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The art of contentment

14 Christmas Christmas 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:

"My God will supply every need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
 

Smith Recreation Center as early voting site for primary

03 N1611P52005CEditor's Note: On Dec. 20, The North Carolina Board of Elections approved making Smith Recreation Center an early voting site for the 2020 primary.

My wife and I recently watched a movie titled “The American President.”
 Michael Douglas plays the role of President Andrew Shepherd. In a press briefing near the end of the movie, Douglas makes this statement regarding his reelection opponent, Sen. Bob Rumson, played by Richard Dreyfuss: “Whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who to blame.” This statement is from a movie, but it is true in real life today. However, to fear, I would add anger.

The happenings in our time that demonstrate the truth of this approach are numerous. One is the push to make Smith Recreation Center an early voting site during the 2020 primary. The Cumberland County Board of Elections was unable to, as required by law, unanimously approve this proposal. All three Democratic members — Floyd W. Johnson Jr., Irene Grimes, Helen Nelson — voted in favor, while the two Republicans voted in opposition. Lacking a unanimous vote for approval, the matter must go before the State Board of Elections for a decision. That board has a majority Democratic membership, and only a majority vote is required to approve the Smith Recreation Center proposal.

In this case, the argument made by proponents of Smith Recreation as a site is that the surrounding area is home to many elderly citizens, convenient for voting by students at Fayetteville State University and would encourage voting by university students. This argument summary is based on comments made by citizens who spoke at a meeting of the County Board of Elections on Nov. 12.

Now consider the response of many Smith proponents when making it an early voting site for a primary was rejected by the two Republican members of the Board — Linda Devore and Bobby Swilley. There was an immediate rush to generate fear and anger while blaming Republicans for supposed unfair treatment of black citizens.

An example of this fear, anger and blaming approach shows through in a statement attributed to Val Applewhite. It appears in an article titled, “Vote site fight: Should early voting be held next door to Fayetteville State University?” by Paul Woolverton. He writes: “Val Applewhite, a prominent local Democrat and former Fayetteville City Council member, said on Facebook that she thinks Republicans voted against the Smith Recreation site in an effort to prevent Democrats from voting.”

Then the following comments were made by Floyd W. Johnson Jr., chairman of the County Board of Elections, during an exchange with Linda Devore when discussing consistency in voting procedures as recorded in the Nov. 12 Board meeting minutes: “Polling sites primarily in African-American communities have been closed to save money, or the turnout is too low, so they combine polling sites. To me, that is a form of voter suppression. I believe it is a template to suppress the African-American voters. That is fact.”

Simply screaming “voter suppression” and blaming Republicans is typical employment of fear, anger and blaming in pursuit of political advantage and power. The unfair and destructive results of this tactic are compounded by the routinely accompanying misinformation and refusal to honestly consider the facts that support the position being questioned.

In the Smith Recreation situation, some speakers in the Nov. 12 meeting were clearly under the impression that Smith had been an early voting site for primaries in past presidential elections. Smith has never been an early site for a presidential primary. The only time it was an early site for a primary was in 2014. That was due to 2013 legislation that reduced the early voting period from 17 to 10 days. Terri Robertson, director of the Cumberland County Board of Elections, explained that Smith was added that year due to the reduced days and expected resulting need for relief at the North Regional Library site. The 2013 legislation was repealed, and the early voting timeframe returned to 17 days. That negated the need for Smith as a primary early voting site. What happened here points to sound reasoning and not to voter suppression.

Another bit of misinformation raised by some speakers was that Cross Creek 13, the precinct for which Smith Recreation Center is the polling place, was being closed. The minutes reflect the following: Secretary Devore was recognized to make a comment of clarification. Because several public commenters mentioned this, there is no proposal or discussion before this board to close CC13. It has never been a consideration. There are 77 precincts in this county, and they will all be open on election days.

My observation is that most of the fear and anger production, along with blaming, is done on social media, especially Facebook. Not surprisingly, I have seen nothing on Facebook from proponents of Smith as a primary early voting site correcting these two points of misinformation.

