article is the third installment of four based on the author's thesis
at the Pacific School Of Religion.
"Stand up in a calm and quiet frame of mind, as free as possible
from either a fear or care how thee shall come off; but follow thy
guide in all circumspection and humility, beginning, going on, and
concluding in thy gift."
Samuel Bownas, 1767 
The time you
have invested in preparation for ministry and the discernment of
your leading will inevitably determine the nature of your production.
Your commitment to remaining true to the Light Within, and your
relationships to your meeting, to your subject, and to your cast
and crew will be set before the first frame is shot. Every subsequent
decision will be a logical outgrowth of what has gone before. Once
you are in the maelstrom of production, you will be under acute
pressure to cut corners, to make snap decisions, to take the path
of least resistance or ride roughshod over obstacles. How you will
respond to that pressure, how you set your priorities, should be
your central concern.
your leading through offering their work, your production cast and
crew de facto become part of a covenant community, and this should
be reflected in the daily life of the shoot. "Friends preach
their experience that Christ has come among them already, and that
therefore the Kingdom of God is a present fact and all Christians
are called to live as Kingdom people now, in the present moment."
While good order is necessary on the set, decisions should be made
with true pastoral care for those who will be directly affected;
prayerful waiting is never "wasted time" if there is no clear way
forward. If the greater number of production principals are Friends,
then worshipful unity should govern all decision-making. Friends
are advised to exercise careful stewardship of the vast resources
consumed in production- financial, material, and human. Every choice,
from lighting to craft service to trash disposal, should be made
with an eye to simplicity.
If you are working on someone else's production, many of these decisions
may not be your prerogative, but you will still find ample opportunities
to exercise ministry and witness.
Just as a meeting
clerk must set aside her own willful opinions and listen carefully
in discerning a "sense of the meeting," so must a minister listen
to the community in producing a work of media. Each person carries
a piece of the Truth; their voices combine in communion to create
the "gathered meeting" that will be the finished production. If
you come to a shoot with your mind already made up, all you will
hear is your own voice echoing back to you. Your role is to be a
tender, faithful presence, asking "what canst thou say"
of each person you record, seeking the voice of God speaking through
creation. "[George] Stoney claims he knew almost right from the
beginning of his filmmaking career that other people could have
made a better film than he except they didn't have the same ability
to listen. He paid attention, and if someone was uncomfortable,
he changed things. If a farmer didn't want to be filmed barefoot,
even if his feet were never going to be in the shot, Stoney waited
until the man put on his shoes."
Led by the
Spirit, Friends will inevitably find themselves drawn to document
"the ocean of darkness and death" as well as "the ocean
of light and love."
Finding oneself in conditions of acute poverty, suffering and hostility
will bring the minister face to face with challenges shared by all
committed filmmakers. Cultural critic Susan Sontag observes:
"Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention. ...
The person who intervenes cannot record; the person who is recording
cannot intervene. ... The act of photographing ... is a way of tacitly,
often explicitly, encouraging whatever is going on to keep on happening.
To take a picture is to have an interest in things as they are,
in the status quo remaining unchanged (at least for as long as it
takes to get a 'good' picture), to be in complicity with whatever
makes a subject interesting, worth photographing-including, when
that is the interest, another person's pain or misfortune."
of the "horror" of realizing "how plausible it has become, in
situations where the photographer has the choice between a photograph
and a life, to choose the photograph."
A Friends minister must be prepared to be faced with the same choice
in many settings. "Choosing the photograph" is neither inevitable,
universal, nor necessarily advisable. With as sure a force as that
which moves one to rise to speak in ministry, one may be moved to
put down the camera and choose the life. Ministers are not called
to be dispassionate, "objective" recording machines. Shooting in
Harlan County, Kentucky, during a bloody mining strike, Barbara
"We did everything from butchering hogs with [the strikers] to
starting a newspaper called The Harlan County Labor News. It was
a matter of really engaging in that life. ... When I was filming
in Harlan I didn't even really care if a film ever came out of it.
I think I was maybe more engaged in the struggle and using the film
as a vehicle to get through it."
The view, expressed
even by career documentarians, that media making can be most important
as a vehicle for interactions and change, is also shared by Julia
Reichert and James Klein: "I don't think we identify ourselves
as filmmakers who have political ideas. We are political people,
political activists who are trying to use film in a way that will
make changes in society. We have a lot of respect for the film medium,
for our craft ... but the most important thing is doing work that
helps bring about change."
All the more, then, Friends ministers will not be a "filmmakers
who have religious ideas," but faith-led people, using film in a
way that will witness to the Kingdom, already here among us. If
any given film "never comes out of it," it is of infinitely less
import than the life lived in faithfulness to the Truth.
"Here it is one must
not think thy own thoughts, nor speak thy own words, which indeed
is the silence of the holy cross, but be sequestered from all the
that are apt to throng and press upon the mind."
