En Vogue

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Fashion.”

david hitt

Here’s the interesting thing about fashion. When you look at pictures of people from the last 50 years, they look ridiculous.

Since I’ve been able to dress myself — well, say since college, to avoid having to include the horrible red pants of high school — I’ve always worn stuff that seemed pretty normal.

When does normal turn into ridiculous?

Or do we only remember the stereotypical styles of any particular time and forget perfectly normal stuff being worn at the same time.

Today, I’m wearing a pair of blue jeans and a blue short-sleeve knit shirt. Is there a day coming when I’ll think, “oh, gosh, I can’t believe I wore that”? Or are some things going to be safe? Do we ever know in real-time?

Have you ever worn anything that you knew was going to look ridiculous in ten years?

Foe? Sure.

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Enemies.”


Me at a DM reunion held a few years ago holding a picture of the photo I used on my columns when I started writing for The Daily Mississippian. Photo by Lain Hughes.

I should have been editor of The Daily Mississippian.

At the end of my sophomore year at Ole Miss, I decided to run for the editorship of the student paper.

I was the only person who met the qualifications to be editor.  They allowed two other candidates to run.  Next, of the three of us, I was the only one to finish the test demonstrating competency to be editor.

Then there was a meeting of the editor selection committee, composed of students, journalism professionals, and members of the university staff. I could relate the stories I heard of what happened in that meeting, or of the outside factors that supposedly biased the selection, but they really don’t matter. Long story short, I wasn’t selected.

I was upset.

In fact, I was bitter. Bitter against the system I felt had cheated me, and bitter against the candidate who won.

I left the official student publication and launched my own local entertainment publication. By any reasonable measure it was unsuccessful, lasting only four issues, but it succeeded in the important area of letting me spread my wings and get experience I couldn’t have gained at The Mississippian.

Over time, my bitterness faded.  The selection committee most likely did me a favor. I had potential; I needed discretion. Losing the editorship earned me some personal maturity and pursuing my own publication  earned me some professional maturity that I would have missed out on had things gone differently.

The candidate who was selected was a different matter. She hadn’t done me any favors. She got something that I had worked hard to be qualified for and she wasn’t. She squandered the opportunity she’d been given. That bitterness was harder to let go.

I saw her once, a couple of years later, at a wedding. Her gang and my gang avoided each other.

Over the years after that, there were only the occasional rumors, friends who had brief contact or had heard news. I didn’t really keep track, but listened when people had something to say, especially if it was bad. I wanted vindication. I wanted proof that the wrong choice had been made.

And then came Facebook. To her credit, she put in the friend request to me. She doesn’t use it much, so we don’t have much contact, but seeing her profile allowed me to catch up a bit on the intervening years.

I’ll admit, I’ll admit that, for a brief second there, I experienced a moment of schadenfreude that her life hadn’t turned out the way it seemed to be going way back when. And, making it even worse, some of it wasn’t even about that vindication I’d talked about. No, she wasn’t in journalism anymore, so there was that. But part of it was things in her personal life.

Ultimately, though, what I saw on that page was this — we’re both just people. We both weren’t who or where we were 17 years ago. She wasn’t in newspapers anymore. Neither am I. Her marriage had ended. So had mine. She’d found new things to make her happy, to fill her life. So had I. We really weren’t all that different. And the editor selection that seemed like such a big deal all those years ago really wasn’t. And the bitterness that seemed so worthwhile really wasn’t.

I’ve prided myself on not having enemies. I mean, sure there are probably people in other countries who would gladly kill me and all that, but I’m talking personally. There are people who I’ve been at odds with, and there are people I believe have done me wrong. But I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at not holding grudges. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at not letting bitterness influence me.

But if I were to be honest, there are probably people out there that I still carry bitterness against. And that Facebook experience was a good reminder that somethings just aren’t worth carrying.

For my 30th birthday, I had a secret birthday party for myself — I planned a reunion of many of my DM fellow staff members that weekend, telling no one that there was an occasion behind it. Back then, I was too petty to invite the person who became editor. If we ever do it again, I hope she can make it.

Lucky Just To Linger In Your Light

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Smiling.”

Something that makes me smile — serendepity.

I’d been looking forward to the last Reconstruction post I did, on the creation of the universe, for a while. But the next one just sort of loomed there. “Smiling”? Um, smiling is good. People should smile. I like to smile. What do you say about it.

But then right after I finished the last post in the series, this post showed up in my news reader. Go, read it. I’ll wait.