In 2014, when Smith was an early primary site, 362 votes were cast early. As of Dec. 12, 2019, 51 of those voters were no longer registered, leaving 311. Voters in  the 311 came from 54 different precincts. Only 10 of the 54 had six or more votes cast; most of the others had one or two. The distance from Smith to the nearest primary early voting site, Board of Elections at 227 Fountainhead Lane, is 2.5 miles. Of the 10 precincts from which most early voters came to Smith in 2014, following are the polling places that are less than 2.5 miles from Smith, along with the number of voters and distance: Cross Creek 5, 18/1.1; CC16, 88/.9; CC17, 19/1.9. Smith is Cross Creek 13 and had 24 early voters in 2014. This says 149 votes came from the Murchison Road area that appears to be the basis of the call for Smith being a primary early voting site. For good measure, add another 25 to allow for any low turnout precincts in the area that I did not include here. At the $20,000 minimum estimated cost to operate an early voting site, that is $115 per voter.

One can make the argument that 2014 was not a presidential election year as 2020 will be. That is a fair point. Look at the 2016 primary. In an article titled, “Last day of early voting brings lines and skateboarding voters,” Paul Woolverton writes that Terri Robertson said preliminary figures indicated 18,539 votes were cast in early voting for the March 15 primary. That was 31% of the 60,098 total votes cast in that primary. The four precincts that I contend make up the focus area for pursuit of early voting at Smith cast a total of 2,516 votes in that primary. Assuming 31% is a good early vote approximation across the board, 780 votes would be cast from those four precincts.

Jeff Womble, associate vice chancellor of communications at Fayetteville State University, stated that approximately 1,400 students live on campus at the university. A table at  www.census.gov labelled “Table 2. Reported Voting and Registration, by Race, Hispanic Origin, Sex, and Age: November 2018” indicates that 45.7% of black college students 18-24 years old register to vote and do so at a 31% rate. Applying this math to the 1,400 students indicates 434 students might vote. Applying the 31% early vote percentage yields 135.

Altogether, approximately 915 early votes might be expected from the four focus area precincts. At $20,000, that is $21.86 per voter. Assume the six sites used in 2016 each cost the high of $30,000. The total of $180,000 divided by 18,539 is $9.71. That is less than half the average for operating Smith at the low-end cost. Granted, only four precincts are used in these computations. That seems reasonable since the stated aim is to address the perceived needs of that specific area.

Distance between early voting sights should also come into play. The average distance between the six sites that are normally used is 12.21 miles, while the shortest is between Cliffdale Recreation Center and the Board of Elections at 6.2 miles. If Smith Recreation Center is made an early voting site, it will only be 2.5 miles from the Board of Elections, where focus-area citizens could vote early. That is less than half the distance between the two closest sites and just 20% of the average.

Regarding convenience, a person may take a 16-minute city bus ride from the Murchison Road side of Fayetteville State to 505 Franklin St. downtown and then walk 0.3 miles to the Board of Elections for early voting. A bus ride directly to the Board of Elections is 32 minutes.

The picture here is one of misinformation that is not widely and forthrightly corrected by those who initially contribute to forming it: accusations of black voter suppression not supported by facts or reason; focusing on a small segment of the population when, in this case, equal treatment of all should be the aim; disregarding the high financial cost of the proposed change; not recognizing the inequity of having one site so much closer to another than is the case with others; by declining use of city buses, calling for greater convenience than seems necessary.

Finally, this singular focus will very possibly conflict with the intent, if not the letter, of recently passed legislation. During the 2016 primary, in these four precincts, a total of 2,516 ballots were cast: 205 by Republicans, 2,301 by Democrats, and 10 by others. Having Smith Recreation Center as an early voting site during the primary would clearly favor Democrats and a primarily black population. Senate Bill 683/SL 2019-239, 163-227.6(b) speaks to voting site selection and ends with “... that the use of the sites chosen will not unfairly favor any party, racial or ethnic group, or candidate.”

