ICYMI: Xpress feature reads of the week

Looking for some longform (or longerform) reads to cozy up with over the weekend? Here’s a round-up of our leading feature stories from the last seven days. Happy reading!

News

Prodigal children: Returning to covenant from the spiritual playground
By Jordan Foltz

“Just for the record, I’m spiritual, not religious.” If you live in Asheville, this probably sounds familiar.

Even after returning to the church Monica Bethelwood (pictured in front of First Presbyterian Church in Asheville) still maintains a spiritual practice informed by the galaxy of traditions she's dabbled in.
Even after returning to the church Monica Bethelwood (pictured in front of First Presbyterian Church in Asheville) still maintains a spiritual practice informed by the galaxy of traditions she’s dabbled in.

In our postmodern age, many have abandoned whatever religion their ancestors followed, preferring to cut and paste from any and all traditions. Sometimes, however, this can mean taking what feels good and leaving the rest. And with information about almost everything now available on demand, it becomes ever more tempting to sample it all, if only to ensure that we’re not missing anything.

But at what point does spiritual exploration morph into consumerism? Do we risk merely succumbing to a drive to gratify our own appetites — and move on to something new whenever the path gets steep?

Some maintain that seeking out only the spiritual highs can eventually devolve into a never-ending string of “honeymoon” experiences that take you only so far. In order to be truly transformed, the argument goes, people need to get some skin in the game, stepping out of their comfort zone and shifting the focus to serving others. (continue reading)

State legislative update presented at United Way briefing
By Virginia Daffron

As reported in our recent article (Fix the system: nonprofits urged to become policy advocates), the United Way of Asheville & Buncombe County hosted its 20th annual legislative briefing on Dec. 8 on the UNC Asheville campus.

The central message of the event, which was attended by almost 150 nonprofit leaders and volunteers, was that nonprofits can and should become public policy advocates in addition to providing direct services to the community.

Speakers Jenny Eblen of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina explained the rationale for nonprofit advocacy, while Greg Borom of Children First/Communities in Schools gave practical tips for implementing or expanding programs to incorporate policy advocacy into the work of local nonprofits. (continue reading)


Art

New Year’s Eve parties around WNC
By Alli Marshall

While it’s not quite a feature read, we thought this next story might be a helpful reminder for your New Year’s Eve plans.

BANG FOR YOUR BUCK: For multiple parties happening under one roof for one ticket price, head to The Grove House, Asheville Music Hall and New Mountain.
BANG FOR YOUR BUCK: For multiple parties happening under one roof for one ticket price, head to The Grove House, Asheville Music Hall and New Mountain.

While 2015 certainly had its high points — New Mountain launched its outdoor stage, The Hop brought us ice cream flights and Hopsicles, and Asheville landed on 7,000* (*not an exact figure) top-10 lists — it’s also been (if you tune into any sort of media) stressful. Happily, there’s one night each year when we get to blow off all that steam, hit the reset button and start a brand-new baggage-free year. So, as we pin our shiniest hopes and dreams on 2016, it makes sense to see its predecessor out in style. Whether that entails peaceful chanting, serious rocking, communing with the undead or benefiting a worthy cause, Xpress has a party for every reveler (and every price point).

All events take place Thursday, Dec. 31. For more New Year’s Eve ideas, visit Calendar, Clubland and mountainx.com (continue reading)


Food

Winter lights: Asheville immigrants share holiday traditions
By Jonathan Ammons

On a Wednesday night, the rooms sit heavy with the scents and sounds of a crackling fire. Candles flicker amid the greenery, and enticing aromas waft in from the kitchen, where North Carolina native Michele Dohse has cooked up a black-eyed pea soup and a skillet of cornbread.

CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS: Pakistan native Ephraim Dean, far right, celebrates an American-style Christmas with his wife, Wendy, second from right, and children, from left, Mikial, Neriya and Attia. Ephraim says he also attends midnight Christmas Eve church services to remind him of the traditions of his childhood.
CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS: Pakistan native Ephraim Dean, far right, celebrates an American-style Christmas with his wife, Wendy, second from right, and children, from left, Mikial, Neriya and Attia. Ephraim says he also attends midnight Christmas Eve church services to remind him of the traditions of his childhood.

