Hypocrisy abounds: Hope Mills deserves better

02 Hope Mills Pub PenPublisher’s Note: This week I am yielding my space to editorialist Elizabeth Blevins a resident, community activist and advocate for all residents of the town of Hope Mills.  Blevins’ voice and actions have become synonymous with trusted insights, observations and analysis that provide transparency and understanding to the conflicts and hypocrisy emerging from the current Hope Mills leadership.  The topic she talks about below is disturbing and should concern all residents of Hope Mills and Cumberland County. No body of leadership should ever condone racist behavior as described here. This issue deserves full transparency. For the record, I was not at this particular event. I did, however, see the social media post in question and if you live by the social media sword, you die by the social media sword. In this case, Pat Hall, chair of the Hope Mills Preservation Commission, seems to have stabbed herself while the other four Hope Mills Commissioners tried to resuscitate her. Their advocacy, loyalty and support for Hall has created an unintended consequence in making them advocates of her message and behavior and exposing to the public their lack of empathy for Hope Mills residents and an even deeper trend of governmental and ethical hypocrisy that threatens the future of the Hope Mills community. Read Blevins’ article and you draw your own conclusions. In closing, I attended the Hope Mills Community Roundtable that was held on Sept. 26 at the Harmony at Hope Mills. There were over three dozen Hope Mills residents in attendance who came together to talk positively about the growth and future of the Hope Mills community. The atmosphere was positive, fun and enjoyable as we heard from prominent Hope Mills residents and Cumberland County leaders. Dolores Schiebe, director of the Hope Mills ALMS HOUSE updated us on the organization’s work in the community. Hope Mills Commissioner Jessie Bellflowers spoke on behalf of the Hope Mills and Cumberland County veterans while John Malzone, commercial real estate developer, provided an overview and insights into how important Hope Mills is to the successful development of Cumberland County and the many opportunities the town offers. This is the type of community local elected officials should be advocating for. Hope Mills deserves it, and it serves as a major contrast to what now exists.  This needs to change. Vote in November. Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

The Hope Mills Creative Arts Council hosted a rock-painting event the morning of Sept. 21 on the lawn of Mayor Jackie Warner’s children’s boutique. The event was attended by two Girl Scout troops, local artists and several members of a local rock-painting group. As the event was winding down, one guest asked to have her photo taken with her family and the mayor. Later she posted that photo, along with several others from the event, on social media and tagged Warner.
Within minutes of the photo being uploaded, resident and chairman of the Hope Mills Historic Preservation Committee, Pat Hall, posted a comment, “With her black heart hard as a rock she fits right in.”
Whether or not Hall realized the comment sounded racist is unknown, but she deleted it about an hour after it was posted. But not before several people saw it and took screenshots of it.
On Sept. 23, the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners discussed the issue. Commissioner Pat Edwards made a motion to remove Hall from the commission and reminded the board that in February of this year the nominating committee —Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mitchell, who is currently running for mayor against Warner and Commissioner Jerry Legge, who is running for re-election — made it clear they wanted to populate the various boards and committees with citizens who are “in harmony” with the Board of Commissioners. Hall’s comment, which was directed at Warner, clearly indicates she’s not in harmony with the mayor.
But the bigger issue was the perceived racism in the comment. The woman who posted the photo viewed it as racist, as did most of the citizens who saw it.
Commissioners Meg Larson, Mitchell, Legge and Bellflowers voted against Edward’s motion, leaving Hall on the committee. Several commissioners mentioned asking Hall directly about her comment, but the board didn’t instruct the town manager to invite Hall to the next meeting. And none of them asked what the mayor thought of the comment, which was aimed at her; or what the woman who posted the photo thought of Hall’s comment.
Two weeks earlier, Larson suggested an amotion hearing was called for because Warner received an email from Up & Coming Weekly Publisher Bill Bowman in February 2018 with an advance copy of an article that Larson didn’t like. Warner didn’t participate in the article; she simply received a copy a few hours before it was posted online. If the punishment for that is being forcibly removed from office, what would they have done if Warner had posted a racist comment offending the public and insulting a fellow board member? Would the board have been so quick to defend her?


