To complete a thought I had a couple weeks ago, I’ve found that habitually going to church has become a great motivator to tackle my own personal debt problem.

I arrived at Fountain Street Church about fifteen minutes early this week. I like to get a seat front and center on the balcony so I can get a good view of “the show.” I was followed up the stairs by a woman with her arms full. I went to one side of the aisle and she to the other, setting down a stack of papers on one of the fold up seats and a large offering plate.

This offering plate has become like an Alcoholics Anonymous buddy to me. We check in once a week, telepathically, of course, and I explain to it the steps forward I’ve taken and those moments when I’ve backslid as well.

I do have to clear something up. I do not believe that getting religion will fix your finances. Furthermore, I am highly critical of church economics. In fact, I am becoming a proponent of stricter regulations concerning churches who claim nonprofit tax status, but I digress.

Now that we have the disclaimer section behind us, I want to get to the main point. Getting out of debt involves rewriting your habits and bidding farewell to all that comes natural. You need weekly rituals, like going to church or volunteering for a charitable foundation, a place that you’d like to support financially once you’re back on your feet. You need to immerse yourself in literature by people who are writing about tackling debt, setting yourself up to succeed with your finances, and bettering yourself in general. Perhaps most importantly, you also need friends who are in similar situations and who can keep you accountable with your goals. Every day you need some kind of inspiration to keep you going. You are rewriting your life history, so you need to connect with your muse.

Here are a couple of the things that inspired me this Sunday at church. Maybe you’ll see in these words what I see:

Life has its battles, sorrows, and regret:
but in the shadows, let us not forget:
we who now gather know each other’s pain;
kindness can heal us; as we give we gain.
Sing now in friendship this, our hearts’ own song.

– Here We Have Gathered, verse 3, words by Alicia S. Carpenter, music from the Genevan psalter

To commune is to release one’s heartache in the company of others, to say, one beggar to another, “I know where bread is…” and by this miracle, help each other find a way back home.

– Responsive reading


Roger Waters The Wall – In Theaters Oct. 18

Fully automatic MP-40 gunfire dropping streams of hot brass, bomb explosions, Liam Neeson, fireworks, tequila shots, Ray-Ban clad Neo Nazis in trenchcoats, iPod-toting Hitlers, live flying WWII planes and giant nightmarish puppets – a Tarantino screenplay? No. Just some good old fashioned rock theater. Roger Waters The Wall, to be exact. And yeah, I cried too.

Just when I thought I’d seen it all, just when I thought I’d become desensitized and familiar with all things Pink Floyd, the great Roger Waters strikes back hard with a full-length tour de force concert film that left me spellbound.

Captured in full 1080p high-def luster, Roger Waters The Wall is a gorgeous, emotionally wrenching statement about war and human loss, given a fresh facelift relevant to the geopolitically trying times of today. At it’s core though, the film is a two-hour long visual exorcism of Roger’s single greatest personal demon (and creative fire) – the loss of his father in World War II.

Instead of watching a disheveled Bob Geldof waste away in smoky L.A. hotel rooms, we’re guided by a smartly dressed Waters through regal cemeteries, war memorials and dark oaken hallways in classy French hotels doing shots of top shelf Jose Cuervo (I did NOT take Roger Waters for a tequila guy). In fact, the film is in many ways similar to Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same in that it interleaves footage of Roger’s personal side-story narrative with actual concert footage. And as much as I’d LOVE to see Roger Waters gallivanting on horseback, storming castles and rescuing fair maidens, we are taken in a vintage Rolls Royce on a deeply personal-and sometimes painful- road trip spanning from overcast English countryside to the shores of south Italy.

Sitting in the mostly empty theater (there behind my wall)-flanked by mostly Boomers and Gen-X’ers -I was clearly the youngest one there, perhaps even the only millennial. My run-ins with Pink Floyd fans my age are extremely rare (unless I’m in Austin, TX). And by “fan” I mean someone whose first reaction to the band isn’t just reciting “we don’t need no education”. Despite Dark Side of the Moon being the bestselling rock album of all time, it baffles me how little Pink Floyd love and awareness there is in the world- and if there is, people just aren’t showing it! Sitting there in the theater, I couldn’t help but wonder how my experience with The Wall differed from that of my fellow movie-goers. Did I discover this Waters-driven Floyd masterpiece any differently than my older peers? War, sheltered upbringing, innocence lost to sex drugs & rock ‘n roll, heartbreak, depression, societal disillusionment, isolation, self-loathing, rebirth, prejudice, racism, and the idea that our greatest fear is to be exposed and vulnerable – what themes of the human condition doesn’t The Wall touch on?

Like many of my fellow Floyd fans, I discovered The Wall in my formative high school years during which I dealt with many of those very themes. But the truly great thing about The Wall is that it’s one of those rare, timeless albums whose message is universal, and somehow always relatable. I once naively thought I had outgrown the album after graduating past those chaotic coming-of-age high school and college years; that true to its stereotype, The Wall was just a silly phase every angsty teen went through. But I was very wrong. I’ve continued to rediscover and relate differently to the songs as I’ve marched forward into the brave new world of adulthood.


