So Wally, a wacky DJ, a wanna-be Howard Stern, was a nice guy who “saw the good in everybody.”
That was mistake No. 1.
Then he got a great gig in radio as a drive-time DJ who looked for the negative hook in every story to drive his show and ratings. And he was good at being bad. He “couldn’t believe he was getting paid to do this job.” He would “sleep at the radio station.” But he was becoming “jaded and bitter.”
In short, being a mean-spirited smart aleck was taking its toll on his soul and affecting his marriage. Being a jerk was even more deleterious than than all the drugs he did.
So he decided to take two years off to “reconnect with God.” It proved just the right balm for his heart and mind, as well as for his family life.
But he was now out of money. So he went back to doing the only thing he knew how to do.
“You know this is going to mean that me and God are done for a while,” Wally told his wife.
So he went down to Atlanta, a “massive Heritage station,” but the world of big-time radio proved a den of iniquity, “a little bit of insanity, a little bit of debauchery, a lot of dysfunction, and that’s where my life went for a while. I still had my personal life where I’m teaching Sunday school…and the rule was ‘You can’t listen to my radio show…this is not good for you.’”
So he had a hard choice to make: God or gold. “You have to decide which man you’re going to be, and be that,” his long-suffering wife told him.
So he left mainstream radio and went into Christian radio. And it was all rainbows and hallelujahs.
“They hated me!” Turns out the guy continued to talk frankly about “having a bad day…about losing my temper and, you know, about not looking anything like Jesus, and to a lot of people, that’s not what Christian radio was. It was ‘Everything’s fine.’”
So “serving the Lord” proved to me a mass of headaches. But “I found joy, and that was a huge turning point for me.”
A nice little CBN segment on vocation, right? Or is it a nice little CBN segment on returning to the ghetto of “Christian media”?
I would loved to have asked him whether he could have stepped back from his mainstream career just a bit and tweaked his schtick, his gimmick, so as to hold on to his venue without losing his salvation, so to speak. I mean, he had to make adjustments for his new, Christiany audience, no? Or was the world of “real” radio so vicious that it was impossible to succeed without going to hell?
Look, if an evangelical Christian audience is your audience, if they’re the folks you know and who speak your language and whom you want to entertain, God bless. If you fashion yourself some kind of mediator between the world and the church, syphoning the redemptive bits for Christian consumption and spitting out the toxins, OK. Nothing wrong with that.
But I do wonder how young artists and entertainers and would-be media mavens internalize messages such as Wally’s (and the hundreds of similar stories CBN has been running since the world was supposed to end in the 1980s). I think many if not most would like a little taste of the Big Time, even if it’s with a wink and a nod, knowing they can always settle for the Christian subculture if they fail or the “lifestyle” proves deadly.
Frank Schaeffer, in that talk with Jay Bakker I linked to a few days ago, said snidely that many in the Christian publishing world would gladly trade in their careers for a chance to edit at Random House.
Let’s assume he’s right. What does that say about the quality of what the Christian world produces? Are the best and the brightest really just second-raters who weren’t good enough for the “real world”? Or was it just that they couldn’t catch a break? Are most in Christian TV/radio and magazine and book publication chomping at the bit to get out of Nashville or Rockford or St. Louis to go work in New York or L.A. or San Francisco? And if you’ve been in Christian media for a while, does it become nigh impossible to break through the secular ceiling once the recruiters learn you’re “one of those”?
I worked in mainstream publishing houses for years and years. I would probably be doing so now were it not for my paper trail. When I was preparing to make the transition here to Delaware, I submitted my resume to a local magazine, Delaware Today. Compared to some of the books I’ve worked for — Time, Discover, Men’s Fitness — small potatoes, but a big deal here, in Delaware, and professionally done. And I would have been thrilled to have been back in the magazine business in my new hometown with a 20-minute commute.
And I received an immediate and enthusiastic response! The editor in chief at the time wanted to talk to me. Then dead silence. No follow-up. No responses to repeated e-mails. I had a suspicion of what had happened, but I couldn’t prove it.
A year went by. There was a new editor in chief at that same magazine. I submitted another resume. Received another enthusiastic response. She wanted me to come in and talk. Then … dead silence. No replies to my follow-up e-mails.
Here’s my guess. I can’t prove it, but when the same thing happens twice … They saw my experience. I’ve held a lot of editorial titles, senior titles, managerial titles, at instantly recognizable publishers. Then they drilled down a little deeper. First Things. (What’s that?) Commentary. (Didn’t Woody Allen make a joke about them?) They did some Googling. Read some of the stuff I did for Beliefnet. OK, weird, but still acceptable. Then for First Things. Uh oh. Then Commentary. Oh no. Then this blog.
Into the trash went the resume. My competence or experience were no longer relevant. I was one of those.
Yeah, you’d better make a choice. And not just would-be writers and entertainers and DJs and artists. Colleges, too.
Are Christian colleges producing world-class innovators and creators or resources for parachurch organizations? Are they preparing their students with the wherewithal to make it in New York or L.A. or San Francisco or Chicago, to persevere despite the backlash they will face and the presuppositions? Or are they setting them up for failure, with the “church” and its ancillary affiliations and associations as the backstop?