Smiling Comes Easy Here This month is going to be a hectic one. On the agenda, we have everything from homeschooling starting back up (for which I am only minimally prepared), to Girl Scout cookie sales, to my teaching at the pregnancy center again, with lots in between! I really dislike being a busy person, but with four kids, it’s not possible to avoid busyness. However, it is possible to be busy only with things that really matter. Things that tug the corners of my m … Read More

— “Smiling Comes Easy Here” via The Faery Inn

See what she did there? Better than anything I had in mind for the “smile” prompt, and that’s not even what she was trying to do.

But, ultimately, it gets back to what I wrote in my New Year’s post, about undiscovered treasure.  A lot of her post is about finding beauty in the mundane or the things we take for granted. How often to you smile about a friend’s rebuke or a seeing a pregnant woman or sitting at a school table. But there really is treasure everywhere.

I wrote my short version of her list a while back for a Plinky prompt, my catalog of everyday treasures, my raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

What about you? What are the magical mundanities of your life? Where is your every day treasure?

What makes you smile?

In The Beginning …

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “The Origin of The Universe.”

At the center of this image made by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is a very young and powerful pulsar, known as PSR B1509-58, or B1509 for short. The pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star which is spewing energy out into the space around it to create complex and intriguing structures, including one that resembles a large cosmic hand. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/P.Slane, et al.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

It fascinates me the need to divide religion and science. People read Biblical accounts of creation, and they read scientific accounts, and they assume that only one can be true.

And, it seems to me, they tend to read the two approaches accordingly.  If you assume one is right and one is wrong, you read them for their differences, not their similarities.  But the more I read about modern understanding of the science of creation, and the less I’m inclined to read the Biblical creation texts in a constrained way, it’s interesting to see how the two map together.

One of the findings that started driving this home for me was research indicating that time existed before the Big Bang; that is to say, there was “something” before the creation of our universe. It’s a detail in Genesis, but it’s there — God was there before creation. Did He have a context then? There’s a quote in the article from a CalTech physicist: “We’re trained to say there was no time before the Big Bang, when we should say that we don’t know whether there was anything – or if there was, what it was.”

The article goes on to talk about the nature of time, and why it’s unidirectional. At some level, the laws of physics should work in either direction, and yet time seems to move in only one direction. Physicists link this fact to entropy — the gradual move from order to chaos. But for entropy to explain time moving in one direction, it requires there being one, and only one fixed point of order. In other words, there has to be one end-point of time in which everything is in an ordered state, from which everything gradually moves into disorder, creating unidirectional time. To sum it up, for time to make sense, when the heavens and the Earth were created, they had to be in perfect order. They had to be “good.”

It’s worth noting that when the Big Bang theory was first postulated by a Roman Catholic priest, there were believers in the steady state theory of the universe who dismissed it as an attempt to introduce religious ideas into physics — they argued that the idea that there was a singular moment of creation before which the universe didn’t exist sounded like something more out of Genesis than science. Ironically, today, some Christians reject the theory for the opposite reason — that it sounds like something more out of science than Genesis. I would argue that it’s just a place where the two accounts line up; that before scientists reached the idea of a singular moment of creation, it was already described in Genesis.

The current scientific views also generally say that after an initial period of darkness, because of the levels of energy in the young universe, there was ambient light before there were stars. It’s an aspect of the creation story that seems counter-intuitive, that God created light before He created the sun and stars, and yet modern science is giving credence to it.

Wanna get even more funky? Check this out: Large Hadron Collider proves the universe was once a liquid. According to research just a few months ago, “The world’s most powerful particle accelerator smashed together lead nuclei at the highest energies possible, creating dense sub-atomic particles that reach temperatures of over ten trillion degrees. Beyond being awesome, this achievement shows the early universe was actually a liquid.” It’s an unexpected finding, and yet, again, one that was predicted thousands of years ago — “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

It’s frustrating to me that so many people like to make this an “us versus them” thing, picking one account and dismissing the other.  And, particularly so for Christians who dismiss the science because it doesn’t match their interpretation of the scripture.  There is some great science that showed up first in the Bible — things like the fact that the Earth is round and hangs freely in space, things that were recorded in scripture long before science figured them out. Unfortunately, throughout history, you have the church calling people like Galileo a heretic, getting too caught up in defending its interpretation, instead of going back and checking, “Hey, what does the scripture really say about this?” It’s sad watching pride cause the church to say, “You’re wrong,” when it could be saying, “I told you so.”

