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2021 — a time to be grateful

07 random kindnessIf you're reading this, congratulations – you made it! You're almost a month into a brand new year. A year that came pre-loaded with its challenges and thoughts of what victories lie ahead,and the memories of time gone by. Over the past year many of us celebrated the joy and excitement of new life, some experienced the sadness of loss, and, if we're at all alike, we've done our best to be a friend offering encouragement in the wake of both the best and worst of times.

If nothing else, 2020 gave me opportunity once again to acknowledge the fact we're all just passing through. We get, we give, we have and we hold, but in the end we arrive at the same humbling conclusion – everything on this earth is temporary. While we build mighty castles to wall us in or monuments to all we consider great, the only true legacy we leave will be found in how we loved. Over time I've learned to loosen my grip on the things I think I control, lest they begin to control me in return. And I am reminded there is a time and season for everything, and a marvelous Creator who steadies and stills us though it all.

I don't want to beat a depressingly melancholy drum too long, so let's peer down the road from these first days of 2021 with the knowledge we have choices. We can each choose to see a winding road strewn with rocks, slopes, and unknown peril around each bend, or look a little further to the beauty of the horizon, with the realization the road itself is a journey worth taking. Each step brings us closer to something new, and often leads us away from things familiar.

In either case we take those steps both challenged and comforted by an immensely wise Creator who seems to say, "Be prepared to let go of anything I take from you, but never let go of My hand!"

You may have entered 2021 without making a resolution or a promise, but there is plenty of positive change you can work on this year. Start by simply being grateful. Take stock in all you've already been given. More than food, a decent car, a home or stuff to fill it, count the blessings of family, friends, and life itself. At WCLN, our daily charge is to bring relationships alive and deliver music filled with the good news that God loves you. The two greatest things we he hope to inspire in you is to love Him back, and love others more than yourself. That's what makes Christian 105.7 different, and it will work for you, too.

Enjoy your family and friends today. Give extra hugs and words of love just because you can. Make the world a happier place by doing some extra act of kindness. Smile a little bit longer. Most importantly, be grateful for the life you've been given.

Towers of Babel

03 social meadia screenInauguration Day has come and gone, and democracy has prevailed, though not without national pain. A week after a violent, bloody and deadly insurrection at our United States Capitol, our new President and Vice President were sworn in on the steps of that same sacred building before a sprinkling of spectators in a city on near-total lockdown.

It is both reassuring and horrifying that at least some on the podium, including President Biden and Vice President Harris and their spouses, were reportedly wearing body armor and other protective clothing.

This unprecedented American inauguration begs the question, “how on God’s green earth did the people of the United States find ourselves in an uncivil war with each other?”
Social scientists and historians will debate this long after we are gone, and there are surely many factors. Our immediate past President, an active combatant in the uncivil war certainly stoked its fires by both his policies and incendiary language. He did not, however, invent our differences, many of which go back to the earliest days of our nation. He did make it acceptable to voice opinions not acceptable in the past, and that has shoved many Americans into hard and fast positions we find difficult to change.

Another, harder to pin down, factor is a gift from expanding technologies, social media. This general category includes Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tik Tok and others used by millions around the world but which digital immigrants like this writer may not know even exist, much less use. As best I understand the technologies, they are powered by algorithms, which allow social media platforms to tell us what they think we want to hear, based on choices we make online.

A simple example of this phenomenon is if I search for “blue sweater, size M,” it will not be long before ads for blue sweaters, size M pop up on my computer screen. No harm done, and I just might order one.

More ominous, though, is information fed to us that a is less fact-based and more opinion-based. "The Social Dilemma," a Netflix documentary, explores how the choices we make online, such as “likes,” create our “digital tattoo.” This tattoo identifies us in certain ways and affects how we are perceived both by people who read our posts and also by the technologies that power them. For example, if one person searches for and/or “likes” mainly conservative information or posts, and another person searches for and/or “likes” mainly liberal information or posts, both will find themselves in echo chambers, getting more and more of the same and less and less of the other. This means that if a skeptic and a believer both search for “climate change,” they will get different answers based on their past search behavior. Both answers will be tailored to the user, and neither may be factually accurate.

Think of it this way. Unless you search for a hard fact such as “how many quarts in a galloon,” the answer you get is going to be based more on how you are perceived generated by algorithms created just for you.

It is like we have siloed ourselves in two separate Towers of Babel. Those in one shout at those of us in the other, but we do not understand what those in the other tower are saying. In 2021 reality, MSNBC viewers cannot understand Fox News and vice versa.

