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The Daily Planet's Opinion: October 2019
Wednesday, 02 October 2019 22:23

In, arguably, one of the worst moves in the vaunted history of the so-called “Paris of the South,” Asheville City Council voted unanimously Sept. 10 to pay $973,556 for a “road diet” project on Charlotte Street that includes reducing motor vehicle lanes from four to three.

 The road-narrowing will occur between Edwin and Chestnut streets. Bike lanes and “spot sidewalk safety improvements” will also be added, a city spokeswoman said in a release after the vote.

The bike lanes and sidewalk work may sound simply glorious to those who are blessed with time and resources to travel around North Asheville by foot or bicycle.

However, for the rest of us working stiffs — as well as tourists visiting the Omni Grove Park Inn, which connects with the outside world via Charlotte Street — this is an act of shameless political expediency on the part of a self-seving council and city staff that lacks the will to do the right thing.

As it is now, driving down Charlotte Street any day, even with four lanes, is a tough proposition because of the heavy traffic AND the tendency for delivery vehicles to park in one lane. The resulting traffic bottleneck, where Charlotte Street temporarily becomes three lanes, is ALWAYS nightmarish.

Beyond our concern for working locals, we feel compelled to reiterate that, in Asheville, at least through its modern history, the two top tourist attractions have been the Biltmore House and the Omni Grove Park Inn.

While access to the Biltmore House, America’s largest home, through often-traffic-clogged  Biltmore Village can be a challenge, at least there is a four-lane Biltmore Avenue to connect tourists and locals driving to this popular world-class destination. And that is how they arrive — by DRIVING motor vehicles. (The house was first opened to the public in 1930.)

In the case of the Omni Grove Park Inn, its guests from afar tend to follow I-240 to the Charlotte Street exit, then drive north the presently four-lane Charlotte Street, turn right on Macon Avenue and drive up the steep and winding hill to Asheville’s grand ol’ inn, which began operations in 1913.

As with the Biltmore House, it would be safe to say that few if any guests travel there by any other means than motor vehicle.

Also, given the steepness of Macon Avenue, we doubt there ever will be many tourists or locals bicycling or walking to the Omni Grove Park Inn, even with world-class bicycle lanes and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks

It’s sad that Asheville, which touts its diversity, has a council that, at least in this case, lacks even one member with the courage to question and challenge — as the late Marvin Gaye once sang — “What’s Going On?”

David, Cyrus and Donald: 3 peas in a pod
Wednesday, 02 October 2019 22:22
Special to the Daily Planet

Mark Sanford is running for president against Donald Trump.  They’ll slam each other in the campaign, but they’re of one mind about “vessel theology.”

Remember when Sanford was governor of South Carolina in 2009? Remember how he disappeared for several days and how his staff said he was walking the Appalachian Trail, while he was fooling around Argentina?

There’s a tiny detail in that episode you won’t remember. It’s the relevant part for today.

There were calls for Sanford’s resignation, of course. Adultery is a big deal to most of his constituents. But he didn’t resign. He held a meeting to explain things to government staff. 

“King David fell mightily,” the governor began. “He fell in very significant ways but was able to pick up the pieces.”

Why did he bring up the David and Bathsheba story? Why? Precedent. David did bad things, Sanford is saying, like I did…and God didn’t remove him! God had more great work for David to do — like he has more work for me to do.  Me and David. 

What we’re looking at here is a bit of special-purpose theology. It says that God sometimes chooses people who are “imperfect (or, flawed) vessels” to carry out his will on earth.  In principle, I believe that’s true — but it can also be used conveniently by religious leaders to excuse ungodly behavior, especially sexual behavior, by people they support.

There’s another Old Testament character who’s a flawed vessel like David: Cyrus, king of Persia in the 8th Century B.C., who conquered Babylon while the Jews were in captivity there. 

He released the Jews to go home and rebuild the Jerusalem temple. He was indeed a heathen king who helped God’s people.  He even gets his own prophecy, where he’s called by name, Isaiah 44:28 (God talking):  “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.’”

The David and Cyrus analogies are ready-made for Donald Trump. He’s the perfect imperfect vessel. And evangelical leaders have seized on it. David is precedent for God’s choosing an adulterer, and Cyrus is precedent for an ungodly man accomplishing God’s will, specifically for America.

My question here is this:  Of all politicians, why Trump? He makes them take huge theological leaps to defend their support for him. How is he worth it?

In an interview with Dallas pastor and TV preacher Robert Jeffress in Texas Monthly magazine last August, Jeffress answers the question with candor. “We’re in a war here between good and evil,” he says. “And to me, the president’s tone, his demeanor, just aren’t issues I choose to get involved with.”

An important word here is “war.” For decades, evangelicals have felt harassed by their government and squeezed by America’s growing secularism and multiculturalism.  They have endured:  no prayer in schools (1963), Roe v. Wade (1973), no displays of the Ten Commandments (1980), gay marriage (2015), IRS slap-downs, on and on.

They deeply believe that America is a Christian nation, period. And their war is about national restoration. It’s a spiritual war fought on a political battlefield. They want friendly courts that will set right the wrongs of the past. And they want a Cyrus to help them in their war. Trump is their man. He is God’s man.

Pastor Jeffers was candid about it: “I don’t want some meek and mild leader or someone who’s going to turn the other cheek. I want the meanest, toughest SOB I can find to protect this nation.”

Evangelical leaders aren’t looking for democratic, constitutional solutions. They want decrees. They want proclamations by courts and by a strong president. 

Democracy hasn’t worked for them. Maybe autocracy will.

Lee Ballard, who lives in Mars Hill, has a website at



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