Me, I prefer to stop trying to force one version or the other to be wrong, I prefer to stop believing that I have to adopt someone else’s version of scripture, and love reading the two versions like they’re two ways of telling the same story — poetry backed up with physics.  And when you read it that way, it’s a pretty cool story.

Because I Could Not Stop For Death

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Death.”

Well now, everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

— Bruce Springsteen, “Atlantic City”

From the moment we are born, we are dying. All of us. It’s eventual, inevitable and universal.

The only question is when. And, ultimately, that’s not really much of a question. Fifty years from now, most of us will be gone. A century, almost all. We hear about huge tragedies that kill hundreds or thousands and our minds boggle, but all of those people were already marked for death. Even a global catastrophe, the end of life as we know it, only speeds things up a little for people who would die soon anyway, relatively speaking.

If a man were to be killed today in a earthquake that kills thousands, it would be considered a disaster.  But the same man could die today, and with greater probability would, in a car accident on his way home, and it would be considered tragic only to his near and dear. The same man dies 30 years later, and the passing is considered natural.

And not only do we die, but our creations all too often do as well. Empires crumble. Businesses close. Photographs fade. Buildings burn. Books disappear into obscurity. Relationships end.  Languages die out. “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Everything that dies does not, in fact, someday come back. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since Monkey’s Paw abominations can be all too common and are best avoided.  Few things worth recreating can actually be recreated in a way that does the original justice. Witness most romantic relationships, the Star Wars movie series, and the Los Arcos Mexican restaurant in Indianola, Miss.

We die. It’s what we do. It’s a part of who we are.

Many of us believe that death our death, and the deaths of loved ones, are merely the passage into something better. We believe it, but we have a hard time living it. Arguably, if we fully embraced that, we’d have no reason to want to stay in this life.

But so much of our focus has to do with the things undone, and the things left behind. We consider it a tragedy when someone dies young because of the things they never got to do, and because of the impact the loss has on the friends and family they leave behind.  We consider it a disaster when large numbers are killed, because that tragedy is multiplied.

So where does that leave us.  To quote a great, if fictional, man, “How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?” But how do the two relate. A song by Rebecca St. James argues that “until you find something worth dying for you’re not really living.” But, I believe that a corrolary is also true: “Until you find something worth living for, you’re just slowing dying.”

If the tragedy of an early death is the things not done, and the impact the loss has on those left behind, then those things should be the focus of our life — doing the things we would want to leave this world having done, and living in such a way that our lives have more impact on those around us than our deaths.

Because we only have so much time.

Crime And Punishment

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Jails And Prisons.”

Jail Cell

Image by abardwell via Flickr

Having just finished reading John Grisham’s latest sermon-in-novel-form and having been reminded of a conversation we had not that long ago at my Bible study group, I’m going to go a little further afield with this one, and deal with criminal justice in general.

Specifically, Grisham’s The Confessiondeals a lot with the death penalty, writing a fictional account of an innocent man scheduled to be executed. Two major issues rose to the surface for me — is it right to kill someone as punishment, and is it right to take the risk of accidentally executing innocent people?

The former was the issue we discussed at my Bible study group. But, to me, the issue of appropriate punishment is asking the wrong question. I very much believe the death penalty should never be used. I’m also in favor of the death penalty.

I’m less concerned with what happens after crimes are committed than in preventing crime.  That doesn’t mean I don’t care about the former, only that I think, as our society, our focus should be more on the latter, both for the sake of potential victims and potential criminals. A lot of that is cultural; we should be fostering an environment that prevents people with opportunities that are more appealing than crime, and should be instilling values that encourage people to make other choices. But part of that should be making crime as unappealing an option as possible.

After the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, the entire world pretty much agreed that the weapons used were horrific, and that atomic and nuclear weapons should never be used again. We proceeded to build arsenals of those weapons, not so that they would be used but so that they wouldn’t. We created a culture in which the cost of using nuclear weapons far outweighed any potential benefit. And it worked.

The death penalty should, ideally, work the same way. It should serve as the ultimate deterrent. The price that isn’t worth paying.  To the extent that it fails, the question should be why does it fail, and how can we as a society create a better deterrent?

And, along those lines, I have a hard time with the idea that society has blood on its hands when someone is executed for committing a capital offense. The death penalty is not a surprise. It’s a cultural contract. If you live in a death penalty state, as a citizen, you have a societal contract with the state that if you commit certain actions, you could lose your life. If you then choose to commit those actions, you are choosing to forfeit your life.