This is simply another vulgar display of the double standard by which the board has operated for nearly two years. They’ve wasted hours reversing longstanding rules to limit the scope of Warner’s power. They’ve even created new ordinances designed to limit her activity, just to violate the ordinances themselves.

Pictured: Carla Welsh of the newly formed Hope Mills Historical Society chats with commercial developer John Malzone at the Hope Mills Community Roundtable held on Sept. 26.

Vaping for fun and profit

03 VapingLook down, look down that loathsome road and decide today’s question: Are e-cigarette companies worse than heroin pushers? At least with heroin, the first shot is free. Ponder this issue for a moment to divert you from deciding whether having to buy the ACC network from cable vision is a rip-off or merely an abomination. First, a brief tour through the candy-flavored mists of vaping history. In 2006, a Chinese company brought out an e-cigarette called the Ruyan V8. It was billed as a way to help people stop smoking tobacco. The Ruyan V8 sounds like either a vegetable health drink or a snazzy sports car that James Bond might have driven.

Gentle reader, perhaps you are curious about what vaping involves. The Ruyan began with simple tobacco flavored e-juice. This tobacco juice proved. E-cigs soon begat a variety of flavored e-juices. There are some pretty funky ingredients in e-juice.

Consider the components. E-juice contains sweet-tasting glycerol, which is also used in explosives and antifreeze. It has propylene glycol to create the beautiful and sophisticated clouds of vapor. Oils both natural and unnatural flavor the e-juice. Nicotine rounds out these taste treats. Nicotine provides the bracing addicting element that keeps vapers coming back for more. Fun fact: One e-juice pod is about the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes. The final ingredient is benzoic acid, a food preservative that has the added benefit of increasing the potency of the nicotine.

The ingredients in e-juice could have come from Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. Recall the witches hanging around the stew pot mixing up their own e-juice chanting: “Double, double toil and trouble/Fire burn and caldron bubble/Fillet of a fenny snake/In the caldron boil and bake/ Eye of newt, and toe of frog/Wool of bat, and tongue of dog/Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting/Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing/For a charm of powerful trouble/Like a hell-broth boil and bubble/Double, double toil and trouble/Fire burn and caldron bubble.” I would take my chances with the witches’ brew before an e-pod.

Smokers put e-juice into the internal combustion engine of the vaporizer to impregnate their lungs with the deeply satisfying molecules of nicotine and the other delicious chemicals. This process of inhaling witch’s brew of e-juice by the addicted vaper is reminiscent of the scene in “Silence of the Lambs” where Buffalo Bill tells the captive lady in the pit: “It puts the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again.” The vaper puts the e-juice in his lungs, or else he gets the nicotine shakes again.

Vaping is big business. “The Wall Street Journal” reports $7 billion of vaping went on in 2018 by 8 million adults and 5 million children. Unsurprisingly Big Tobacco is all over e-cigarettes. The Altria Group, which used to be named Phillip Morris, owns 35% of Juul — the leading seller of e-cigarettes. Juul runs full-page ads in “The Wall Street Journal,” saying it doesn’t want children to buy its product. Similarly, I, as a UNC fan, don’t want North Carolina State to get rid of a bad basketball coach, either.

Debate remains about whether the various e-cigarette companies are sincere about not selling their product to children. If you go on an e-cigarette website, you have to click on a box that says you are over 21 to buy e-cigarettes there. It’s the honor system. Clicking on the box is as effective as the old stickers on cigarette machines that said minors could not buy cigarettes from the machine. Consider the names of some flavored e-juices that various vaping companies used to entice underage buyers to purchase their products. I am not making these flavors up: Cool Mint, Mango, Crème Brûlée, Cool Cucumber, Fruit Medley, Chocolate, I Love Donuts- Blueberry, I Love Cookies, Vanilla Custard, Cinnablaze, Corn Flake Tart, Blueberry Jam, Baby Clouds, Blueberry Cobbler, Peanut Butter Cup, and Custard’s Last Stand. There are hordes of manly men out there wanting to smoke Baby Clouds e-cigarettes.

