Tag Archives: Sacrifice

Sacred Space: Finger Bones

My hands ache.

I am acutely aware of the weight and shape of every bone in my hand.

I can feel the tendons stretching and relaxing as my fingertips dance over the keyboard to write these words.  The movements, subtle though there are, carry their own slight discomfort to the pain centers of my brain.

The tenderness is unfamiliar, and irritating, and strangely welcome.

It means that I’ve actually been working.

***

These posts, in my Sacred Space series, are supposed to chronicle my efforts at building a small private temple on my property.

The tree, which I mean to carve, stands untouched.  The ground where the fire pit will eventually go, the fountain and small reflecting pool, the spiral walkways…,

It’s all still a grassy patch of nothing in particular.

The plans are there, but the time, and the will to begin, remain elusive.

***

I took half of the month of May away from my job.

Beltane was celebrated with fire and feast and a flurry of creative exertion, as I broke ground on a new workshop in the backyard.

There was digging, and then backfilling, and leveling.  Lumber and nails were unloaded and then transformed into floor and walls, and eventually many-jointed trusses arched overhead like the bones of some terrible beast.

I took a break from my job to do work, to build a place where I hope to do even more work.

And that probably seems just a little insane, in a world where vacation time is ideally spent in some sort of leisure activity – or even better, inactivity.

But while the job I go to every day puts bread on the table, it lacks true satisfaction.  I spend most of my time creating nothing, adding nothing of substance to the sum of my time on this planet.  I find, instead, that true satisfaction comes about when channeling an idea through the body and forcing it to take shape in the material world.

***

So I haven’t built my temple yet, but my workshop is almost done.

And maybe that’s not so bad, because I think a workshop is a sacred space in its own right.

The stories that my ancestors have passed down, about the gods we worship, tell us that they were not only masters of warfare, and magic, and healing.  The greatest of the gods, the ones who were heroes among their own immortal folk, were the masters of every art and craft.

At the woodworking bench, at the forge, at the loom and the wheel, wielding hammer and saw, and torch and trowel…, through hand and heart the very energy of creation is focused in the places where we make the things that will last beyond our fleeting lives.

We reshape the world in our image.

How better to honor the gods of our fathers?

***

My hands ache – and that is as it should be.

A hammer is scarred by every nail it strikes.

That is the sacrifice we make to change the world.

Even the bones in our hands can be a sacred space!

Lace your fingers together.

Do you remember the rhyme?

“Here is the church…here is the steeple…,”

This is the eleventh post in this wandering series, following the thoughts, planning and eventual construction of a small temple space on my property.  If you wish to follow along, you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.

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Filed under About this Blog, Modern Life, Philosophy, Religion, Sacred Space, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

Time in a Bottle

I was sitting outside the other day, nursing the last few moments of a fifteen-minute break from work, just watching the traffic flow by, when my phone vibrated in my hand.

I looked down to see a text message from my wife, letting me know that she had two hours to kill between appointments and wondering if I needed anything.

In the second it took to ponder my response, I felt the huge weight of all the things that I need to get done over the next few weeks suddenly looming over me.

“I need those two hours!  Just pack ‘em up and we’ll use them later.”

I waited a few seconds to see if she’d respond to my little joke, and then I went back to work.

I’d run out of free time.

endlesstime

We have some funny notions about time.

We do our best to borrow and save and steal it, as if it were some tangible resource that we could collect and hold on to.  It is not.

Our scientists and statisticians study and measure it, seeking to quantify it and gain some measure of control.  We have none.

And with increasing frequency, we personify it, assigning to it both motive and malice.

This last year of the Common Era, 2016, seemed for many, to have provided both terrible events and heartbreaking loss in a greater than normal abundance.  The response to this, among the mostly Christian population of North America, has been to dance right past the standard platitudes regarding their own supposedly omnipresent and omnipotent deity and his grand plan for everything, and instead to spew their frustrations upon the year itself.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I pointed out how woefully out of practice this society is when it comes to idolatry.  There could be no better example than that of these last few months, wherein we’ve once again ignored a whole army of perfectly serviceable gods and goddesses, preferring instead to invent a new one upon which to vent our collective spleen.

