Category Archives: writing workshop

Things You Can Make A Piano Do, Part 1

I’m writing a new piece for piano, trumpet, and laptop. The middle development section uses a lot of striking and plucking piano techniques through delays and loopers. I dropped a mic on the piano tonight, and spent a few hours doing this as sort of a writer’s workshop. These are all from the piano – enjoy!

Thing That Go Bump
by Michael Lee
things-that-go-bump.mp3

Textbooks Suck

One other thing, while we’re on the subject of quotations and sources.

Your textbooks suck. Seriously. Your music history textbook, your church music textbook, the forward to your string pedagogy book, they all suck. Please don’t copy and paste Chapter 4 from your Baroque Music History textbook into your thesis paper and call it “research”. That’s just lazy. And also, they’re wrong.

Well, Dr. Jimbo Says …

When you use a quote in an academic paper, all you’ve done is prove that some person said something.

If you’re using that quote to give background on a debate, or to highlight one perspective in a debate, then proving someone said something is sufficient. But, if you’re actually using the quote as evidence in your argument, then that’s not nearly enough. You have to prove that they’re actually right. That means presenting their justification for the point.

As Dr. Jim McJimerson writes in his thesis, “On Writing Papers and Such”,

When you use a quote in an academic paper, all you’ve done is prove that some person said something.

I think that proves my point.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “Academic” as …

So, I’m grading 2,600 pages of thesis papers right now, and I keep running across things I wish I had said earlier in their writing, things I assumed the student’s knew, but they clearly didn’t. I’m going to keep a running list of posts, all tagged “academic-writing“, that I can then reference for them in the future. Feel free to comment along.

First up, citing the dictionary. In almost every paper, I get a paragraph that starts like this, “Webster’s Dictionary defines (term) as …”

It’s a cop out. It’s a way of adding an extra reference source to your bibliography. You are writing a senior level thesis paper, and you can assume an academic audience. The dictionary definition of any word should be considered general knowledge. The only time you should cite the dictionary is if you intend to give a word a technical definition, something more precise than, or a deviation from, the standard definition. In that case, you may cite the dictionary ONLY if your definition, or your general argument, relies on the difference in definitions between your usage, and general understanding.

You can cite the dictionary definition for the word “deception” if your argument is that the standard usage of the word isn’t precise enough to cover deception in classical performance practice. You may not cite it if you simply intend to argue that such practice IS deception, and the standard usage of the word is sufficient for what you mean by the word.

Our Father Session Clips

Not yet mixed, not even really edited, but here are the long-demanded rough clips from the recording session on Friday. And by long-demanded, I mean I casually mentioned that I would post them, and nobody has really said “No no, please don’t.” I take that to be a consensus for demand.

Here are 3 clips from the song. When the final mix is completed, I’ll post the whole thing in sequence, including videos of my laughably bad conducting. Joy!

our_father_vindicate_clip1.mp3 our_father_vindicate_clip2.mp3 our_father_vindicate_clip3.mp3

re:write

The goal of my music and ethics class is to have the students write a thesis paper, 25-30 pages of well-developed argument. I set milestones along the way: by this date, you need to have a thesis selected, by this date you need to show me ten pages of writing, by this date your draft needs to be ready for peer review, that sort of thing. This week is one of those deadlines, when I meet with the students to review the first 10 pages of their paper and a fully developed outline of their argument.

thesis-papersI ran across one of the students in passing, and he mentioned that he didn’t have anything to show me (I wish he were the only one). He then mentioned, rather flippantly, that he wasn’t all that worried, because he knew that he could knock out a “great paper” in no time once he had finished his research.

I left the encounter feeling very frustrated, for two reasons.

First, nobody can knock out a great paper in no time. The best anyone can do is knock out a great draft of a paper, a first writing. This is a recurring theme from my students; I keep getting first drafts handed in as final papers, because they’ve waited until the last possible moment to write them. When there are obvious errors, errors that any decent editor would have caught just by sniffing the ink, I know that nobody has read this paper but you. Nobody has edited for you. Nobody has done a critical review for you. Which means you’re handing in a paper expecting me to do it. Well, I will, but I do my editing with a red pen in one hand and a gradebook in the other.

Flip open any great book, any well-crafted work, and you will find the author thanking a whole list of people who graciously interposed their critical eye between the author and you, the reader. They are friends and colleagues, loved ones, and professional editors, all of whom serve the monumental and laudable goal of making sure the author doesn’t look like an ass. As a student, you have access to all of those same tools – peers, friends, family, a writing center staffed with editors. Their goal is make sure that your ideas connect to your reader with minimum hindrance by the medium. Writing is not a solo endeavor, not really, not at its best, but when a paper rolls off the printer 10 minutes before it is due it must be. And as a result, I end up grading your first draft.

My second frustration goes much deeper. In 16 years of schooling nobody, including me apparently, has managed to communicate to this student the actual value of writing a long format paper.

I don’t care about the paper. Really. The ink is pointless. I care very deeply about the process of writing a paper, because I believe that it is still one of the best ways to organize sustained, focused, rational thinking about complex topics. I care very deeply that you learn how to do that kind of thinking. The reason I was so frustrated by the student’s response is that the most important part of that process happens after you finish writing the paper.

Writing the paper is a prolonged period of pressure, cramming ideas into your brain, fighting to make logical connections between disparate bits of data. The intensity of pushing all of these ideas into a coherent, organized stream of thought requires reduction, and is mentally exhausting. You finish, hit print, the paper is done, run to class, hand it in, head home, take a nap, and then something magical happens. All of those ideas that you have been pressing down on begin to float freely. They start to shake loose from your organized stream of thought, loose from their moorings, and they rise. They bump into each other in new and interesting ways. They reorganize, like water molecules crystalizing together in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. You begin to understand things in new ways, ways that you were prevented from seeing before because your brain got in the way.

Two days after you finish writing a paper, the ideas you spent so long collating will have reorganized into something that really makes sense. Brilliant connections emerge. Small threads that barely emerged in the initial reading take on new significance as your brains chases them down in the noise beneath conscience thought, using the mental energy recently made available by the lifting pressure. That’s when you sit down and rewrite.

The way to make a writing project really useful is to research, write, release, rewrite, research, rewrite, release, rewrite, continuing the cycle until you arrive at conclusions that have the inevitability of all great ideas. That’s the way to arrive at mastery of a topic. When the topic at hand is your own value structure in an ethically complex situation, that kind of clarity is essential.

It matters to me. What you think about these topics matters to me. How you arrive at your thinking matters to me.

