Letters to the editor

Nonvoters take note

Neale Donald Walsch, the author of Conversations With God, has written the following in his new book, Friendship With God:

“I’ve searched for years to find a political party or movement based soundly on life-affirming principles. To put it bluntly, I needed a reason to vote. I could not find much of what I was looking for in our traditional political parties. Then I read a paradigm-shifting book by Robert Roth. If you are in a place where I have been — a place of searching and losing hope — I promise you that this book will show you an exciting way to turn your spiritual truth into practical political action. Mr. Roth’s book is titled A Reason to Vote. It’s a must-read, even if you are not ‘interested in politics’ — especially if you are not interested in politics. The reason you haven’t been is probably that you haven’t resonated with what politicians are doing. Politics have not provided you with any real way to express who you are. You have not had a reason to vote. Now you will.”

I’ve read the book. In fact, I gave each of my four children copies for Christmas in 1998. Get a copy and become recharged with the hope that we can turn our government around.

— Ana Jo O’Brien

Practice tolerance

I strongly support Mayor Sitnick’s Proclamation of Awareness of Earth-Based Religions. Our Mayflower ancestors came to this country to achieve such awareness. Today’s children need knowledge of this tolerance to avoid prejudice and acts that result from narrow-mindedness.

— Jean Schindell

Stand up for Sitnick

Bravo for Mayor Sitnick. If she did not make the proclamation for the earth-based group, then she could not, with any honesty, respect or fairness, do so for any other religious group.

A proclamation does not mean the mayor, or anyone else, accepts the group’s religion (or any group’s activities), but rather means that this city, this country, honors freedom of beliefs — which is what the United States was founded on, and is the basis for all religious groups to practice their religion as they see fit.

Stand up for Mayor Sitnick!

–Ruth C. Beard

Recognize the need for merchant sidewalk signs

As of Aug. 1, 1999, the city has decided to enforce a 10-year-old sign ordinance. This ordinance makes A-frame sidewalk signs and sandwich-board-type signs illegal and prohibited … meaning this type of affordable sign advertisement cannot be used anywhere — not on the sidewalk, not even on your personal business property. Businesses not in compliance with this ordinance are being fined $50 for every 72 hours the sign remains in place.

Why is this ordinance being enforced now? An argument is that sidewalks are too cluttered, and moveable signs are tripping hazards. If this is a reason to remove sidewalk signs, why do flower planters, mailboxes, tree grates, newspaper boxes and sidewalk art remain?

These types of signs are beneficial and diversify downtown. The city needs to recognize the need for small businesses to utilize sidewalk signs. The current sign ordinance severely limits the size and types of signs that businesses can use on their storefronts.

While we believe the entire sign ordinance needs revision, the first step should be establishing guidelines for sidewalk signage.

The Merchants Action Coalition board is appealing to City Council … to place the sidewalk-sign issue back on their agenda. In the meantime, it is urging City Council to suspend enforcement, until the issue is resolved.

Let’s come to a fair compromise.

— Dwight Butner

Continuing problems at Friends For Animals shelter

If there is any doubt about how things are going at the animal shelter, the question has been answered by Friends For Animals President Jim Lee, in his recent letter to the Asheville Citizen-Times (Oct. 16). Lee brags about how the shelter recently received “adequate” ratings from the state with regard to “ventilation and temperature, waste disposal, odor, equipment and supplies, insect and vermin control, adequate food, adequate water, program of care, animals’ appearance, and no signs of illness.”

They are lucky the inspector didn’t come on a day when animals were desperately in need of water (as an FFA volunteer testified to county commissioners last month), or when a dog with a fractured leg received no medical attention for three days. Lee dismisses the inadequate ratings that were received, and concludes that the inspection is proof that FFA is “running the best possible animal shelter for the citizens of Buncombe County.”

Give us a break. These routine, perfunctory inspections tell us nothing about the vision, or lack thereof, of FFA. The very fact that Lee would draw such a conclusion shows that, although he may be well-intentioned, he just doesn’t get it.

We want more from our shelter. We want management that is not abusive to animals or to people. We want management who understand that their first goal should be to work toward a day when their required services — and the amount of taxpayer money needed to perform them — decrease. This can only be accomplished by aggressively reaching out into the community and promoting spaying and neutering of companion animals.

FFA has never been interested in spending money on education; they currently prefer to spend their money (our money!) on an obscene salary for their executive director and in other useless ways. They don’t even promote spaying and neutering when they have the opportunity to do so for free. Saturday, Oct. 16 was Community Day at the Asheville Mall. Twenty-six organizations were on hand to promote their objectives, but conspicuously absent was FFA, even though their executive director recently told county commissioners that they have “hundreds of volunteers.”

Of course, this letter will generate other letters from FFA loyalists, who will come up with some excuse as to why they weren’t at the mall, and tell everyone how persecuted they all are. They will tell us we should all work together for the best interest of the animals. But they will fail to mention that we can’t all work together, because FFA is a closed organization. Their board meetings are closed to the public, and their members cannot nominate individuals to serve on the board. So let’s cut the nonsense about working together. FFA doesn’t want to work with anyone who may have an opinion of their own. The animal community has never been so divided, which is a direct reflection on Mr. Lee, the FFA board, and the executive director, Mr. Paulhus.