Given all that is presented here, I do not see a reasonable case for making Smith Recreation a primary early voting site. I am finishing this column on Dec. 13, 2019. It is very possible the N.C. Board of Elections will render a decision before this column is published. Whether the board’s decision comes before or after publication of this column, examining their decision in light of what is said here will be a worthwhile edeavor. The aim of that endeavor should be to examine the decision based on facts and reason as opposed to emotion and political manipulation (fear, anger, blaming). Remember the warning given by Michael Douglas in his role as President Andrew Shepherd.

Debates do not solve problems

04 I think youre wrong butWatching all the problems that threaten the continued existence of America but go unsolved has brought me close to a state of despair. At times, our situation seems completely hopeless. In several columns, I have contended that the primary cause of our troubled condition is due to a turning from God and the ways of God. For me, that remains the primary cause.

However, I recently read an observation that further explains, as a society, our seeming inability to successfully address the simplest of problems. Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers are authors of a book titled, “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening).” At one point, they reflect on an experience during their podcast, Pantsuit Politics. Holland is a Democrat and Silvers is a Republican. They discuss politics. When discussing how best to achieve productive discussion of issues, they emphasize the importance of grace. They write: “Grace isn’t rolling over or acquiescing to those who have completely different values than we do. It is simply seeing our shared connections and acknowledging each other’s human dignity so that we can continue moving forward as a country.”

They go on to say, “Grace permeates most of our conversations with each other on the podcast — so much so that listeners often don’t even recognize our disagreements because it doesn’t feel like fighting.”

However, at one point, they decided to experiment with a different format. This format would make their differences more apparent. In actuality, they decided to debate one another. Over time, the debates shifted in tone. This quote describes the course of these debates: “However, as we continued, we began to occupy our predefined roles as a Democrat and a Republican. Beth defended the role of private industry in energy production. Sarah argued for an increased role for the federal government in environmental regulations. We bickered about the power and authority of state and local governments. We danced around our shared interests only to fall back into our conflicts over profit motivation and government corruption.

“Slowly but surely you could hear us begin to become skeptical of each other’s motives.”

The writers come to this conclusion: “In the end, what we realized is that debates aren’t problem-solving. They are dramatized events filled with manufactured conflict. We weren’t trying to find a solution that would make both sides happy. We were arguing that we were a better choice to solve the problem.”

The conclusion reached by Hollard and Silvers regarding debates is absolutely true; one only has to look at what is happening in America to know that their conclusion is astoundingly true. Start with a situation happening in Fayetteville. For months, Mayor Mitch Colvin and others have been highlighting alleged overwhelming opposition to construction of the North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center in our city. A public hearing regarding this matter was, at the urging of Mayor Colvin, held in the Council Chamber on Nov. 14. I attended the hearing but sat in an overflow room because attendance was substantial.

The mayor opened the hearing by explaining the meeting flow, rules for speakers and for general conduct. In my estimation, what followed was a very civil debate. Speakers shared their positions relating to the project. There were no questions allowed to be directed to speakers, no audience participation that would have provided for measuring the impact of what was presented by speakers. Further, there was no allowance for questioning facts or construction of arguments presented by speakers.

Regarding that meeting, a Nov. 24 Fayetteville Observer article titled, “Readers debate Civil War history center,” reported: “… around 300 people came to a public forum for the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center. Thirty-nine people spoke in favor of the center, five were against and four were neutral.”

Beyond this, a Nov. 16  Fayetteville Observer editorial titled “Our View: Public vote on Civil War center should not be ruled out” raised a possible action that, in my thinking, highlights the uselessness of debates in solving problems or deciding difficult issues. That editorial refers to a call by one speaker, Nero B. Coleman, for a referendum on the History Center. That is, let the voters decide the fate of this project. The Observer’s position is that a referendum “should not be taken off the table.”

Given how little attention the general public gives to a matter of this kind, while being influenced by emotion vice thoughtful examination of facts, a referendum would appear ill-advised. It would be like having a jury decide the fate of an accused person based on hearing 15 minutes of 25 hours of testimony. In a referendum, people would act based on having heard limited debate points, many of which would probably be misinformation.