You will stand in front of a school administrator and have to argue that the purpose of education is the development of persons, not the development of merely useful skills, to argue that cutting music education is a dereliction of duty, and it is vitally important to me that you do it from a place of deep knowledge and the passionate conviction of rightness.

You will hold the phone in a long pauses, knowing that you cannot possibly agree to play under the circumstances being presented, also knowing that it is real money you are turning down, and it is important to me that you know why you are saying “no”, or that you know what it will cost you to say “yes”, and that the knowledge be more than merely notional, that it be the result of sustained and careful thinking.

You will run down your list of players to contract for Easter services, and you will skip the names of better players to hire those share your faith (or you won’t), and it is important to me that you have grasped with full rigor the tension between art-as-art and art-as-function when you make that choice, that the conversation between theology and aesthetics has taken place in your mind before you make your calls.

It matters to me how you have arrived at your thinking on these, and the dozens of other topics that emerge as thesis papers.

There are other ways to do this thinking, but this is the way that has been placed in front of us, for now. If it matters to you like it matters to me, embrace this process of read/think/write/rethink/rewrite. Don’t cheat it by counting words and chasing ink. Give it the time it deserves.

“Sir, Your Pain is Scheduled for 10:30am.”

“Thanks Maggie. Please hold all calls until lunch, ok?”

I had impromptu coffee with Ash yesterday. He was in town, called me, asked if I wanted to hang, and when Ash wants to hang, you just hang. That’s how it is.

Of course, things went deep. How’s the wife? How are the kids? How’s work? How’s not working? What is the meaning of time and space? Who is God? Does She have a personal assistant?

Like that.

At some point, the conversation turned to the nature of pain, physical and emotional. What is it? How does it affect us? I said something in the course of the conversation that made some sense, and Ash looked at me and said… “You need to write that down!”

Here I am, doing that. Here’s what I said, in a nutshell.

Life is pain. The very act of living is painful. We’re born into pain, and we die in pain. If you’re in pain, you know you’re alive. The question is this: do you want your pain working for you, or do you want to be its slave?

See… I was fat. Really fat. Like 320 pounds fat. Now, I am fit. I’ve lost nearly 100 pounds. I have muscles, and I can run 7 miles without stopping, and I can touch my toes. I do pilates and yoga and eat salad and have become a regular hippie. This process has been ongoing for 2.8 years thus far, and will never stop.

I got fit through a process of deliberately causing pain to my body. The body doesn’t like pain, doesn’t like the feeling of aching muscles. So, it gets all bent out of shape, goes in, and rebuilds the tissue… stronger, leaner, more equipped. This process burns calories, and fat. Then, of course, you have to do it again, and again. You literally incinerate your fat from the inside out.

It hurts. It hurts like hell. At first, when you start walk / jogging, your lungs feel like they’re gonna fall out of your chest. Your feet hurt. Your back hurts. Your knees hurt. Heck, your butt hurts. Most people stop because it hurts. Oh, also, you have to starve your body of calories, which also hurts. You have to purposefully and, of course, healthily, deny your body external food, so that it has to go to the resources it can get to, namely the resources that jiggle on your tummy. Being hungry doesn’t “Hurt” in the same way, but it is uncomfortable, and you get grumpy, and it all sucks.

So… why do it? Well, here’s something to consider: life is pain, and pain is life. Do you want your pain working for you, or do you want to be its slave? When I weighed 320+ pounds, my back hurt all the time. My knees were sore, all the time. My spine was crooked near the top, and slouched forward, causing chronic pain in my shoulders. I would sweat while sitting still. Airplane rides and shopping for pants were exercises in humiliation and discomfort. I couldn’t tie my shoes standing up. I was not likely to drop to the floor and play with my young daughter. I didn’t like going to the beach, or the pool. I had a chip on my shoulder, because I thought everyone was judging me because of my weight. I was a slave to my pain.

But now, (and this is, I think, what Ash reacted to) my pain is scheduled. I manage it. I make it work for me. I do not have back pain. I do not have a curved back. I do not sweat until I say so. I love shopping for pants. I can do a pull up. I am confident. I enjoy being on stage when we’re singing. I don’t fear people’s judgement… well, at least in the area of physical appearance.

Being fit has not solved all my problems, but having been both morbidly obese and a model for healthy living, I am prepared to make a value discernment and tell you that I experience less personal pain when it’s scheduled and maintained.

Schedule your pain. Make it work for you, instead of against you.

Our Father, Vindicate (update)

Well, I’ve been busy stacking impossible notes next to each other, in my ongoing quest to write my way out of ever being asked to compose something ever again.

This is identical to the previous demo, up to the 2:00 mark. After that, a whole new section completed today, a Kyrie plopped right in the middle of the “forgive us our debts” phrase. Like last time, this isn’t yet finished (or properly edited), but unlike last time, I’m uploading a PDF of the score, in its present state. Geek on, young music geeks!

Our Father, Vindicate (Score)

our-father-vindicate.02.mp3

Our Father, Vindicate (Unfinished)

The results of today’s little discovery! I’ve spent most of the summer writing a new composition for men’s acapella ensemble. It’s part of a campus wide series of scholarly presentations on the transmission of The Lord’s Prayer into English. Some people are presenting papers, the art department is presenting two shows (one juried, one curated), and the school of music commissioned new works by a handful of composers, to be performed during the school year.

This is about 50% of the piece I’ve been writing. The focus of both the text and the music is on The Lord’s Prayer as an apocalyptic prayer, a call for the immanent arrival of the Kingdom of God. I wanted to capture an epic film kind of sound with the piece, to match that idea.

My throat feels like it’s going to fall off. I’ve got some kind of swollen gland or something back there, and I can barely swallow. Spending 6 hours tracking extreme-range vocal parts probably wasn’t the best way to soothe that …

Enjoy! I’ll post more as I get a chance to complete it.

our-father-vindicate-incomplete.mp3

Solomon vs. Paul: gratitude, simplicity, the present, and meaning

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Contentment series

  1. This Week’s Sermon Will Be on Contentment
  2. Contentment and Gratitude
  3. Paul’s Writings on Contentment
  4. Solomon vs. Paul: gratitude, simplicity, the present, and meaning
  5. The Secret of Contentment

On the drive up to Santa Cruz this week, I read through all of Ecclesiastes in one sitting. The irony of the moment wasn’t lost on me, that I had wanted to read through the wonderful, and short, book on the futility of life’s frantic pace, and I couldn’t piece together 30 minutes to read quietly until I was locked in a metal box flying down the freeway for 6 hours.