Calls for social media regulation are increasing, and rightly so given their worldwide influence and inability to regulate themselves. Congress is expected to take up the issue this session. At the end of the day, though, it is we the American people who must reach out to each other from our separate Towers of Babel and seek common ground.

Let the healing begin.

The art of contentment

10 couple relaxingChristmas is an odd time for me. I love to give gifts, but I don't really care to “add to the collection” of unwanted gifts. In my home, we often talk about trusting God to meet our needs. That doesn't mean we stand on the shore and watch for our ship to come in. We work hard to make sure we've done all we can to provide for our family and others, but still we trust God. Sometimes I'll pray and ask for specific things — you know, a particular amount of money, favorable diagnosis of a car problem — and I suspect you do too. Nothing wrong with that, but there's truly more to having your needs met than having stuff go your way. It may be as simple as being content with where you are and what you have.

My wife and I must be on the same wavelength concerning contentment. We have a little chalkboard in our kitchen where we'll write a recipe or date night idea, but recently I walked into the kitchen and saw these words: “What if God has already provided?”

That stopped me. And the thought has haunted me for weeks. What if, in my quest for more and better, I've overlooked what I
already have?

It's caused me to take stock of my time, talents and resources. It's even changed the way I pray and how I look at pretty much
everything.

Discontentment runs rampant in our culture, and today I want to offer you three choices you can make in your life that can lead you to genuine, biblical, lasting contentment.

1. Seek contentment as a lifestyle. Choose it. Acknowledge that you would not be happier if you had more. You wouldn’t be — you’d likely be more miserable. God’s Word contains clear warnings for us: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)

2. Learn to say, “I have enough.” Let those words reign in your home. Push back from the table and say, “I’ve had enough.” When money comes your way — a surprise bonus from work, an inheritance from your great-uncle, even finding $50 in your coat pocket — resist the cravings for more.

3. Settle it. Here’s a challenge — choose a lifestyle; don’t let your income dictate your lifestyle. Choose a comfortable level of living that meets your needs, and don't compromise that with more spending when more income arrives. If you don’t choose a lifestyle, this culture will choose one for you, and by default it will be the lifestyle of living beyond your means. Be counter-cultural. Be radical. Be others-oriented.

Let enough be enough. Learn from the examples of those around you (both the contented and the covetous). You'll save yourself some heartache and know the joy of a truly contented attitude. More does not equal happier. I promise.

And remember this from Philippians 4:19 – “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” (New Living Translation)

 

Local media holds government accountable

02 empty press briefingHey, what's going on? Where? Here in Fayetteville? Raleigh? Washington D.C.? Portland, Seattle? "What's going on?" used to be a friendly, inquisitive and common query? Now, this once innocuous inquiry is met all too often with the flippant response: "How the hell should I know!" That's because they don't know. No one knows. How could they? The news media has gone off course and lost its sense of responsibility along with its journalistic integrity.

Hey, what's going on? Who the hell knows, but, you will surely know what this generation of inept news media posers want you to know. If it's news that doesn't suit or endorse the narrative of their political agenda or their employers' or advertisers' political agenda, then generally speaking, "it isn't news!"

As you read the next few hundred words, try to read them through the lens of being an American. Not a white, Black, brown, Democratic, Republican, Liberal, Conservative or vegetarian American, just an American. Think about how great it is. Do we not live in the most fabulous county in the world? And, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation, what do we all have in common? Our freedom. So many freedoms. Why would we want to give them up or put them in jeopardy? We wouldn't. At least, not intentionally. This is why the First Amendment of our Constitution is so vital to our existence as a free nation.

Without free speech and the free press, we have no idea what our government leadership is doing. And, nothing good has ever come from that. Traditionally, the news media has been the formidable guardian of truth and the ardent enemy of tyranny. Unfortunately, today the media has acquiesced to political and commercial pressures. Now, the tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google are closing in on Americans by censoring free speech and picking and choosing what news and information we are entitled to receive. (Sound a little Third Reich?) This is a bold and blatant example of extinguishing American freedoms. It doesn't make any difference what color, race or political persuasion you are, in the end, if this continues, you are going to lose your rights and liberties along with the rest of America.

