EDITOR'S NOTE: Revolution 21's Blog for the People continues an occasional series of dispatches recorded some years ago in the trenches of Catholic radio . . . Pope FM, if you will. The names aren't real, nor are the places, but the stories are -- and it's a snapshot picture of what happens when "Their zeal consumes them" meets "Sinners sacrifice for the institution, not vice versa."
In other words, there has to be a better way.
I write with some trepidation about what posterity will think of this missive. For what I will think of this missive in future years.
I fear people might read this and think me delusional -- that something as bat-s*** crazy as what I'm about to put to figurative "paper" couldn't have happened, that I made it all up. Sometimes, I fear that I'll think the same thing in five or 10 years.
Note to posterity (and to my future self): You can't make this s*** up. You just can't.
Well, it's been a while since I've written, and things have changed quite a bit around Pope FM. Mary, our general manager, is gone to tackle running a chain of Catholic radio stations. Ken is running the show now, and he's going great guns to "corporatize" the place.
His mantra seems to be "How can we do some business here?" Funny, I didn't know non-profit Catholic radio -- or Catholic evangelization -- was "bidness." Silly me.
Too, we have a new program director. Actually, this is a new position. Before, Mary did the program-director thing as part of her general-manager duties, and I reported to her. Now I have an extremely manic -- and extremely odd -- middle manager to brighten my work experience.
This is gonna be a rough ride.
HERE, DEAR DIARY, is a vignette that (I think) illustrates the big picture. And you'll see the genesis of my "rough ride" assessment.
First, the new guy, Don, is driving everybody nuts -- except for the fast clique formed by him, the general manager and the development director. They all have five kids (the new guy's fifth is on the way), they're all around my age, they're all "Catholic and Damned Proud of It" (for lack of a better term) types, etc.
All I can say briefly is the direction of the station has turned 180 degrees in the blink of an eye. There has been wrenching change in the whole culture of the station in a week . . . manic would be an apt description, I think. Manic, just like (as I noted earlier) Don.
I mean, I am the voice of restraint at the place now. Don has about five years of pent-up ideas he's unleashing all at once and expecting to implement by the end of the year. With very limited resources to accomplish any of it . . . even after the technical expansion is complete.
Honestly, I desperately want to give the station a contemporary, non-dyspeptic sound. I desperately want to reach out to young people. But in such a short time, you can only do what you can do with the resources you have. And you have to be deliberate in what you're doing.
BUYING A HUMVEE, I don't think, can be described as exercising due deliberation.
That's right, ladies and germs, Don wants to get someone to donate the scratch for a Humvee -- the Pope FM Humvee -- which we then would have painted like the Vatican flag to play off the theme "The Church Militant."
I am the only convert left on the staff, and I can't convince these zealots how badly that might piss off people who have no clue what the Church Militant is. So much so that we wouldn't have the opportunity to explain it (and so much so that it might not make a difference when you do).
And then we will face the reaction of the Protestants. ;-) As a friend comments about such things, "Their zeal consumes them."
APART FROM the PR-nightmare possibilities, I can think of a lot neater things $35,000 could buy instead of a used Hummer.
On the up side, Don values creativity, allegedly likes Holy Spirit Rock and seems to have the capability of being collaborative. On the down side, I picked the wrong week to stop doing crystal meth.
Friday, the intern who produces Keys to the Kingdom came into our temporary production room, looking concerned and asking how I was. I told her I picked the wrong week to stop smoking crack.
She then, unprompted, blurts out "How can you STAND it!"
Metaphysically, I have NO IDEA what is going on here. All I can figure out is that God has some sort of Rube Goldberg plan in all this, which He is laughing Himself silly watching.
I'll submit here a memo I sent to the entire Pope FM staff right after Don laid the whole Humvees for Jesus thing on us. I am sure I am now looked upon in that peculiar way the manic-depressive looks at the Normal Affect Population when he's bouncing off the walls in a fit of giddy delirium.
That's right, I'm a party-pooper who Just Can't See. In the peculiar world of Catholic radio, I'm sure that makes me a Bad Catholic as well.
Anyway, here's the memo:
Before we go too far down the promotional and imaging road, perhaps we need to stop and put on Protestant or average-Joe Catholic glasses.
As this whole clerical sexual-abuse mess drags on and (probably) gets worse, it will have a tremendous impact on how Catholics evangelize and, indeed, relate to the larger society.
For example, I would never, in this climate, use “The Church Militant” as a promotional scheme or even subtext. I think many not-so-well catechized Catholics immediately would be turned off by the phrase, having misunderstood the use of the word “militant.” And Protestants would feel threatened . . . and not without justification. Trust me, a convert, on this.
Lord knows the station needs to be pepped up. Lord knows we need to vastly expand our programming efforts toward teen-agers and young adults. And Lord knows Catholic media needs to learn to relate to average people in compelling and effective ways.
But we have to realize that we are trying to evangelize for a Church that has some grave problems right now – gravely sinful problems at the highest levels in some cases. We are sinners, our priests are sinners, and some of our bishops are major-league sinners. It’s an unpleasant fact, but it IS a fact. And it is not without precedent in Catholic history, although that DOES NOT make it any easier to live through or cope with right now.
In this light, I think what we need to do is run the Humvee and “Church Militant” into a tree and walk forward into the greater community in humility, and in our humanity, proclaiming the Christ “who saved a wretch like me.”
If we can come up with the $35,000 or so that would buy a used Hummer, I would suggest buying a more cost-effective vehicle and using the excess to begin endowing efforts toward helping the underprivileged in town. At any rate, the whole issue is a serious discussion the PR committee and board needs to have. At least that’s my two cents’ worth.
I wandered out to the reception desk this afternoon, only to find a fishbowl on the counter with some change in it. In front of the fishbowl was Don's yellow-and-white model Hummer.
On the fishbowl is a sign: "Help the Humvee!"
I asked our secretary what the deal was. She got this bemused look, and said "Don told me to put this up here."
I hung my head.
Did I mention that he's "blown up" three computers -- crappy ones, yes, but three computers nonetheless -- trying to make them do God knows what? And I was at work until 12:30 a.m. Wednesday desperately trying to fix the WaveStation automation, which suffered a Challenger-scale "major malfunction." Well, at least short of literally exploding.
Don was nowhere to be found.
And now the station organizational chart officially has all roads leading to the program director. Except for the stuff he doesn't like to do. In the staff meeting where that loo-loo was unveiled, I reached new pinnacles of bluntness that I did not know I was capable of.
I picked the wrong week to quit chasing fistfuls of downers with bourbon.
Why are Catholics so bat-s*** crazy?
NOTE TO MY FUTURE SELF: No, you didn't make this up. It happened. It's completely whack, but it happened. I don't know how this Pope FM thing will shake out, but I hope you make it through all right.
Tell me, are you still Catholic?