This piece marks the beginning of the arts section’s column titled “On the Record.” The column intends to explore the inspiration, drive and content of the students and community volunteers that produce and DJ the myriad shows at WESU.
This may be a good time for a little story about good coming out of bad.
It happened during the previous presidential election season, in 2012. As I recall, it was January and the Republican candidates were debating. Two of them, Rep. Rick Santorum and Sen. Paul Ryan, are Catholic and seemed to be speaking for all Catholics as they put forward views I’d never heard spoken by even the most reactionary conservative bishops. Santorum: that birth control should be illegal. Ryan: that the poor should fend for themselves.
Now, as I’m sure you can imagine without my counting the ways, it can be difficult to be Catholic. You may ask, so why be one? This is a conversation we should have over a nice dinner with wine. For now, back to my story.
So I’m hearing all this crazy talk from the Catholic Republicans—way different from how my Catholic friends and I think and talk, but aside from Joe Biden and Chris Matthews (and, lately, Tim Kaine), nobody ever presents those views to the general public—and so here I am at the peak of my pique, grinding my teeth down to nubs, when what should appear in my email inbox? A letter from WESU-FM. It said, in effect: Hey, member of the Middletown community! Have something on your mind that the mainstream media never talks about? Why not have a radio show at WESU? It’s easy! We’ll show you the ropes!
A timely invitation indeed.
I went to the meeting, and then to the subsequent meetings, and, occasionally, someone would ask what kind of show I was contemplating, and I, embarrassed to say “a Catholic one,” would reply that I had a few ideas I was still kicking around.
Now fast forward to the end of the summer when the WESU board met to consider the requests for new shows, and word came back to me that they had approved mine: “Reasonably Catholic: Keeping the Faith.” At Wesleyan, of all places, I was about to have a Catholic radio show, a vehicle for all manner of progressive-minded topics: ordaining women priests, allowing married priests to serve again, bringing divorced and remarried Catholics back into full communion, blessing the unions of LGBTQ Catholics, the list goes on!
I’ve talked to – and shared a vegetarian meal with — a pioneering radical feminist theologian whose work I’d read in grad school, Rosemary Radford Ruether! I scored media credentials for the Pope’s three-city visit to the U.S.! Every year, I go out on the edge and produce a Catholic joke show – because, hey, if you don’t laugh, you cry.
I mean, even if I didn’t have a single listener, hosting and producing this show was bound to be good for my spiritual life, to say nothing of my mental health, since I can’t count the times I’ve wondered, “Am I the only one? Am I crazy?”
But wait, it gets better. Thanks to Wesleyan Professor Kehaulani Kauanui’s giving up her show to go on sabbatical, the time slot I was offered was every other Tuesday at 4 p.m.! Drive time!
And then, when I started to invite guests onto the show—all manner of experts, including priests who really should’ve said no if they wanted to keep their pensions—they all said yes. Another miracle!
But the sign that the hand of the Lord was truly on my little project was yet to come.
It was a weekday early in my show’s existence. I was down at the station, chatting with WESU’s general manager, Ben Michael. (He’d probably just finished teaching me, for the umpteenth time, some technical skill involving knobs and levers and squiggly waves on a screen.) And I don’t know why, but I asked Ben, “Do you have that email you sent out, the one asking Middletown people to have a show? I’ve looked for it in my email history and I can’t find it.”
“What email?” he said.
“You know, the one about having a show.”
“We didn’t send out an email.”
“Well, somebody must’ve because that’s how I heard about this place and that’s why I’m even here.”
Ben insisted that, no, the station wouldn’t have sent out such an email because it has plenty of community members; what it needs is more students. Later that day, I told my husband about this and, as skillful as he is at plumbing the deepest reaches of the internet, he couldn’t find the email, either.
My takeaway? That God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, is on our side. We just have to pay attention, and do our part.
We Catholics aren’t big on reading the Bible, never mind quoting it, but suddenly a phrase comes to mind which, Googling it up, I learn is from the book of the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, who is quoting the Almighty, as prophets are wont to do: “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.”
And let the church say, Amen!
For more info on Johnson and her show, check out her website.