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Disturbing the Universe

The musings of author Christina Knowles

Author

Christina Knowles

Author of the suspense novel, The Ezekiel Project and Signs of Life: A Memoir in Poems Biography Christina Knowles lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her musician husband, Randy Knowles, and their dog, Chacho. Christina writes novels, short stories, poetry, and screenplays. She is currently teaching Creative Writing, Science Fiction, and Composition on the high school level, as well as Composition, Composition II, Literature, and Technical Writing on the college level.

Let’s Start Talking Again by Christina Knowles

Civil DiscourseIn a climate of increasing vitriolic “discourse,” the stress level and the general discontent of the American people are rising to epic proportions. This is not good for us as individuals or for our country, as it continues to undermine our democratic process or our “republic,” if you prefer. It is so easy to get caught up in the fight for justice, as we see it, and to take sides, forget discourse, and as my friend, who inspired this article said, “hunker down” on the side we’ve chosen, and give up on listening and reasoning with those who oppose our beliefs. But as this wise friend also said, “it feels like other people just want to draw lines and fight; I could too, I suppose, and I suppose I even know who would be beside me, but I don’t want to think about who would be on the other side.” I don’t either.

Let’s be realistic here. We all have our opinions and our friends who are in our camp, but we also know people that we love and respect who are in the other camp. Perhaps, we think they are misguided or misinformed, but we still care about them because we know they are not evil. Why can’t we just get them to understand? we ask ourselves, while they wonder the same about us.

The real trouble comes when we think they are evil, when we misinterpret their motives or put them in a convenient box of explanations of where we believe they are coming from. Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that evil exists, and some have chosen it, but for the average American, this is not the case, and if we give up on talking to each other in a civil way, we are doomed to violence and unrest. We, on both sides, could continue to be the pawns of those who might actually have malevolent intents.

We need to step back and get some perspective. We need to stop arguing for a minute and listen, even if we don’t want to hear it. We need to consider the possibility that we’ve been misinterpreting motives and information. We need to make sure we aren’t simply chess pieces in a game, being used for purposes we don’t even care about.

I think a great first step is to limit how much news we listen to. We can O.D. on the negative until we can’t even recognize the positive. Also, we need to force ourselves to investigate the opposing side’s views, even if it goes against all of our biases. We need to realize that things are rarely as black and white as they are painted. And we need to treat these hot-button issues as if we are in negotiations with a valued ally. It’s called compromise and common ground. Compromising is a necessary and honorable fact of life in a widely diverse society such as our own. We are not compromising our private morals or principles when we make concessions to live peacefully together. We aren’t giving in to evil. That’s what the spin-doctors, politicians, and propaganda-spreaders want us to believe. Resist. These are our people they are trying to get us to hate. Don’t let them succeed.

This situation has recently brought to mind a dystopian science fiction teleplay of The Twilight Zone by Ray Bradbury called “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” wherein aliens manipulate a previously close-knit and friendly neighborhood of humans into hysterically judging each other, playing on their prejudices, fears, and paranoia. They spread lies and manipulate the people into suspecting each other of being the “aliens,” turning them against each other until a riot breaks out and people are killed. The closing, narrated by Rod Serling, goes, “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices – to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill – and suspicion can destroy – and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own – for the children – and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is – that these things cannot be confined – to the Twilight Zone.” To take a lesson from The Twilight Zone, we cannot let our suspicions of each other destroy us and turn us against each other, and we cannot let the powers-that-be manipulate us into hatred for each other for their own purposes.

Even though this episode of The Twilight Zone originally aired in 1960, the media is used to manipulate the people on Maple Street. The press has always been the “Fourth Estate,” the other three historically being “king, clergy, and commoners,” or more recently and in America, it is thought of as the fourth check in the balances of government, as in “checks and balances.” The legislative, judicial, and executive branches check each other, while the press is a check of the government by the people. As distrust in journalism grows, we lose our (the people’s) check on the government. We must hold our journalists to high standards, yet we cannot control the misinformation and outright lies meant to propagandize the public through social media outlets or even unethical news outlets. When facts and lies or half-truths are indistinguishable from each other, we tend to just go with our confirmation bias, believing the side we already are inclined to agree with. We have to stop this, and we have to insist that our journalists report facts in an unbiased way unless clearly giving editorial, and editorials should not be our primary source of news. We have to play the skeptic all the time. We have to question the reality of our own group-think, and most importantly, we have to talk and listen to each other, and finally, we have to learn to cooperate and compromise.

