A Prayer to My Countrymen in Ugly Times

My friends in the USA, there is so much ugliness being shoved in our faces on a national level at the moment… the ugliness of injustice, murders, racism, etc. (not to mention the social polarity brought on by the current election cycle). Unfortunately, that ugliness is real. It seems overwhelming. Still, it MUST, in its varied forms, be addressed and hopefully corrected, systemically from the top down and from the ground up.
 
BUT, there is still so much beautiful going on around us. You won’t much see it on the news, you won’t much hear about it on the radio. In this present America, you have to tune your attention to it as an act of will. Just walking around in Indianapolis with my kids yesterday, I saw the beautiful at work in my fellow humans, ordinary humans, on the streets, and we were able to be a part of it. It wasn’t in everyone, but it was in most people. My kids and I also got to be part of an amazing moment between several of us. It wasn’t a planned “event.” Just humans being humans to one another. Friends were made of strangers, and those strangers were not even the same color. Personal stories, help, and hopes were exchanged. No hashtags or clickbait articles were necessary to make it happen. Only beating human hearts and willing minds. It gave me some real hope for humanity in the day to day, at ground level.
 
That said, this is my admonition, first to myself and then to my friends. Hell, even as I secular person I don’t mind calling it a “prayer”… a prayer that WE will have to answer ourselves: Please don’t let the ugliness that dwells in some places and in some people around you turn YOU ugly in spirit. Yes, stand for the right and against the wrong. Speak and act (peacefully) against it. Yet, never forget that there is more light shining through we who are good than darkness manifesting through those who are bad. Don’t let the darkness of “them” dim the light of “us.” The “us” who are found among all colors, creeds, and countries. If ever we needed to be, we need to be countrymen, fellow citizens, friends, and most of all, lovers of one another in this present day. In the words of my mom to me as a young boy, “Be careful that you do not become what you hate in this world.” One of the hardest things in this life is to have your heart broken, but not let it then turn into fractured stone.
 
There are some in this country who have the desire to fracture us all like broken glass along the contrived lines of their own selfish agendas. They hope to set us against one another via racial, political, gender, and ideological lines. That makes us weak and them strong. But, we must be countrymen and we must care for one another. We must care about our real flesh and blood fellow citizens above our own subjective ideologies. Please, tune your ears to the frequency of the common humans around you. Their hearts are beating a beautiful song. Let your own heart sing along.   -Luke
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Thank you for reading and sharing! I am an independent poet, author, and singer/songwriter and I have my own ebay business to keep me as flexible as possible. But, writing takes time and if you appreciate what I do, if you have been moved or made to think by my writing, OR have just enjoyed something on my blog, please throw a buck or two in my tip jar!:) Your kind contribution may buy me a cup of coffee out at my next writing session. Click my easy paypal “tip jar” link that follows and THANKS! -Luke
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Watch the World Burn (A Poem)

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“Watch the World Burn” -an original poem by Luke Austin Daugherty. Copyright: 2015 picture and words, all rights reserved. No use without the permission of the author.

As always, thank you for reading and sharing my posts. -Luke

The Sunday Sermon: Christopher Hitchens on Life, Death, and Free Will (Video)

Here is one minute and 15 seconds  worth of wisdom for you from the oracle on the street, Christopher Hitches.

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a prolific author, journalist, political critic, debater, and speaker. For more information, see this link:

http://http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Hitchens

I Poll Atheists- 97.6% Don’t Care if You Wish Them “Merry Christmas”

During the last few weeks I have had and also overheard multiple conversations about the supposed, “War on Christmas,” and how atheists supposedly hate people telling them, “Merry Christmas.” As an atheist myself who enjoys the Christmas season, I was curious what other atheists think about the situation. Personally, I have no problem with a person wishing me, “Merry Christmas, “Happy Holidays,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Merry Kwanzaa,” or, “Happy New Year.” So long as you are sincerely wishing me well in your own way, I am cool with that.

