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By the numbers

Religion is — and always has been — part of American life and culture. 

Native Americans worshipped in their own ways long before European settlers set foot on Americans soil, and when they did, at least some came to practice their own religions freely. Most were Christian, both Catholic and Protestant, including small sects apart from more mainstream faiths. Over more than three centuries of colonization and then nationhood, various faiths and traditions spread across our huge nation. Most are among the world’s great 03 churchtraditional faiths — Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism — but we also embrace smaller religious communities, what the late, great comedian Flip Wilson tagged the “church of what’s happening now.” These are often one-of-a-kind religious communities centered on a charismatic leader and without a particular creed or formal statement of belief.

Religion in America is personal. We can choose to be part of a traditional faith or we can do our own thing. We can decide to be “spiritual” as opposed to “religious,” and we can decide we are not sure there is a higher power or that we believe there is none at all. And all of this is guaranteed under the First Amendment of our Constitution, addressing freedom of expression, both political and religious, a right so fundamental and important that the Founding Fathers listed it first.

That does not mean, however, that we know much about the faiths our fellow Americans profess beyond our own, if we have one. The Pew Research Center recently released the results of a national study entitled “Religion and Public Life,” which finds that most of us know not so much about faiths beyond our own, and some of us know not so much about ours either. Here is a broad outline of Americans’ knowledge of the world’s traditional faiths.

Jews, atheists and agnostics answer questions about religious knowledge correctly more than half the time.

Evangelical Protestants also answer religious knowledge questions correctly at above average levels.

Mainline Protestants, Catholics and Mormons answer correctly at about the same level as the general public.

When asked specific questions about Christianity, evangelical Christians score at about the same levels as atheists and agnostics, followed by Catholics, mainline Protestants, Mormons and Jews.

Religious knowledge gets murkier when asked about faiths other than Christianity.

Not surprisingly, Jews score well on questions regarding Judaism, but others not so much. Next highest, but still far behind, are atheists with historically black Protestant congregants bringing up the rear.

When questions about elements of other world religions — Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism — we Americans are almost blank slates. Fewer than half of us know that most people in Thailand are Buddhists. Only about one quarter of us know that Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, and fewer than 20-percent of us know that Ethiopia is a predominantly Christian nation.

Interestingly, most Americans can define what atheists and agnostics believe, but more than 10% of us have no idea at all.

Perhaps more troubling is that while most of us of all religious stripes or no religious stripe at all know that the US Constitution protects freedom of religion, only a quarter of us understand that there can be no religious test for holding public office in our country. In other words, most of us apparently and erroneously believe office holders must affirm some religious beliefs.

The Pew Research Center offers neither conclusions nor opinions on any of this — just the facts as it determined them. It seems clear, though, that in our growing and diverse nation, the more we know and understand each other the better. At this point in our history, we are at each other’s throats politically with no détente in sight. Our freedom of religion is among our most precious legacies from our founders. Perhaps in celebrating and honoring that freedom we will learn more about each other and begin building bridges in other areas of our common lives.

Honestly, we have little place to go but up.

Congratulations, Best of Fayetteville Winners!

02 01BOFspread2019awardspartyAnother Best of Fayetteville has come and gone, and we couldn’t be more proud. Every year, our staff spend months consumed with the Best of Fayetteville. From tracking and counting ballots to notifying and celebrating with the winners, it’s a massive undertaking. But one that is well worth it. 

Seeing the smiles and hearing the chatter at our Best of Fayetteville Party last Tuesday brought home all the reasons we do this annual survey — to celebrate this community, to honor those who are committed to making a difference here, to reach out to our readers and to embrace the excellence that resides here. If you were at the party, you know what I am talking about. The businesses, nonprofits, individuals and groups who came out to let us honor them and their impact on the community had the Ramada Plaza buzzing with excitement. 

One of my favorite things about my job is getting to tell the good news stories here — and there are plenty. Fayetteville and Cumberland County are filled with creative, passionate people determined to do what they can to make their corner of the world a little brighter, and seeing so many of them in one place was invigorating.

Congratulations to the Best of Fayetteville winners. And a big thank you to our readers for participating and showing us exactly what it is that makes this place so special.

Here’s to you, Fayetteville and Cumberland County! Thanks for allowing us to celebrate your goodness and to share your stories.

