Review by Jodi Craiglow, The Layman
In one of my recent rounds of “Jodi bites off more than she can chew,” I decided that I wanted to try my hand at leading a small group at Presbyterian Youth Triennium this summer. Being one of those warped souls who actually derives pleasure from working with hordes of teenagers, I knew that a week of facing July heat in semi-air conditioned dormitories at Purdue University would totally be worth it. In January I prayerfully submitted my application and background check authorization, and two months later excitedly read the email congratulating me on my acceptance. I looked over the information provided on the PYT website with anticipation, looking forward to seeing just what my group and I would be talking about. Fast forward another two months. The wait is finally over. Last week, we small group leaders were emailed the link to access our facilitation manuals.
Now, I’m honor-bound not to release the exact information in the guides – that would be ruining the surprise for the youth attending. I can, however, talk about one aspect of the week, since it’s mentioned on the schedule: the movie we’ll be watching on Wednesday night, I Am. In my years of teaching I’ve come to understand the peril of leading a discussion on a video that I haven’t actually seen, so I surfed my way over to Amazon and purchased a copy for myself. It came in the mail yesterday afternoon; even though I have books to read and papers to write, I couldn’t resist. I popped the DVD in the machine and hit “play.”
Written and directed by Tom Shadyac (director of movies like Bruce Almighty, The Nutty Professor, Patch Adams and Ace Ventura), I Am documents his own search for meaning and purpose in life. This search came as a result of a cycling accident that left him with Post-Concussion Syndrome, a mild form of traumatic brain injury that perpetuates the symptoms of a concussion for months or even years after the incident occurs. This suffering led to a deeper sense of personal clarity for Shadyac, forcing him to ask himself, “What do I want people to know before I die?” After his recovery, he and his film crew of four embarked on a cross-country journey, asking “some of today’s significant minds” for their insight in answering two questions: What’s wrong with our world? And what can we do about it? Over the course of the project, they come to the conclusion that the desire to isolate, insulate and individualize will lead to our downfall; however, understanding our interconnectedness, both with one another and with the universe, will serve to motivate us to bring about the changes that will make the world a better place.
Shadyac sets some ambitious goals in terms of the content he seeks to cover over the course of the 78-minute documentary – so he ends up talking with a lot of people and bringing up a lot of concepts, many of which I hadn’t encountered before. Partially so that I could satisfy my own curiosity and partially so that I could answer my group members if they asked, I did a bit of background research on some of the folks he interviews:
- Marc Ian Barasch is predominantly known for his work as an environmental activist, founding the Green World Campaign in 2005 and serving on the UN Advisory Committee for the Year of Forests 2011. He is also a prolific writer, serving as editor-in-chief of New Age Journal, contributing editor of Psychology Today, and editor-at-large for Natural Health, as well as authoring The Healing Path, Remarkable Recovery, Healing Dreams and The Compassionate Life: Walking the Path of Kindness.
- Coleman Barks taught literature at the University of Georgia for three decades, primarily focusing his studies on Rumi, the 13th-century Sufi (Muslim mystic) poet. Although he does not read Persian, he is widely known for his paraphrases and interpretations of the poet’s works. He received an honorary doctorate from Tehran University in 2006; he currently lives in Athens, Ga., where he continues to study Rumi’s works and publish poetry of his own.
- Noam Chomsky, although probably best known for his work in linguistics (he is an Institute Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT), he is also a prolific political writer, most notable for his staunch critiques of U.S. foreign policy, state capitalism and American news media. Self-identifying as a libertarian socialist, he advocates for “anarcho-syndicalism,” a method by which subjugated classes within a capitalist society can take control of the economic system without the guidance of a revolutionary political party.
- Thom Hartmann has been hailed as the “No. 1 Progressive Radio Talk Show Host” by Talkers Magazine three out of the past five years, and a member of the Top 10 most important talk show hosts in America five out of the past five. Syndicated nationwide, The Thom Hartmann Program focuses on current cultural, media and political events and their effects on today’s society. Also a prolific writer, he has lent his pen to such varying topics as Corporate Personhood, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Thomas Jefferson, the JFK assassination, and environmental activism.
- Dacher Keltner is a professor of Psychology and the Director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California – Berkeley. His research focuses on the biological and evolutionary origins of human goodness, as well as the study of power, status, and social class, especially as they influence moral intuitions. He is the author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life and editor of The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness.
