News Around Town: Fire, Don’t Fire

ORANGE COUNTY – Orange County may create new fire districts this year, in order to improve fire service and fire insurance ratings—to better protect homes and lower property insurance costs for homeowners. County officials are holding an informational meeting on the proposed new districts this Thursday, January 10, from 7-9 p.m. at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road. Everyone’s invited to attend and ask questions.


With the gun-control debate tops on the national agenda, Chapel Hill’s Kehillah Synagogueis hosting a discussion of the issue from a Jewish perspective this Sunday, January 13. Sociology professor Benjamin Albers of Bridgewater College will provide background.

The discussion is entitled “Gun Control: Organizing for Jewish Action”; it’ll take place from 9:30-11:30 Sunday morning in the main sanctuary of the synagogue at 1200 Mason Farm Road.

Kehillah Rabbi Jen Feldman says every major Jewish denomination has taken a stand in favor of gun control in the wake of the Newtown shootings last month.


As usual, Chapel Hill Transit is providing Tar Heel Express shuttle service to UNC’s basketball game against Miami, Thursday evening at the Dean Smith Center. Shuttles begin running at 5:30 p.m., every 10-15 minutes from Carolina Coffee Shop downtown, as well as the park-and-rides at the Friday Center, Southern Village, University Mall and Jones Ferry Road. Shuttle rides are $3 one-way and $5 round-trip; they’ll operate for about 45 minutes after the game.


Pittsboro Mayor and Chatham County Democratic Party chair Randy Voller has thrown his hat in the ring in the race to succeed David Parker as chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party. He’ll be attending a meet-and-greet event on Thursday at the Capital City Club in Raleigh to promote his candidacy; it’ll run from 6-8 p.m., and any registered Democrat is invited to attend for free.

Recycling, The Official Religion

The recycling movement has finally become an official religion. Have you ever felt guilty for throwing that glass bottle into the trashcan, instead of the recycling bin? I believe the emotion of guilt should be reserved for higher level trespasses such as those of a religious or moral nature. But we’ve all felt it in regard to a single instance of non-participation in the recycling mania.

In Chapel Hill and other progressive thinking places, including workplaces, there are literally signs labeling trash cans. When I was in the Chapel Hill Public Library, I saw such as sign.

It’s so confusing at the grocery stores or workplaces when you’re ready to bus your own table, you want to throw up your hands and just throw it all away. Who can know what can be composted, sent to the landfill or recycled? If you think this act will save the earth, I suppose you would be willing to obey orders. And don’t you feel that guilt when someone sees you throw something into the wrong bin?

How much energy does it take to turn recyclables into useable items? And do the environmental transgressions by China in just one day, erase all our efforts?

I think we’re still free in America, but I don’t feel very free being pushed around by those with Ph.D’s in composting.
If you fly over Orange County, you’ll see vast amounts of open land; yet we’re told there’s no room for another landfill. Sure, there are complex political decisions involved, but there’s no shortage of space.

So, the next time I rebelliously throw that bottle into the trashcan and let the water run while I am lathering (yes I saw such a sign!), am I committing a sin against the environmental religion? Does Al Gore need to write me a ticket? Oh, to feel free is a glorious feeling and occasionally I indulge myself!

It's Not Obdurate Stupidity (Response to "Common Science")

This T.W.O. Cents Column is in response to“It’s a Theory That’s Out There” – from Common Science, by Jeff Danner.

You ask what people, and especially politicians, mean when they say “no” to science, and particularly evolution. I believe it is because people compartmentalize their understanding.

Science is perceived to be the first step toward engineering, toward control. That’s great for cell phones and rockets. Evolution is about sex and death. The perception of science’s connection to engineering means that evolution is the first step to controlling who has sex and who dies, and that it’s not going to be the way our parents did it. This perception is not wholly without foundation: eugenics was a “scientific” idea – and now we’re trying to figure out reparations. Birth control and abortion have shaped behavior in a way that horrifies traditional communities. You’re probably not familiar with the details of nuclear weapon detonation. For similar reasons, many think that teaching human evolution is a questionable idea.