A mass of unedited
footage can at first seem rather like the jumble of thoughts as
one centers down into worship. Visual and sound elements can be
manipulated in an infinite number of ways, to an infinite number
of ends. It can often take time for a clear and unified "message"
to emerge. The minister will take great care to discern that message
in an attitude of prayerful humility. Is it your voice, or God's,
that will speak? If you decide you must use voiceover narration-known
in the field as the "voice of God," which ought to be a warning
in itself-whose voice will you choose to carry that weight, and
how will you balance that authority with those who speak from direct
experience? The world has seen a plenitude of media speaking with
univocal, ego-based truth-claims. In prophetic media, as in life,
the Voice of God speaks through community.
Who is your
audience? You will already know this from your discernment in pre-production.
As you edit the work, greet "that of God" in them, seeking to bring
them to their Inward Teachers, in a process that Paul Lacey identifies
as "leading in and drawing out... working with what is inherently
there and giving it nourishment."
Friends have always believed that the simple Truth stands on its
own, needing "no firecrackers or cannon"
; as Bauman notes:
"It was not necessary to belabor, threaten, cajole, or reason
people into belief or persuasion, but simply to 'bear the testimony
of the Lord as we have received it from him,' in the confidence
that the Spirit of Truth within the hearer would respond to it.
'Words that come from the life will go to the life,' wrote Farnsworth,
'and raise up that which is pure in one another.'"
You must respect
your audience in order to greet that of God in them. Whether you
intend for your work to be seen by the occupant of the White House
or migrant farm workers, you must abjure self-righteous lecturing,
paternalistic condescension, "talking down" to your audience in
any way. Do not batter them with data and "sensory overload," but
build in time for quiet reflection. Address your viewers in the
same spirit of joy and truth with which you have undertaken this
leading, calling upon them to respond as children of God. Leave
the activist impulse aside and trust in the Truth of the story.
"The political statement is weighed in the balance of human motivation
and has its effect; the prophetic word can move mountains."
media will be the bearer of light, no matter how dark the conditions
depicted. Media work that only fixates on the darkness leaves the
viewer deadened and powerless, suffering from "compassion fatigue."
To bring light into the darkness requires neither a pedantic and
prescriptive approach, nor putting a theologically facile "happy
face" on conditions of suffering and violence. It requires only
that you reveal the measure of Truth you have found, leading the
viewer into an understanding of how the social order may always
be brought nearer to gospel order. David Sutherland's documentary
The Farmer's Wife was the first media depiction of the two-decades-long
farm crisis that did not climax with the auction of the family farm;
Kirsten Tretbar's film Zenith shows a tiny Kansas community finding
redemption and unity in the midst of economic ruin through the performance
of the Great Plains Passion Play. Both films show the absolute devastation
of rural America, but both are suffused with light. When The Farmer's
Wife aired on PBS in 1998, more than 50,000 viewers were moved to
write letters and emails, witnessing to the multitude of ways they
had been transformed.
As you continue
in the discernment process of finding the "voice" of your work,
remember to involve your multiple communities of accountability,
particularly the people whose lives are reflected on screen, as
well as the representatives of your intended audience. You have
absolutely no license to put a subject in danger in the interest
of serving a "greater good," and it is the subject's prerogative
to decide what constitutes "danger." Securing a signed release at
the time of shooting is legal protection for you, not pastoral care
for your subjects. Hold invitational rough-cut and fine-cut screenings,
listen to the reflections of the participants, allow them to "own"
your work. In commercial media, this practice is debased into "focus
groups" which pander to the lowest common denominator of audience
response. In documentary and journalism, many think relinquishing
absolute power over the edit threatens the "objectivity" or "authorial
voice" of the producer/director.
For Friends, it is simply submitting your leading to the discernment
of your community. It is not "your" work or "your" voice which you
need to protect; that which is speaking through the work will only
become more evident if you seek clearness with your elders and overseers.
When a Friend
is moved by the Spirit to offer vocal ministry in worship, the message
may speak in unpredictable ways to another person. You cannot know,
finally, all the ways people may be moved by your work. Producer
Tom Weidlinger has called this "stepping out into unmapped territory,
learning things you didn't know yesterday, and making statements
in word and deed that (however well considered) only become fully
real and existent once they are out, and said, and done."
Lloyd Lee Wilson, a recorded minister in North Carolina Yearly Meeting
(Conservative), offers this advice which Friends working in media
may freely apply to their own ministry:
Part 1: Introduction
"I have found it helpful ... to offer a silent prayer asking
that I speak the message God wants me to speak at this time and
in this place; that the true gospel is shared in this meeting whether
or not I am fully faithful in my ministry; that the hearts of those
who may hear my words are opened to the Word among them; and that
they may be enabled to hear the Word God yearns for them to hear,
whatever the human limitations of the speaker and listener. ...
Prayer is effective; it changes things. I am changed, and more firmly
centered in the Holy Spirit in my ministry as a result of this prayer,
and therefore less likely to interfere with the message God has
trusted me to share."
Part 2: Discernment of Calling & Preproduction
Part 4: Distribution & Media Literacy For Friends
Calvert is an itinerant televangelist currently studying media
and theology at Pacific School of Religion.
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