Hollywood to Homs: Jesuits on the frontiers

Fr. Eddie Siebert, S.J. filming in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Photo by Jennifer Smith-Mayo)

The studio executive politely listened as I finished my television pitch, took a deep breath and said, "Father, I love your idea, but it's just too inspirational. Have you considered doing a show about Jesuits with machine guns?" I wish I could say that was the first time I heard that response. OK, the execs don't always recommend I think up a series about Jesuits with machine guns. Sometimes they suggest something along the lines of "Wives with Knives." Or maybe a series about seminarians whose ex-girlfriends are trying to woo them away from God. Sort of a Jesuit dating show.

Needless to say, there are a few challenges being a Jesuit with a production company in Hollywood. "Why are you here?" is a common question I try not to take too personally. Catholics and non-Catholics will casually ask, "Shouldn't you be working in a church? Teaching in a school? Working on a mission abroad?" Those are all fantastic callings, and I've been privileged in my 30 years as a Jesuit to work in parishes, teach, and serve abroad. But in today's world where the average American consumes 60 hours of content each week across TV, radio, online and mobile, I think there's ample cause for Jesuits to take on the Hollywood frontier. We Jesuits have a long history of working as artists, poets, writers, dancers, musicians, and directors, all to bring people closer to God in unexpected, creative ways. I see my work as a natural continuation of what my predecessors have been doing for 450 years. We're just using different platforms.

It's no surprise that the platforms for telling stories have drastically changed (and continue to), but I'm not convinced our taste for what makes a good story is all that different. Those friendly execs I mentioned earlier seem to utter the same common refrain about today's "successful" stories: depth is out, escapism is in. Except after more than 10 years in this business, I'm still not buying it. Sure, a contrived reality show might offer a temporary distraction from our own dysfunctions, but by the end of the show, do we actually feel any better? I'll admit I get sucked in, too. ("The Biggest Loser" gets me reaching for the Kleenex every time.) To stick with that theme, most of these shows have the same effect on me as fast food: They're convenient, moderately tasty in the moment, but five minutes after it's over, there's a weird film in my mouth and I find myself wondering when I'll be able to fit in a gym trip to burn off this bad decision.

My exceptional team and I keep working at Loyola Productions precisely because we believe most of those studio execs underestimate American audiences. There's a hunger out there for something beyond what escapism can offer. We set up an online channel, The IN Network (Ignatian Network) where we post content meant to inform, inspire, and get viewers involved. We're absolutely thrilled that we'll be able to share some of our programming with NCR readers on a weekly basis. You'll see short, eclectic videos all told through an Ignatian lens. We hope you'll find it compelling content that doesn't leave you feeling like you just made a bad decision. 

Today's video is an inside look at Jesuits on dangerous frontiers. In the last year alone, two Jesuits were kidnapped and one murdered abroad. We wanted to know why Jesuits stay in dangerous environments when it would be understandable to leave. The IN Network's Jim Schaefer sat down with Jesuits Tony Homsy, S.J., who's about to return to Syria to work with JRS, and Michael Linden, S.J., the superior of Jesuits in Jordan and Iraq. Jim learned three key takeaways that will help people in any frontier, or unknown environment -- be it living abroad in a war zone, embarking on a new calling, or even running a Jesuit production company. (Did I mention what a helpful reminder I found this video?) Here are three tips to be "frontier-minded":

1) Don't try to be a lone hero -- work with and listen to others.
2) Don't be afraid to take a risk and adapt to where God is calling you.
3) Not all frontiers are glamorous or dangerous. You don't find the frontier. The frontier finds you. Wherever we are we have the opportunity to go deeper into our surroundings and feel joy. 

Give the video a look and let us know your thoughts in the comments section. Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter so you can be up to date on all the latest from the IN Network. It's only with your help that we can prove those execs wrong about the kind of stories people like. Help me to make them think twice before suggesting a Jesuit machine gun series in my next pitch meeting. Cheers and thanks!




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