Human evolution is on the wrong time scale for the 24 hour news cycle.

A six thousand year time scale fits better with most people’s imagination than a 13.7 billion year history. It is disturbing to many that human beings (the ones that matter, anyway) might be importantly different from the ones described in sacred texts.

Philosophy and religion are not studied in our schools, and therefore when most people seek capital T Truth, they look to sacred traditions that have often become quite parochial, and many of those traditions have no trouble believing creation to have been so polluted by Satan that false evidence (e.g., fossils) permeates the world the way evil desires permeate the soul.

If you, as I, think that capital T Truth includes evolution, then we must first talk about Truth, and then we have to connect evolution to what people value – even if they think they value something more than Truth, which may sometimes be safety, sometimes compassion, and in a few sad cases, simple comfort or fleeting power.

It might be quite a departure for a “science” column.

True Community in a Transient Town

Though I’ve been in the Chapel Hill area for over 25 years, I only began getting involved in the community a few years ago when I attended “Leadership Chapel Hill” through the Chamber of Commerce. I thoroughly enjoyed that class, learned a ton, and met lots of wonderful people. From there I plugged into the “Chapel Hill Leads Group,” have been to some Chamber events, and attend “Friends of Downtown Chapel Hill” when I am able.

I would imagine that my experience with really getting to know Chapel Hill is shared by many others. We come for what we think will be a season (graduate school, a fellowship, an internship, a first job), but soon our time is over and many of us leave. We have little time to see the Town’s inner workings, and little opportunity to connect with people who actually live and work here. Some of us stay, but our busy jobs and families tend to keep us on the fringe. For some, the lack of connection leaves us isolated, lonely, and bitter.

Local churches provide an enormous service to the town of Chapel Hill in creating and building meaningful community. One aspect of the vision of our church (like many others in the area) is to help make the connection between the longer term Chapel Hill residents and those who are here only for a season. Each year new people come through our doors and soon find themselves getting to know older members, singles, married people and their kids. And each year dear friends walk their commencement aisles, pack up their vans and say goodbye. We have mentored young doctors, counseled young married couples, connected singles, and brought meals to beleaguered moms and dads.

But true gospel community goes deeper than just mentorship and meals. Its basis is a common relationship with a living Person—Jesus Christ. United to Christ, Christians share a most important commonality: We are brothers and sisters, bound in covenant to one another across racial, socio-economic and gender lines. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church captures this vision of Christian community in chapter 4, verses 15-16: “…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament [i.e., each person], grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

“That’s all well and good, but the baby’s crying, I don’t know anyone in my apartment complex, and I’m nursing a grudge against that jerk in my lab. My dissertation is languishing. This neighborhood is changing. I feel disconnected and forgotten.”

Christians believe that only God’s grace in Christ can provide lasting answers to these very real trials. True Christian community recognizes the difficulties but is empowered to then roll up the sleeves and go to work (Titus 2:11-12). Initiative replaces lethargy. Honest and loving speech elbows out the gossip and put-downs (Ephesians 4:29). Forgiveness is asked for and offered (Colossians 3:13). And over time a new hope is born—hope that the sin that splinters communities and wrecks relationships really does have an antidote in Christ, and that the community we now know in part, through the church, will one day be fully realized.

There is much room for growth! There are so many people who come to Chapel Hill and never get connected meaningfully to true community. It is our hope and prayer that the churches of Chapel Hill can be safe harbors of community that connect the riches of Christ to the realities of life.

Question for further reflection: How can churches help reach out to those who are only in Chapel for a season? How can we not only help them get the most out of our community, but also give back to the community?