When I was enjoying a cup of coffee and reading some Carl Sandburg at Waffle House several days ago, I got to be a fly on the wall when a few employees had their own ideological battle over what phrase is appropriate this time of year. As a customer was leaving, their server said loudly, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” The customer answered in kind. A few moments later, another employee mocked the first server, “Christmas isn’t for four days! You don’t need to say, ‘Merry Christmas.’ You can just say, “Happy Holidays.’ It covers everything.” The first server then replied, “I can say, ‘Merry Christmas,’ if I want! It is my Constitutional right!” As the two went back and forth, another server joined in on the side of the non-“Merry Christmas” side and the first server got even more agitated. It ended with some dishware being tossed angrily into the sink bin and the second server announcing, “You say what you want! It’s your job!” with the implicit warning that saying, “Merry Christmas,” could get you fired.

After the conversation cooled down, I asked all three, “Does your company have a specified policy on what to say during the holidays?” All shook their heads in the negative and one replied, “No, I don’t think so.” I said, “Just for the record, I am an atheist, but, I have no problem with a person saying, ‘Merry Christmas,’ ‘Happy Holidays,’ or whatever to me during the season.” Oddly enough, the second and third servers from the previous conversation did not seem happy to hear my interjection. Yet, not upset enough to argue with me. I also asked the three of them if they had experienced any negativity from any customers to being told a particular holiday phrase. They all said, “No.” It was strange to see people getting so riled up about what seemed to be a non-issue. I felt like the ironic atheist, publicly defending, “Merry Christmas.”

With my interest peaked even more about the issue, I decided to poll some of my fellow atheists to see what they thought about it. I did an informal poll on two different secret atheist groups on Facebook that I participate in.

My poll was simple. I posted,

“I’d appreciate the Club’s help with an informal poll for a Christmas article I’m working on. Here is the question…

As an atheist, does it offend you when a stranger says, “Merry Christmas,” to you, rather than, “Happy Holidays” or something more generic for the season? Please start your response with, “Yes,” (that it does offend you) or, “No,” (that it doesn’t)”

I got responses from atheists from all over the United States and in multiple other countries. The responses totaled 84 votes between the two Facebook groups.

The results were:

– 82 atheists had no problem being wished a, “Merry Christmas.”

-2 said that the phrase did SOMETIMES bother them.

The two voting that the phrase was at times offensive to them added,

“Yes, sometimes, I do get offended, but only because I live in the south where everyone just always assumes everyone is Christian. I’m tired of always having to live by their rules. I also am aware that it’s a small thing that I don’t need to sweat, so don’t anyone go off on me.”

and, “Yes, depending on the person saying it. If they know me personally, then they know I’m an atheist and I would expect them to respect me enough to say happy holidays as I would do the same in return as my wish for them would reflect whatever religion they observe. From a stranger, no, doesn’t bother me at all.”

All said and done, over 97% of the atheists polled did not mind people telling them, “Merry Christmas,” at all. The two people who did find it offensive, only did under certain circumstances. Though my sample group was not very large, it did offer great variation in culture and geography. That said, I don’t think that the whole, “War on Christmas,” by atheists is everything the media cracks it up to be. Heck, the vast majority of the atheists polled even celebrate Christmas to some degree.

I have rarely every found an atheist that had any problem with another person’s personal expression of their own religious beliefs. But, we do tend to get upset when religious dogma is imposed via federal, state, or local government. As much as we value the rights of individuals, we also value the Constitutional restrictions regarding government pushing or showing preference to any religion. Again, I speak generally and not for every atheist in the world. We don’t all live on an island, have an atheist Pope, or think the same thing… and, we’re more like a herd of cats than a herd of sheep.

You have the right to say whatever holiday season well-wishing you want to people. They may like it or may not. Likely, they won’t even care.For me, I generally respond to a person with what they offered me. If, “Merry Christmas,” I respond with, “Merry Christmas.” If, “Happy Holidays,” I answer the same back. Still, I do think that, “Happy Holidays,” is the most comprehensive and inclusive benison. It includes all holidays and and excludes none. Yet, I know that some Christians feel excluded when not specifically blessed per their specifications. They don’t give much credence to the holidays of other faiths during this season and have tunnel vision for Christmas. Only wear that shoe if it fits. I am not trying to ruffle your feathers. Let each search their own conscience regarding this issue.