Check out pages 28-31 to see pictures from the party! A big thank you to all our partners who helped make this event happen!

 

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Click Here for our complete Winners List:

Behind the glamour shot is the real Meg Larson

02 Meg LarsonHope Mills Commissioner Meg Larson has announced she’s not running for office this time. She also announced she is throwing her full support behind fellow Hope Mills Commissioner Mike Mitchell in his bid to unseat incumbent Hope Mills Mayor Jackie Warner.

If you’re wondering why, here is the explanation she gave on the private Facebook page Hope Mills Chatter. I’m not a member of the Chatter, but I have friends in that group who shared screenshots of Larson’s announcement.

Here’s what she wrote: “I am not running. I appreciate everyone that has supported me. However, the thought of possibly sitting another two years with Jackie Warner or Pat Edwards makes my stomach turn. Two of the most ineffective elected officials.

“Working with someone vs. seeing them as they give a cheesy speech at a government event, the Chamber or church does not mean they are good for the community.’’ 

That is the real Meg Larson. No punches pulled there. 

Larson has repeatedly accused Warner of being a bully, of forcing her agenda on the town and leaving the commissioners in the dark about what’s going on. I guess Larson dumped Edwards in the mix because Edwards has consistently defended Warner, not because Edwards is a poor commissioner, which she isn’t.

Go back and take a look at town minutes and see how many times this current board voted 4-1, with Edwards usually being the one, to defeat some plan or idea that the mayor supported. And let us remember, the mayor doesn’t get a vote on this board. And she’s the bully? How ridiculous.

I think one reason Larson and others accuse the mayor of being a bully is because of the way Warner runs town commissioner meetings. Excuse me, folks, but ever hear of parliamentary procedure? A guy named Robert wrote a book about it a long time ago. You can grab a copy on Amazon for $6.99.

The town also has rules of order, adopted by this board, and when Warner has to gavel a commissioner down, it’s usually because they are trying to speak out of turn against the rules. This isn’t Saturday night poker with the boys. It’s an elected governing body with procedures and protocol.

But let’s get back to the bullying issue. It’s a skill Larson has mastered. I know because she bullied me.

In March of this year, I wrote an Up & Coming Weekly story about the town losing artwork donated by students at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke because the commissioners didn’t renew the agreement they had approved the previous year. The whole thing could have been handled with a couple of phone calls to me and my publisher, Bill Bowman. But Larson and company called a special meeting of the board to deal with this red-hot issue.

What made the issue red-hot was they had egg on their faces for not doing their jobs, and they needed someone to blame. Even Warner herself said in my story that “we,” meaning herself and the full board, dropped the ball on the art project. She repeated that comment at the March 25 special meeting. 

 But pass-the-buck Larson and friends attacked Warner, who was legitimately afraid to bring renewal of the art project to the board because of the clear history they had established of voting against anything she supported. Further, the board blasted me. Larson accused me of manufacturing a quote from UNC-Pembroke professor Adam Walls. Walls told me in a phone interview about Warner’s fear of the board rejecting the art project.

Walls later spoke to both Larson and town manager Melissa Adams, and at the special meeting, both said that Walls stated he did not recall making that comment. I attempted to reach Walls after the controversy exploded, but he did not return my phone call. 

“For anyone to assume that and put it in print is irresponsible,’’ Larson said during the meeting. It certainly would have been. 

There is a difference between not remembering something and denying you said it, and what Walls said and what Adams and Larson repeated was not a denial. It was a memory lapse. Walls made that statement I attributed to him during our interview, whether he recalls it or not. 

Larson and others on the board chastised me for that “deplorable” article. They ripped me for not talking with any of them and added that the article contained multiple errors. You can hear the whole thing. The audio recording is on the town of Hope Mills website under minutes and agenda for March 25.

My publisher, Bill Bowman, attended that meeting. The board had the opportunity to ask him to comment and didn’t. 

Interviewing people is a two-way street. First, they have to agree to talk. I have tried to contact several members of the board for stories before. Larson, in an email I still have in my inbox, told me she would not speak to me because she did not approve of the relationship that the town had approved, and eventually rescinded, with Up & Coming Weekly. By the way, UCW is a legitimate North Carolina Press Associated weekly community newspaper — often referred to as news media.