A lot of my prep time for this sermon has been spent with Paul. It wasn’t until I read through Ecclesiastes that I started to see some contrast between how Solomon answers the questions of contentment, and how Paul answers the same question. Solomon’s famous refrain, “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless” is the slide into despair at the end of every passage. He samples every good thing in life, and finds that it turns to ash in his mouth. He has only 3 remedies for the state of discontentment: gratitude toward God (Ecc 3:11-13), enjoying simplicity (Ecc. 5:10-18), and being present-minded in your pleasures (Ecc 3:1-11). For Solomon, the best life possible is one in which a person finds satisfaction in their work, rather than in the benefit or consequence earned by that work, in which they are mindful of the good things of their present existence rather than anxious about their future needs, a life spent enjoying good food and good company, and in which God is acknowledged as the source of good things. Gratitude, simplicity, and present-mindedness.

Paul is not content (ha-ha!) with simply leaving it there. Paul also adheres to gratitude as an essential component of contentment, but I think he subsumes Solomon’s idea of preset-mindedness into a more fully-developed idea of “meaning”, the life consumed first by humility, and then by energetic pursuit of the Kingdom of God. Paul’s perspective seems to find contentment in the present by viewing it through a wide-angled lens, and seeing God’s overall plan. The present then finds meaning as a part of that larger work. When Paul says that he has learned the secret of being content in both poverty and abundance, he means (as Paul always means, one note samba that he is) that he has learned the secret of being dead to self and alive to Christ, the secret of belonging to the cross, of joining Christ in his kenosis and finding his purpose in the pursuit of the Kingdom of God. For Paul, even the good things of life (the things Solomon recommends) lie so far below humility and discipleship in the scale of meaning, that they become trivial, and to become content or discontent because of them is absurd.

My frustration with these two answers is this: Solomon’s answer seems accessible to everyone. You can substitute “gratitude to God” with “acknowledging the Universal Spirit”, or with a zen-like resignation to fate, and achieve substantially the same sort of contentment. His is not a “Christian” answer to contentment; it’s not even a particularly Jewish answer. It’s just … a good answer. Workable. Functional. Practical and beneficial.

Paul’s answer seems much less tangible. It’s more heady, seems more “right” (although that might only be the case because of 30 years of Evangelical backdrop to read it against), and a higher sort of answer. But it also seems less … learn-able. Less functional. How do you actually do kenosis? How do you gain perspective on this moment as a step of progression in the building of the kingdom when your kid is screaming his head off and the damn AC doesn’t work?

Solomon seems to give an answer that provides a workable pathway to some, limited, measure of contentment, along with a healthy dose of resignation to fate (or God’s unfathomable and unalterable will). Paul, on the other hand, seems to give a less workable pathway to all-consuming satisfaction in the service of great purpose.

By the way, I’m willing to go 9 rounds with anyone who says that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” is a simple pathway to contentment. It’s the most twisted, confusing, and unsustainable mindset ever. Yes, it’s also beautiful, and true, and empowering, but not simple. Never simple.

Previous in series: Paul’s Writings on Contentment

Next in series: The Secret of Contentment

Inevitable Imperfection – My Absurdly Long Wall*E Review

First, a word.  

If you have not seen Wall*E, feel free to spend some time reading my little meditation on why Pixar is the greatest thing ever, but be warned: the actual review of Wall*E, the movie, is spoiler-tastic, filled not only with key plot points, but my opinions on the aesthetic choices of those plot points.  If you have even the vaguest intention of seeing this movie, please stop when I get to Wall*E, go see it, and return there when you’re done.  I have no interest in ruining your movie-going experience.  This is the virtual version of the “Post Movie Dissection over Coffee at Jerry’s Deli”  You shouldn’t be here if you didn’t just plant your butt in the seats.

This review is painful for me to write, and joyous at the same time.  Wall*E is Pixar’s first flawed film.  The Flaw is brief, about five total minutes of film, and should in now way stop you from enjoying the other 92 minutes of sheer, sublime perfection.  

What is perfection, especially when talking about something so subjective as a film?  Well, let’s have a look at perfection, shall we?

Toy Story.  Toy Story got everything right, from the first frame to the final.  An ingenious, multilayered, hilarious, thrilling, touching moral fable about children, greed, pride, joy, acceptance, love and heartbreak, hubris and devotion.  Indulge me for a moment, for I just watched Toy Story again this past week, on a 4 inch tour bus screen with 30 High School Students, and yet its genius still shone through.  Remember with me…

The outrageously entertaining action sequence, featuring R. Lee Ermy’s band of green, plastic army men assaulting a child’s birthday party, at the behest of a small civilization of toys, sending the military in to assuage their security fears in a changing world.  

The instantly recognizable humanity of Tom Hanks’ Woody the Sheriff, facing unexpected displacement as the chosen leader of his tribe.  The tribe of toys themselves, both looking to Woody for leadership and resentful of his role as Chosen One.  

Buzz Lightyear.  My stars, what a joyous creation.  All piss and vinegar, lasers and lights.  Unable to see, even for an instant, past what he believes to be true, in the face of painfully obvious reality.  Woody is justifiably enraged at his insanity and astonished to see his friends shellacked by this impostor.  

The entire middle act, where Woody and Buzz, protagonists and antagonists both, find themselves relying on and using one another in their attempts to survive and return home, or in Buzz’s case, save the galaxy.  

The descent into Sid’s lair.  A place devoid of love or peace, save a little girl who gets constantly harassed by a villain.  Where are mom and dad?  Ah… asleep or shouting.  Sid is no simplistic caricature.  Oh, he’s a villain, make no mistake, but the filmmaker’s aren’t content to stop there.  They are storytellers, they want you to understand why he is who he is, and their command over their craft tells the viewer all they need to know in short order, that the action may continue.  

The unfolding of the final 15 minutes.  A breakneck action extravaganza.  Dogs, mutant toys, a rocket strapped to a spaceman’s back, minivans, near misses, mid-air collisions, old friends reunited, relationships restored, the kids cheer, the conflict’s resolved.  

Oh, and also, some madperson had the idea that the little sentient toy aliens inside an arcade game at a pizza joint would become a mad bunch of cultists who worship, “The Claw,” might be the most wonderfully absurd comedic idea of the mid 1990′s.  

For a second, think about the first time you say Toy Story, in 1995 or so.  We now take for granted the fact that there was media created before CGI implanted itself into our sense of visual possibility.  You had never, ever seen anything like Toy Story.  It was a visual wonder.  The camera was everywhere and unbound.  Visual and sonic information was woven into technologically secured sacred marriage of old-school writing chops, great voice acting, a killer Randy Newman score, and a bunch of animators who were in love with the idea of telling us a story we’d never forget.  

