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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Building on 'prophecy'

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

Unity Church's the Rev. Sky St. John and its new video projection screen hail a rising use of multimedia by churches to foster spirituality. The church will screen "The Celestine Prophecy" on Friday and Saturday.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Sneak previews:

  • 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Unity Church of Hawai'i, 3608 Diamond Head Circle; $10. 735-4436. Tickets can be purchased online.

  • 7 p.m. April 14, part of "The Healing World" film series, Spalding Auditorium, University of Hawai'i-Manoa, $10. 223-0130.

  • For more on "Prophecy" author James Redfield's philosophy, see www.celestinevision.com.

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    It's an action-adventure flick with religious overtones and a secret to be discovered and no, it's not "The Da Vinci Code."

    This cinematic, spiritual tale is "The Celestine Prophecy," opening soon at a church and later, a multiplex near you.

    As with "Passion of the Christ," the film has captured the interest of some local churches and churchgoers, though this film has a quite different, more searching, tone. Both films highlight the growing use of multimedia to help disseminate a religious message.

    Sneak previews around the Islands have already unveiled "The Celestine Prophecy," starring, among others, Matthew Settle and Punahou alum Sarah Wayne Callies (also seen on TV weekly in Fox's "Prison Break"). Callies' former church, Unity Church of Diamond Head, is screening the film this weekend.

    "Celestine Prophecy," based on a book by James Redfield, follows an adventurer who goes to Peru seeking the Celestine scrolls. Writing on the Internet Movie Database, Redfield said, "The prophecy and its nine key insights predict a new awakening that redefines human life and provides a glimpse into a completely spiritual culture on earth."

    This spirituality and hope for an inspired, consensus-driven (and therefore peaceful) way of life is key to the appeal of the book and movie. On Redfield's own site, www.celestine vision.com, he writes, "Our belief is that there is a growing worldwide interest in spirituality that is creating a new spiritual awareness and culture that will flourish in this new millennium."

    That message fits with the Unity Church outlook, which is more attracted to mysticism than fire and brimstone. The Bible is one of the church's core books, though it's not taken literally, and sermons also may draw from Rumi the poet, the Talmud, the Quran and even "A Course in Miracles," a book "scribed" by a psychologist, now the subject of a study session.

    "(Celestine Prophecy) is almost the opposite of 'Passion of the Christ,' " said Unity trustee Jerry Denton. "It's about finding your own way. (It's) far less judgmental, more introspective."

    That's a message that Denton expects resonated with Callies, whom he remembers as a teen at church (Denton is adult sponsor of Unity's teen program).

    "That's what she was brought up with," Denton said. "Her father and I have a close relationship. These are things he's helped her understand. (Her choice of a role in 'Celestine') is reflective of that."

    With the appointment of Unity Church's new senior minister, the Rev. Sky St. John, comes a new reliance on different ways to share spiritual messages and a subsequent growth in church attendance, which is levelling to a "manageable growth," Denton said.

    About two months ago, Unity installed a 9-by-12-foot electric screen and projector, an investment of about $7,000. St. John said the installation wasn't done specifically for the film. However, it has allowed the creation of a Spiritual Film club "like Netflix," St. John explained for regular screenings. Unity hopes to create a Spiritual Film Festival in the summer.

    " 'Celestine Prophecy' resonated with a lot of people, understanding the way the world works," St. John said. "People knew intuitively (about spirituality) but weren't taught in mainstream church. 'Celestine Prophecy' was presented as an action novel, (with) spiritual insights along with adventure."

    The senior minister, a former entertainer, sees plenty of spiritual seekers who are open to new experiences finding their way to his church: "People are looking for truths that sort of transcend religious dogma. ... Unity is a pan-denominational, honoring all the paths to God."

    And the path for these seekers is strewn with new media.

    "I think for our generation, baby boomers on down, there's been a lot of research that has shown we have evolved biologically to where (our brains) require a greater degree of stimulation," St. John said. "Little kids have all kind of multimedia coming at them. It's not engaging anymore to sit in a pew and have people preach to us. It's not a good thing or bad thing; that's just how it is."

    Hence, the new multimedia equipment.

    Back when he went by his given name, Patrick Dixon, and was studying communications at the University of Hawai'i, St. John was taught that the average attention span is 12 minutes. These days, he conjectures, it's more like six.

    "When Joel Osteen had opening of his huge stadium, no one spoke more than six minutes before a musical break," St. John said. "So movies have a way of keeping us engaged longer.

    "That's why I think it's a good medium for this generation."