As for me, I left the meeting impressed with most of the speaker presentations, but not sensing a coming together of citizens around some shared values and beliefs, some shared vision as to what is good for us as a city, state and even a nation. No, it was a matter of one group seeking to out-point the other.

Because that was the case, even though it was crystal clear, as The Observer reported, that the number of speakers who supported this project substantially outnumbered those who did not, the matter is still not settled. The battle for which group will control the fate of this project goes on. The fact of the battle going on is confirmed by what appears to be serious consideration of a referendum. This is what debate produces; ongoing battles that divide people into competing groups. No problems are solved, most people lose and a few win — for a moment.

If this local situation does not offer confirmation that debate is useless in solving problems, consider what is happening in the current impeachment inquiry. I watched the first day of public hearings being conducted by the House Intelligence Committee. That first day, I watched straight through all of it. The second day and beyond, I had to watch in 15 to 20 minute increments. That is, I would watch for those few minutes, take a break and come back for a bit more. That was the case because it was all debate, people trying to accrue points with the public. Like with the meeting at City Hall, I did not sense these politicians coming together around some shared values and beliefs, some shared vision, as to what is good for us as a country. It was a debate, and the destructive cost to this nation just keeps going up while no positive end is anywhere in sight.

Thankfully, these two experiences are not the end of the story. On a rainy and dreary Friday night, Nov. 15, I made my way to a meeting called by Councilwoman Tisha Waddell, District 3. Waddell’s purpose was to discuss several topics with citizens of her district and others who might be interested. It was a small group. Among the topics discussed were the “Build A Better Murchison” project, storm water management, sidewalks, street resurfacing and The North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center. Very capable individuals addressed the topics and answered questions regarding each. Clearly, by her comments, Councilwoman Waddell was well-informed relative to every topic.

The information flow and factual presentations were encouraging. Even more encouraging was the tone of the meeting. Councilwoman Waddell opened by reminding all of us that when the meeting was over, we would still be neighbors. Her use of “neighbor” clearly conveyed far more than living near one another. The message I received was that being neighbors demands that we give due consideration to others in our decision-making. It was not simply that she said it, but the way she said it. There was a ring of sincerity, a convincing call for us to rise above scoring debate points and focus on finding a mutually beneficial way forward. The vast majority of the people in the room appeared to make that shift.

My hope, my prayer, is that more and more Americans will recognize that we are neighbors and take hold of the grace that will move us from useless debate to productive discourse.

A biker's gift guide

13 motorcycleIt is time to start getting your Christmas gifts together. If you need some good gift ideas for someone special, let me help.

The multipurpose tool

It is incredible how many times I’ve had to use my multipurpose tool. I’ve used it for everything from removing a nail from my tire to cutting a cable. A good motorcycle multitool should have a file or hacksaw in the event you have to cut something away, like a cable, file a piece of metal down or pull a nail out of your tire while on the road. Both Leatherman and Gerber make quality tools. I'd reccommend the Gerber Legend Multi-Plier 800 with Berry Compliant Sheath. The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $140. You can pick them up at most outdoor stores. One thing to remember is quality. There are a lot of cheaper brands out there, but there is nothing worse than breaking a tool when you need it most.

The throttle lock

The “Go Cruise” is one of the most innovated throttle locks on the market. It is a brilliant design and easy to install. Installation is less than one minute. It just clips onto your throttle, and you rotate it up against the brake lever, which allows you to ride hands-free. There is no MSRP for this clip, but you can get them on Amazon starting at $32.

Heated clothing

Heated motorcycle clothing is the best. Nothing makes riding in the cold more fun, safer and better than heated clothes. It also allows you to ride your motorcycle year round. A pair of heated gloves and a heated jacket keep the body regulated. When the body is cold, the blood protects our vital organs, which are your heart, brain and chest areas. The rest of the body becomes colder much quicker. This is why we are susceptible to frost bite in the hands, feet and other extremities. There are a variety of manufacturers and prices. You can find these things at your local motorcycle dealer or online.