Byron is a pastor of Christ Community Church in Chapel Hill ( Christ Community is a congregation rooted in biblical, historic Christianity and affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America. They meet each Sunday at Extraordinary Ventures on S. Elliot Road. Byron is married to Ruby Bea and they have 4 children. He enjoys rock climbing, yard work and biking.

The Psalm 100 Fiasco

Psalm 100, a Christian a capella group at UNC, kicked out one of its members because because he’s gay and OK with it.

I have so many issues with what happened. I firmly believe in gay rights, whether it’s fighting discrimination or the right to marry. I’m not going to talk about that right now, because I think there’s another facet that deserves mentioning…

This poor guy was forced out of the closet by his friends and is now somewhat of a campus celebrity due to all the press. I’m not going to mention his name because that just makes things worse.

Whether its organizations voicing support or others condemning him to hell, this guy is probably overwhelmed by the attention. I think we should all just let him live. His homosexuality is a part of who he is, but he is NOT defined by it. He was made a celebrity overnight just for being himself, which only Kardashians would enjoy.

To Psalm 100: You have disregarded your mission of ‘spreading God’s love’ by instead spreading hatred and intolerance. I am absolutely disgusted with you.

To future campus groups: If you’re going to use university funds, abide by our non-discrimination policy. It’s there for a reason.

What do you think of the whole Psalm 100 fiasco?

It’s Just Not That Simple!

Being at Town Hall on Monday May 9th, I observed the Town Council as it struggled with the Special Use Permit (SUP) for the Inter Faith Council for Social Service’s (IFC) proposal to build a new men’s 52-bed transitional facility and a 17-cot emergency shelter at 1315 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. In the four hours that the public hearing lasted, there were plenty of things I heard that were on one hand, encouraging, and on the other hand very disappointing.

During the comments by Rabbi Jennifer Feldman of the Chapel Hill Kehillah Synagogue, she was asked by councilmember Matt Czajkowski if she thought the faith community would be willing to each house 17 homeless men for 4 to 5 nights a year. She said that she had some experience with doing this from her days in Philadelphia and that it took a good amount of time to be able to do so. Rabbi Feldman also indicated that her facility just wasn’t equipped to do this, as they didn’t have showers. Czajkowski then pointed out that she would have 2 to 4 years to resolve that problem.

Being aware of the IFC’s history and its roots in the faith community, I know that it was in 1985 that the shelter program began in local churches and then moved to the old jail. In 1990, the New Community House opened in the Old Municipal Building as an emergency shelter and community kitchen. Putting the shelter in a facility and not at local churches made a lot of sense. For good reasons, looking to churches for a solution now is just not that simple.

Two things stand out in my mind. First, most churches are just not equipped to be a shelter and, just like our local government financial situation, I don’t think that most are in a position to allocate the money that would be required to make their facilities compliant. Additionally, churches use their facilities in the evening to support their programs and the activities of a variety of community groups. Call it an excuse if you want, but churches do have a mission and their facilities figure prominently in accomplishing that mission.

More important is that most churches just don’t have volunteers with the expertise to manage a shelter overnight, even for a short duration. Sure, you could overcome that by having some organization or agency supplying them with trained staff each night but I just don’t see that as the solution because of all of the logistical complexity involved. As the IFC stated in their presentation to the Council, the solution was to have a dedicated and professionally staffed facility, and until some other entity became responsible for a shelter, they saw their new transitional facility as the best solution.

It appears that more than a few here look in a single direction for the solution to housing the homeless during inclement weather, but the IFC and the churches, as well as the other organizations and individuals who support its mission can’t be the only solution. The IFC stepped up and offered a solution because they knew from experience that using churches on a rotational basis was not a viable solution.

So where do we look for a solution? While I don’t believe every problem we have is the responsibility of the government to solve, isn’t there a good reason our governments give money to help operate the IFC’s emergency shelter program? If there were no IFC what would happen then? Like most complex problems that we face as a community, there has to be a community solution. Let’s get busy.

Now, those are my thoughts. What are yours? Comment below!