The road back to Polytheism will surely be filled with unexpected twists and turns, but this…,

People got mad at a unit of time, and a few nights ago they celebrated its death – with the same fervor I’d expect in a blood sacrifice.

Folks, please.

Those who Spin and Measure and Cut must be rocking with laughter.

thefates

To the vast disappointment of all the numerologists in the crowd, the numbers are completely arbitrary and don’t mean anything.

Which year was it, that was our dread enemy?

AD 2016 is the popular choice – but that’s what exactly, two thousand and sixteen years after the birth of a fellow who may have been the hebrew messiah, or entirely fictional, or possibly both.  And what scant evidence we have suggests that we missed the mark by no less than a half a dozen years.  So that number is pretty meaningless.

There are other suspects, but they’re not much better…,

It has been 2769 years since the Founding or Rome in the old calendar.  But that date was also selected several hundred years after the fact and is an extremely rough approximation, so…,

Maybe we should blame 4714 of the Chinese Calendar.  The Year of the Monkey sounds like something given to causing a lot of trouble.  But if that’s the case we’d better hold onto our hats, because we are still under the gun until January 28th when the Rooster takes over.

And I suppose old 5776 on the Hebrew Calendar could be a likely enough suspect.  But this one is supposed to be counting up from the year the following the Creation of the Heavens and the Earth as depicted in the Book of Genesis, which I find pretty weird, seeing as I’ve personally visited ruins that are at least that old and geologic sites that are tens of millions of years older.

The year is a figment of our imagination.  It is a crude attempt to force time into a bottle.

But the truth is that Two-Thousand and Sixteen didn’t kill anyone, didn’t elect anyone, didn’t bomb anyone, or starve them, or spray them with rubber bullets…,

We did those things.

And we will keep doing them until we learn not to.

And if our past is any guide to the future, the numbers on the calendar won’t make a damn bit of difference along the way.

We lost some amazing people recently, Carrie and David and Prince and what seems like a thousand others, bright and powerful souls who touched our lives.  Our hearts ache with their passing, but there is no need to cast blame.  The pain we suffer is the sacrifice we offer up for the privilege of knowing them.  And my gods, the price is worth it, because I can’t imagine what our lives might have been like without them!

Nothing ended at midnight on December 31st.  Nothing began at 12:01am.

The Earth continues upon its path around the Sun.

The Fates work diligently upon the threads of our lives.

And time keeps moving.

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Filed under Culture, Death, Holidays, Modern Life, Philosophy, Uncategorized

A Comprehensive List of All the Things Entirely Yours

Today is April the 15th, and for those of us in the United States, it is the last day to file our taxes (barring all the usual extensions and other means of putting the thing off, that is).

It’s a bit of a relief really.

Mine were dealt with weeks ago, but I’ll be glad to get a bit of a break from the complaints of my friends and neighbors.  Every year we seem to greet the spring with a rising chorus of, “They’re taking my money, they’re taking my money, they’re taking MY money….,” the inference being that your property is being stolen by people who don’t deserve it.

But does money equal property?

It’s not tangible.

The paper and the coins that fewer and fewer of us carry are nothing more than placeholders, effigies of a number which itself is a representation of a highly generalized valuation of the total output of goods, services, natural resources, expectations for future development, and compounded debt (yeah, let’s not forget about the debt), that is the product of our nation.

Which is to say that a dollar is worth nothing more than what we all agree it’s worth.

Money is not property.

Money is a social contract.

It’s the stuff that we’ve agreed to use instead of trading a clutch of chickens for a bolt of cloth.

You don’t own it.  It belongs to all of us.

And part of the price we all pay for using it, is that we agree to cycle a certain percentage of that which we have accumulated back to that body which does all the printing and tabulating for us.

If you’ve every tried to drive any distance with more than a few chickens in your car, you’d be glad to pay your share.

So, having come this far, I thought that, as a bit of a public service, I should just go ahead and list those things that, unlike the mighty dollar, really do belong to you.

Perhaps you will think of other things as well.  Feel free to suggest any additions in the comments below.

Land

Yeah, no.

