Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob, it is said, was quite a dreamer.  While fleeing from his brother Esau he had a dream of a ladder, or stairway, to heaven.  Well, “Heaven” as we recognize it didn’t exist then, but you get the idea.  Angels were climbing up and down on it, I’m guessing to do roof repairs.  You see, neither my wife nor I are what you might call tall.  In fact, I’m a bit shorter than the average guy and we can’t reach the top shelf in our kitchen, let alone the ceiling.  Or, God forbid, the roof.  So when tropical storm Isaias (not to be confused with the prophet) dropped upwards of five inches of rain on us, some of it got inside.  Our roofer, vexed as I was, promised to get over the next week but there’s more rain in the forecast.  I had to get up there to do some temporary patching.  I needed a ladder.

Ours is an older house.  The roof is way higher than any ladder we have.  I have one that allows me to get as high as the ceiling, but being acrophobic I don’t use it much.  It doesn’t come halfway to the lowest roof.  The hardware stores have ladders, but delivery’s a problem.  A ladder twice as long as our car seems like a road hazard, strapped to the top.  I asked about delivery at the local Lowe’s.  It would cost a third of the price again of the ladder itself, and that’s only be if they could deliver it.  Their truck was, ironically, broken down.  Wasn’t this a DIY store?  Could nobody there fix a truck?  I put a face-mask and rubber gloves on for this?  The world isn’t easy for the vertically challenged.  I really don’t want to climb that high, but with the ceiling below already coming down I’ve got to do something.

I wonder if Jacob’s ladder is still lying about somewhere, unused.  We don’t live far from Bethlehem.  Maybe I can scoot over the Bethel and pick it up.  Then again, maybe angels deliver.  I hear they can be quite accommodating.  Of course, if they’d keep the rain off in the first place that would’ve been helpful.  I’m pretty sure that Plant and/or Page had a leaky roof.  When they went to get up there they’d found somebody had already purchased the ladder (I think they call it a stairway in England).  So I find myself with a leaky roof and no way to get to heaven.

Whatever Happened to Whimsy?

American Gothic is one of my favorite paintings. I’ve never seen the original, and I know of no other paintings that Grant Wood produced, although I’m sure there are some. The mood in what has been called “the most famous American painting” is unsettled. There’s something not quite right here. When one of my authors wanted to use the image on a book cover, it led to quite a bit of serious discussion. I was a bit surprised by the negative impressions—not of the painting, but of its use on a serious academic book. The discussion seemed to turn on money rather than on wit and whimsy. I confess to being a dreamer, and I admit that the aspects of life that truly inspire me are never financial. When I crave wealth it is so that I might free up some time for creativity. That’s not the way business works.

Sometimes I feel a stranger in my own country. The unquestioned triumph of unbridled capitalism means that you can go from city to city to city and not really be able to tell much of a difference. If you want to buy a bit of tubing or a piece of wood, it’s Home Depot or Lowe’s for you. Office supplies—Office Max or Staples are your only choices. If you want to buy intelligent books, well, you’re just plumb out of luck unless you go to Amazon. The big financial corporations have won. Just admit it. Every time I visit my hometown I come away depressed at all the vacant stores and lost hopes of the small businesses that offered something just a little different. Something to tickle my fancy. Something to tempt me to wonder. Something with a tinge of American Gothic.


The messages we receive from every angle echo Madonna’s hit song, “Material Girl.” Only this includes all genders. Reductionistic materialism tells us that we’re just proteins walking. Mind is an illusion. Soul is a myth. I work a job where the money I’m paid is transferred electronically and if I want to see some of it in paper form I face a robotic ATM rather than a human face. I went to the mall last night and wept. Call it a mid-life crisis if you will. Say nostalgia has no place in a forward-looking society. I just want a few more options besides the plastic, the smart-chipped, and the sterile. The world needs more whimsy. Maybe that’s why I insisted on American Gothic on the cover of the first book I put under contract.

And Lowe

Hate is harder to muster for people just like us. I mean, if they live like us and look like us, what grounds do we have to distrust and fear them? This appears to be one of the premises behind the TLC show “All-American Muslim.” Many people know Muslims without knowing it and fear them without being aware of whom they fear. With this insidious kind of fear and hatred, religion must be involved.

Over the weekend, CNN online ran an article noting how Lowe’s is pulling advertising from the program. It seems that conservative Christian outcry is rising like the children of Israel in Egypt; the Muslims aren’t shown as bad guys—they’re like your next-door neighbor! Fear of takeovers has long been on the Neo-conservative agenda. If Romney is elected we will by overrun by Mormons. If we sleep, we’ll awake to Muslim neighbors. And we certainly can’t expect to all get along. If it weren’t for the media, we would probably never even know they held a different religion.

I’ve lived lots of places. With the exception of Grove City College and Nashotah House, I never once was aware of the religion (if any) of my neighbors. If they are civil and respect my right to believe what I will, they are entitled to the same. Religious supersessionism and maybe a pinch of jealousy play into this attitude of keeping others a minority. Is it because Muslims and Mormons are more effective at winning converts? The modern evangelicals have been relying on political bullying to get their way. Why not learn to appreciate your neighbor’s religion instead?

Religious freedom is a two-edged sword. Many of those who are worried now were quite happy when they were in the clear majority. When the lines get blurry the trigger finger gets itchy. Come on, Lowe’s! Educating ourselves about other religions is the best home-building project out there.