Please, commissioners, give FFA the 120-day required notice of cancellation [of their contract], and let our community go forward with progressive management, to tackle the challenges of companion-animal overpopulation and providing humane treatment to animals. The animals will benefit greatly, as will the taxpayers.

— Terri David

Terri David is a former board member of Friends For Animals.

No more proclamations for now

The mayor traditionally issues proclamations at the request of individuals or groups, approximately 100 a year. On Oct. 12, I, not City Council — and I stress that City Council had no part in this — issued a Proclamation of Awareness of Earth Religions. This proclamation neither endorses nor embraces any of the earth religions — which include Native American spirituality, Celtic, Pagan, traditional African celebrations, Shintoism, and Taoism — but rather calls for awareness and tolerance. It is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a proclamation for witches.

As the mayor of a community of great diversity, I believe it is my responsibility to represent all citizens without bias. As a citizen of the United States, I believe in the fundamental, constitutional right of freedom of religion. Our nation was founded by people escaping religious persecution, and unfortunately, religious prejudice continues today — all over the world. It is not for anyone to tell another how to worship their creator. Being “aware” of different religions — of all religions, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Native American or any other — should not be feared. I don’t tell anyone how to believe, but I support everyone’s right to freedom of religion. I apologize if I have offended anyone, but I support all persons’ rights to religious freedom, and I am happy to say that 99 percent of the communications I have received, whether supportive or not, were from citizens who support the liberties granted by freedom of religion.

I am deeply saddened that a gesture of good intention to support religious tolerance and freedom has caused division in our community. The proclamations with religious themes that have been issued before — like Rock Hill Baptist Church Week, Calvary Baptist Church Day, Nazareth First Baptist Church Day, Beth Israel Day, Day[s] of Prayer, Days of Remembrance, Catholic Schools Week, and Bible Week — have never caused a problem or been an issue. I viewed them as part of an ongoing tradition accepted by the good people of our city.

As an effort toward reconciliation and peace, the Proclamation on Earth Religions Awareness Week has, by mutual agreement, been returned and received by me. I will not issue the Proclamation for Lordship of Jesus Christ Awareness Week. I am suspending the issuance of proclamations and will consider, with Council, what to do in the future.

I will issue no further statements and answer no other questions.

It is my fervent hope that, as we get on with the healing process, we will all have a greater understanding of what our founding fathers meant when they wrote the First Amendment to the Constitution.

— Leni Sitnick

Recreation Park sports complex a much-needed asset

Peter and Esther Fisher have quite a lot to say about the proposed sports complex adjoining Recreation Park in east Asheville [Commentary, “Who said east Asheville wants a mega-sports complex?” Oct. 13]. Unfortunately, most of it is just plain wrong.

Much of their venom is directed toward the Asheville Parks and Recreation Department, whom they accuse of creating this “nightmare” and conspiring “to keep its plan under wraps.”

As a citizen activist involved at the community level in Haw Creek, I’ve seen up close how the Parks and Recreation staff operate, and it is anything but underhanded. We’ve been working in partnership for the past three years to build a new 6-acre park in Haw Creek. At each step in the process, Parks and Rec staff have consulted us regarding design plans, and then incorporated into the plan the feedback they heard. At each step in the process, Director Irby Brinson’s staff has reached out to ensure we were heard.

Perhaps starting from a position of mutual respect is one reason our relationship has worked.

The proposal for the sports complex has been public knowledge for at least the past 18 months. A public hearing regarding recreation needs — held in the spring of 1998 in the East Asheville Community Center — featured a large-scale diagram of this very proposal. The proposal may be new to the Fishers, but not to anyone else who’s been working to improve Asheville’s recreation options.

What about building on a floodplain? At first glance, it might not make sense, considering the fact that, eventually, there will be flooding. This site, however, is one of the very few level sites available for playing fields. You certainly would not want to build houses here, but flooded playing fields will soon dry out. This is actually a very common usage of floodplain areas.

The Fishers also bemoan the fact that they feel left out of the planning process. They say they did not feel there was adequate public notice. Well, they’ve taken the first step toward changing that. By putting this issue in the public arena, they’ve gotten themselves attention. The question is, what will they do with it? Will they bring a solutions-oriented approach to this issue — or just continue to complain? Our efforts in Haw Creek began with complaints about inappropriate development. We quickly realized, however, that being against a project was only the first step. We had to figure out what we stood for, as well. That is where our park proposal originated from. Being a whiner is easy; working for substantive change is a whole other level of commitment.