There is enough drama in life. There is no need to spend December pissing on one another’s holiday campfire and fighting battles that don’t exist. So cheer up! The, “War on Christmas,” is just a sham. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! And, have a great New Year!    -Luke

Bill Maher Show: Sam Harris vs Ben Affleck Debate- I’m with Sam on this one

Ideas should never be above criticism, particularly religious ones. Though I have great respect for Ben Affleck’s acting and humanitarian work, I have to go with Sam Harris on this debate. Islam not only leaves room for violence and oppression, its texts call for it. I am grateful that a great deal of the adherents to Islam, being around 1 billion in the world, have found a more nuanced way to view and practice their faith. Yet, many Muslims take the fundamental dictates of Islam regarding violence very seriously.

Affleck was impassioned in his challenge to Harris. Yet, his indignation, straw men, and non sequiturs added nothing to his argument.

There are several key points to consider about this issue:

1. Islam is not a “race,” rather, a religious ideology. Ideas are not above reproach or criticism. People deserve protection, rights, and respect. Ideas are made to be tested, discussed, debated, and even ridiculed. To quote Steven Brutus, “Anything that can’t be mocked is dangerous.” No idea, philosophy, or ideology should ever be off-limits from being battered like a pinata to see what ends up falling out, for better or for worse.

2. Islamic religious texts not only allow for violence against non-believers, but actually prescribe it. The portion of Muslims who put those admonitions into actual practice (or just agree with them) are not employing strained or fringe interpretations of those religious texts, but literal ones. For a list of such references, click the link: http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/cruelty/long.html

Not to single out Islam for possessing religious texts with a call to kill unbelievers, as there are plenty of similar verses in the Hebrew Bible & other religious texts. I am no fan of those either. But, it is Islam that is the matter of debate in the video above.

3. Any fundamental and violent faith text or system is an enemy of human progress. ANY text, religious or otherwise, that says, “Kill a person who does not agree with this,” is an abomination to humanity. Any or all texts deserve public condemnation. We should all support religious freedom and also the freedom NOT to be religious. But, that doesn’t include the right to harm, imprison, or kill others for not agreeing with you.

Muslims and Atheists the Most Coldly Viewed Groups in America Says New Pew Data

pew data

According to recent Pew research data, Muslims and Atheists are the least favored religious groups in America. Per the Pew data, Muslims and Atheists rated only a 40/41 on the cold side of the Pew “Warm-Cold” scale. Jews, Catholics, and Evangelical Christians rated on the warm side at a 63, 62, and 61. The middle ground of the scale was made up of Buddhists, Hindus, and Mormons ranking 53, 50, and 48.

One can argue that Atheists, such as myself, do not comprise a “religious group” as atheism is not a religion. But, religious polls only have so much room to make such distinctions.

Please click the link to view the complete Pew article online:

http://www.pewforum.org/2014/07/16/how-americans-feel-about-religious-groups/

Being that approximately 78% of Americans claim a Christian affiliation of some stripe according to 2008 Pew data, it is not so surprising that Muslims and Atheists are among the least regarded groups in the USA. It can be discouraging to know that the majority of Americans automatically have a generally negative feeling toward you if you fall into one of the two coldly viewed groups.

My advice is, take people one at a time as much as possible. Get to know someone a bit before you automatically dislike them. Perhaps even assume that you will like a person until they give you a reason not to. There is too much division in our Nation as it is. Many of us, even who are in different religious or ideological groups, can still find common ground and a point of solidarity between us. Hopefully, all groups can take a “warmer” view toward others of different groups and judge one another based on our individual character rather than our theological distinction.

Please take a moment to answer this poll below to share your own opinion. Thanks!

Are Atheists “Irrational”? Deconstructing Brad Stine’s Comedic Arguments

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            I noticed over the last week that several Facebook friends had shared a particular video clip of Christian comedian, Brad Stine. I then saw it popping up on other social media sites as well. So, as a lover of stand-up comedy, I decided to check the video out. Stine, who calls himself, “God’s Comic,” is a proud, Conservative Christian. I was not put off by the title, “Atheists are Irrational,” even though I am an atheist. I was interested to hear what all the hoopla was about and I clicked the link to the clip. Please watch the video yourself prior to reading the rest of my blog for proper context:

            It was interesting that a video which is nearly five years old is just now “blowing up.” I presume it must have been recently shared on some key social media sites and Interweb momentum just took over from there.