- Rollin McCraty serves as the Executive Vice President and Director of Research at HeartMath, which seeks to “help establish heart-based living and global coherence by inspiring people to connect with the intelligence and guidance of their own hearts.” Their research seeks to demonstrate how the heart (rather than the brain) is the center of human experience, with studies examining the variability of the resting portion of the heartbeat. Through these studies, the HeartMath Institute seeks to prove not only that the heart regulates our mental health and overall well-being, but also that it is capable of pre-cognition.
- Lynne McTaggart is an American writer and lecturer, a self-identified spokesperson on “consciousness, the new physics, and the practices of conventional and alternative medicine.” In 1996 she “reveal[ed] the secrets of modern medicine,” criticized childhood vaccinations and advocated for alternative medical practices in What Doctors Don’t Tell You: The Truth about the Dangers of Modern Medicine. She also has written The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe and The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World, in which she unpacks her theory, based off quantum mechanics’ Zero Point Field, that the universe is unified by an interactive quantum energy field that we can influence with our emotions and intentions. Her latest book, The Bond: How to Fix Your Falling Down World, advocates for a world order based on cooperation rather than competition.
- Daniel Quinn won the 1991 Turner Tomorrow Fellowship for his novel Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, whose title character is a telepathic gorilla that seeks to enlighten his pupil (the narrator) with the knowledge that humans are not the pinnacle of biological evolution. He relates the story of the Takers, a Near-Eastern culture born out of an agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, and the Leavers, the people of all other cultures who are frequently referred to as “primitive” by the Takers. In educating the narrator, Ishmael reframes the Genesis account of the fall of humankind: eating the forbidden fruit allowed the gods to learn who would live and who would die, but man would only think that he gained this wisdom (without it actually happening) and so would end up destroying the world through his arrogance. Likewise, Ishmael asserts that the story of Cain and Abel was developed by the Takers in order to explain the Leavers being killed off and their land stolen so that it could be cultivated. In short, Ishmael explains the major difference between the two groups: while the Leavers merely take what they need and leave the rest for others, the Takers build up enormous surpluses and eventually overpower the gods when they decide that it’s the Takers’ turn to go hungry.
- Dean Radin serves as the Senior Scientist and Marilyn Schlitz is the President and CEO of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), which “conducts, sponsors and collaborates on leading-edge research into the potentials and powers of consciousness, exploring phenomena that do not necessarily fit conventional scientific models while maintaining a commitment to scientific rigor.” IONS seeks to “help birth a new worldview that recognizes our basic interconnectedness and interdependence and promotes the flourishing of life in all its magnificent forms” by focusing its research in three areas: consciousness and healing, extended human capacities, and emerging worldviews. The Institute has conducted studies on the physical and psychological effects of meditation, spontaneous remission, the impact of compassionate intention on healing in AIDS patients, extra-sensory perception, lucid dreaming and presentiment.
- Elisabet Sahtouris is known for her work combining evolutionary biology and business strategy. In addition to her work as a corporate consultant and speaker, she has penned Gaia: The Human Journey from Chaos to Cosmos, A Walk through Time: From Stardust to Us – The Evolution of Life on Earth, EarthDance: Living Systems in Evolution, and most recently Biology Revisioned, in which she advocates for a “radical holistic view” of biology, which “assumes the possible presence of consciousness as an underlying layer of physical reality.”
- Desmond Tutu, now a retired Anglican priest, was the first black man to become Archbishop of Cape Town. He is best known for his activism against South African apartheid during the 1980s, but has also lent effort to various other causes, including AIDS, tuberculosis, sexism, poverty, homophobia and transphobia. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986, the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2007 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Since I’ve all but run out of space with my long-winded explanations, I don’t have much room for a review – but a quick trip to The Internet Movie Database or Rotten Tomatoes should do the trick if you’re curious. As a devoted teacher and (lay) ministry leader, however, I will leave you with one admonition: if you are the parent or youth leader of a Triennium participant this summer, go to Amazon. Invest $9 (or $4 if you stream) in a copy of the movie. Sit down and watch it with your teenager. Talk about it together. It’s not fair to ask them to process it real-time on that hot, crazy Wednesday night in the middle of July – there’s simply too much that Tom Shadyac throws at you during his 78 minutes of screen time to make sense of it all. Plus, if I’m being completely honest, there’s something in that bargain for me, too: the more my participants know about the movie coming into the discussion, the deeper and richer that discussion can be.
Jodi Craiglow is a member of the Presbyterian Lay Committee Board of Directors.