Middlebrow.

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Wednesday was a bad travel day for people trying to get from LAX to Seattle. Midwest weather problems, equipment problems, a hole in a runway somewhere, meant the “all too familiar” delayed and cancelled message started appearing on departure boards. I arrived at LAX airport at noon and did not get a flight out to SFO until 3:30 and even that one was a last minute equipment change, which meant, in the providence of God, I ran on a plane to find myself assigned a middle seat.

Because I believe we should arise each day calibrating our will to the Father’s, I prayerfully tried to celebrate the inconveniences as God’s purposes throughout the hassles of the day, only to discover those purposes in Michael, who was sitting in the window seat next to me.

From the moment our conversation began it became clear this was one educated, intelligent and questing spirit. Michael is Jewish, has a PhD in history and a doctorate from Harvard Law School. Our conversation ranged from spiritual journey (he has spent considerable time seeking enlightenment in the Himalayas), the uses and abuses of religious rights in America, and the deterioration of American cultural life. He had read and appreciated C.S. Lewis and in this we found interesting territory, because he, as do I, understands that Lewis was not an academic apologist, but a master at converting his clearly thought-through beliefs into the vernacular.

We decried the deterioration of the media, placing it in Deborah’s Tannen’s paradigm as “An Argument Culture,” which uses topics for entertainment value, working the extremes, instead of seeking common ground through rational dialogue.

And then he used a phrase that made the lights go on. “America,” he said, “lacks a middle-brow culture.” Fleshing this out he described highbrow culture as elitist and academic and lowbrow culture as diversionary and vacuous” (ala Paris Hilton). “America once had a thriving middle brow culture.” In his definition these are individuals interested in thinking though ideas and issues, but who are equally turned off by highbrow pretensions and lowbrow mindlessness.

This is actually the population to whom Lewis wrote and was criticized by his academic peers for doing so. They found his work pedestrian and popularized. Lewis believed unless you could convert an idea into the vernacular you either didn’t understand it or didn’t believe it!

The fact that Americans today sometimes think of Lewis’ writing as “difficult to understand,” or too intellectual, is a commentary on us not Lewis. It appears the vernacular of a few years ago is the highbrow of today.

It is a reminder that we are lacking a middlebrow population, a position that it seems to me should be occupied by everyday Christians who seek to love the Lord their God with their mind.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in January 7, 2005 by | No Comments »

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