In a country the size of the United States, and in such a culturally diverse place where we say we have the freedom to believe as we want, we simply have to learn to negotiate. We can’t just hold our ground and demand that we will not give in to “evil.” Instead, we need to learn the rules of civil discourse, the rules of logic and debate, and apply skepticism even to ourselves, and then we need to temper that with the assurance that we are all part of something bigger, the same bigger ideal—the same people, united under the respect and belief in the freedoms and rights put forth in our Constitution with the confidence that we can live together as one people, even while disagreeing on certain issues, that we can take our victories and our defeats as friendly competitors and not as enemies, and we can live within the agreements we make with each other. I’m not coming to you from a place of innocence. We have all been guilty. Let’s step back and remember who we are and what this country was meant to represent. Let’s start talking and stop fighting, please.—Christina Knowles

 

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Coming Out as an Atheist in America by Christina Knowles

AmericanAtheistsWe, who are openly atheist, often encourage others to come out publically as atheists because when more people admit to unbelief, the more we are accepted, the less discrimination we experience, and the more rationality can be spread around, in general. But, it’s not an easy thing to do. A gay friend once told me that it was harder telling her parents she no longer believed than it was telling them she was gay. Yet, most people don’t realize what it is really like to come out as an atheist in religion-obsessed America.

 

Do you want to know what it feels like to be an atheist in America?

 

It feels like realizing everything you thought was true is wrong.

It feels like being off-kilter and having to reevaluate everything.

It feels like losing everyone you thought you knew and trusted.

It feels like losing all your friends and starting over.

It feels like being stabbed in the back by the sister you nursed day and night through her cancer.

It feels like being cheated out of everything rightfully yours by the only sister you have left.

It feels like being looked on with suspicion by your own family.

It feels like being rejected by your own son and not getting to see your grandchildren.

It feels like being seen as a moral degenerate by people who don’t have a moral bone in their bodies.

It feels like being WAY more moral than most of the Christians you know.

It feels like being a second-class citizen.

It feels like being discriminated against at work.

It feels like being feared by your students’ parents.

It feels like being forced into the “angry atheist” role when all you ever wanted was to just get along.

It feels like your boss pretending to care about your work environment, but really she just doesn’t want to be sued.

It feels like spending tens of thousands of dollars on your step-daughter’s medical bills and having her unfriend you on Facebook.

It feels like people lying about you to ruin your career.

It feels nauseating, listening to people thank God, pray to God, blame God, anything God.

It feels like people thinking they are better than you.

It feels like people judging you all the time.

It feels like people ignoring all the charitable work and self-sacrificing you do because it doesn’t matter if it’s not for God.

It feels so unfair that people hate you just because you’ve grown beyond them.

It feels like things finally make sense.

It feels like being the only sane one in the room.

It feels lonely.

It feels freeing.

It feels like I am an adult.

It feels like I can choose to live my life in the way that seems best to me.

It feels like I appreciate each day, knowing this is all there is.

It feels like me.

It feels right.

It feels totally worth it.

 

So, to those struggling with whether or not to come out, only you can weigh the consequences in your own life, but as for me, I don’t regret it.—Christina Knowles

Missionary Atheism? Let’s Start by Coming Out by Christina Knowles

quote-a-fool-s-brain-digests-philosophy-into-folly-science-into-superstition-and-art-into-george-bernard-shaw-26-83-67  Of course, I dislike the concept. I am not a missionary. I have no religion to spread. No message to proselytize. I don’t normally care what someone believes if it doesn’t affect me. But I’ve heard the religious describe atheism as a religion we’re trying to spread, which is highly offensive. Shaking free of ancient belief systems that have no more merit than Greek mythology and expecting evidence to accept the unbelievable does not qualify as a religion.