Here actual ad copy on an e-cigarette web site that doesn’t appear to be aimed at adults. To wit: “Many smokers who switch to vaping start out with tobacco flavors and move on to find delight in these sugary e-liquids, which are also available in seven or more nicotine levels. Many of these e-cig dessert flavors are available in our high-VG Ultimo Vapor E-Juice, including Napoleon’s Fave. When you vape it, it feels like you’re devouring a cone topped with a triple-scoop of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream that never melts! Vapers and former smokers can also find e-cig indulgence in our prefilled e-cig cartridges, where these dessert e-juices are among 150 flavors that come loaded up and ready to deliver you pure vaping pleasure.”

As Macbeth’s witches said: “Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf/ Witches’ mummy; maw and gulf/ Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark; Root of hemlock digg’d in the dark; Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse/ Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips/ Make the gruel thick and slab;/ Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron/ For the ingredients of our cauldron/ Cool it with a baboon’s blood/ Then the charm is fine and good.”

Take a puff; it’s summertime. Enjoy the pure vaping pleasure of the hell-broth.

The secret to eternal youth

14 WorshipThe secret to eternal youth is a lot simpler than we make it. It's not found in some rejuvenating elixir or dietary plan. The only remedy to growing old is to simply stop waking up. Because the fact of the matter is that every time we wake, we are certain to have aged — at least a little.

As I crossed the threshold of a landmark birthday this summer, I found myself surprised at how quickly it actually got here. When I was a young man, I thought by this time in my life I'd be creaking around, sitting in a rocker on the porch randomly yelling at neighborhood kids to get off my lawn. But no. Growing old and aging aren't necessarily the same.
On a recent weekend, I put in some earbuds and headed out to mow the lawn and selected a playlist that caused me to be excited not only for my age, but also for the generations coming behind me. Warning: the rest of this will probably seem decidedly Christian to some, but what do you expect? I run a Christian radio station, which is more an extension of who I am than it is has ever been a job.
The playlist I selected was called, “Praise and Worship Hotlist.” It treated me to dozens of songs ranging from energetic pop to reflective anthems  — all with a focus on inciting a deeper relationship with God in the listener. The experience led me to recall the cliché phrases we hear from those aging around us like, “They call that music?” But that's not how I felt. Instead, I thought it was beautiful to hear such lyrical and poetic thoughts wrapped in musical packages that completely reflected a generation I can only observe from the outside.
The young songwriters and musicians spoke to the realities of their world. And while we hear many people complain about the same things, they offered them to God, and declared he was the one who would strengthen them to endure and eventually change them. All the more poignant, most of the songs were recorded live, and you could hear the echoes of a great crowd around them.
We often hear about the number of young people walking away from the church. We're told they hold nothing about their parents' faith dear. They even call them the “nones.” No preference. No faith. Nothing. What we hear less about is the burgeoning faith and devotion of the same generation who didn't leave. Or the ones whose faith came fully alive as they entered adulthood.  For the former — the nones — perhaps they didn't walk away at all. More likely they only went
through the motions of faith because that's where their parents took them or where  their limited social circle centered.
Genuine Christian faith is not something you walk into and out of. It becomes more an extension of who you are than a place you go or a thing you do. And to those demonstrating that faith: I like your music. Walk on my lawn any time.

“Rocky” start good thing for Hope Mills art group

02 RocksPublisher’s Note: There’s always something to do in Cumberland County! This past week was a perfect example of the diverse activities that are happening. We have theatres, festivals, car shows and even events celebrating the accomplishments of service organizations in our community. The Vision Resource Center, over the weekend, brought the community together in Downtown Fayetteville to thank them for their support and to raise money for the continuation of their relentless service to our blind and sight-impaired population. This kind of activity is popping up all over the county. I am yielding my space to Earl Vaughan, Jr. who has discovered an emerging cultural organization in Hope Mills. Their projects are aimed at enhancing the arts and cultural awareness in Hope Mills as well as the quality of life for its citizens. Without a doubt, Hope Mills ROCKS! Thanks for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

It could be said that the Hope Mills Creative Arts Council is off to a rocky start. Fortunately, it’s in a positive way.

The newly created arts council recently got the help of a couple of local Girl Scout troops to introduce itself to the Hope Mills area and recruit more artists and volunteers to grow the organization.

This past weekend, the council held a rock-painting event to create miniature works of art that will be given away at the upcoming Ole Mill Days at Hope Mills Municipal Park.