Don’t worry, most of them won’t be this long.

A Bug’s Life.  This was #2.  A Bug’s Life was the one that taught us that perfection could happen twice, and that there are shades of perfection.  I have fewer memories of this one, off the top of my head.  I remember thinking it was whip smart, again.  It was astonishing to look at, again.  Denis Leary as a ladybug.  Yes, please.  The insane, dazzling complexity of the Bug’s world.  The one wide shot of a trailer with one moth frantically yelling at the other, “Don’t go into the light…”  ”But it’s soo prettttyyy  ZZAP!”  FUNNY!

Was A Bug’s LIfe as perfect as Toy Story?  I dunno.  Shades of perfection.  A Bug’s Life was perfect for what it was.  I am getting the giggles as I search my memory banks for the great lines.  I’m gonna have to watch this one again.     

Toy Story 2  Uh oh.  A sequel already?  You’ve only made 2 movies.  Against all odds, Toy Story 2 was as good as the first.  A wild adventure that expanded the world that was so elegantly created in the first one.  

An existential drama… with children’s playthings dealing with their own mortality.  The poignancy of Woody’s discovery that the only way to stay needed forever was to surrender his ability to play, or be played with.  The bitterness of Joan Cusack’s Jessie, never wanting to love again, ready to surrender true love for something that will last, but is profoundly sadder.

Oh yeah, but it’s a comedy, too.  How great is Buzz Lightyear’s toy store encounter with his nemesis, Emporer Zurg, leading to a great confrontation between the formerly deluded hero pitted against the only toy in the galaxy more devoted to his perspective?  It’s great right?  

Toy Story 2 is one of the great sequels, in company like The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, Terminator 2, even Godfather Part 2.  I mean that in all sincerity.  Cartoons are art, at least to my family.

Monsters, Inc.  This was my least favorite of the perfect Pixar canon.  A lesser degree of perfection.  Still, it did exactly what it was supposed to do, and even though I didn’t find the emotional connection in this one as with the others, it’s still as entertaining a movie as any other I can remember from that year.  It made a zillion dollars and had several charms, like John Goodman’s Sully as he falls in love with little Boo, and the astonishing creativity of the final chase scene through a mechanized maze through a matrix of bedroom doors that can open to anywhere.  This is a buddy action comedy with a heart, it’s not curing cancer.   But it’s still perfect.  It doesn’t miss a step, never fails to entertain.

I remember thinking, “How long can they keep this up?”  For the first time, we had to wait two years to see, and I am not sure we were prepared for what came next.

Finding Nemo was the first of the four great Pixar movies.   This was Pixar’s Pinocchio, their Bambi.  Mom died before the opening credits, ya’ll.  So did all of Nemo’s brothers and sisters.  This was not a movie about safety.  It’s undersea environment was an ocean of wonder.  Alternately a crystalline beauty and a delight, or a murky world of danger and loss, the world of Nemo was altogether different than anything we had seen before from Pixar.

Consider these subtle changes:  Finding Nemo is a road picture, as where the first three had a definite sense of space, and place.  At 100 minutes, Nemo was longer by 10-15 minutes than most animated features before it, Pixar’s included.  It also moves in less of a traditional three act structure, instead moving episodically as a road picture should, as Marlin and Dory continue their search through the endless vastness of the sea, a father and a plucky sidekick hoping against hope to reclaim his son against all odds.  Heavens.  It’s The Searchers underwater.

But it’s funny, too.   Remember Bruce, the great white who drags Marlin and Dory to his shark infested AA meeting.  ”Fish are friends, not food.”  Funny.  Remember merry band of crazies in Nemo’s prison tank, especially the really nutty one that only shouts “BUBBLES!”  VERY funny.  Remember, oh please tell me you remember the squadron of seagulls, capable only of yelping… “Mine?!  Mine?!!?  MIIINNE?!?” as they chase our heros through Sydney harbor.  Funny. funny. funny.

Oh, and it also made you weep.  Remember the poetry of the sequence where Marlin’s story of bravery sweeps across the ocean, all the way to a dentist’s aquarium, where his despondent son is hoping against hope that his nebbish father might actually come save him?  

This was a subtle thing, but for the first time, the scoring duties were transfered to Randy’s nephew Thomas, whose scores never fail to evoke a lyrical and haunting musical texture.

Inexplicably, they decided to outdo themselves with…

The Incredibles.  Ask any fan of sci-fi, or James Bond, or comic books, or action movies, and they’ll tell you that The Incredibles just instantly implanted itself in their cerebral cortex upon the very first viewing.  This was the first movie directed by someone who wasn’t grown up in the Pixar farm team.  This was the creation of Brad Bird, the thus-far under-appreciated creator of the past forgotten gem, The Iron Giant.  He’d been brought into the Pixar fold by his old roommate John Lasseter.

Bird was brought in long after they’d started knocking it out of the park, and as evidenced by their first creation together, they gave Brad the keys to the kingdom.  I could man-crush on The Incredibles as much as I did for Toy Story (1), but I won’t.  

Let’s just say this:  The Incredibles was, for me, the first purely grown-up Pixar movie.  Sure, kids might dig it, but it was for mom and dad and we knew it.  It was PG.  It had a real bad guy.  It had a great script.  Think about all the great exchanges between Holly Hunter’s Elasti-mom and Craig T. Nelson’s Mr. Incredi-dad.  Talk about capturing the moment when you must choose between being the superhero vs. raising the next one.  When was the last time you were looking forward to hearing dialog from an animated face?   (Also – Craig T. Nelson killing it?  Whaaa?!) 

Let’s talk about the action.  Breathless.  Huge.  Beautiful.  This is Spielberg inside a computer.  This is Raiders vs. Jaws vs. Return of the Jedi.  It’s Die Hard and Goldfinger.  It’s X-Men and Father Knows Best.  It had Samuel L. Jackson AND that chick from NPR.  It was about mediocrity and jealousy.  Jason Lee’s Syndrome was Salieri with rocket boots sans religious grounding.  

Oh, and did I mention funny?   Baby Jack-Jack?  Hello?

Cars has been long derided in the blog-o-sphere and by fanboys as “My least favorite of the Pixar canon,”  Having recently concluded, courtesy of my 2 1/2 year old son, my 3,445,987th viewing of this film, I can tell you with some certainty that this is simply untrue.  

Cars is a little gentle thing, yes, but it was such a love.  No great threats here.  No barracudas eating mom.  No existential toy drama.  No movie geek homages.  Well… perhaps a few.  