I’ve also heard that we are scared that religion is becoming more popular, so we’ve become missionaries against their religions. We may be scared, but not that religion is growing. Atheism is growing, a natural consequence of ready access to ideas and information on the internet. Nevertheless, some of us are scared, scared of a nation that seems more inclined toward theocracy than ever before in our entire U.S. history.

When beliefs seemed more benign and simply ritualistic, not spoken of in polite conversation, there was no need give it a second thought. A bemused smile or a shake of the head was sufficient. However, our country, and even our world, is under a growing and alarming threat posed by religions that seeks to undermine basic civil liberties, impose antiquated and prejudiced values on others, and maybe most sinister of all, denies science and common sense on an unprecedented level, threatening to destroy the very earth under our feet in a way that cannot be undone. Laws can be overturned and rights restored, but we have reached the tipping point when it comes to climate change. The denial of basic science and the indoctrination of America against facts, even by people who should know better, perhaps, do know better, but are so consumed with greed and self-interest that the collateral damage inflicted by their aggressive domination of the earth is of no concern to them. The earth will last as long as they need it to, and what happens when they are gone is of no consequence to them. They lead the blind and uneducated by reinforcing archaic notions of being saved miraculously by the gods. Who cares if we are destroying the earth when our god intends to destroy it and create a new earth and promises a heavenly Eden in its place?

These politicians and corporate predators pander to a deluded and ignorant public who, because of their own confirmation bias, see these politicians as heroes of the faith. All a crafty, self-interested politician has to do to gain the support of these fundamentalists is to say that they are saving them from an imagined moral decline, pretend to care about the pro-life movement and the sanctity of marriage, and they forever own the minds and votes of this programed group. They tell them how to think, how to vote, and teach them to fear the rational educated who could actually save them. This group is already pre-disposed to indoctrination, having been thoroughly relieved of critical thinking skills by their religions.

So, is it time for missionary atheism? Do we need to take a more active stance in proclaiming reason over superstition? There is too much at stake to stay quietly in the closet. The risk of losing family and friends, to straining relationships, and to being looked upon with disdain and suspicion pales in the light of the greater threat to our world. Those of us who have shaken the scales from our eyes to see reason, to overcome childhood conditioning and think for ourselves, to demand evidence and logic for extraordinary claims must come out openly and strongly so that others may wake up from the delusions passed down from generations of conditioned superstitions and ignorance. Most of us have been there and woken up, and we were glad we did.

I’m not suggesting a massive deconversion campaign. I am asking that we no longer stay politely silent when those around us claim a god is blessing them with a new car while millions of innocents in Aleppo are slaughtered in the streets. They don’t even realize the depth and magnitude of their fallacies, and they never will unless someone is forward enough to point them out. Let’s make it socially objectionable to float around in a cloud of delusion, at least publically. Let’s show them that atheists are everywhere, in their families, in their offices, in their clubs, and on their teams. We are citizens with a voice, and we need to start using it.—Christina Knowles

*Originally published January 2017

Stand Up and Take a Knee by Christina Knowles

Take a Knee
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

I’m an American. I tear up over Pearl Harbor footage, I swell with pride reading the Declaration of Independence, I am fiercely independent, and I believe freedom is the highest good. But I still don’t get it.

I’m referring to the disturbing Nationalism sweeping our country, the dangerous Nationalism encouraged and flouted by our own president. I’m talking about the sacralization of our National Anthem and our flag.

Certainly, everyone does seem to be in an uproar over, first, the fact that some NFL players, beginning with Colin Kaepernick one year ago, were “taking a knee” during the National Anthem in protest over police brutality, specifically aimed at African American men. Next, people were incensed over Donald Trump stirring up his base in true Trump fashion, suggesting that we would just love it if one of these NFL owners said, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired! Fired!” (Criss).  Of course, Trump could not help tweeting on Saturday, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect….” and “…our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” (Criss).