Let's put all this on a local perspective and be honest with each other. The next time someone says to you, "Hey, what's going on in Fayetteville?" Admit it! You have NO IDEA! How could you? We are a community of over 300,000, and we have no local TV station, an inept failing daily newspaper, and no media outlets willing to report on local issues and news. Local taxpaying citizens have no idea what is taking place at Fayetteville's City Hall, the County Courthouse, the CC school board meetings, or any other government meetings. We don't know our law enforcement status, what our crime rate is or how our tax dollars are being spent. We have little knowledge of how well our Mayor and fellow council members are performing, and we very, very seldom hear from our City Manager. In other words, Fayetteville and Cumberland County need local news media to keep residents informed on how our community is functioning. This is the responsibility of the local press and what residents expect. The Fayetteville community has a great deal of growth and economic potential. Citizens need to communicate with their local officials and monitor their performance, ensuring they have the community's priorities in proper order and are spending their tax dollars prudently.

Most people who know me know I'm not a fan of social media. I think it has a few good attributes, but mostly it causes more harm than good by disseminating false and misleading information. Besides, I don't believe in "aiding and abetting" the enemy. Using or providing support, financial or otherwise, to Google, Amazon, Apple, or Facebook only empowers them with more authority to restrict information and impede our First Amendment rights. So, knowing as a local community newspaper, I cannot affect or influence these mega tech companies' sinister actions, I will continue to focus my media concerns locally on Fayetteville and Cumberland County. The Up & Coming Weekly newspaper will continue to work within the journalism industry's basic guidelines and ethics. And, with the help and support of the community, we are working hard to prevent the Fayetteville/Cumberland County community from becoming the next North Carolina "news media desert."

We desperately need to know what is going on at City Hall, in the County Commissioners' chambers, and at the meetings of the school board and other public gatherings. More importantly, we need honest and factual information to hold our local government officials accountable - information required to celebrate their achievements and congratulate their accomplishments, as well as admonish incompetence and neglect when it exists. It's all about LOCAL. It's all about transparency, and it's all about accountability. It all starts with free speech and the FREE PRESS. Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Committee proposes methods to improve police training, community relations

03 Szoka committee picEarlier this year when peaceful protests turned violent I recognized that there were questions affecting North Carolina that I didn’t know the answers to. Those deeply disturbing events that tore apart communities made it clear that our state needed answers.

Are chokeholds applied by law enforcement officers legal or illegal in North Carolina? Is there a duty for law enforcement officers to intervene when observing potential official misconduct? And the list went on.

I went to Speaker Moore and suggested he convene a House Select Committee to investigate these and other issues. He agreed and the House Select Committee on Community Relations, Law Enforcement and Justice was formed and I was appointed a Chairman.

This committee was unique in that it not only had legislative members but also reached into the community to ask non-legislators to be voting members of the committee.

Committee members ranged on both sides of the political spectrum and included governmental and special interest groups as well.

We began committee work in early September with the goal of creating a forum where lawmakers could listen to diverse voices across the state, seek understanding, and work toward making meaningful recommendations for transformative change.

During the committee process members heard from various stakeholders across North Carolina, solicited recommendations from committee members and the public, explored potential changes and eventually adopted the committee’s final recommendations.

I am proud to announce that on Dec. 14 the committee ended its work and in a historic, bi-partisan vote unanimously adopted the recommendations.

It was an honor to lead this committee and I am thankful for the hard work of the members that allowed us to recommend targeted, meaningful reforms in such a short time.

The final committee report includes thirteen recommendations for action-oriented policy solutions that reflect broad community and stakeholder agreement. Those recommendations are:
• Creating additional statewide law enforcement training requirements that include requiring crisis intervention training and implicit bias training; as well as providing additional resources to officers and agencies to complete the new requirement training.
• Requiring mandatory reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies for disciplinary actions, resignations, terminations and de-certifications.
• Creating whistle-blower protections for officers that report misconduct.
• Providing law enforcement with additional resources when encountering mental health issues in the field.
• Providing law enforcement with additional resources to receive mental health treatment.
• Reclassification of some lower level criminal offenses.
• Directing the Administrative Office of the Courts to examine whether each judicial district would benefit from the availability of specialty courts such as drug treatment or Veterans Courts.
• Banning the use of chokeholds.
• Requiring psychological evaluations for all public safety officers.
• Requiring law enforcement to report use of force incidents.
• Mandating the duty to intervene and the duty to report officer misconduct.
• Creating and funding a pilot program for high school student law enforcement career exploration.
• Creating a system to allow individuals to receive additional notification of court dates, to avoid additional Failure to Appear charges.

These committee recommendations will provide guidance for potential legislative action by future sessions of the North Carolina General Assembly. A full committee report can be found on the committee website at www.ncleg.gov/Committees/CommitteeInfo/HouseSelect/200

This committee report is just the beginning; I look forward to working during the upcoming session with fellow legislators to advance these policy recommendations into meaningful legislation.

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