Cars was about friendship, and slowing down.  It was about the dangers of going too fast.  It featured the voice talents of the late George Carlin, and Cheech Marin.  R. Lee. Ermy again, and those two guys from Car Talk on NPR.  Old voices, gravelly and worn, with a wink and a smile and a good natured sense of humor and drama.  Good Lord, even Larry the Cable Guy managed to be endearing.  I don’t think we’ve accurately stood in wonder of that present reality.  ”Larry the Cable Guy, in the right role, can be…. endearing.”  Seriously, try and say that three times.  It’s not easy to do.  

Then there’s Bonnie Hunt, who could warm up the frozen north with the sound of her voice, Owen Wilson playing a lonely hot-shot with a perfect mix of bravado and relational retardation, and the great Paul Newman, in what may end up being his final role.  Tony Shaloub, Michael Keaton, and the ever present and ever wonderful Pixar mascot, John Ratzenburger are all put to use as the great tapestry of characters unfold.  

Cars is a gentle thing, it moves slow.  When it revs, it revs hard, but at its heart is a little James Taylor tune.  If someone asked me to show them ten movies that portray the best of what it means to be an American, Cars would be on that list.

Oh, and forgive me for forgetting… it’s also zingy and funny and loopy and wise.  It’s a movie with a sound moral compass.  How often can one say such a thing?  

Ratatouille was a total and complete surprise.  It came out when I was out of town for a week, and then one thing lead to another and another, and Erica and I didn’t get around to seeing it until a couple of weeks after it had opened.  Perhaps it was also because it was a movie about… a rat.  A chef rat.  In Paris.  It didn’t feature any big stars.  The trailer was somewhat… lackluster.  I dunno… by the time we got to it, it had been relegated to one of the smaller theaters in the multiplex.  I had low expectations.

I was wrong.  

Ratatouille is, I think, my favorite Pixar movie.  It’s a movie about art, and artists.  It’s about genius, and those who can appreciate genius, and how those who truly appreciate genius are somehow themselves wrapped up in that genius, creating the natural circle of artist, art, and patron.  One feeds and nourishes the other.  They are symbiotic.  

Oh, and it’s funny.  It’s gut-bustingly funny.  It’s grab the chair and gasp for breath funny.  It’s Bugs Bunny vs. Monty Python funny.  It’s slapstick, but elegantly and intellectually so, which is the rarest and purest and only truly joyful brand of slapstick.  

Ratatouille reminded me that it’s great when filmmakers have something up their sleeve that you do NOT see coming.  

So, there it is: perfection.  Eight movies, all perfect in their own ways.  Eight different shades of greatness.  The box office and accolades and fanboy lore have intertwined into a success story that was earned the old fashioned way.  As Pixar guru John Lasseter is regularly quoted as saying, “Quality product is just always a great business plan.”   

Which brings us to Wall*E.  Yes, this is still a movie review, not merely a geekasm.   

Wall*E is not perfect.  Wall*E is magical, yes.  Visually stunning, yes.  Romantic and evocative, yes.  Thought provoking and timely, yes?  

Perfect?  No.  It’s imperfection might go over the public’s head, and as evidenced by it’s glowing reviews and strong opening box office, it’s going to take an artistically minded, formerly Evangelical Christian to point it out, and that’s me.  For the record, I am still an evangelical Christian, but I could write an equally long essay about the difference between Evangelical, and evangelical.  That’s another blog.  

I think that one of the problems, in retrospect, that I will have with Wall*E is that it was so effectively marketed as The Greatest Thing Pixar Has Ever Done.  From the first preview, with the Lords of Pixar reminiscing about a pitch meeting Way Back When where they batted around the ideas for A Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc., Finding Nemo, and Wall*E.  

The setup is brilliant.  What happens if, after the human race abandons a used, battered, hopelessly polluted earth, they forget to turn off the last clean-up robot?  Well, it turns out that he develops a life all his own.  Wall*E is a beautiful character.  Childlike, but not childish.  Curious, but not greedy.  Sacrificial, but he takes care of himself, (see the great bit early on where daddy gets himself a new pair of shoes.)  

Much has been said about the nearly wordless opening act, but not yet enough.  It’s simply one of the most beautiful, tragic, depressing and uplifting sequences I’ve ever seen on film.  Wall*E lives in a rusted, lifeless, abandoned world devoid of life, or love.  He is alone, save his friend the cockroach, who can take a laser beam to the face and keep scurrying about.  Pixar can make you chuckle even in a post-apocalyptic dystopia.  

Pixar?  Post-apocalyptic dystopia?  Yup.  What makes the opening sequence of Wall*E so astonishing is how much joy it finds in the little things, amidst an unassailable mountain of debris and despair.  Wall*E collects little wonders in his plastic igloo cooler as he goes about his day(s).  A bra,  A Rubic’s Cube, a VHS player (amusingly attached to what appears to be an iPod.)  All of these things he discovers as he sifts through endless mountains of our trash.  

At night, Wall*E studies his treasures and watches old movies.   He obsess over Hello Dolly, of all things, learning how to hold hands, wanting to dance, wanting to… live.  

No reason is given for Wall*E’s development of a personality, and none is needed.  He’s so rich a character, so immediately accessible, that some sort of ham-fisted forced explanation would just be a distraction.  More on that in a moment, ham-fisted explanation, that is.  

Wall*E’s world is turned upside down by Eve.  Eve is an exploratory probe, searching for signs of organic life.  After a terrifying and spectacular arrival in a sleek, monstrous ship, she is set free to flit about and search for her prize.  The ship disappears, and they are left to themselves. 

Wall*E falls goggles over treads in love with Eve.  He follows her at a distance.  Old music swells in the background, and Pixar again performs a miracle.  Wall*E reminded me of every adolescent crush I ever had.  Remember when the mere sight of the object of your obsession made you dizzy?  Remember when lust wasn’t about sex?  Remember when you could just sit there, stare, and lose focus on everything else in the world?  Wall*E captures something so inherently human, and transported my mind back to a season of my life that I thought I wanted to forget.  I was wrong.  Hormone enabled obsessions are strangely beautiful.  They seem so real, and can, IMO, lead to things that are real.

So, Wall*E loves Eve.  In a great genre and gender-bending little plot twist, it turns out that Eve is violent, rash, and dangerous.  One false move, and she starts shooting.  Wall*E survives due to his resourcefulness and kindness, and Eve (ever the teenage girl) allows him to tag along.  

When Eve finds what she’s looking for, a programming code inside her takes the plant into her body, and shuts her down and locks her up tight.  She is but a tool in someone else’s hands a mechanical slave who is serving a purpose.  