Finally, I believe the Fishers need to realize they are part of a larger community. They don’t want a park that will bring any more traffic, noise or pollution. What do you think their position would be if Recreation Park and the Nature Center were the proposals we were considering? I suspect they would be against them, because of traffic, noise and pollution. Our community has a desperate need for the playing fields and walking trails that the proposed park will provide. There will be no ball-field lighting to bother nearby residents. I am fully confident our professional Parks and Recreation staff will design a sports-complex park [of] which we will all be proud.

— Chris Pelly, president
Haw Creek Community Association

Energy efficiency begins at home

Two letters in the Oct. 20 issue of Xpress addressed energy use. One pointed out the need for the regulation of dirty [electric-utility] power plants upwind of Asheville, while the other decried the possible use of plutonium fuel in regional nukes.

While I wholeheartedly support both stands, it is urgent that we each look in the mirror as well. The security light in the front yard, the unwatched TV running day and night, the too-cool air conditioning or too-warm furnace, the mega-show-home, the leaf blower, the big riding lawn mower, the single driver commuting behind an oversized engine, etc., all add up to create an unnecessary energy demand, which burns dirty coal, sucks up tankers-full of oil, and makes nukes seem necessary.

By all means, write tons of angry letters to a Congress that steadfastly ignores air quality, global warming and nuclear proliferation — but do it by the light of a compact-fluorescent bulb!

— Cecil Bothwell
Black Mountain

Here’s to Sitnick’s bravery

This is to publicly thank Mayor Leni Sitnick for her bravery and open-mindedness in recognizing earth-based religions.

I would also like to thank Byron Ballard for writing the proclamation and for showing the depth of her feelings on WLOS-TV.

I, too, celebrate the lunar and solar holidays and worship the divine in Her feminine form. However, I will not give my name here, for fear of recrimination. As part of my job, I celebrate Christian and Jewish holidays, and cultures of the world over. But I would not imagine that any other issue — be it race, sexual orientation or politics — could endanger my employment as much as my spirituality.

I’m sure that Mayor Sitnick, a Jewish woman, has a special sensitivity to religious persecution. Thank you for your courage, Leni.

— Magna Mater

A short religious history

I wish to contribute a historical perspective on the Christian/Wiccan debate in Asheville. Having looked into both belief systems, I can offer some facts.

First, Wicca is a new religion, even though it purports to have roots in pagan antiquity. Obviously, when one is looking for guidance from preliterate people, there is room for a lot of adaptation. This is neither good nor bad. It depends on who is formulating it. Some of the dominant tenets of Wicca are: to do no harm to anyone; to honor the earth and seek truth in the myriad mysteries of the universe; to find wisdom innate in nature; and to live honorably and serve the human community.

Much of the paranoia the Christians express toward Wicca has cascaded down from antiquity. About 10,000 years ago, a 70,000-year age of ice began to melt. In Mesopotamia, some bands of people left their hunter/gatherer ways and began domesticating animals and growing crops. As thousands of years passed, they formed an earth-based religion that honored fertility and guidance from what they saw as a divine feminine presence in nature. This worked quite well for them, and their societies were stable.

At some point, a loosely knit group of people living in the latter Stone Age settled in the Near East. These were the ancestors of the Hebrews. As one might expect of hunters and wanderers, their religious perspective was formed around a warring, masculine archetype of a god who was all-powerful, jealous and stern. The mythology of the Hebrews was in conflict with the more dominant goddess mythology of the well-established Assyrians. As the Hebrews became enslaved and more time passed, they deeply resented their masters and the earth-based fertility religion. Thus, when the Old Testament was first put into words, it gave man dominion over a world led astray by the feminine; it thundered against the “Whore of Babylon,” and threatened the Hebrews with wrath and damnation if God was not recognized as the master of the universe. In verse after verse, the feminine was subdued. The rule against “not tolerating a witch” is directly related to the Hebrews’ fear of the dominant culture of the Assyrians. This is the historical mythology that was passed down to the Christians.

Some of the dominant tenets of Christianity are: to love all people, to treat them with honor and respect, and to spread the word.

Perhaps the best advice comes from the mythological or historical Jesus, who suggested that people should be judged by their fruits. The fruits of Christianity have been mixed. On the negative side are the hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered in South America and in the Crusades, and those tortured and burned alive during the Reformation — all in the name of the person who asked simply that his true followers love everyone. One thousand, five hundred years of ignorance and superstition were brought about when most of the ancient knowledge was burned, as the Christians destroyed the library at Alexandria.

The Christians have a lot of baggage to carry around. The Wiccans are seeking baggage. Either system can work, if it stays close to its most singular philosophy. It is in the realm of ego among leaders when a religion trips out into some lunatic fringe of fanaticism.

There is common ground between Wicca and Christianity. Both seek formulation, ritual and … authenticity in ancient myths. Personally, I question why we look to the Bronze Age for guidance as we are sinking under the weight of our own technological culture. We need to take the best of the past and see it as mythology, and not as divine. It is best to question authority, to accept little on faith, and yet to marvel at the unknowable mystery that makes up reality. Let us love one another; let us not fear each other.

It is truly a Brave New World that needs a Brave New People to take our Earth into the galactic community.

— Ben Bolt

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