Toys

I have a few model motorcycles. One year, my wife surprised me with an exact duplicate of my bike. I love it. It is a great compliment to her well-decorated living room. I often look at it and dream about my next adventure. I have toyed with taking it to my office, but I know that I would get caught playing with it. You may be able to find them at your local motorcycle store or in the toy section at your local department store. Prices vary on these from a few bucks to over $100, depending on the material and detail.

Jumper cables

A portable jump starter battery pack can save you if you or your friend’s battery dies. I use to carry jumper cables for years, but hated that I needed another person’s battery if I had a battery issue. For the last few years, I have been carrying a battery pack. There are a lot of manufactures with different features, and prices vary. Many of these packs are multipurpose. Mine has a flashlight, USB charging ports and jumper cables. My pack is not only good for motorcycles and cars, but I have used it to charge devices during power outages, and it is part of my hurricane-preparation packing list.

I hope all of you have a very merry Christmas and happy holiday season. I would like to thank each of you for your support and allowing me to share my stories and experiences over the years. I would also like to thank the Up & Coming Weekly for all the outstanding support to our motorcycle community.

If there is a topic that you would like to discuss you can contact me at motorcycle4fun@aol.com. RIDE SAFE!

Liar, liar, pants on fire! Redux

03 margaretWe all have wonderful and unexpected moments in life, both large and small. One came for me earlier this month when an Up & Coming Weekly reader emailed to ask about a word I used in a column published in May 2008. The word — if it really exists — is “teewaddy,” which is what my grandmother called a lie. As I strolled down Memory Lane rereading that vintage column, it occurred to me that it might be especially relevant in our current climate of spin and blatant use of teewaddies.

Here is a revised version of that column.

    ********************
Growing up in our family, the word “lie” was rarely used. Instead we were admonished not to tell “fibs.” My maternal grandmother, from whom my own mother undoubtedly inherited some of her ideas about language, used an even more creative word than “fibs.” I no longer remember my infraction, but I will remember until my dying day the feeling of my grandmother’s larger hands cupping my then small face with her eyes close to mine, addressing me by my full name and saying, “Don’t you ever tell me another teewaddy!”

I love that eastern North Carolina word, and my own children were regularly cautioned about the dangers of teewaddies.

Unlike my mother and grandmother, though, I find “lie” to be a plain, strong and useful English word. Everyone understands that to lie is to be deliberately untruthful. An error of fact is not a lie. It is a mistake. A lie is something the person telling it knows to be untrue and tells it anyway.  

We all know the difference in our hearts. A mistake is when we call our friend the wrong name, erroneously tell a colleague a meeting is on Tuesday when it is actually on Wednesday or reference Australia when we mean Austria. Lying is when we say or write something to mislead or deceive someone else, knowing full well what we are doing. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, “a lie is a lie is a lie.”

Politicians try to fudge on this point. White House Press Secretary Ron Zieglar once tried to cover up for his boss, Richard Nixon, by saying the president “misspoke.” I remember thinking at the time, “Sounds like a teewaddy-fib-lie to me!” Lying seems most acute during political seasons, and politicians from presidential contenders on down will issue vague and squishy mea culpas trying not to admit, “I told a whopper.”

My own observation and experience are that people are smarter than that. We often know when someone, particularly a public figure, is telling us a tale under the banner of “misspeaking.” My question is why we let misspeakers get away with it, why we tolerate linguistic cleanup attempts, why we let language be used as wrapping paper for something decidedly unattractive and possibly dangerous, why we allow them to put lipstick on pigs of their own creation.
Whatever I told my grandmother all those years ago, whether I lied or just got mixed up about something is lost in time. Either way, she was having none of it. Our family dealt with more than a few teewaddies and fibs as our children were growing up, but if one of them had ever uttered the word “misspoke,” I would have zipped past suspicion directly onto conviction.

We all see and hear misspeakers in public life, and when we suspect they are lying, they probably are. Their lies can be silly, annoying, ingenuous or thoroughly deceitful and frighteningly dangerous. Our job, if we have the courage to do it in this deeply contentious and miserable presidential election season, is to scream loudly and publicly every time we seeing that lipstick coming out of its tube.
 

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