Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that I strongly dislike two things: EWTN television and radio programming and Matthew Kelly’s shoddy and sentimental Catholic give-away books.
Diana von Glahn (above), host and co-creator of EWTN’s The Faithful Traveler, surely knew this. She contacted me anyway, offering me a full preview of the latest season that will air from February 17-22, at 6:30 pm (and 3 am), featuring sites from the Holy Land.
She called me out. I don’t know her or her husband and the only possible conflict of interest I have is preserving my persistent critique of EWTN. Facing these odds, Diana did not contact me in spite of my strong negative feelings about EWTN — she told me that she wanted me to review her show because of them. She called me out.
Game on. I accepted.
This, on its own, makes the program interesting. Interesting television, like books and food and children, are often the direct result of interesting people. Anyone as bold as Diana, and her husband David, is surely worth checking out.
The program strikes a mixed note, somewhere between a public television travel show and a history channel infomentary. The result is a good one, especially in terms of what it manages to avoid.
For one, the research and writing shine in the narrated format; the visuals and music supplement the narrative. This avoids any comparison to “news” or “reality” television of any sort, which I found salutary and wholesome.
While the information is helpful, it is not trivial. One gets the impression that the historical data is part of the von Glahn’s sense of the spirituality of travel.
This might make the show sound impersonal, but that would be the wrong impression. Diana is the host in two senses: visual and oral. She is the guide and also the narrator. It seemed odd to me at first, but it eventually had a unique and almost literary effect, mixing personal narrative with the informative details, cutting to a few, mostly well placed, live action shots and interviews.
As the season moves along, especially in the the finale (no spoilers!), von Glahn reveals the pathos of the show with more and more intensity, striking the religious cor, the heart of the matter. The theodrama is, of course, raised in the Holy Land, but I could see her approach working anywhere. (The Faithful Traveler, at the Taj Mahal!)
The limits of the show are purely material, for the most part. For instance, her husband’s camera work shines, the shots are remarkable, but a one-man-show cannot simulate or overcome a camera and lighting crew. Diana’s hosting qualities are magnificent, but it is unfair to acknowledge her research and writing and video editing without noting the fact that a small staff and post production team would make a huge difference in the finished product. As an indie musician, I know something about this, and can recognize its strengths and potential for improvement.
Taste is one thing, but time and resources are another thing entirely. Diana and David do not lack the former, but could clearly use some more of the latter, and I think they deserve it.
To be clear: this is not homemade, but it is not not homemade either. The show, within the limits of what two people can do, is a testament to a beauty that can speak for itself. They really let the places and spaces do the work. Its content is already, in my view, superior to popular television travel shows — it transcends the category with substance, soul and not trying to merely “succeed.” On these merits alone, it is a remarkable success.
The show’s qualities also raise a more foundational issue. This is not a copycat program, it does not have the feel of being a Catholic tourism show. Rather, this is substantive creative work. It is not devotional outright, nor is it a cheesy or heady talk or news show, but it still qualifies, easily, as being religious and deeply Catholic.
The main weakness of the show is that I am not sure that it needs to be Catholic or on EWTN.
I worry that we use the term ‘Catholic’ as a cattle brand sometimes. A mark of ownership. A territorial possession.
This particular season of The Faithful Traveler shows that this is not the case in the concrete sites and geography of the Holy Land. Roman Catholics share a larger story with others, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and lose nothing in the process. Fidelity and travel, in this case, become a useful way to think about conversion and the universal call to holiness — in the Holy Land.
We don’t need a Catholic travel show, but we do need any and every thing that can show, like the von Glahns have, the beauty of a Church that lives in the world, with boldness and verve. Insofar as they accomplish the latter, and I think they do, they satisfy the former.
Tune in to The Faithful Traveler and show your support for this good work.