Land does not belong to you.  I know, I know, you payed a bundle for it, and you slapped a fence around it and posted it with all kinds of big angry ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY’ signs, but really, no.  Your little patch of earth was here for hundreds of millions of years before you came along, and will be here again when the oldest of your decedents are nothing but dust.  At most, you are a temporary caretaker of those lands to which you hold the deed.

Looked at from this perspective, it becomes clear that instead of the land servicing OUR needs, we are responsible for its care and upkeep.

If anything, we belong to the land.  And we pay for the privilege!

Property

Okay, we’ve all got our stuff.  And it’s very nice stuff.  And we’re all very proud of it.  And eventually, with the exception of a few very nice or sentimental items, every bit of it ends up in the dump.

Do you still own a thing after you’ve thrown it away?

But sure, I guess we can put property on the list, even if fleetingly.

Children

Mmmm…, maybe while they’re still in the womb.

Honestly, the whole point of children is that they’re growing away from you bit by bit from the moment you have them.

Also, like it or not, the perspective with which society views us shifts dramatically when children come onto the scene.  Because “the children are the future” and with every day that passes they become a little less ours and we become a little more theirs.

What will they do with us in our dotage?  Which of our precious things will they allow us to retain?  Where shall they choose for us to live?

Our children, indeed.

We’ll hold the little ones tight and give them all the love we can, but let us not delude ourselves into thinking of them as truly ours.

Art

Ah the power of creation which we share with the gods themselves.  To take crude matter and shape it into the stuff of dreams and nightmares.  To write and rhyme and sing our ideas into being, bringing life and light into the hearts of our fellows.

To create art is to render a piece of yourself for all to share, and what could be more your own than something that is, by definition, an expression of your inner being and talent.

But does an idea, no matter how personal, belong to the artist who renders it for all to see?

Or does it become a shared commodity, with every viewer putting a little of themselves into it, seeing reflected there their own thoughts, their beliefs and biases.

Is art property?  Or is it the most deeply personal contribution one could make to the public good?

Our Thoughts

Yes!

We all have them.

Our thoughts and dreams, our fears and ambitions…,

They are ours, they exist only within us, and if we cling to them and keep them for ourselves, we can take them with us to the grave unsullied.

Congratulations!

I wonder though, what exactly is the value of a thought unexpressed?

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Simon’s Son

In the four years that I have been writing here, I have mentioned the Christian Holiday of Easter exactly once, and that time only in passing.

Typically, when Pagans post about Easter, what you get is either a rambling discourse on the pagan influences (eggs, rabbits, not quite forgotten goddesses of the Dawn) still visible in the modern celebration of that holiday, or you get a “correcting misinformation” post which seeks to set right all the shoddy research, presented as fact, that find their way into those aforementioned ‘rambling discourses’.

I have no interest in joining that particular tug-o-war.

It’s just not a holiday that I can get excited about one way or the other.  I find all those plush pastel rabbits to be irksome in the extreme and I can’t fathom why anyone would want to lay claim to them.  Those shopping mall Easter Bunnies, hoisting screaming children onto their laps are the things of nightmares.  And in the grocery store yesterday, I literally saw boxes of milk-chocolate crosses sitting on the shelves.  Who buys that for their child?

No, and thank you!

And as for the Easter story itself…, Over the years I’ve sat through more retellings of it than I can count, and mostly I just feel really bad for Jesus, if not for the obvious reasons.

Here’s a guy who dispenses so much wisdom and just generally good advice, and the entire time you know that generation upon generation of his supposed followers are going to focus on the mythology surrounding his dying and rising, while completely ignoring the vast majority of what he actually said while he was alive.

I’ve never been particularly moved by his sacrifice.  More, disappointed I guess.

No, there is really only one character in the Easter story that I find truly interesting: the Bible calls him Simon’s son, Judas Iscariot.

The Judas Kiss

Did I say character, and not person?

Let us see…, the Gospel of John first calls him a thief, and then explains that the devil entered him and caused him to betray Jesus to the temple priests in exchange for thirty pieces of silver.  One author has him giving the silver back after the deed is done, but in another book he uses it to buy a potters field.  Does he hang himself in remorse for his betrayal?  Or does he fall headfirst over a cliff, landing so hard that his guts burst open, soaking the ground in blood?

Oh yeah, I meant character.