            Let me first say that I 100% support the 1st Amendment rights of all Americans for freedom of speech and religion, even when I disagree with them. I also value spirited discourse and debate on issues of religious ideology. I was a Christian minister for over fifteen years and I also very much “get” American Christianity. Now, as an atheist, that personal experience helps me to understand where believers are coming from.

            So, as I listened to Brad Stine’s amusing (to his audience) comedic rant, I was not surprised at all with his assertions, though I was underwhelmed by his arguments. I think if his arguments would have been stronger and more concise, I could have enjoyed the comedy more. But, as it was, his weak arguments were too distracting for me to embrace the comedic elements of his performance.

            I would like to frame up his primary arguments and provide some non-theistic answers to them. Being that his arguments were a bit “loose around the edges,” I have shaped them up a bit for the sake of deconstruction. That was a slight task as the arguments being made were poorly constructed, comedic elements aside.

-Argument #1: Premises- A. Atheists are upset/offended that their “little stinking ‘niche market’ isn’t being stinking represented.” (I guess he means in America in general or maybe in the Pledge of Allegiance specifically). B. Atheists want, “Under God,” taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance because God offends them. C. Atheists do not even believe God is real.  Conclusion: Since Atheists don’t believe god is real, it is irrational that they should be offended by said God and His name being in the Pledge. He actually frames his conclusion in the form of a question: “DUDE! You’re an atheist! You don’t even believe God is real! How can He offend you?!”

            So far at premise A. goes, that is just a subjective and anecdotal assertion that Stine is making with no evidence presented. I would not, of course, expect him to present statistical evidence for his assertion during a stand-up comedy routine. But I will say, I don’t know many atheists (actually none personally) that want the government blowing a trumpet for atheism like many believers do for Theism. If the federal government put forth a vote to see if people wanted, “There is no god,” on our legal tender, I would vote against it. It is the government’s job to guarantee freedom of, and freedom from religion, not to push a particular religious ideology. Individuals should be able to share their beliefs publicly all they want, unless dangerously disturbing the peace or maliciously infringing on the rights of another. That is not the job of government though.

            Onto premise B… As an atheist, it is not the phrase, “Under God,” that offends me; it is that the government compels it to be said in the official Pledge of Allegiance. I would be very surprised if Mr. Stine actually knew at the time he wrote that “bit” that the phrase, “Under God,” was not even in the Pledge until the 1950s when American politicians felt the need to batten the hatches of our ideology against the Red Scare of Communism at that time. From 1892 to 1954, the Pledge was fine without, “Under God,” in it. Now many believers think if the phrase was removed, the Nation would fall apart. This is nonsense.

            Also, for a Christian, the “God” being spoken of in that phrase always has an equal sign to Jesus, Yahweh, or the Triune Godhead depending on the denominational doctrines the individual holds to be true. They know “God” isn’t talking about Allah, Zeus, Vishnu, etc. in the Pledge. We all comprehend that because Christians are the mark majority of Americans, the “God” in the Pledge implicitly means the Christian God. I not only see that as an infringement upon my religious rights, it is also an infringement on the rights of Americans who believe in “another” god. I assert that the Pledge is perfectly complete without any proclamations about invisible, supernatural beings that may or may not exist. It isn’t a matter of needing my “niche” market asserted. It is a matter of religious liberties being protected for ALL of us.

            Premise C spills directly into the concluding question; “How can He offend you?” Well, “He” doesn’t offend me. I do not make a knowledge claim that there is no god hiding somewhere in the universe. I assert that there is not currently enough evidence to persuade me that any god exists. That said, there are many things about the portrayal of the Judeo/Christian Deity that can be offensive. Still, that is not the issue at hand. The issue is the fact that the government pushes a particular ideology that supports theism specifically in the Pledge, on our currency, and in a multiplicity of other ways.

