During my novitiate year, as a way to better learn about the community a number of Paulists came and talked to us about their priestly careers. And one of them, after talking about all the things he was able to do during his time with the community—serving as the chaplain for UCLA, spending a number of years in Rome, working as a commentator on network TV—said something that stuck with me over the past four years. He said, “If you don’t have a lot of fun as a Paulist, it’s your own fault.”
With that in mind, there has been one event I have been looking forward to ever since I arrived in Austin for my pastoral year: South By Southwest (SXSW). SXSW is a yearly festival that integrates the latest in independent film, music, and interactive media. Filmmakers, artists, singers, actors, gamers, and tech geeks all converge on the capital of Texas for ten days of movies, performances, displays, conferences… if it has anything to do with media, it’s here. So with this super-cool festival taking place just twenty blocks away from my parish this year, I got the idea to cover the event from the standpoint of the Spiritual Seeker.
Okay, some of those who know me well might suggest that JUST because covering SXSW entitled me to a pass that gains me free access to the events might have something to do with my interest in this story. And you would not be wrong for noticing that I got the idea to cover this event for Busted Halo around the same time I learned how expensive it is to attend this festival. My response to those accusations is simple: because of my promise of biblical simplicity, a large part of my priestly formation is learning how to get into stuff for free and the last time I checked “shamelessness” is not one of the seven deadly sins… it’s considered venial sin at best.
But I do actually have a less nefarious reason for wanting to cover this event. The big topic around religious circles these days is how America is becoming an increasingly secular society. The refrains have been consistent: more people are not going to church, more people are associating themselves with “no religion” than ever before, children across the country are asking who the guy is hanging off of the plus sign, etc.
And as someone who has had both moments of comfort and unease in both the secular camp as well as the religious camp at different times in my life, I like to think that these two worlds aren’t as far apart as people think they are. Which doesn’t mean that they are as close to one another, but in any case I think standing back and watching this festival unfold my own perspective as a Catholic seminarian might be a good place to start the conversation. And what better place to start that conversation than at one of the largest film, music, and media festivals where works will not only feature issues of justice but also those of Islamic Punk Bands and zombies?
Helping me out over the next couple of days will Lynn Freehill, a writer from the University of Texas alumni association with whom I have been participating in the social justice education program “JustFaith” for the past year. We will be examining some of the films that have a social justice bent, as well as documenting our experiences along the way from the festival as a whole. And we will be starting our first night with a preview of the upcoming film “Leaves of Grass” that will feature a “Q n’ A” with The Incredible Hulk himself, Edward Norton.