And now, some Americans are furious that several NFL players locked arms in solidarity during the anthem at yesterday’s games.  In true American rebel fashion, #TakeaKnee became an instant trending hashtag across social media because, as all Americans know, when someone tries to interfere with your freedom, particularly your freedom of speech, you respond by doing exactly the opposite of what the presumptuous offending party told you to do, especially when he’s an authority figure. Nothing could be more American.

So, why do so many other Americans have a problem with this response? Apparently, this is a common symptom of Nationalism, and a result of sacralizing our symbol of freedom. By sacralizing our symbol for freedom, we condemn the very freedom we say we love.

Let’s back up for a second. Our flag is a symbol for our country, which embodies many ideals, most commonly freedom, independence, and determination. We feel pride when flying our flag, not because the flag has actual value, but because it represents something we believe is real—something about American character and values. When we say that soldiers died defending our flag, this is a metonym for our country’s ideals and way of life. It is a piece of cloth. It is not actually our country.

Yet, when we transpose all of our feelings of what we love about our country on to this piece of cloth and elevate it to the sacred, we do ourselves and our country a disservice. Once sacralized, we can no longer look at it reflectively, with an unbiased eye, with a view to grow and improve. It becomes a dangerous form of Nationalism through which, as opposed to ordinary patriotism, we are unable to see ourselves clearly and with an objective eye. It (the National Anthem, our flag, our country, our ideals) is perfect and can never be questioned. To question it, would be to defile it and be, in essence, blasphemy.

But, not everyone sacralizes the National Anthem or the flag, or even the actual America. To many, it is the ideals behind them that are held in high esteem, and when the realization of those ideals is in question, the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, or the National Anthem is an obvious symbol to which we turn in order to draw attention to these contradictions between what we say we stand for and what we actually do. It’s a logical connection, and it in no way indicates that we are not patriotic or that we do not love and appreciate our country, and it certainly has nothing to do with disrespecting soldiers. We fly a flag at half-mast when we are grieving; we fly it upside down to signal distress. We do not stand for the anthem or pledge our allegiance when we see a discrepancy in the ideals we say we represent and in the reality of what our country, or our leaders, in most cases, shows that we actually represent. This is clearly Colin Kaepernick’s thinking when he explains, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” (Gillespie).

According to Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided Over Politics and Religion, conservatives tend to sacralize symbols and traditions like the flag and the anthem, while liberals tend to sacralize other things, such as compassion and human rights (Haidt). They aren’t disrespecting soldiers who gave up their lives fighting in a war; they are making a logical connection between what we say we stand for and what we will stand for.

And while we’re at it, let’s stop referencing the rules for flags and NFL players. It is completely irrelevant what the rules are, or even the laws, for that matter. The most effective protests throughout history have been illegal. It’s called civil disobedience. If protestors concerned themselves with whether or not they were allowed to do something, women would still be unable to vote, and Rosa Parks would never have sat in the front of the bus. It’s effective precisely because it is not allowed. The risk of consequences demonstrates the level of commitment and the intensity of the desire for change.

I submit to you that those who refuse to stand for the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance, whether it be to protest the president encouraging the squelching of free speech, or the systemic racism endangering the lives of black Americans, are the most patriotic of citizens. These protestors recognize what the flag and the anthem, and indeed, our country, are supposed to stand for, and refuse to settle for anything less than the ideals that form this great experiment. Truly, standing to honor that which fails to live up to all we mean it to be is dishonoring to America itself at its very core. As historian Howard Zinn once said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” So, show us how much you love America, and take a knee.—Christina Knowles

Sources:

Criss, Doug. “A president shouldn’t tell an NFL team what to do, Trump tweeted … in 2013.” cnn.com. Updated 25 Sept. 2017. Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.

Gillespie, Nick. “Donald Trump Should Stop Telling NFL To Fire Players for Anthem Protests” 23 Sept. 2017. Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.

Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided Over Politics and Religion. Vintage Books, 2013.