None of this guy in the new movie

But of course the real fire and excitement of the movie lies in the concert footage itself. And as someone very critical of live Pink Floyd—especially live Pink Floyd without the mighty David Gilmour—my expectations were exceeded. Granted, the performances were likely heightened by the film’s superb editing, mixing, and playback through theater-grade speakers, I’m willing to give Waters and his band the benefit of the doubt. The ensemble is about a 50/50 split of British and American musicians. Lead guitar duties are shared between Dave Kilminster and the ever-faithful Snowy White (who toured extensively with Floyd during Animals and The Wall, and who is responsible for one of the coolest, unreleased Floyd solos ever in “Pigs On The Wing”). With a few exceptions, I was pleasantly surprised with the care and respect they gave to preserving the original legendary work of Dave Gilmour. However “In The Flesh Pts. 1 an 2”, “The Thin Ice”, and “One of My Turns” just aren’t played with enough of that wild, piercing Stratocaster abandon as in the originals.  Instead, the three songs come off as too cautious and subdued (as is the problem with most Gilmour impersonations). I could write another article on guitarwork comparisons alone, but I will stop here.

G.E. Smith (Hall and Oates, Saturday Night Live) competently handles rhythm guitar and bass when Roger plays six-string. John Carin and Harry Waters (Roger’s son) take on keyboards and piano. Robbie Wyckoff provides the Gilmour-esque baritone vocals; and while a bit stiff, captures them with all the elegance and grace of Gilmour himself.

“Goodbye Blue Sky” and “Vera” were probably the most heartbreaking and beautiful moments of the film. If you can’t sit through “Vera” without tearing up then there is seriously something wrong with you! I challenge you!

“Mother” was another standout, featuring an intimate performance from Roger on acoustic guitar, hauntingly synced up to an old black and white video of him playing the same song from the 1980 tour. The juxtaposition was too perfect, and of no coincidence – the grainy video above the stage showed a young, arrogant, domineering (and utterly genius) bandleader playing in sharp contrast to the much older, lighthearted and good-humored man on stage below. And while Roger hastily reveals later in the film that he’s torn down many of his personal walls, he defeatedly admits he still hasn’t torn down all of them.  Damn.  Who can’t relate to that?

Overall, the songs are very well done, and minimal artistic license is taken with the exception of a few personal flares here and there. Roger has always treated the album as a classical composition, and it shows.  He has little tolerance for variation from the original studio recordings.

To both die-hard and “have-been” Pink Floyd fans alike, Roger Waters The Wall is a must-see. It is a audio/visual kick-in-the-ass guaranteed to make you re-think and rediscover what this album means to you. So if you need a break from the information firehose of Netflix TV show binging and want to get out and actually feel something, go see this movie in theaters on Sunday, October 18th.


*SPOILER ALERT* The Wall falls!

ArtPrize 2015 – GRAM and Taking it to the Streets

This weekend closed out the final “official” week of ArtPrize. If 2015 is anything like previous years, we should have no problem seeing some of these pieces for the next couple of months. After all, the art from this event draws people into your shop, and once they’re there you have the opportunity to sell things to them. Who would pass up this opportunity to raise revenue, especially as the long descent into the holidays begins?

I thought I’d do another roundup post where I talk about some of my favorite art that I saw a couple evenings ago when I stepped outside and just started walking. You can call this a best of the Grand Rapids streets and the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM).

My favorite installation of the evening, which didn’t become my favorite until I meditated on its meaning for some time, was actually a video presentation at the GRAM by Stephen Dean titled “PULSE”.

The video itself looked something like a color run where everyone gets backed up due to traffic. However, much like my favorite piece of art prize it wasn’t until the plaque that I appreciated the beauty of this piece. What Dean had captured was a celebration during the Hindu festival called Holi, in which caste (class) and gender restrictions are temporary put on hold. Just the idea of something like this warmed my blood in much the same way the Jewish year of Jubilee did when I first learned of it. It is difficult to imagine what this kind of liberation would feel like — even if only for one day — but I like to try every once in a while.


Monroe O’Bryant, “Realistic Neglects”

Later, we actually stumbled across a lecture by photographer Monroe O’Bryant who was speaking on topics of social justice and racism in Grand Rapids. His photo series “Realistic Neglects” features staged recreations of historical Grand Rapids acts of violence against African Americans. The images were really powerful, and I honestly wish I could have heard O’Bryant speak on the topic at greater length. It is hard to believe an artist with such a gift for images could also have such a talent with words.

The last piece I want to mention from my walk downtown is a sculpture called “Truncated Octahedron and Geodesic World” by Six Dimension Design. I hope the piece is still in front of the Van Andel Arena because I’d like to get another photo of it, preferably at night. The photos on the ArtPrize 2015 web site don’t seem to do the piece justice.