Wall*E does something wonderful here.  He continues his devotion to a inanimate object that is now not only capable of loving him back, but unable to do anything.  Wall*E serves this comatose Eve like the way a spouse would care for her.  He sacrifices and endures for love, love that is not (at least in this moment) returned in any measurable quantity.  

Now.  Up until this point, I was convinced that Pixar had indeed outdone themselves.  The visuals are… just magnificent.  Sound design, brilliant.  Storytelling, otherworldly.  Emotional content, rich.  But then, the ship returns, and Eve is callously whisked away with Wall*E in hot pursuit.  He hitches a ride to their destination, and Wall*E (the movie and the character) takes a strange turn.  

See, it turns out that the human race has been living on a space luxury liner for all these 700 years, waiting for their fleet of handy-dandy cleanup robots to clean up the mess they left behind.  They have grown horrifically fat, and bored.  They float around in their hoverchairs, attended by a sub-class of robots, talking past one another on a 3D internet apparatus, and are fundamentally disgusting, the worst of what complacent humanity can be.  

Now, here’s a problem that really messes with the 2nd half of the movie.  I think the filmmakers thought that they would need to up the comedy factor in the 2nd half, as to not alienate their audiences after the darkness of the opening.  They were right, but the comedy becomes a cartoon… a kid’s movie in the worst sense of the phrase.  The humor is obvious, and cheap, far below the standard pop and zing of Pixar’s impossible standards.  The human characters are too sad to be lovable, but too annoying to be pitied.   I sincerely wish that the ENTIRE story had been told visually, with the humans all mumbling in some Charlie Brown-esque language that the robots cannot understand.  

Ok, back to the plot. 

Wall*E cleverly shadows Eve all the way up to the bridge, where she is awakened and opened up to discover, the plant is MISSING!  The plot thickens!  She is assumed to be faulty and sent down to the repair bay for reprogramming, and, as can be imagined, escapes and madcap adventures ensue as they try and track down the missing plant and discover who (or what) stole the evidence from them that the Earth is returning to a livable status.  

While they’re on the bridge, we meet the character of The Captain.  He is momentarily excited when it’s revealed that Eve is carrying a sign of organic life from earth, but also terrified.  No one knows how to actually do anything outside of their slothful routine, so the idea of actually having to, you know… lead, is daunting, but also a bit exciting.  After they leave, there’s a short bit where the captain starts to investigate life on earth, via his computer.  He goes all through the night, and has something of a transformation process as he starts getting a picture of how far the human race has slid into apathy and boredom.

Now, The Captain is the only human character with anything resembling a story arc.  He’s sort of the stand-in amalgamation for the entirety of the blubbery mess below.  Herein lies Wall*E’s fundamental flaw.  (Spoiler Alert)  It’s revealed that The Autopilot, a robot cleverly designed as a futuristic ship’s steering wheel on a telescoping arm with a malevolent red eye, is trying to stop the humans from returning to earth, as his usefulness will be rendered null and void… or something.  

Anyways, The Captain sinks the ship of Wall*E with some really low budget dialog as he argues with Autopilot as to the future of their vessel.  ”In the past we’ve been powerless, but now life is SUSTAINABLE again…”  etc.  It’s like dialog that’s a vessel for environmental buzz words, not real dialog.  I was watching a CGI fatso read the brochure for Greenpeace.    

Pixar has been undone by a great old truth: If you’re more concerned with getting your message across than you are concerned about telling a great story, you’re screwed.  I mentioned that I grew up an Evangelical Christian.  I also grew up a movie nerd.    These two realities were interesting bedfellows.  

Every once in awhile, some group of Christians would pool some money and make a movie.  

Christian movies suck.  Know why?  If you’re more concerned with getting your message across than you are concerned about telling a great story, you’re screwed.  Ironically, this is why I believe Jesus was successful as a preacher.  He told stories with hidden meanings, allowing his listeners to make the connections themselves.  

I seriously don’t know if anyone other then Formerly Evangelical Movie Nerds will make this connection, but I did, and it forces me to disqualify Wall*E as another perfect addition to the Pixar canon, much to my dismay.  

How would I have fixed it?  Are you listening Pixar?  If so, you have any job openings for story editors?  Here are my two suggestions on how you guys could have fixed it.  Any of them would have done the trick. 

Make the movie longer.  It clocked in at 97 minutes, 15-20 minutes shorter than Ratatouille, Cars, or The Incredibles.  Give us more time with The Captain.  Let us care about him.  Let that sequence where he’s discovering all the things we used to do as a race be as poetic and beautiful   For heaven’s sake, smarten up his dialog.  Al Gore had better dramatic timing.  You guys know better!  Did you want to make sure that every kid in America heard the word “Sustainable?”  It’s just not a good word for this.  It leaped at me like a green tinged freight train.  I winced.  You guys know better!

I’m all for going green and conservation and accountability.  I’m all for stories about sacrifice, and hard work, and love and hope, not to mention the consequences of sloth, ease, laziness, selfishness, and quick fixes.  You guys had a killer, killer opportunity to underplay it, and let the viewer make the connections between these themes and the VERY political issue of global climate change.  We would have made the connections, I promise.  We’re quite bright.  

Oh, also… guys… seriously… At the end of the movie, you have what could have been a fantastically emotionally charged moment as the Captain leads the children back to their home planet, and puts the first living thing back in the Earth’s soil in hundreds of years.  This could have been a thrilling, hopeful moment.  Instead, we’re barraged with this idiot telling the kids something like.. “You guys are going to do sooo much farming… you’re going to grow vegetables, and blah blah blah.”  In another decade, it would have been Goofy delivering this bit of dialog. 

Ok, my other suggestion, I already mentioned.  Make the whole thing a silent movie.  How astonishing and haunting would it have been to deprive us of human language through that 2nd half as in the first?  How amazing would it have been to force us to reconcile a human future so utterly alien that we can’t even decipher what they’re saying?  

Have your people call my people.  I can begin work for you immediately.  I have opinions.  

Ok, so 15 years ago when I started this article, mentioned that Pixar’s imperfection has caused me joy, and it’s still true.  Here’s why:  Now, I can go and enjoy the next one without impossible expectations.  Now that I’ve been disappointed, even slightly, I can go back to simply enjoying the work of master storytellers.  I swear I’m not an Anton Ego, guys.  

I still really enjoyed Wall*E.  I actually plan on seeing it again in the theaters, now that my impossible expectations have been deflated, to attempt to catch all of the hundred of thousands of choices that the filmmakers got so right, and just appreciate their craftsmanship.  

Forgive me Pixar, for holding you to an impossible perfect standard.  In all fairness, it was your own fault.  

 

Sound the Narrows

O Great Pentatonic Scale, is there nothing you cannot do?