Meanwhile, her husband, Till, a German-born immigrant who’s taught at UNC Asheville for 29 years, spins stories.

“For me, and especially my parents, Christmas was when we got the most homesick. We lived in New Orleans, so the differences were even more stark.”

In the mid ’60s, his mother was still trying to use real beeswax candles on the tree, as they’d done in Germany. But the warm weather would dry out the branches, and after a few too many tree fires, they had to stop. “The climate was so different, and it was right at the time when those strange silver Christmas trees were all the rage.”

When his parents moved to the U.S. in 1958, Dohse was left with his grandparents in Germany. He came to stay at age 14, and that’s when he began to feel a profound sense of nostalgia around the holidays. (continue reading)


Living

Beyond belief: Faith communities embrace environmental stewardship
By Virginia Daffron

As Asheville’s First Congregational United Church of Christ approached the century mark, some of the systems that power the gray granite building on Oak Street were showing their age. In 2012, the church’s massive gas-fired boiler gave up the ghost, and the congregation had to consider its options.

In a mechanical room below the sanctuary of Asheville’s First Congregational United Church of Christ, pumps circulate water through a closed geothermal heating and cooling system. Photo by Virginia Daffron
In a mechanical room below the sanctuary of Asheville’s First Congregational United Church of Christ, pumps circulate water through a closed geothermal heating and cooling system. Photo by Virginia Daffron

A new boiler would cost about $25,000, Minister of Music Gary Mitchell recalls. But the forward-looking congregation, which had a strong commitment to environmental stewardship, wanted to explore other options. A geothermal heating and cooling system, which draws heat from the earth during the winter and returns heat to the earth in warm weather, seemed like the perfect complement to the solar array the church had installed in 2011.

But when the estimate came in at $450,000, says Mitchell, he thought, “Of course we’ll go with the $25,000.” So he says he was “flabbergasted” when the congregation opted for the geothermal system. “I thought: These people are really willing to put their money where their mouth is,” he marvels. (continue reading)

The best holiday gift for lifting spirits, wellness
By Nicki Glasser

In the holiday season, it’s easy to get caught up in the pressures of gift buying, parties and family gatherings yet forget about that old Thanksgiving stalwart — gratitude. But thankfulness may be the best gift you can give yourself and others this time of year.

“The holidays can be a really challenging time,” says Asheville psychologist Deborah Barnett. “Depression tends to increase in the population during the holidays, either because we’re comparing ourselves to the smiley faces in the TV ads or what we imagine other people are doing out there,” she says.

“It’s easy to end up focusing on what’s not working and how things are not as good as they should be. Gratitude is really helpful because it helps us shift from the focus on what’s lacking to what is working. … That shift in perspective is really important.” (continue reading)


Opinion

Christmas Eve, 1944: A day to remember
By Joe Elliot

Retired U.S. Army Col. John Bennie Parker vividly remembers the moment he first heard the words “Pearl Harbor.” Parker, who now resides at the State Veterans Home in Black Mountain, was an 18-year-old student at Kansas State University in December 1941. His father, an Army chaplain at nearby Fort Riley, had invited John and his three brothers home for dinner that Sunday. Chaplain Parker took his family out for a spin in his new Plymouth, and when they stopped to get gas, the attendant asked the minister what he thought about Pearl Harbor.

OF CHRISTMAS PAST: Retired Army Col. John Bennie Parker of Black Mountain recalls his role in the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 24, 1944. The photo in the background shows the Christmas Eve bombing flight.
OF CHRISTMAS PAST: Retired Army Col. John Bennie Parker of Black Mountain recalls his role in the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 24, 1944. The photo in the background shows the Christmas Eve bombing flight.

“Who’s she?” asked the chaplain. Like millions of other Americans, the Parkers would soon learn more than they ever wanted to know about the Hawaiian naval base, the site of an aerial attack that morning by the Japanese navy that brought America into the Second World War.

The following day, John Parker went down to the nearest recruiting office to enlist. However, he was told that he must first have written permission from his parents, which his father refused to grant.

“He made a deal with me,” Parker recalls. “He said if I would finish out my semester at Kansas State, he would sign for me, which is what happened.” (continue reading)

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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton [at] gmail.com. Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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