“We were trying to come up with something we could do to announce our presence and be a small part of Ole Mill Days,’’ said Elizabeth Blevins, executive director of the council and a contributing writer to Up & Coming Weekly.
“We have a small budget so we invited Girl Scout troops to come paint rocks,’’ Blevins said. “Painting them and hiding them in parks is a big thing at the moment.’’

The arts council provided the Girl Scouts from troops 1147 and 2147 the rocks and the paint to create the miniature art works.

Blevins said the council has also teamed up with other civic organizations that will work with the members of the arts council the night before Ole Mill Days on Saturday, Oct. 5 and hide the rocks around Municipal Park on Rockfish Road where most of the Ole Mill Days activities will be held.

“They will be able to find the rocks and this will let them know we are there,’’ Blevins said.

The public is welcome to keep the rocks or hide them again for someone else to find at a future date.

Blevins said one of the rocks she’ll be hiding was one she and her husband Jim found during a recent visit to Calabash. “Sometimes it’s about moving them from place to place, the joy of having found them and being able to distribute them,’’ she said.

For further information on the Hope Mills Creative Arts Council, visit its Facebook page of the same name. The staff is working on a website and will provide the name of it on the Facebook page as soon as it’s available.

“We are always excited to hear from artists, musicians, performers, volunteers and people who just want to be involved,’’ Blevins said.

To contact the group directly, email to or call Blevins at 910-853-4539.

Challenges to faith and reason

04 TrumpOver the past week, I received comments from three readers regarding two of my recent columns. They raised questions and challenges that some other readers likely share. Consequently, I will respond in this column.