It’s no secret that I’m not sold on an any of the folks in the Bible being more than loosely based on actual persons.  And it honestly doesn’t matter to me if they were real or not.

The story is the story, and the story is incredibly powerful.

It has shaped the world we live in, for better or worse, for the last two-thousand years.

And for me, as someone who was raised in that faith tradition, but has long stood outside it, looking in, I find the character of Judas to be far more compelling than the sacrificial hero that is the focus of the tale.

And the reason for this is that Judas, more than any other character in the Christian Holy Book, truly challenges the notion of free will in the face of an omnipotent god.

Did Judas go to Hell for betraying Jesus?

It is a question I’ve been asking since I was a child.  I actually remember my family debating the issue on more than one occasion, and never to a satisfactory conclusion.

Christians believe that the events leading up to and immediately following the crucifixion were foretold in various prophecies from the Old Testament.  Now, I’ve read some of those verses, and…, if the prophets are made to stand on their heads and jump through several moving hoops…, well sure, I guess you could say that it all kind of fits together.

Admitting, for the sake of argument, that this is true, then all of the events leading up to the Cross are necessary functions of God’s omniscience.  Judas MUST betray Jesus.  If he doesn’t the prophecies are worthless and the blood of the lamb does not wash away the sins of the world.

There is no need to slander his character by suggesting that he was stealing from the apostles money bag.  There is no need to suggest that he was a dupe for the devil.

He was doing his job, as preordained by the knower and shaper of all things.

Or was he?

What if he truly did have a choice.

That means that he could have chosen not make a deal with the temple priests.  he could have refrained from delivering that tell-tale kiss, and Jesus might have made it through his Passover visit to Jerusalem unscathed.  God’s grand plan for the redemption of mankind might have taken an entirely different turn, or it might have been thwarted entirely.

“Ah,” my critics will say, “but Judas DID make his choice, as God knew he would when presented with that situation.”

To which I say, “that’s manipulative bullshit unworthy of anyone calling themselves the ‘Most High’.”  Seriously, that’s right up there with ‘hardening Pharaoh’s heart’ so that he’ll stick it out while his people suffer through yet another plague.

Punishing someone for something you made them do is the height of injustice.

So if the Christian God is a being both omnipotent and morally just, Judas was equally as important to the great plan as Jesus himself, and no punishment should be given.

If the Christian God is not omnipotent, Judas had a choice and may indeed be suffering eternal torment, but the whole grand plan for the salvation of mankind is reduced to a series of unfortunate events, and that’s not going to go over very well with the faithful.

So which is it?

Are the characters in the Easter story simply unwitting cogs in someone else’s melodrama?

Are we all?

Or does each of us have the godlike power to shape the course his or her own destiny, while the gods themselves sit and watch and hope for the best.

I wonder sometimes, if that kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane revealed more and deeper truths than the authors, whoever they were, might have hoped.

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There are plenty of ways to die.

We are, as a species, both fearful and fascinated by death.  And the more time passes, the more we push back against certain boundaries, the more interconnected we become, the more preoccupied we seem to grow with the most unlikely of threats to our well being.

We spend too much of our time living in obscure ‘what-ifs’ and not enough in the now.

We give ourselves over to fear, and we grow smaller in the bargain.

So let’s take a moment and go through it.


The vast majority of us will succumb to simple mechanical failure…,

Hearts stop ticking.
The vessels grow clogged with gunk.
Oxygen delivery becomes less than efficient.
The lightning in our minds that form thought and feeling becomes turbulent.


Most of the rest of us will fall to some kind of disease…,

Infections that taint the blood or clog the lungs.
Cancers that turn our own cellular building blocks against us.


Your next most likely exit is through simple accident…,

Our balance fails us.
We regularly handle objects which are sharp or heavy.
Often we run and jump and fly and drive, because these are the things of living.
And sometimes it is the living that kills us.


A tiny few of us have our lives taken away by another…,

War takes some.
Acts of terrorism account for a handful.
But far more often, it is our own neighbors who kill us.
Or the people we love best.


There are plenty of ways to die, and the statistics don’t lie.