Others, including Mitchell and Jessie Bellflowers, replied to previous requests and said they were too busy to speak with me. I have their replies, too. To his credit, Bellflowers reached out to me at the time of the missing art story, and I have quoted him in stories since. Our conversations have been civil and professional. So have interviews I’ve had with citizens and town staff from Hope Mills in the months since I’ve been writing about the town. Larson remains the only person in that time who has questioned the accuracy of my quotes. 

 Not a single member of the board who complained about that story in that special meeting, save Bellflowers, spoke to me about it. And not one person on the board who complained about factual errors or misinformation in the story asked to write a rebuttal or asked me to print a correction or retraction. In addition, UCW’s longstanding policy is to allow anyone to submit a dissenting opinion, feature or article focusing on the community. The only requirement is that they own it. This is why each article and feature appearing in UCW is accompanied by a photo and short bio of the writer. 

 This whole business with Larson and the feud the board has with Warner is about ego and who gets to call the shots. It’s not uncommon in politics, especially for rookie newcomers, who often have trouble figuring out how one builds a base of support and wins the respect of his or her fellow elected while learning how the process of governing works. 

Before I wrote this piece, I spoke with an acquaintance who is an elected official somewhere else in North Carolina. I explained the situation in Hope Mills to him, and he gave me some sage advice.  He said it’s incumbent on people elected to office to do the best they can to work with the people they’re in office with and bury any personal animosity. 

Judging from her Facebook statement, it’s clear Larson is not capable of that. This being the case, I have a suggestion for her. Resign. Now. If she can’t stomach two more years with Warner and Edwards, she shouldn’t suffer a few more months. She should do it for her health. But mostly for the town’s health. She can then devote the bulk of her energy to slinging more unfounded mud in support of Mitchell’s campaign to unseat the mayor she hates so much. 

Maybe with Larson off the board, the remaining members can find the way to unity and a better Hope Mills. We can only hope so. 

Pictured: Hope Mills Commissioner Meg Larson

What a way to go

 03 Smiling ManA smart-aleck friend of mine, who shall remain nameless — Shawn Schultz — recently sent me an email remarking on my personal physical resemblance to the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus. Aeschylus, or Scully as his buddies called him, was bald. I am bald. My grandfather was bald. I’m aware. 

Recall what George Costanza said in a memorable exchange with Elaine over George’s new toupee. Elaine, referring to George’s fake hair: “You’re bald!” George: “No I’m not. I was bald!” Elaine then grabs George’s toupee, yelling: “I don’t like this thing. Here’s what I’m doing with it,” and tosses the offending hair piece out the window to the streets below. 

 You might well ask what this has to do with Scully. It turns out Scully’s death is a warning to all the bald persons of Earth. If you are bald, or Follicularly Alternatively Blessed — FAB as we in the bald community prefer to refer to ourselves — consider this column a public service announcement that could save your life. 

If you are cursed with hair on your head due to an excess of Neanderthal genes, you can skip the rest of this column and go directly to the crossword puzzle. 

However, if you are FAB, please read carefully and take notes. Your baldness could lead to your premature demise. Like Charlie on the MTA who got caught without an extra nickel when the fare went up, this could happen to you. Now back to the sad tale of our friend Scully. 

Scully was a very popular dude abiding in ancient Greece. He was born in 523 B.C. Before he started writing plays, he had a distinguished military career. He fought in the battle of Marathon in 490 with the Athenians when they whipped the Persian hordes led by King Darius. This made the world safe and profitable for Nike shoes almost 2,500 years later. 

When he was 26, Scully had a dream in which the god Dionysus came to him and told him to start writing plays. Scully, not wanting to disobey a Greek god, started writing tragedies and didn’t stop. Scully is credited with writing between 70 to 90 plays. He has been called the Father of Greek tragedies. 

The Greeks had play-writing contests. Scully won many first-place awards in the ancient Greek version of the Tony Awards. He had the format for writing tragedies down pat. You might say he had the Grecian formula. But if you say that out loud, people will look at you like you lost your mind. So just think it. Don’t say it out loud. 

But in a case of life imitating art, the tragedies Scully wrote appeared in his own life, or rather in his own death. 

Long before telephone psychics appeared on the scene, the Greeks had oracles who, for a price, could predict the future using nothing more than smoke and chicken entrails. An oracle told Scully to watch out for falling objects as one of those Unidentified Falling Objects, or UFOs, had his name on it, which could prove fatal. Scully took this prediction seriously. He started spending most of his time outdoors, where chandeliers and walls wouldn’t fall on him. 