 

 

 

“Fool” by Christina Knowles

Barren path“Fool”

I wander through a garden

Tall and green and dripping with the dew

The twisting path, the hidden

The way I thought I knew

Petals, velvetly imbue

A facile façade of innocence

But the thorny branch is true

The Judas kiss equivalence

The truth I never knew

The Pathos of pretense

I was fooled through and through

Mired in the dense

Brush, I construe

The twisted path is lost

I fight to make it through

The symbols I have crossed

The signs were always there

The realization overdue

A switchback won’t repair

A road I never knew

I reconnect and reassess

The lies and the true

The despair that I suppress

Is the path I make anew

Through a barren garden

Trimmed a bit too low

I walk along disheartened

For the beauty I forego

–Christina Knowles

Photo: Barren Path | by H. Evan Miller

BOOK REVIEW – Signs of Life: A Memoir in Poems

Wow! This is the best review I’ve ever had. Thank you, Zaney!

Ranting with Conviction

A diverse collection of poetry, thought-provoking and breathtaking, inspirational, and altogether wonderful, Knowles’ memoir is moving, hustling the reader through memories and philosophies that had me laughing at times and weeping at others. Engaging, unexpectedly page-turning for long-time lovers of poetry, and eye-opening to those discovering poetry for the first time, these verses, sometimes eloquent and elusive, sometimes brutally honest and abrasive, will draw you into the ancient art of poetry and leave you hungry for more. The author leads the audience, expertly, through a journey simultaneously spiritual and rational. Like a depthless ocean of free-thought, it tossed me back and forth, presenting views on both faith and logic, but it never fails in thoroughness, sincerity, or heart. The poet’s captivating imagery, descriptions of nature, metaphorical prowess, and artful rhyme schemes are a treat for anyone with an appreciation of literary devices. To those who merely dabble, occasionally, in poetry…

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Because of You by Christina Knowles

1524025_10202288016035929_699231179_oI’ve always looked up to you

It was so easy to do

My life is so wrapped up with you

You stayed home with me

When I was sick, you comforted me tenderly

You kept me quiet on Christmas mornings

With stories of Santa and gentle warnings

I remember late night stories on your bed

To Adventure Land you led

To a world of imagination

Your words an invitation

I read everything you gave me

A new world opened gaily

Science fiction, fantasy

Suspense, a genre tapestry

I always looked up to you

My life was so wrapped up in you

I listened to you play your flute

In your room, music took root

You gave me records that I still have

Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and Chopin

You introduced to me to culture I never would’ve had

It’s because of you, I’m who I am

You took to me to buy my first good skates

You listened all about my first dates

Listened to my teenage angst

Put up with all my juvenile pranks

You let me come and stay with you

Just what I needed; I guess you knew

It was so easy to do

Looking up to you

You bought my prom dress so I wouldn’t miss the event

Then you managed to get Mom’s consent

Always on my side it seems

You supported all my dreams

Tutored me, and never disdained

The hours, the concepts explained

You co-signed for my first credit

Trusted me, I’m forever indebted

When I went away, you took care of my dog

Every week, you read my blog

You went with me to Star Trek club meetings

Conventions, outings, and club proceedings

My entire life is intertwined with you

I am who I am because of you

All through our lives we’ve had such good times

Remember when we went to Disney and stood in those lines?

We screamed all the way down Splash Mountain

Took our picture in front of the fountain

Universal Studios was such a blast

That trip went way too fast

A Hawaiian luau, taking in the show

An earthquake, a flood, just Hollywood though

We haven’t taken a trip like that in a while

Now days, it’s more our style

Dinner and a movie on Friday nights

It’s still one of my favorite rites

It’s no wonder I look up to you

My life is so infused with you

The holidays we always share together

Thanksgiving at my house, no matter the weather

Christmas at yours, and candlelight service

The Living Christmas tree and your performance

Playing the bells on Christmas Eve

Christmas dinner, and after— a movie

Sometimes A Christmas Carol

Or we’d see The Nutcracker Ballet

In our finest apparel

A Christmas Story once again we’d replay

Our traditions are so special to me

Sisters, but friends, especially

My life is so wrapped up with you

It’s easy to look up to you

A chemist, a musician, an intellect to admire

An older sister, a height to aspire

A friend and a confidant

You went way beyond

What a sister should be

What a friend could see

I’ll always look up to you

It’s so easy to do

Because my life is wrapped up with you

And I am who I am because of you—Christina Knowles

Married to You by Christina Knowles

img_1055Sun splashes across our bed.