But we see big flashing numbers on the news and we are convinced that the thing which is least likely to take us, is the thing waiting just around the corner to do us in.  We become convinced that someone is coming for us, someone wants us dead, the knives are sharpening, the explosives are being wrapped in duct-tape, there are clocks and triggers and backpacks and high profile targets and you’d better be safe and you’d better stay safe and you’ll never be safe…!

You’ll never be safe because we are going to die.

But any one of us is 35,000 times more likely to die of a heart attack than we are in a terrorist attack.  Yet, by and large, I don’t see that many of us suddenly laying off the cheese-burgers.

Which brings us to another way to die, one I haven’t mentioned yet.

Sometimes we kill ourselves…,

And here is one place where I think the statistics DO lie, because it’s not always as straight forward as a gun to the head or an overdose of prescription meds.  Sometimes, yes, we kill ourselves all at once.  But more and more I think we’ve begun to do it so slowly that we don’t even know it’s happening.

People won’t give up eating fatty foods, but they’re sure wiling to give themselves over to fear.

Some of us can’t face a world full of (mostly imagined) boogymen without the security blanket of a weapon in our pocket.

Some of us would rather not face the world at all, when it’s so much safer to just sit in our homes and watch the news and fret about all the growing dangers outside.

And here lately, all too many of us are happy enough to switch off the very traits that make us human: our sense of compassion, our willingness to endure personal sacrifice to ease the hardship of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

Make no mistake folks, we have become a culture which is living in fear.

And I don’t think I’d call that ‘living’ at all.

I find it disheartening that in this season of thanksgiving, when we are urged to count our many blessings, that bravery and generosity of spirit do not seem to number among them.

There are plenty of ways to die.

The real question is, in the long run, will we be able to live with ourselves?

Refugeess

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Approaching Change

Sometimes I sit down to write these posts and I know exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it.

There may be some notes I’ve jotted down, or links to some relevant website containing information I plan to reference.  There may be a few books stacked up with torn envelopes stuck in them, marking pages or passages I want to look back on while writing.  And if you ever found yourself driving alongside me, on one of those weeks, you might look over to see me talking to myself, as I run again and again over how I want a particular idea to read and sound.

Those weeks have become increasingly rare.

More often, I start out with a fairly good idea of what it is I’ll be writing about, but it is not until I get into the actual business of putting it down that the true objectives reveal themselves.

Sometimes this involves a long protracted battle, rewrite after rewrite until the thing is battered into a form which, if not entirely pleasing to me, is at least satisfactory.  Frequently, this battle is won (or lost) at some disreputable hour of the morning, just shy of the intended publication time.

And then there are those magical nights when I sit down to write and the muses come and work their will upon me.  In these rare moments I experience the same euphoric energy that I used to feel while painting or sculpting, and the words seem to flow out of me and onto the page.

Reading that last paragraph back, it sounds as if I’m saying the process is effortless.

It is nothing of the sort.

The words, the images and ideas: they flow — like blood from an open vein.

And when it happens, it is as exhausting as it is exhilarating, because I…, because WE are tapping into the power of creation.

We’ve all heard the phase, “Putting yourself into your work.”

When we write a story, when we make art, or perform, or invent…, and when we do it as an act of passion, we put a bit of ourselves into that thing we are making.

For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, think of it like a Horcrux, except that no one had to die in the making of it.  You’ve given the thing you made a life of its own, and in the bargain, you will live forever, through the things you create.

This is a power that we share with the gods.

Temple Raven

Sometimes I sit down to write these posts and I know exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it.

This is not one of those posts.

I started us off with just two words – Approaching Change.

I guess I was hoping that the muses would take it from there.  But I’m not feeling it tonight.

Perhaps my intention was to discuss changes great and small that I feel in the air.

Samhain is nearly upon us and it is at this time of the year we are most aware of the great wheel in its turning.

The Pagan and Polytheist movements appear to be gaining some small traction, even as other forces work desperately to roll the clock back to some imagined golden age.  The politics of the day seem to have become increasingly fractured and divisive.  Our next-door neighbors have become strangers, while our ability to inspire, and to be inspired, by people in far away lands has become almost second-nature.

This is indeed a time of great changes, I have no doubt.

What I do doubt is my own ability to roll with those changes, to be have a voice in them, to add my own small creative power to that of so many others in this ongoing act of creation.

