Where are the Quaker voices in media? Three centuries ago, the
Publishers of Truth took to the public squares and couldn't be silenced.
Jail windows had to be boarded up to deter imprisoned Friends from
their insistent proclamation. Exasperated opponents compared them
to "mushrooms and toadstools springing up in a night ... they put
themselves to work as soon as they are whelped." Now, far from "sparing
not the tongue nor pen" of our times, a Friend is mildly embarrassed
to admit even the ownership of a television (tuned exclusively to
PBS, to be sure).
In choosing to stay behind our hedges, protecting ourselves from
the influences of popular culture, we inevitably abdicate any sense
of responsibility for, far less transformation of, that culture.
This was by no means the intent of the Society's founders; here
is William Penn, who was certainly in a position to know something
of the world's snares:
christian convent and monastery are within, where the soul is encloistered
from sin. And this religious house the true followers of Christ
carry about with them, who exempt not themselves from the conversation
of the world, though they keep themselves from the evil of the world
in their conversation. That is a lazy, rusty, unprofitable self-denial,
... patience per force; self-denial against their will, rather ignorant
than virtuous; and out of the way of temptation rather than constant
As a Quaker, I believe
that we are called to bring our good news into the "conversation
of the world" so as to build the Peaceable Kingdom here and
now. I believe that we are called to preach, in public, by any means
necessary. The gospels were not written in Hebrew or in Aramaic,
but in Greek so that they could be read by the widest possible audience.
By contrast, we have allowed ourselves to become illiterate and
invisible in the means of communications used by the vast majority
of the world's people. We are called to "walk faithfully in
our own time and place," and it is long past time for us to examine
our peculiar pride about disengagement with mass culture, whether
it is an "empty form" and "silly poor gospel"
at that. Lloyd Lee Wilson writes, "If we are to
be the Lord's hands and feet in bringing about the Kingdom of God,
we have to leave the spot we are now and do new things in strange
Friends educators must
take on the charge of training ministers in the theology, craft
and analysis of media that leads to epiphany and social transformation,
a Quaker televangelism as it were. Malone College leads the way in articulating
our mandate: "We commit to develop communicators rooted in
communities, acting as agents of truth, reflection, transformation
and reconciliation in a way that celebrates God's grace and faithfulness."
What might the fruits
of a media ministry look like?
There are indeed distinctive practices in production, distribution
and use that arise naturally from Friends' beliefs. After outlining
this implicit "media testimony" at this summer's FAHE
conference at Wilmington College, I was asked to lift up some films
that have been made with the core of integrity and accountability
that might show us a way forward in our own ministry. A brief list
follows, with pointers to further resources.
with a Camera"—Produced through the Appalachian media
this film examines the 1967 murder of a documentary filmmaker
by an eastern Kentucky landowner, spotlighting the complex role
media plays in society and the responsibilities that those who
produce media must assume.
Gleaners and I"—French
director Agnès Varda compares herself as a filmmaker, a "gleaner
of images," to those who glean the leavings from harvested
fields, finding a use for what others discard. A very personal
film about waste, trash, and right sharing of the world's resources.
- "La Ciudad/The
City"—Director David Riker spent five years in story
workshops with Latin American immigrants, many of them undocumented,
to be able to represent their lives truthfully. The narrative
moves from isolation into community, and Friends may find the
final garment factory scene to be a powerful and moving representation
of a gathered meeting.
Company of Strangers" (released in the US as "Strangers
in Good Company")—A bus breaks down, stranding eight elderly
women in the wilderness. For the next few days, they share survival
strategies and life stories, and the film catches us by surprise
in our assumptions of "fiction" and "truth."
Mary Meigs has written a behind-the-scenes memoir of her experience
as one of the actors, revealing much of the spirit animating the
Healthy Baby Girl"/
Vinyl"—Judith Helfand's two sequential documentaries
are "toxic comedies" about corporate accountability,
starting with her own recovery from cancer caused by fetal exposure
to the endocrine-disrupting drug DES. Driven by a passionate ethic
of justice and care for the earth, Helfand has taken her camera
from "Cancer Alley," Louisiana, to a corporation on
trial for murder in Venice, Italy. The production process itself
becomes an organizing campaign, as Helfand involves ever-widening
communities in her work.
Before G-d"—Gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews must come
to terms with what many feel are irreconcilable opposites—their
spiritual and physical selves, the two most fundamental, indivisible,
and undeniable aspects of their very identities. Sandi Simcha
DuBowski's documentary has been an extraordinary healing force
for families and communities in many conservative religious traditions,
and has in turn led the filmmaker himself to a deeper faith conviction.
moves through a tiny struggling farm community in Kansas, bringing
individual and collective transformation through the production
of "The Great Plains Passion Play." (Full disclosure:
"Zenith" was co-produced by this writer under the weight
of a clear leading.)
Waves: Stories of Participatory Communications for Social
Change, available free from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Festschrift for George Stoney," Wide
Angle March 1999, a tribute to the exemplar of committed,
accountable and Spirit-led filmmaking.
Calvert is an itinerant televangelist currently studying media
at Pacific School of Religion.
 Journal, cited in Britain YM F&P 19.32
 No Cross, No Crown (1897 ed.), p. 60
 Jim Corbett, Leadings
(SEYM 1994), p. 12
 Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order,
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