I’ve been about as far outside of my creative mojo as you can possibly get these past few days. OK, weeks. Months even. Which is not a good thing, as I have several gigs coming up where I am being paid real live American Dollars to be creative. So, I cracked out the old pentatonic scale, and started doing a random search through Google Books until I stumbled on the phrase “Sound the Narrows.”

I’m pretty sure that, eventually, there’s a song in here. For now, it’s just a writing sketch to get me back in the good place. The profitable, profitable good place.

sound-the-narrows.mp3

Testing Faith

Well kiddos, Professor Lee is teasing out another idea for a composition around the ideas in The Lord’s Prayer. In fine RoadHouse tradition, I’m going to make you do my homework for me.

I’m thinking about the phrase “lead us not into temptation.” It’s probably better to think of it as “do not bring us into a time of severe testing.” So, I’m collecting examples from the biblical narrative of people who were testing in their faith. There are the big ones, like Abraham’s testing over Isaac at Moriah, and Job’s testing at the hand of the devil. What other examples can you think of?

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this yet – it’s just the first inkling of an idea.

Your Will Will Be Done

I’m working on a new composition, a setting of The Lord’s Prayer for slovenly pirates and bellicose ne’er-do-wells. Or, I guess they just go by “Men’s Chorale”, but you get my point.

The Lord’s Prayers (the Matthew version, which all the cool kid use) is traditionally understood as 7 petitions:

“Our Father, who is in heaven,

  1. Make holy your name,
  2. Bring your kingdom,
  3. Manifest your will on earth, as in heaven,
  4. Give us our daily bread,
  5. Forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors,
  6. Do not lead us into temptation,
  7. Deliver us from the Evil One.”

In writing this piece, I’ve been thinking about the theological implications of composition. I know, I know, make fun of me later. For now, just smirk to yourselves and read on.

I’m working out the 3rd petition in the piece right now, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

This is no great mystery to the songwriters in the crowd, but that phrase can be sliced and diced and setup across the music in dozens of ways, and each one shifts the weight around on the ideas contained in the phrase. The words are the words, and they carry their own meaning, but the shades of emphasis are mine to play with.

If I make your a pickup, and land the word will on the downbeat, the emphasis moves. If I shift the phrase over, and begin with your on the downbeat, again, the emphasis moves.

When Albert Malotte write his well-known setting of the piece, he chose to put a strong divide between be done and on earth. I think that one choice has made a permanent shift in how most English-speaking people understand the prayer. Malotte made “on earth as it is in heaven” a descriptive supplement to “thy will be done.” In his rendering, there is almost an implied “(so that it will be) on earth as it is in heaven.” It makes the petition wistful, almost mournful.

Matthew’s greek text does not have that same grouping. It places the break (as nearly as we can tell; this kind of thing is always a bit subjective) between on earth and as in heaven. With that reading, the emphasis is on the present, immediate manifestation of God’s will, here, now, on earth, in this place. It’s not a far off vision of some future transformation, it’s a call to arms for the establishment of the Kingdom (in line with the first 2 petitions).

I’m sensing, as I write this piece, the power of setting words to music. There is actually the ability to shift theological meaning in the mind of the listener, and the performer, based on choices we assume are merely aesthetic.

It’s the mind of the performer that’s been heavily on my own mind as I write this piece. This is not a pretty piece of music. It’s an epic, Fortissimo! final judgment, second coming kind of piece. It emphasizes the prayer as an eschatalogical petition, a subversive rendering of the Hebrew Kaddish to invoke the overthrowing of the world, and the establishment of God’s Kingdom. It’s a call to arms.

The men’s chorale that will be performing it has a special place in my heart. The conductor has made it a workshop for turning awkward boys into godly men. They come in, adrift and insecure, cut loose from family and friends and home church, and are thrown together on campus with 10,000 people they don’t know. Men’s Chorale becomes a band of brothers, a sanctuary, and a training ground for how to grow up into a man. The way they sing reflects that.

When I finish this piece, I will hand it over to them, and they will learn it. Any given audience will hear it once, but they will sing it dozens of times, they will memorize it and perform it with passionate intensity. The meaning of the words will not be lost on them – I talk to these men frequently, and they are thoughtful and articulate. They chew on things.

As I spill ink on this new composition, I’m very aware of my obligation to these men, to take care for the ideas I hand over to their repetition and consideration.

Must See TV – John Adams

I’ve been thoroughly engrossed in the HBO miniseries John Adams, based on the book by David McCollough.  Part 6 of 7 airs tonight, and then the finale is next week.  This miniseries hits several of my happy places, my interest in history, my love of a good story, and most importantly, great writing.  

Paul Giamatti totally reinvents himself in the title role.  He’s specialized over the years in roles that seem to emphasize the more negative human traits.  Petty, shallow, insecure characters in great movies like American Splendor and Sideways.  It is shocking, really, to watch him become the ferocious orator John Adams, in even the first episode, as he defends the British soldiers on trial for what we know as the Boston Massacre.  As the series plays out, and we begin to see the darker shades of our 2nd president, he brings his usual sharp eye to human character traits.  It’s a simply breathtaking performance.

Laura Linney has slowly become one of my favorite actors over the years, and she totally outdoes herself as Abigail Adams.   Linney’s a strange one, because she’s not one of those actresses that physically transforms herself for roles.  She’s not like a Meryl Streep, a chameleon who shapeshifts.   However, as I’ve watched her tender, nuanced, dynamic Abigail unfold, I’m simply stunned that it’s the same woman who played the insecure, emotionally retarded female lead in last year’s amazing The Savages.

Speaking of shape shifting, after getting robbed of Best Supporting Actor for the single best acting performance of the year in Michael Clayton, Tom Wilkinson outdoes himself, completely disappearing into the role of Benjamin Franklin.  The rest of the cast is outstanding as well, including a noble and subdued turn by David Morse as George Washington.  

I’m going into mildly spoileriffic territory here, so if you’re interested in seeing it without my little commentary in your brain, stop now.  For the rest of you, I just wanted to confess that this miniseries has me reconsidering my views and stances on the birth of our nation.  

See, I grew up as part of the Red, White, and Blue, God Bless America, We’re a Christian Nation sorta tradition so prevalent in Evangelicalism.  I’ve reacted negatively towards it in recent years.  I think that mentality has done us more harm than good, and I’d gleefully tweak Christians with a little reminder about our “Christian Nation” that allowed the enslavement of an entire race of people for about 200 years.  I can say for certain that I’ve never slipped into an “Anti-American” mentality.  I’ve tried to fall somewhere in the middle, keeping me head on straight and giving credit where credit is due.  

