is I’d rather have a root canal than have my picture taken. The result is that I usually end up looking like I’m in pain.

Part of the problem, of course, is that we normally look at ourselves in a mirror, where we see a backwards image. It’s called the “mere exposure effect”: Repeated exposure of something leads to a more positive feeling about it. Therefore, I feel better about my mirror image than my “real” image.

Symmetry is a big factor in being handsome or beautiful. And if your face is symmetrical, you appear more “normal” in pictures because the image is close to what you see in the mirror. It also helps to have features that align with the Golden Ratio: 1.618033. You can find “masks” online that show where your eyes, nose, mouth and chin should be to be considered classically beautiful. Few of us qualify.

I have one droopy eyelid from a scar I got when I was about 4. I was climbing a chest of drawers to try to reach a globe on top and I fell with a bang, hitting my head on the edge of a drawer.

I remember hearing my brother say to the baby sitter, “Oh, don’t worry about her; she always cries for no reason.”

When I came out of the bedroom sobbing with blood dripping down my face, even my brother looked shocked. I’m sure the baby sitter was relieved I hadn’t poked my eye out on her watch.

During a recent visit, my son, Kris, took about 100 pictures of me (I’m exaggerating just a little). He’s an excellent photographer, and I figured if I can’t relax around him, I’m hopeless.

But even then, I was laughing nervously and talking a mile a minute to try to calm down, and continually being caught in some strange contortion. (Journal photographer Tom Dorsey says that a lot of people yammer when they’re getting their picture taken, and that’s what makes for contorted faces.)

I finally blurted out that I needed a sentence, or mantra, to drown out the unhelpful “I hate this!” recording playing in my head.

Kris offered, “This is the best photo of me that’s ever been taken, and I can’t believe how easy it was.”

“Perfect,” I said, and repeated it over and over to myself.

The next day, after he left, I went through the photos, one by one.

“Agghh …” “Blech …” “Yikes … .”

I marked a few of them “maybe.” And then something funny happened as I continued to go through them, and crop, tone and export them to a folder for a trial in the Ariel View picture box.

The “real” me started to look more normal instead of warped. I guess the “mere exposure effect” was finally taking hold, at least a little. And today, I’m embracing my resistance and “facing” my fear.

Do you have a favorite? Send me an email and let me know.

— This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on Feb. 14, 2015.

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This week will be hard to top

This past week will be hard to top. Anytime my son flies out from China to visit, it’s a great week. And this was a spur-of-the moment kind of thing.

If you’ll remember, I revealed last week that I turned 60 on the 31st. When I told my son, Kris, over FaceTime (a video phone app) that I planned to have a few friends over to celebrate, he said that maybe he’d come, too. And while he was at it, he might as well plan a trip to Minnesota to see my sister and spend a few days in Lawrence to see friends as well. Ah, youth … he’s 37 but has the energy of a 20-year-old.

From door to door, a one-way trip is about 36 hours long: from Kunming to Beijing, then Beijing to Chicago, and finally Chicago to Wichita and the late-night drive from Wichita to Salina.

I put Kris in charge of lights and music for my party. While I had finally strung up my outdoor holiday icicles during the summer-like weather of the week prior, I had Kris string up lots of shimmery lights inside the house, outlining my bay window and a couple of archways.

I like them so much, I think I’ll leave them up indefinitely.

While I was going through a closet earlier in the week, I came across some photos that I had sent my parents throughout the years when my little family lived in California and Hawaii, including several baby pictures that Kris had never seen.

As he looked through old photo boxes, Kris put aside a number of pictures and made a “This is Your Life” kind of highlights reel of me at various ages. Then he played the slideshow during my party. Of course, we all laughed at the big hair and other style changes through the decades, and there were a few photos that were downright cringeworthy. But when I complained, he said, “Come on, Mom, you’re supposed to be embarrassed at least a little.”

We kept a fire going during the chilly night and kept the beer and wine flowing. My favorite is a chocolate stout by Boulder Beer called Shake, but another beer is currently vying for my affection. It’s appropriately called Birthday Beer, No. 106, by Shiner, and it’s another chocolate stout. Whoever figured out that chocolate and beer go well together is a genius.

A favorite part of the evening was the “Pimp my Cake” activity. (“Pimp” in this case is the informal definition: “Make something more showy or impressive.” The word was popularized in an MTV show called “Pimp my Ride.”). A wonderful friend brought a carrot cake from Gourmet to Go with its yummy cream cheese frosting, along with all the accessories — colored icing, sprinkles, decorating bags and tips — to create designs and write funny things on top.

My son wrote “happy birthday” in Chinese characters. A science nerd wrote my age in base 2 … I think; there were lots of ones and zeros in a line. Others decorated it with colorful flowers and whimsical swirls. Then I got a hearty chorus of “Happy Birthday to You” and blew out the candles. I forgot to make a wish, but I couldn’t have wished for a better celebration with friends and the kiddo in my house.

Booda, my cockapoo, did two rounds of tricks, to great applause (he can sit, shake, lie down, roll over, play dead, and flip a biscuit off his nose and catch it). And Mason, the cat, showed his affection by biting those who dared to play with him. Then he prowled around the cake and nearly got some.

While Kris was here, we got a VIP tour of Chad Kassem’s mighty Acoustic Sounds facility, where we watched LPs being created out of vinyl pellets, and spent time in a room with super-high-end audio gear listening to a 1930s Louis Armstrong album and Miles Davis’ remastered “Kind of Blue.” We could close our eyes and imagine the musicians right there in the room with us, the sound was so clean.

It’s like when you drive far out into the desert and listen to the silence. You can’t imagine how quiet it can be until you’re out there in the middle of nowhere and you can hear your own heart beat. This music was so clean, you could practically see the musicians sweat, and almost smell them, too.

It’s hard to say goodbye to my kid and send him off on his next adventures. He’s always been a golden child, happening on serendipitous opportunities and meeting fascinating people.

And when everyone’s asleep on a plane flying from Beijing to Chicago in the middle of the night, he just happens to lift his window to see a spectacular display of the Northern Lights over the Arctic. And he gets out his camera gear, blocks out all the light from the plane’s cabin with his jacket and takes stunning photos so my friends and I can be delighted during my 60th birthday party.

How did I get so lucky to have such wonderful company on my journey through life?

 This column first appeared in the Salina Journal on Feb. 7.

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