It is finally time to speak your message, to release your work
into the world. The next steps will come naturally to you if you
have been pursuing your work in an attitude of faith and accountability.
The first places where your finished work will screen are, of course,
among the communities who have come to "own" it through
their participation in the project. Only after they are clear to
release your work may you bring it to a wider audience, if that
is the proper distribution for the film.
Some media work may be most appropriate for "internal"
circulation within the community where it was made. Other times,
the work may circulate more widely, but maintaining controls that
ensure respect for the original community. George Stoney's documentary
All My Babies was made as a training film for African-American
midwives in the rural South of the 1950s, unprecedented in its time
for its sensitive and effective collaboration between the middle-class
white male film crew and poor black female midwives. Stoney showed
it once to a group of Navy personnel, who belittled and made fun
of the subjects. Thereafter, he limited distribution of the film
to audiences of health care providers; even though the subjects
of the film would never be present when the film was screened in
such settings, its use would never diminish their worth and dignity.
If you have been working with your prospective audience from the
earliest stages of the project - treating them as part of the community
that "owns" the work - you will have few impediments to
reaching them with the finished film. To make his feature La
Ciudad, producer/director David Riker learned Spanish and spent
five years in dramatic workshops with his actors, most of whom were
themselves struggling immigrants, many without papers. Even to
find these actors, he had to create community around the film, building
trust and credibility with organizations serving immigrant workers.
Throughout production, Riker maintained accountability to the people
whose stories were shared in the film: "They never deal with
a white person except in situations that are hostile - either a
cop, an immigration agent, or a boss. I had not only to earn their
trust, but also to show them that they could feel safe. Safe not
only to come out of the shadows of the city, to stand in front of
the camera, but more than that, safe to open up and talk about their
most intimate stories with strangers."
When La Ciudad was released theatrically in 1999, an enormous
community came "out of the shadows," hungry to claim the
shared experience of hearing their collective stories spoken aloud.
When La Ciudad was broadcast the following year on PBS, community
screenings were held in churches, on buses, in labor camps. The
"success" of La Ciudad was measured by the community
that claimed it for its own.
La Ciudad's accountability to its core audience extended
into the most "commercial" of venues, when many producers
would be focusing their attention on dealmaking. At the Sundance
Film Festival, a Park City church hosted a special non-festival
screening and discussion of La Ciudad for the usually-invisible
immigrant service workers who clean up after the skiers and festival-goers.
This audience does not buy tickets to festival screenings or offer
acquisition and development deals, but for Riker, it was without
contest the most important event of the entire week.
Community-based distribution requires a much greater effort by
the producer than conventional models of doing the festival and
market rounds, finding a distributor and moving on to the next project.
Regardless of how comfortable you are with thinking of yourself
as a "traveling minister," as you take to the road with
film can under your arm you may find yourself relating to the experiences
of 19th century circuit riders on more than one occasion. You are
responsible to make sure that your work is sent out into the world
with the same integrity, accountability, and engagement as has governed
the process to this point. Your job is to bring it to the people
who will give it a life in the world for years to come, in ways
you can never imagine on your own. Over-committed, under-staffed
community organizations will invest far more time, resources and
creativity in using media and broadcast than you could ever presume
to propose. A social service agency in Staten Island, New York
rented two billboards for a month to promote the broadcast of Travis,
a documentary on a little boy with AIDS. Lutheran Disaster Response
of North Dakota set itself a goal of showing The Farmer's Wife
(all 6.5 hours of it) to every farm family in the state. You don't
have to move the mountain, but you do need to build a community
around it—and then get out of the way.
Your ministry should take you outside of your comfort zone and
into the world: "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 places."
You may show your work in a living room or broadcast it around the
world, as way opens, trusting that in either setting it is in its
right place, speaking to the people who need to hear its message.
You should not stay away from mass media as an outlet for your work
if your message will speak to the condition of a mass audience:
indeed, "the early Quaker ministers worked the public places
- the churches, markets, fairs, streets - in order to bring the
Truth before those who had not yet received it, to plow the ground
and plant the seed of their new faith."
By the same token, your message may be most appropriately shared
in more focused settings, again following the example of early Friends,
in "meetings for cultivation and harvest."
Speak to your audience where it is, at all times endeavoring to
bring people together in active engagement and communion.
At the end of the day, the "success" of a ministry will
be judged by God alone, and not by human standards. Like John Woolman,
who died nearly a century before emancipation, we may never see
the direct fruits of our work. But as Wilson reminds his readers,
"True ministry is a state of servanthood, for that is the root
meaning of the word minister: 'to serve.' ... The New Testament
says very little about human success; it says a lot about human
Media Literacy for Friends
appears to me to be one important means of helping the human mind
in a healthy state, that in recreations which are needful for it,
it should be trained as much as possible to look to those things
that bring profit as well as pleasure with them.