            I find it ironic that Stine uses another mythological creature, the unicorn (which is mentioned in the Bible in multiple passages), to compare his god to for the sake of mocking atheists. But, Stine is missing the point by a mile. As he smirks with self-satisfaction in the video, he does not realize that the average American atheist has heard similar arguments ad nauseam.  My favorite is, “Hey! You don’t believe in Santa, but I don’t see you running around talking against him!” (sigh) The thing is, atheists don’t have the majority of Americans trying to use the government’s authority to push a belief in Santa, tell us we’ll be tortured forever in an imaginary place for not believing in Santa, and try to force legislation that pushes doctrines that Santa taught. No one prevents two loving adults from marrying based on what Santa said. I also know that though Stine is mocking atheists for being “freaked out” by “God” being in the Pledge, if “Allah” was in the Pledge, he would see the situation much differently.

            It isn’t a matter of whether we believe in your (or Stine’s) particular god or not. The issue is that many Christians in America expect the government, State and Federal, to trumpet their particular beliefs to the rest of us. That is unconstitutional.

            To sum up that whole segment of the routine, Stine asks, “Who is more irrational… the guy that believes in a God he doesn’t see or a guy who is offended by a god he doesn’t believe in?!” Well Mr. Stine, you must not recognize that part two of that question is based on a straw man assertion. We are offended by the people ASSERTING the god we don’t believe in who have an expectation that we should shut up while they attempt to manipulate the religious dialogue in our Nation by using the government as a missionary organization. We aren’t offended in some direct way by a being that we reckon to be imaginary.

            The definition of “irrational” is: “not logical or reasonable.” So, it would be irrational in my thinking to assert a definitive belief in a specific being that is invisible and for which there is not sound evidence for. It IS rational to be put off by said person’s attempts to trample my religious freedom via the government.

Argument #2: Premises- A. Christians believe life has meaning and purpose, as well as believe in the ideas of love, honor, nobility, and courage. B. None of those ideas are “in matter and molecules.” (Whatever that means… He must not realize that his body and brain are made up of matter and molecules) C. These ideas could not come from humans or have evolved since evolution “says” that “whatever happens to survive is all that matters… Right and wrong doesn’t exist. Culture just creates it as it goes.” Conclusion: “You’ve got to be kidding me. You see God in his handy work. How can you not see that?” Also, there is the implicit conclusion that the evolutionary process is not sufficient to allow the development of the aforementioned social virtues.

            Well Mr. Stine, if you assume that atheists find no meaning or purpose in life, you must have never had an honest and open conversation with an atheist. I can honestly say that I find more purpose in this terrestrial life now than I did as a believer. This world actually IS my “home.” I’m not just “passing through.” Though I will surely die, it is the only home I’ll ever have. Not only that, it is the only home my progeny will have. So, I want to leave it better than I found it. Trying to make the world a better place is not just, “Polishing the brass on the Titanic,” like I have heard many preachers say. I am not looking for Jesus to come bail us out with the rapture. I don’t believe that I’m seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. I am right here. My family, my friends, and even strangers give my life immense purpose. Nature is beautiful, music is numinous, poetry is moving, philosophy is challenging, science is encouraging, and the universe is awe inspiring. Love is a mystery, joy is a cherished commodity, and a feeling kinship with, and duty to my fellow humans is tacit… no god required.

            Evolution via natural selection is an established, scientific fact. If after reading that you immediately reply, “NO! Evolution is just a ‘THEORY!’ Duh!” then I suggest you study what a “theory” is in science because you don’t know what you are talking about.

            Evolution DEMANDS cooperative populations. We would not even exist currently as a human species had we not developed and possessed inherent values such as fairness, altruism, compassion, etc. Even our near-kinsmen in the animal kingdom possess such qualities. If that assertion is offensive to you, I suggest that you read up on relevant studies and data.

            The fact that Brad Stine has an impoverished conception of evolution and humanity sans theism merely undermines the credibility of his poor arguments and weak assertions. Yet, I fully support his right to make them. He probably is a very funny comedian in general. I just do not support his “right” to have the government of the United States of America as part of Christendom.

            Skipping ahead passed Stine’s appeal to authority via an Anthony Flew anecdote, Stine concludes by telling the audience:

            “You’ve got to be prepared folks…Prepared to battle for our Country’s standards of morality… But I say that there’s a whole bunch of people like us…who aren’t going away… and want our Country back… and we’ll fight for it!”

