Rainn Wilson's SoulPancake.com (screen capture)

By now, most of us are familiar with Rainn Wilson from The Office, where he plays Dwight Schrute, the megalomaniacal nerd paper salesman from a German beet-farming family with semi-Amish values.

Wilson is also a huge celebrity in the Twitter world where, as rainnwilson, he has nearly 200,000 followers as of this writing. Recently, on NPR’S Weekend Edition Saturday, he even served as a sort of celebrity Twitter guide when veteran newsman Daniel Schorr experienced Twitter for the first time:

It was through one of Wilson’s Twitter messages that I learned of his latest project. On March 9, he tweeted:

Here’s my Oprah interview. Very weird. Me. Oprah. A. Small. Room. http://tinyurl.com/963juf

Oprah, huh? Clicking on the link, I found Oprah’s one-hour interview of Rainn Wilson from her Soul Series webcast.

Oprah’s Soul Series, of course, focuses on spiritual subjects, and it was interesting to hear how Wilson spent his high school years (New Trier) in Wilmette, Illinois, home of the impressive North American Bahá’í House of Worship. According to Wikipedia, Wilson’s family moved to Wilmette to serve at the temple.

In the Oprah interview, he describes his imposing presence as a gangly teenage security guard there , and talks a little about the basic beliefs of the Bahá’í Faith, which he rejected for a time as a young actor.

The main topic of the Oprah discussion, which they circle several times before finally addressing, is Rainn Wilson’s new SoulPancake website. He describes it as a social networking community, similar to MySpace or Facebook, but centered around the theme of examining life’s Big Questions though the creative arts.

Wilson tells Oprah that he feels compelled to service of some sort, and came up with SoulPancake as a way to get people expressing themselves on spiritual matters, sharing and debating these ideas through the arts — the visual arts, music, the written word, and the moving arts like film and video and animation.

As a Joseph Campbell fan, I’m excited to see the arts connected with spirituality. Campbell often said that the artists of our contemporary culture serve the same myth-making function for us that shamans provided for more primitive communities, and I have always enjoyed this in movies and books and music, painting and sculpture and theater.

Communicating timeless values and refreshing them in contemporary terms is of vital importance to us as a species, especially now when so many dissonant inflections of our common heritage echo instantly around the world in hopes of working out a harmony. Never before have the tools to share ideas been so readily available, and it’s encouraging to see people trying to put them to a worthwhile use.

You can also follow soulpancake on Twitter. For more about Rainn Wilson’s career and upbringing, listen to his July 30, 2008 conversation with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.

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