A Cure for What Ails Us

AMERICA’S HEART AND SOUL

For many Americans, summer means trips to the beach, cookouts, and baseball. For others, especially television executives, summer is when the airwaves are flooded with even more “reality television.”

I’ve previously told you that I don’t care for “reality television.” Among other things, it’s a sad reminder of the lengths to which people will go to get their fifteen minutes of fame.

That is why I am delighted to tell you about a new movie that can be described as the antidote to the spirit that makes “reality television” possible. It’s a film about ordinary people doing what they love to do without regard for fame, notoriety, or wealth.

The movie is a documentary called America’s Heart and Soul, directed by Louis Schwartzberg. Fifteen years ago, Schwartzberg began collecting newspaper and magazine clippings about ordinary people who, without much fanfare, lived lives characterized by passion and dedication.

The idea of ordinary people living life as fully as possible holds special meaning for Schwartzberg since his parents were both Auschwitz survivors. His mother taught him to regard life as a gift, something to be treasured.

The result of Schwartzberg’s own dedication is an introduction to two dozen Americans that you won’t soon forget. Some of what they do will strike you as extraordinary and even heroic. Other interests will come across as small-scale and idiosyncratic. But none of it will ever seem trivial.

On the extraordinary and heroic side, there’s Eric Weihenmayer, one of the relative handful of people to successfully climb Mount Everest. What makes his story exceptional, even among this elite company, is that Weihenmayer is blind.

While Weihenmayer’s feat made the news and was the subject of another documentary, Farther Than the Eye Can See, it’s obvious that fame isn’t what drives him. For him, testing his limits is sort of an act of faith, a refusal to see himself as a victim.

At the other end of the spectrum there’s Minnie Yancey, an Appalachian rug weaver. Schwartzberg met her when he got lost near her home, and then he stayed around to record her story. The best word to describe Minnie Yancey is “wholehearted.” Whether knitting rugs or praying, she pours her entire self into the activity. She tells Schwartzberg that “when most people pray, they’re talking to God. When I pray, I’m separating the wheat from the chaff in my thoughts.”

Wholeheartedness and dedication, what Schwartzberg calls “passion,” are the qualities that keep popping up in each of these stories. The film’s subjects do what they do out of love for the activity, not in the hope of becoming famous. When Schwartzberg described his film as a celebration of the “values and ideals that America stands for,” I can only add, “I hope so.”

And there’s plenty in America’s Heart and Soul for Christians to embrace and applaud. The people onscreen, believers and non-believers alike, embody the kind of wholeheartedness and faithfulness that should characterize the Christian life — qualities that, while they may not make good television, are the stuff that healthy cultures are made of.

For further reading and information:

Visit the official website for America’s Heart and Soul.

Steve Beard, “A Little Bit of Heart and Soul,” National Review Online, 6 July 2004.

Jeffrey Overstreet, “America’s Heart and Soul,” Looking Closer. Also see Overstreet’s interview with Louis Schwartzberg.

William Arnold, “‘America’s Heart & Soul’: An upbeat anthem to the pursuit of happiness,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2 July 2004.

David Germain, “Review: ‘Heart & Soul’ lights on America,” CNN, 2 July 2004.

Read more about America’s Heart and Soul at HollywoodJesus.com.

Learn more about the documentary Farther Than the Eye Can See.

Roberto Rivera, “Everyday People,” BreakPoint Online, 2 June 2003.

Father Richard John Neuhaus, “Telling the World Its Own Story,” Wilberforce Forum.

Ginny Mooney, “The Power of the Ordinary,” BreakPoint Online, 8 April 2003.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 021119, “Loving Your Neighbor in Tennessee: Christianity and American Compassion.” (Archived commentary; free registration required.)

BreakPoint Commentary No. 030213, “Reality or Something Like It.”

Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston, Finding God in the Movies (Baker, 2004).

Richard Winter, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment (InterVarsity Press, 2002).


Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.