- Elizabeth Fry, 1833
I will now turn to the role of the Friends community in media education,
both working with media and in training media makers. As noted
above, Friends' response to the popular culture in general and media
in particular has been for the most part to pretend it isn't there
and hope it goes away. I believe we have cloistered ourselves more
out of unexamined elitism than careful and Spirit-led discernment.
Just as individual Friends may be led into the production of media
as a ministry, I call upon Friends to learn to use media in pedagogies
of transformation and liberation. We have remained illiterate in
the means of communications employed by the vast majority of the
world's people, and have abdicated the job of teaching media literacy
to others. This is hardly the way of the Quaker missionaries who
founded the Penn Center in South Carolina in 1862—three years before
the end of the Civil War - to prepare former slaves for freedom
by teaching them to read.
I will not belabor this point, but make a few notes for future
discernment among Friends. Since we are bringing up the rear in
this effort, we may learn from models such as the principles espoused
by the World Association for Christian Communication: "Prophetic
communication stimulates critical awareness of the reality constructed
by the media and helps people to distinguish truth from falsehood,
discern the subjectivity of the journalist and to disassociate that
which is ephemeral and trivial from that which is lasting and valuable."
The modern media experience is one of social and spiritual isolation.
Either hosting public screenings and discussions in our meetinghouses,
co-sponsoring events with community-based organizations, or holding
small group viewings in our homes, we can draw the solitary, passive
"consumer" of media into an active engagement with the
text, in community, under the care of the Inward Teacher. A person
who attends such a screening, whether they are a pillar of the meeting
or a first-time visitor, is already expressing a willingness to
step out of isolation and into community, to be part of a collective
for a few hours and, in ways as yet unknown, to be transformed by
that experience. Media is a powerful tool which we have no good
reason to deny ourselves—both in our own edification, and in speaking
to the larger world.
"Queries" are a particular art form among Friends, so
constructing discussion questions for worship-sharing following
a screening should come rather naturally to us. I will offer two
foundational sets of queries Friends might consider in working with
media. The first set are widely used in "Quaker Bible study":
What is the main point of this text? What new light did you find
in it? Was it true to your experience? What are its implications
for your life? What problems did you have with it?
The second is from John Wycliffe, "the morning star of the
Reformation," whose 14th century advices might have been written
by a 21st century media theorist:
shall greatly help ye to understande Scripture,
If thou mark
Not only what is spoken or wrytten,
But of whom,
And to whom,
With what words,
At what time,
To what intent,
With what circumstances,
Considering what goeth before
And what followeth."
Training the Quaker Minister
the Communication Arts Department, 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."
- Malone College Communication Arts Mission Statement
Finally, I wish to discuss briefly the role of Quaker institutions
of higher education in training Friends to make and use media.
There is a wide and perhaps predictable spectrum of engagement with
media among Friends colleges. After decades of successful media
use by Christian evangelists, it should surprise no reader that
the more theologically conservative the Friends institution, the
more likely it is to offer a media production program. All the
Friends colleges affiliated with an EFI yearly meeting, save tiny
Barclay, offer undergraduate majors in communications or media studies,
focusing on production training, although it is unclear how many
of their graduates go on to professional careers in the field.
On the other hand, not one of the FGC-based colleges and universities
offers such a program. Of the latter schools, only Swarthmore offers
as much as an interdepartmental Film and Media Studies major, focusing
on history and theory rather than practice. In the theological
and geographic center, Earlham's journalism major offers coursework
in news reporting, photography, and radio, but no television or
It was not within the scope of this paper to have surveyed these
academic programs to discern how students are prepared for work
in media with a distinctively Quaker approach, and to what degree
that might align with or diverge from what I have outlined above.
Malone College's new mission statement, adopted just this year,
is a marvel of revelation and inspiration, exemplifying Rufus Jones's
I cannot claim that all Quaker schools and colleges succeed in
cultivating the deeper life, but it can at least be said that they
all take that aspects of education seriously. ... What is done is
to make the fundamental features of religious life as real as possible.
I say 'religious life' advisedly. Religion is brought over from
the abstract to the concrete, from definitions to practice. It
is dealt with as a way of living, as something to be done, and not
as merely something to be talked about and left in the region of
theory and speculation.
I call on all Friends colleges to evaluate whether their media
programs are geared toward training professionals, or ministers.
If a Friends institution does not offer a media program, I call
on them to consider whether this serves the interests of 21st century
Quaker witness, at the same level as the ubiquitous "Peace
and Conflict Studies" departments. If evangelical Friends
colleges are in fact placing significant numbers of alumni in media,
I call on them to lift up their graduates and urge them to speak
widely and publicly of their experiences as Quakers in the field
of media, to be mentors and role models for others, and to open
the way for future ministers. I encourage evangelical Friends colleges
to claim and teach Quaker distinctives in media education, and I
challenge liberal Quaker colleges to engage with the confessional
I call upon all Friends to consider how we might bear witness to
the Truth, wherever we are led, using every means we have at hand.
Thy will be done.