We wake, slowly unwrapping our tangled selves,

Shifting, intertwining again in a different position.

Your eyes gradually open; the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen.

Your slow smile warms me, and I smile in return.

This is what it’s like to wake up with you.

 

At work, you leisurely stroll through my mind a thousand times.

You’re my favorite daydream.

My key turns in the lock after a busy day.

The smell of coffee and the music of your guitar

Greet me at the door.

This is what it’s like to come home to you.

 

You make a silly face, pull your pants up to your chest

Just to make me laugh.

Laughter and love always fill our home.

It feels like peace in your arms.

This is what it’s like to be home with you.

 

Honesty fills our home,

Acceptance is our style.

Being with you is serenity

Joy in who we are

Individually and together

Being ourselves in complete tranquility.

This is what it’s like to be married to you.–Christina Knowles

Un-American by Christina Knowles

un-americanIf we forget the past, we are doomed to repeat it. Yet, we don’t forget, and we still repeat it. Perhaps, the narcissistic tendency to justify all our personal actions sufficiently blinds us from our own reflection.

For the last century, America has boasted and puffed itself up as the greatest democracy that ever was, the shining city on a hill. We ignore America’s horrific past, the massacre of its native peoples, the brutal enslavement of a race brought here against their wills, the internment of loyal Americans because of their ethnicity, the oppression of women, the obliteration of civil rights during the Red Scare, the denial of civil rights to marginalized groups currently, and the continued conquests of world domination under the guise of aid. We blow out of proportion that which we do right: Our fierce determination, our stubborn independence,  our personal commitment to liberty, our strength against all odds, and our citizens’ numerous humanitarian efforts.

But our claim to fame is our beloved constitution, which really is our best redeeming quality. And, ironically we modeled that after the Iroquois Constitution and the Magna Carta, yet we insist on our originality. I love every concept in the Declaration of Independence and many of the beautiful words of our forefathers. They are admirable ideas, profound truths, and something to be proud of. I am patriotic regarding these things. I love my beautiful country. I love the rights I enjoy under our constitution. I love our spirit and our right and willingness to speak our minds. I love how most Americans are willing and eager to rush to someone’s aid, foreign and domestic. This is what it means to be American.

I am not un-American for recognizing the limits and flaws of Capitalism. I am not un-American for believing that affordable health care for all of our people is the very least our country can do for its citizens. I am not un-American for believing that we should take care of our elderly, and to believe they should not have to struggle to work until they die, poor and abandoned by the country they contributed to their whole lives. It is not un-American to expect more. It should be un-American to keep quiet in the face of injustice, to fail to fight for the human rights of others.

Instead, the fascists now in power would have us believe we are un-American if we do not worship Capitalism, hate our neighbors, crush those who cannot compete, and leave the weak to die in the streets.

But I will not be bullied into Nationalism. I will not be a flag-worshiping robot, insisting we can do no wrong. I don’t care if you think I am un-American because your definition of American is not who I want to be.

Interestingly, we are the only large democracy that obsesses over such Nationalistic terms. However, they were very common in highly oppressive Totalitarian states, such as Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union because dictators need blind patriotism in order to manipulate the masses, to turn otherwise decent people into bigoted ideologues that will do their bidding. This is Trump’s America, the next Totalitarian state.

Are we willing to see the truth of our own identity? Can we recognize ourselves in history’s mirror? Or will we repeat the mistakes of other countries that allowed themselves to be caught up in their own grand illusions, denying the possibility that we are too good to let these things happen while we stand idly by? Maybe it’s time to idealize kindness, compassion, liberty, and truth, instead of a flag, and then perhaps, that flag will mean something once again. I will always love America, yet I am not ashamed to be un-American.—Christina Knowles

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