However, watching this miniseries, I have been convicted about a few things.  First of all, I think that while slavery will always be the original sin of America, it’s important to remember that these men of great principle, many of whom found slavery detestable, knew a simple fact:  had they tried to deal with slavery in 1775, the nation simply would have never been born.  The South wouldn’t have gone along, and the revolution would have been quelled.  

I think it’s important for the “America is bad” crowd to own up to this reality.  I know it’s going to temper my discussion of our nation in the years to come.  

The other thing about John Adams that has so transfixed me is that in a pre-internet, pre-airline, pre-car world, time seemed to move slower.  It took days to travel to Philadelphia from Boston.  It took months for a piece of news to travel from the colonies to the king and vice versa.  There are several sequences in the first two episodes where the delegates are trying to make decisions about the future even as they’re waiting for their last request to the king to be answered.  

All this to say… I think the slowness of the pace of their lives made it so that when they said something, or did something, they tended to make it matter.  Their words seem chosen more carefully.  Their decisions seem to have more weight, and greater consequences.  Things seem more important.  

Now, I realize this is a mini-series, and that everyone’s pretending, and I’m sure that there are inaccuracies, and so on and so forth.  However, watching this story makes me want to make my words count more.  I sit here, typing, and in a moment, these words will be accessible to anyone all over the world who cares to read them, instantaneously.  

The men of colonial America had one shot.  They had to make it count.  They had to get it right.  There’s a scene where Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin are editing the Declaration of Independence, and it’s just astonishing to think that there was a time before those iconic words existed, and as they change things around, it’s humbling to think that words can be so important.  We take that for granted.

To quote another great American character, (albeit fictitious) Melvin Udall, this miniseries makes me want to be a better man.

 

Wells Fargo: We’ve Made All The Money We Need, And Do Not Want Your Business

We shot the pilot episode today for a new reality show, called Wells Fargo: We’ve Made All The Money We Need, And Do Not Want Your Business™. Since it will take a few months for the show to air, I’m posting the transcript here for your entertainment pleasure.

Scene 1: In Which Michael Finds A Car He Wishes To Buy

Gretchen: We should sell your truck and buy a car that can fit our growing family.

Michael: I agree. Also, you’re sexy. Look, here’s the exact car we’ve been talking about, for a reasonable amount of money. It is an environmentally-friendly clean-diesel 2006 Jetta, with low milage. We should buy it.

Gretchen: Let’s buy it.

Michael: Rather than spend the money we have earmarked for a down payment on our first house, let’s go get a car loan to purchase the vehicle. That way we can put more money down on the house, and qualify for a lower interest rate on our mortgage.

Gretchen: That’s a sound financial decision.

Scene 2: In Which Michael Applies For A Car Loan from Wells Fargo

Michael: My wife and I would like to apply for a car loan, so that we can purchase a vehicle for our growing family.

Wells Fargo: OK, let me get some details. How much money do you make annually?

Michael: (an amount that is 6x the purchase price of the vehicle)

Wells Fargo: Excellent. What are your monthly expenses for rent and outstanding loan payments??

Michael: (an amount that is 1/4 of our gross monthly income)

Wells Fargo: Great. It looks like you and your wife have established a sound financial footing for yourselves, one in which your income exceeds your expenses by a reasonable amount.

Michael: Yes, we have.

Wells Fargo: It also looks like you pay all of your bills on time, don’t bounce checks, and have generally conducted yourselves like responsible adults.

Michael: Yes, yes we have.

Wells Fargo: Great! We’re not loaning you the money.

Michael: Excuse me?

Wells Fargo: We’re not loaning you the money.

Michael: Why the $#%&* not?

Wells Fargo: You don’t have enough credit history.

Michael: … credit … history … ?

Wells Fargo: Yes. It shows on your credit report that you haven’t borrowed enough money to qualify to … ya know … borrow money.

Michael: Does it show that we took out a loan on a brand new Saturn 6 years ago, and that we paid it off 3 years later, just like we said we would?

Wells Fargo: Yup.

Michael: I don’t understand

Wells Fargo: Well, you paid it off.

Michael: Yes …

Wells Fargo: So it no longer counts. It doesn’t show us how you will manage your current debts.

Michael: WE MANAGE OUR DEBTS BY PAYING THEM OFF!

Wells Fargo: Yes, it sure looks that way, doesn’t it.

Michael: Does it show that we have a platinum credit card that we pay off every single month? Does it show that the credit limit on that card is high enough that, if we wanted to, we could just charge the car to our card?

Wells Fargo: Well, technically, since you opened that card up under your business, it doesn’t count toward your personal credit history.

Michael: Would you like to guess whose credit record is going to get f’d up if I stop making the payments?

Wells Fargo: Sir, don’t get snippy with me.

Michael: Sweetheart, I haven’t even started to get snippy yet. So, we’re not getting turned down because of bankruptcy, late payments, bounced checks, felony convictions, or bad dental hygiene; we’re getting turned down because we HAVEN’T BORROWED ENOUGH MONEY?

Wells Fargo: Yes sir. We have no way of knowing if you’ll pay back the money you’ve borrowed unless you’ve borrowed lots of money already, and paid some of it back.

Michael: Ok, let’s review. My wife and I will make more money this year than 80% of the people in the county.

Wells Fargo: Yes.

Michael: We pay less than 1/4 of our monthly income in rent and other fixed expenses.

Wells Fargo: Yes.

Michael: It’s not like we’re buying an Bentley here; we’re buying a family sedan for under $20,000 dollars. The payments will be less than $400 a month.

Wells Fargo: Yes. Not excessive at all.

Michael: We have our accounts here with Wells Fargo, and you have the balances in front of you. You know that we could pay cash for this car.

Wells Fargo: Yes.

Michael: And we’ve paid off every dollar we’ve ever borrowed in our entire lives.

Wells Fargo: Yes.

Michael: Can I ask a question?

Wells Fargo: Of course.

Michael: If you aren’t making car loans to people like us, who the hell are you making them to?

Our Father: Sermon Final

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Our Father series

  1. Our Father, Who Art In Heaven
  2. The Weakness of God
  3. Our Father: Sermon Final

So, I finished up the sermon for last Sunday, and I’m posting it here, along with the manuscript and the slides, for anyone who is interested. The audio cuts off the first 5 minutes of the message, so it’s kind of an odd jump in, but you didn’t miss much of the content.

07-29-2007_service.mp3

Download the manuscript: Our Father, Who Art In Heaven

And the interactive Quicktime file of the slides: Our Father – Slides

Previous in series: The Weakness of God