The muse I spoke of comes too infrequently these days.

My work schedule is too chaotic.

My sleep is haphazard.

My ‘free’ moments are too choked with worry over financial obligations, and not enough time spent making art or traveling, reading or building.

And always on the edge of my vision there is a project which is currently beyond my resources, my skill, my reach…, and always will be unless I begin to make some real changes of my own.

And what better time to begin (or is it continue?) that process than in the cool shadows of Samhain, when the dead and the living – the past and the present – mingle and become one.  The old torch sputters and dies, and a new light is born out of the darkness.

I’ve talked a great deal about sacrifice in these pages.

The time has come again for me to make a few of my own.

And that begins right here.

This is the 179th post I have published since April of 2012.

When I started, I never expected I would last so long.

Next week, on Monday, November 2nd. I will publish post number 180

And that will mark my last regular post here…, for a while.

I’m not done here, not by a long shot.  This blog has always been a means to an end, but my writing here has begun to drift away from the original intent and it is high time I made a course correction.  Without the self-imposed weekly deadline, I can turn my attention to other areas, other changes and projects that, it is my deepest hope, I will chronicle here.

If you have stuck with me this long I hope you will hold on a little bit longer.

The road gets twisty up ahead.

Time to make a decision: hit the breaks or step on the gas.

Approaching Change.

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Filed under About this Blog, Art, Holidays, Philosophy, Spiritual Journey

A Strange Kind of Sacrifice

I am reminded of a summer afternoon several years back.

I was working as a designer in the offices of a magazine located some miles north of Fort Worth.  It was a slow day, just past lunch-time, when someone burst in excitedly to tell us that there was a guy walking down the freeway, bearing a cross.

“You mean like a little cross, or…,”

“No, like it’s a full sized cross!  Like ACTUAL size.”

There was a moment then, when we all kind of looked at each other and a silent communication passed around the circle, “well, it’s not like we have anything better to do.”  And so we piled into a couple cars and went to go see the guy with the cross.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, of course.

In a perfect world we might have found Trigun’s Nicholas Wolfwood wandering in from No Man’s Land.

Wolfwood Trigun

What we got instead was a bit more like this.

Wheeled Cross

Not this guy exactly.  I didn’t have a camera on me at the time (these events transpired in that misty age before the smartphone).  But it was a guy very much like the one pictured above.  There are, apparently, a lot of them out there, wandering the roadways of America.

Certainly the cross was the same.

When we caught up with him, he talked with us about the message he was hoping to give folks as they passed him on the freeway.  He told us how he hoped that his sacrifice would remind them of the one which Jesus made for them on the cross.

“My sacrifice,” he said.

I remember looking at the apparatus he carried on his shoulder.  The padding where the planks of wood intersected, the wheel…,

His cross had a wheel!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it was heavy.  Long before the gig at the magazine, I worked in construction.  I’ve spent long days hauling lumber around in the hot sun, and I remember how it makes you feel at the end of the day.

Now I think about it, might have been less work for us all, if the lumber had come with wheels.

So, as I continue to hear more and more about Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay couples…, as I see people who I otherwise respect crying out over her jailing for contempt of court, and calling her a modern martyr in the ongoing War on Christians…, in my minds eye I see that silly little wheel rolling through weeds and gravel along the side of a busy highway.

And I think to myself, “what a strange kind a sacrifice.”

And I wonder, “is this what you think martyrdom looks like, in the 21st Century?”

Because there are places in the world where Christians really are persecuted for their faith, but the United States of America is not one of them.  But if you need a reminder of what martyrdom looks like, I’d have you think back to the events of a certain painful morning, some 14-years ago this week.

We have seen innocents sacrificed by religious fundamentalists who believe that our secular culture, with its hedonism and moral relativism, is degenerate and cursed in the eyes of God.

9/11 Memorial

These folks seem so harmless, just pulling their little wheeled crosses around the highways and byways…, stage a protest here, fiddle with a textbook there, milk the 15-minutes of fame you get for refusing to do your job…,

It would be all too easy to ignore them, and even the gods must know just how very tired I am of talking about these people.

If only their rhetoric were not so chillingly familiar.

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