Wednesday, December 24, 2003

An Inkling

A gleam as through a window seen
Shimmering, shining, dimly lighting
Sill or frame beneath the flame;
One pool of light against the night
Viewed afar, this earthbound star
Grounded in a niche ‘tween hill and ditch
Implies, beneath the lowering skies,
A room behind, a place of warmth to find
For travelers tired, the last miles inspired
Toward a house unseen. All inferred from just one gleam.

So too, we find, standing (in a way) behind
The scene of Mary and blessed Baby
A larger structure, beyond conjecture
Of God and life, peace beyond strife,
New hope today, and in every day
A guide and friend; promise without end.

Should we let this little gleam
Cause us to trust here (in between
Eternities before and begone)
That there’s a larger home hereon?
Can the rooms of faith open one to the other
Like one candle lit from another?

Our steps hasten on to the stable door,
But eyes fixed higher up one floor
To the light in the window, the room behind,
And the house beyond, whose Host we’ll find.

- Christmas Eve, 2003

Monday, December 22, 2003

Hebron Crossroads 12-28-03
by Jeff Gill

Time to file away 2003, and open up a fresh, clean folder (or new icon for the desktop) for 2004.
2003 doesn’t fit well into any niche I’m used to. Contrariwise, 2003 sort of feels like “the year of the niche.�
Christmas music isn’t as much of a general cultural soundtrack as it once was, but now we have two radio stations playing “all Christmas formats� through December. A niche marketing strategy. We are well into the next federal election cycle (you may well keep your attention tuned to other matters, and wisely so, but trust me, we’re in it up to our Iowa caucuses), and everyone is asked to label themselves as Dem, Rep, Lib, Grn, or Fzl. OK, I made the last one up, but party affiliation will be crucial as we approach a primary in early-early March which means, if we want to shape our niches, we’d best be registered by early-early-early February, which might as well mean January.
Threat status “orange� not only doesn’t rhyme with anything, it doesn’t seem to tell us much, either, except which niche our anxiety should go in according to the worst-named government department ever, next to Robespierre’s Department of Public Safety (for more info, see Revolution, French). And as to Iraq, we’re all expected to be tidily “pro-war� or anti-war� about the whole thing.
We don’t have as many of those cross-cultural, crosscutting experiences like watching “Roots� or Walter Cronkite and the moon landing. The centennial of flight ceremonies on Dec. 17 were, to be fair, a bit anticlimactic with the replica Wright Flyer skidding into the mud, but I was hoping for an “everyone will remember this� moment. Didn’t happen. Broad, generic experiences like watching “White Christmas� or a Charlie Brown special are reduced to “Honey, should we get out the tape of that old Bing Crosby movie you like to watch each year?� There’s a niche: on-demand viewing and listening.
Or even more niche-y (?) did you notice that while the mass experience of moviegoing hasn’t gone entirely yet, we (as a society/economy) spend more on videogame experiences than movie admissions? The ultimate niche. We choose our lead role, we take our choice of supporting cast and props, and pick our ending made to order. My experience of a videogame is wildly different from yours, even when we both stuck the same cartridge in the Q-box.
And news! E! for entertainment news, MTV for music news, the Booster for good news, mass circulation dailies (not to mention any parent publications in particular) for less good news, and the History Channel for very old news. Many print outlets are springing up to service smaller areas and particular, oh, niches of news consumers.
The year of the niche, or not?
It could be, but we shouldn’t let it. Or, we may need to go all the way down that road. 2004 looks to be a year when we really need to be individuals all together. Carved into a mince pie of niches, no group, coalition, or alliance can really form to accomplish a task or achieve a goal. Individuals who know that that it’s OK to be totally inconsistent from a mass-cultural point of view aren’t afraid to be part of a movement or group larger than a table for four. You can be a Republican who enjoys Disney films, techno-rave music, and opera, or you may be a Green Party member with good friends in the Marine Corps and a sense that Nader might just be an egocentric nutcase.
In real life, people don’t fit into tidy niches, which is why those “You might also like� recommendations usually include suggestions that leave some grape Nehi spewed across your monitor. And in real life, folks do have broad tendencies to group together, which is why you click on a few of those computer generated hints. I have friends who share many interests with me, but are shocked to learn that we actually let the Little Guy watch cartoons on TV (“you have a television in your house?�), or that I’m pro-Israel (within reason), or that Joyce and I have, yes, an artificial Christmas tree. Allergies, if you must know. Personally, I can’t believe people still wear. . .but considering my wardrobe, forget I said anything.
Something about the tenor of the times tells me that we all need to enjoy not only our own and others’ uniquenesses, so that we can usefully figure out what we have in common enough to work together on. In politics, in community life, in our faith commitments, and in our choice of which two flavors go together best in a waffle cone (coffee and peppermint), it feels like it’s niches that divide, while individuality can be the basis for building consensus.
Here’s hoping you spend this New Year’s weekend, or at least halftime at the Fiesta Bowl, figuring out who you really were in ’03, and who you want to become in ’04.
And then we can figure out what we’ll get done together!
Jeff Gill is pastor of Hebron Christian Church and is extremely predictable except when he isn’t. If you know any exceptions to this rule, or have news of local interest, call 928-4066 or e-mail