If someone gets drunk and gets in a car, they do so knowing that bad things could happen. If they die, society understands it’s because that person made a choice that resulted in their death. If they died by running into a utility pole, no one would argue that society was wrong to build utility poles. People would understand that the death was not the fault of the utility pole, but rather the result of the choices that led to the car hitting the pole. The death penalty is a utility pole. It doesn’t not instigate deaths, but deaths result when people make choices that run them into it. Society no more has blood on its hands for having a death penalty than it does for building utility poles — you should no more commit a capital offense than you should drink and drive, and if you choose to do so, the results of your actions are on your hands. In an ideal society, neither utility poles nor the death penalty would be involved in any deaths.

The issue of tolerances is the more interesting one to me, and one I’m not really sure I know my feelings on. If you have a death penalty, you have the possibility that innocent people are executed because of that. If that happens, none of the things I said before apply — that person would not be dying as a result of their own actions, nor would they have done anything the death penalty should or could have deterred. That said, going back to the utility pole analogy, people are killed by utility poles in accidents that are not their fault, and yet we still don’t say society should stop building utility poles. It’s within our tolerances. We’re willing to tolerate some number of accidental deaths because of the benefits we get. The same issue is true for law enforcement in general. Innocent people die in instances involving using legal use of deadly force or in high-speed pursuits. But our tolerances allow that. I’m not going to do the research now, but I would imagine the number of alleged innocent deaths from capital punishment are a tiny fraction of total alleged innocent deaths caused by law enforcement and criminal justice. It’s a question of what we think is worth it. It’s a question of what our tolerances are.

Our cultural tolerances intrigue me at times, and were brought out in sharp relief for me in February 2003. At the beginning of the month, seven people were killed when the space shuttle Columbia broke up during reentry. Toward the end of the month, 100 people were killed in a fire at a Great White nightclub concert. Guess which one prompted people to say that we as a nation needed to make changes? Seven people die in the cause of space exploration, and it gets questioned. A hundred people die so that pyrotechnics can pave the way for “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” and that’s a tragic but acceptable loss.  I’m not saying society should have demanded changes because of the fire. But I do believe we should be as willing to accept purposeful deaths as we are purposeless ones.

The Stars, Like Dust

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “The Night Sky.”

“[God] took [Abraham] outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” — Genesis 15:15.

“I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” — Genesis 22:17

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” — Psalm 8:3-4

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” — Psalm 147:4

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” — Romans 1:20

If you drive just a little ways out of Huntsville, you discover something rather cool about the stars.

They twinkle.

It’s a little ironic, because, of course, they don’t really. They don’t twinkle in real life, and if you’re in space, with a clear view of them, they don’t twinkle. But looking up from Earth’s surface, they appear to, because of the distortion of the planet’s atmosphere. Go into a city, however, where there’s even more distortion — lights, pollution, etc. — and they stop twinkling. The “high-resolution” view you need to see the twinkling gets lost.

I noticed the stars twinkling somewhere I was able to see it a few months ago, and it was amazing. Like discovering that a little bit of lost childhood magic was real after all.

But the bigger revelation still is to get even further away from civilization, to get out into the unadulterated darkness of night and see just how dark it really isn’t.

Get far enough away from the lights of civilization, and there are far more stars than you remember there being. Depending on how old you are, depending on where you live, depending on how much attention you pay when you’re on the open highway, there very well be more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life.

I had that experience, too, not that long ago. And I was awed. Truly, truly awed. I had forgotten how glorious the night sky could be.

And it made me realize something. In scripture, the stars, and their number, are used to point to the awesomeness and power and generosity of God. And as a rule, modern man looks up at the night sky, and sees stars that number in the dozens. But someone living at the time the words were first written would have taken something completely different away from those scriptures than we do today. They would have imagined a sky more glorious than we do, a number much higher than we do, and it would have pointed to a God much more magnificent as a result. The lights of our civilization dilute that for us; they dilute our understanding of the wonder of the stars and they dilute our understanding of the wonder of God.

Our civilization does that in countless other ways. Our comforts buffer us from wonder on a daily basis. We miss sunsets in favor of televisions. We miss the dirt beneath our feet in favor of automobiles. We miss so much magic, because we shelter ourselves from it. And as a result, we miss appreciating the Artist behind that magic.

What simpler way to reclaim that magic than with the twinkle, twinkle of a little star?