            When Stine says, “our Country’s standards of morality,” what he means is HIS standards of morality via his interpretations of the Bible. Sorry Brad, it is not the government’s job to hammer free citizens with your pet standards. But, you are right; there are a whole bunch of people like you, the majority of America in fact. Yet, the numbers of non-theists are rapidly increasing. Check the Pew and Barna research data if you doubt that. You should hope that if and when we are the majority, we do not use the government to bully you like you do us now. I have no desire to and do not personally know any non-theists that do. I support your rights and always will. I just will not stand silent or idle in the shadow of a pseudo-theocratic oligarchy that is our Nation’s current government.

            So far as the cry that believers “want their country back,” I must call a persecution complex like I see it. Unless one is in the closet, there is not a single atheist in Congress. There are some states that will not even allow an atheist to run for an elected position. The majority of news journalists are theists of some persuasion. When I turn the TV on, approximately 1/3 of the stations are Christian stations. Not just “theistic,” but SPECIFICALLY Christian. In most towns and cities in America, a good pitcher could stand next to any church and hit the next one with a baseball. In my own small town, Google shows about twenty-five churches within a two mile radius from my house. There is not a single free-thinker’s meet-up in the same town. Christians own it. Yet, many preachers here proclaim Christians are being persecuted in America from their pulpits, whipping their congregants into a worried frenzy. Our weekly town meetings are opened with prayers by Christian ministers. That is the case for most towns in the United States.

            Christians, (I speak only to believers to which the following applies) you have had the “microphone” in our culture so long that many of you think being disagreed with is “persecution.” There is so much confirmation bias supporting your beliefs in this Nation that you feel beat up when a person tells you that they think you are wrong. When you do not always get your way, you assert that you are being bullied or persecuted. If your child always expected to get his or her way, you would rebuke them. Yet, as a Christian in America, you whine when you don’t always get yours and have to share this great Nation with all the other “kids on the playground.”  Well, that is just life my friend. Most Atheists in America get more push-back than you can ever imagine in daily life, peer groups, at work, and in their families. This being the Easter season, we are inundated on social media with admonitions about Jesus, sin, repentance, and that we are going to go to hell if we reject said doctrines. We do not consider this persecution, rather just normal life and rarely even refute the assertions directly.

            We develop a thick skin and know most of your arguments better than you do due to being hit with them so often. Yet, we do not want our “niche” ideology forced on you via the government. We just want equal representation along with every other American and we won’t shut up just because you want us to or threaten us. They call us “New Atheists” because of that. The only difference between the “Old Atheists” you didn’t have a problem with and us is that we will not be pushed around or silenced. You are just going to have to get used to the idea that the Christian dictatorship in America will soon be over. But, do not to worry my fellow Americans. For the most part, we non-theists are also humanists who  will treat you as we would like to be treated. See, we don’t disagree with everything Jesus said…

            For some related atheist humor, I suggest the video below by DarkMatter2525 on youtube:

The Whisper

Humanity is as the surface of a vast pond

Being visibly stirred and moved by the actions of individuals

As one passerby casually tossed a stone in, then walked away

I saw that the ripples continued long after he was there to behold them

Going this way and that

Expanding in influence from the place where they began

 

So my friend

Find the largest and best stone you can

And cast it purposefully into the pond

Let its ripples roll to affect

And to be affected by those of others

Throw it high, throw it hard

So that even after your tenure at the pond is over

Still its ripples will roll

And even in death

Your life will whisper

What you yelled

While your lungs still owned breath

 

Remind yourself today

That this will not be forever

Your transient and brief pilgrimage on the lively side of earth’s soil is short

And the length of its precarious song, uncertain

Yet, while you live, make yourself at home

Do your worst to do your best

 

In the eons that came before you

Nothing of you was known

But for now, you are

And when it comes that you are not

Let not the latter condition of things

Be as the state of the former

When nothing of you had ever been whispered

Leave not this world in an underwhelmed state

Or indifferent and unmoved at your remembrance

 

As surely as you are here now

You will not be in one hundred years

Do not hide your face from that fact

Or be afraid to face it

This is the common story of billions who have passed

It will be for the billions who live now

And for billions more who will be born

 

Every one of us is not but the whisper of the century to come

Let us treat the world kindly while we live

So it will whisper kindly of us

When we have turned to dust

 

Copyright 2013-Luke Austin Daugherty