 Like Robert Burns wrote: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’men/ Gang aft a-gley.” Scully’s careful plan to remain outside away from heavy objects wasn’t going to pan out the way he had hoped. 

If the oracle says you are going to encounter a heavy object, it’s gonna happen. You can’t fool the oracle. Like the old Chiffon margarine commercial said in a slightly different context: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. If you think it’s butter/ But it’s not/ It’s Chiffon.” Oracles and Mother Nature always prevail despite the best efforts of mortals. 

 So, here is what happened: One day, Scully was outside warming his bald head in the bright sunshine. An eagle was flying overhead carrying a turtle in its talons. Eagles can’t eat turtles when the turtle is in his shell. But eagles are pretty smart birds. They will pick up a turtle in their claws, fly up into the delirious, burning blue sky and look for a rock to drop the hapless turtle on. The impact cracks the turtle’s shell, and it’s turtle tartar time for the eagle. Yum. 

On this day, instead of the usual eagle-eyed eagle, the eagle overhead was nearsighted and had lost its bifocals. The eagle mistook Scully’s bald head for a rock. He dropped the turtle on top of old Scully all covered with peach fuzz. As Sancho Panza said in “Man of La Mancha”: “Whether the pitcher hits the stone, or the stone hits the pitcher, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.” The turtle and Scully both expired from the impact. 

So what does this mean for the FAB community? If you are outside, wear a hat so a nearsighted eagle does not mistake your head for a rock. I always wear a hat. Jim Morrison of The Doors advised us that “No one gets out of here alive.” There are better ways to leave this mortal coil. Consider the exit strategy of 71-year-old former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, who had a heart attack while “working” with his attractive 26-year-old female assistant. Rocky died with a smile on his face. And not a turtle in sight. Now, go put on a hat. 

If you are bald, or Follicularly Alternatively Blessed — FAB as we in the bald community prefer to refer to ourselves — consider this column a public service announcement that could save your life.

The gift of marriage

11 The Gift of MarriageMy wife and I share a date with one of America's most memorable and celebrated events. On July 20, 1969, America claimed its place in history as the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed and the first human walked on the face of the moon. We heard those famous words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as they were first spoken. TV news stations large and small worked tirelessly to deliver even the most minute detail of the historic event to a waiting world.

Ten years later, on July 20, 1979, Dorothy Aafedt and I said “I do” in a remarkably unremarkable ceremony. Unlike the NASA mission, there were no television crews, no microphones or calculated illustrations. There was just a pair of kids surrounded by a couple of friends and family in a courtroom in southern Arizona. At the time it seemed like a small step, but it has proven to be a giant leap as Dorothy and I have continued to mark time since that date.

This past weekend we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, and it's given me cause to reflect on all that's transpired since our historic first steps.

Time has allowed us several years in Europe with our three children, and a home on both the East and West Coasts of the United States. The small, quiet union of two youngsters from Kansas gave way to an eventual family of 18, counting grandchildren and spouses. All but one now calls North Carolina home.

As a military family, we share memories of being diverted en route — never once landing at our intended destination at the point of our departure. We've relocated to Germany as our belongings relocated to Okinawa and have lived in hotels and motels on two continents while making new friends time and again.

Over the course of the last 40 years, one thing has become evident: there is nothing more important in a marriage than the relationship between husband and wife. When other things became more important, such as careers, children and personal pursuits, trouble isn't far behind. Though I've failed miserably at this on occasion, the facts show that when we make the relationship our top priority, the marriage flourishes.

Just like any other married couple, we've had our share of trials. From the lack or abundance of money to devastating loss and health crises, we've navigated a lot of territory in the past four decades. And honestly, I don't know how we would have fared had we not put our faith in Christ early in the game.

God has proven trustworthy. When we've faced struggles, we've been able to lean on the promise that there is more to this life than living and dying, or meeting and missing bills. Even death has stared us in the face, but with God in our corner, though our knees have gotten weak at times, we never blinked.

In the end, there is no secret formula for a long or successful marriage. It is a gift — a gift you get to open anew each waking day.

Marriage is a gift you get to open anew each waking day.
Photo by Caroline Veronez on Unsplash

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