The first two emails addressed my column titled “When the selfish quest for power alienates reason.” One reader countered my positive comments regarding President Trump by contending that no president has been more corrupt and fundamentally evil than Trump. He stated that the president has no interest in religion.  Apparently, in support of that argument, he assesses Trump as publically reading Scripture in a fashion that shows lack of familiarity with the Bible. Then comes the conclusion that Trump’s behavior is abhorrent to all who believe. In light of my being Christian, he then wants to know why I support the president. That question is followed by him accusing me of “unrelenting allegiance” to the Republican Party. On the last statement, I am registered as unaffiliated.
Like the first respondent, the second reads my column frequently and often gives feedback by email. In the case of this column, he reiterated, correctly, that I spend a substantial amount of ink challenging the conduct and policy positions of Democrats. He says I favor Republicans,  and that doing so is unfair and unproductive. This reader also argues that my thinking and policy positions conflict with the will of God and the call of Scripture. My support of Trump troubles him, too.
Then there was an email sent to the Up & Coming Weekly editor by a lady who identified herself as being black and a veteran. The text of that email was addressed to me and commented in response to my column titled “Leonard Pitts, Jr. assigns honorary whiteness.” She opened by stating that she had no idea that there were still black men in America as clueless as me. After commending my call for decision-making through thoughtful assessment of facts, she states that I fail to see the truth when it comes to accurately assessing Trump.
She says these are some of the truths I am missing with regard to Trump: He is only for rich, white, straight men. He does not care about people in America who are any shade of brown. He raped the school lunch healthy eating initiatives for schools (majority black/brown) that have lower-income children. He gives veterans anything they want, and most of them are white. His moral compass is nonexistent, and he encourages and incites hateful acts on people of color.
A bit later, she excoriates me for trusting Dr. Ben Carson’s contention that Trump is not a racist. In closing, the writer says that I am not addressing the issues that affect people, not being a voice for those who need one because Up & Coming Weekly does not allow me to do so. She says they give me the biggest page not to inform people of anything, but to make a fool of me. This writer ends her email by saying she does not want to receive a response from me.
Taken as a whole, these readers challenge the appropriateness of how faith influences my decision-making, question the validity of my substantial criticism of Democratic strategy/tactics/policies and seek to suppress my thinking that does not conform to liberal orthodoxy.
Regarding my being Christian, a person of faith, while supporting Donald Trump, start with my understanding of the gospel and how God deals with humankind. I believe the creation account. The human condition was and is that we have an inclination to sin. That is, sinning is a natural response in human beings. Dr. R.C. Sproul, in an article titled “Jonathan Edwards: We Are Inclined to Sin” confirms this human condition when he writes: “Why can we find no societies in which the prevailing influence is to virtue rather than vice? Why does not society influence us to maintain our natural innocence?”
Sin separates us from God, sours our relationship with him. We reestablish that relationship by believing the gospel and, in response to our believing, having the Holy Spirit come to dwell in us. That presence of the Holy Spirit directs and strengthens us for saying “no” to sin and “yes” to godly living. A key component of this process is God’s forgiveness of sin. In an article titled “What Does the Word ‘Gospel’ Mean in the New Testament?” R.C. Sproul writes this:  “The gospel is about Jesus — what he did, his life of perfect obedience, his atoning death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven and his outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church.”
What does this God, gospel, and forgiveness stuff have to do with my support of Donald Trump? Despite his sometimes seeming offensive and attacking words, the charges of marital infidelity and the ardent search by so many for reasons to impeach him, I look at him in light of the offer of God to us in our sinfulness and separation from Him. I find it hard to believe that Trump is able to, with high energy and focus in the midst of all-out efforts to literally destroy him and his family, accomplish all the good he is doing. It has to be that he is on this journey to forgiveness, repentance and a right relationship with God.
Surely, some readers will find all of that hilarious. As you laugh, be reminded of King David from Scripture. First Chronicles 18:14 says, “So David reigned over all Israel; and he administered justice and equity to all his people.”
Now this from a Bible study titled “The Life of King David.”
“Unfortunately, many of David’s problems are self-inflicted. His illicit affair with Bathsheba, the arranged murder of her husband and attempt at covering up his sins cost him grief, dishonor, the life of a child and trouble within his household.
“The sin of taking a census to determine the size of his army, instead of trusting God, cost the lives of more than 70,000 Israelites. His lack of discipline in his own house contributed to his son Absalom rebelling against him and another son Adonijah seeking to inherit the throne instead of Solomon.”
The bottom line is that, time and again, like with King David, God uses imperfect and improbable people to do extraordinary things. It looks to me as though Trump might be one of those cases.
Further, the “love one another” interpretation that is repeatedly presented to me by many who disagree with my thinking on political, social and religious matters, apparently only applies to people who differ with them. Their “love one another” interpretation causes outrage at Trump when he speaks in seemingly harsh terms toward others. However, they are silent when boycotts are called against business owners for supporting Trump or his staff members are harassed in public places or the names of donors are published so that they may be ridiculed and somehow punished. Supporters are verbally attacked and bullied in their workplace while liberal media focuses on Trump’s destruction. Seeing and experiencing this one-sided approach inclines me even more to support Trump. The God I serve abhors hypocrisy and hatred of others.
Then, in this moment, I cannot think of a Trump policy initiative with which I disagree. Sure, there are issues such as climate change and mass shootings that I wish we could, as a nation, address in a nonpolitical and productive fashion. I think Trump is trying to do what is good for America and that he loves this country. Being focused on what is good for and loving the country are getting to be rare qualities in America. Given the rarity of these qualities, I will take my chances with Trump.
As for my frequent opposition to Democratic policies and actions, I confess. I do not have space to give the list, but I believe that just about every policy and action being pursued by Democrats is foolhardy and dramatically jeopardizes the very survival of this nation. I do not say much about Republicans because, especially in Congress and with a few exceptions, I see them as a bunch of wimps who let Democrats bully them into doing nothing. In the meantime, Democrats promise, manipulate voters, and also do nothing of positive consequence. For more on this thinking, see my column titled “U.S. Congress: Far too many bullies and wimps.”
All three of these readers, but especially the third one, challenge my capacity for assembling facts, fairly examining them and reaching supportable conclusions. On this point, I find it interesting that not one of them specifically countered the detailed arguments that I put forth in those columns. Instead, they challenge my faith and my ability to reason. Granted, the female reader wrote off Dr. Ben Carson, but with no support for why, she said his assessment of Trump not being a racist should be disregarded. Couple this lack of specific responses to the points in my column, with her all-out verbal assault on me, along with a refusal to receive a response from me, and you see the primary liberal strategy. I find that strategy repulsive and just more reason to give Trump a fair look.
My thanks to these readers for giving me reason to rethink my support of Donald Trump. No change!
Merritt’s columns mentioned above are available at

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