Six Dimension Design, “Truncated Octahedron and Geodesic World”

The complete piece looked like some Wellsian time machine surrounded by alchemical scrawlings and baubles. However, up close you notice that the writing is much more chemical. In fact, it is the periodic table, and all of these shapes are crystalline structures inspired by elements and compounds. This larger than life sculpture was right up our alleys, my wife being a chemistry and geology geek and myself being a multi-class geek-of-a-thousand-colors.

Those were the highlights of the evening. Like I said, I am going to try and get a better photo of the installation by Six Dimension Design, and I hope to put up at least one more post about ArtPrize 2015. Until then, expose yourself to some art that makes you think and some art that makes you feel and some art that makes you disgusted and some art that makes you hurt. You will be better for it.

Happy Birthday John Lennon

You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. - John Lennon, Imagine

You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
– John Lennon, Imagine

On John Lennon’s birthday I cannot help but ask myself, “How can I be a better person?” and “How can I make this a better world?” That is one hell of a legacy to leave.

It took me a while to be OK with John Lennon. The Beatles Anthology’s release in the 90s, with the TV miniseries that accompanied it, brought about the type of “phony Beatlemania” that Joe Strummer talks about in London Calling and I think a lot of people on the fringes of my generation were really soured to the Beatles in general because of it. Furthermore, Lennon seemed like some self-indulgent egotist who did too much drugs to me. Mainly, I was annoyed that he overshadowed George Harrison and to some extent Paul McCartney, who, in that order, were my favorite Beatles.

But it is not fair to judge the man by a marketing campaign that took place after his death, nor is it fair to dislike him because I feel a desire to rank the Beatles. The fact of the matter is that John Lennon lived and died for world peace. Now, the word peace turned into a negative word, associated with hippy peaceniks. It became a word for the soft-minded and drug-addled. In fact, the United Nations in the last couple of years started using the word “sustainability” instead of “peace” in most instances, presumably for similar reasons.

Do I need to turn Lennon into a prophet in order to care about him? No. But during a time where he could have just rested on his laurels, he used his success to speak out against injustice, and if you don’t believe he ever shed sweat or tears for the cause of peace, you can be damn sure he shed blood for it.

I’m a dreamer too, John, and like you, I hope I can make those dreams come true.

Stinky Lessons

As a new dog owner, I have already learned the first Stinky Lesson. The dog owners in the audience are going to know exactly what I am talking about. Poop is a part of everyday life. I suppose, in a way, this is also my first lesson as a family man. You just can’t avoid poop. Those who work with me know this was a big deal for me when Tiberius first became a part of my family. I am pretty sure every time someone asked me, “What did you do this weekend?” my response was always, “All I did this weekend was pick up poop. It’s all I ever do.”

Life as a dog owner has certainly been an adjustment to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong: when Tiber first entered the family in May I thought picking up his bowel movements was a drastic thing. But its not. My sister-in-law has two dogs who learned a much more drastic stinky lesson a couple of weeks ago. They had their first experience with a skunk. One little skunk had sprayed both dogs — one a giant, lumbering sweety, and the other an older little guy — while also managing to tag the underside of their porch. Adding to the trouble, the dogs made it inside the house before it was apparent that they had been musked. Those dogs learned (or didn’t learn, as is the way with beasts who have no anecdotal memory*) a serious Stinky Lesson: That thing is not a cat with a stripe accidentally painted on it. It is an acrid organic can of spray paint and it is not afraid to greet you butt first, or, in a more axiomatic fashion, Skunks are to be avoided.

This was a lesson that Tiberius was just yearning to learn this morning when I took him for his walk, but which I denied him. As we rounded the corner of the old Grand Rapids Public Museum, he pointed and then excitedly bounded forward before I even saw anything. It was another thirty or so yards before I even knew what had excited him. The skunk was small and un-assuming and if I hadn’t had my good and proper Northerner education, I might have run with Tiberius after the mysteriously marked little creature. We might have tried to make a friend together. But I flashed back to my old illustrated camping journal from when I was a child which I assume that my mom still has in the basement and the wise wording I had written on the subject — “And then we saw a skunk” — and I restrained my beautiful mutt from pursuing the little beasty.

Hey there, cutie, what's got your tail feathers all ruffled up?

Hey there, cutie, what’s got your tail feathers all ruffled up?

The result: I am sitting at my computer blogging instead of stockpiling baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and Skunk-Off. That was my sister-in-law’s weekend, and I took her example to heart. There is no reason my family needs to learn any more Stinky Lessons this morning. The lesson Tiberius really needs to learn this morning is not to greet us with baby tooth bites when he has bone crushing adult teeth.

In summary, the two Stinky Lessons we’ve covered today are:

  1. Poop is a part of everyday life.
  2. Skunks are to be avoided.

If you have any questions or comments or care to share a Stinky Lesson of your own, please feel free to share. This is not something I’d like to turn into a column — I mean, I would like less stink in my life, not more — but if you have wisdom to share I would be happy to turn it around and share it with my people.

*  Can you imagine what a blog written by a dog would look like? Dogs don’t have anecdotal memory and blogs are almost entirely composed of anecdotes. A blog from a dog’s perspective would likely resemble a mad Joycean stream-of-consciousness essay about the keyboard and the computer screen.