article is the first installment of four based on the author's thesis
at the Pacific School Of Religion.
I have spent the past decade as a rare bird: a Quaker in media.
I have worked both as membership director for the largest organization
of independent film producers in the country and as outreach manager
for the largest funder of independent production. My work has put
me on the road fairly regularly, so I've had the opportunity to
worship with Friends of some 60 meetings in 18 yearly meetings,
from Reedwood Friends Church to Shelter Island Worship Group and
many points between. I'm always looking for "my tribe": Quakers
among my colleagues, media professionals who are Friends. I'm surprised
and not a little alarmed to report that as far as I can tell it's
almost a null set, which is why I have begun to think of myself
as a rare bird. There are the "name-brand" public radio commentators
Scott Simon and Steve Curwood, actors Judi Dench and Peg Phillips,
and Hollywood script consultant Linda Seger. But in my experience,
identifiable Quaker filmmakers and television producers, commercial
or non-commercial, are doing an exceptional job of hiding their
light under a bushel. Strikingly, there appear to be even fewer
Friends in media than there are in electoral politics, a field which
strikes me as having many similarities to media in both its promise,
and its dangers.
For the last
several years, I have found myself awakening to a need for discernment
around my professional life. My work has most centrally revolved
around using media for social change, but this secular point of
view no longer speaks to my condition. I'm led to make my work a
ministry, grounded in faithfulness to Spirit, in a form as yet unrevealed.
There has been light to take one step at a time, leading me currently
to a brief program of study, similar to ESR's Theological Reflection
Year, at Pacific School of Religion. Here I've had the opportunity
to think aloud about how Friends (like me) can take a more visible
role in making and using media with integrity, being prophetic witnesses
for peace in the "culture wars." I feel like this message has been
seasoning within me for a decade; this paper represents the first
fruits of vocal ministry.
I find myself
in unmapped territory. As I've noted, there are no role models whose
lives teach, no Pendle Hill Pamphlets, no guidance in Faith and
Practice. The closest thing we have to a denominational production
unit is the Communications Office of the AFSC, which is obviously
neither denominational nor a production unit. So what follows is
for the most part prescriptive rather than descriptive, at least
as far as Friends are concerned. Where I use examples to illustrate
a practice, then, they will necessarily be from non-Quaker sources.
Indeed, I am not asserting that anything I am proposing below is
something new under the sun in terms of media practice. Rather,
in speaking to my faith community, I hope to illuminate those practices
which will arise naturally from Friends' beliefs, forming an implicit
A note on religious
labels: one could reasonably substitute "Christian" in the place
of "Quaker" in most instances below, and indeed this is preferred
by the theologically conservative Friends colleges which are most
actively involved in media education (noted below). However, I hope
to address the full range of Friends with these words: since many
modern Quakers do not necessarily identify as Christian, and a body
of distinctive writings, beliefs, and testimonies has been built
up in our religious tradition over the past 350 years, I have chosen
the sectarian term in order to be simultaneously narrower and more
inclusive. There is a vast literature on Christian communications,
but, as I have noted, nothing to date which addresses Quaker distinctives
in this discipline.
while I have consulted authors across a representative range of
theological viewpoints, this paper is ultimately grounded in liberal
Quaker theology, based on what I know best as a member of first,
New York, and now Pacific Yearly Meetings. Knowing Friends as I
do, I expect there will be room for each reader to bristle at or
be mystified by specific choices of vocabulary and analogy. I invite
and welcome a lively dialogue with Friends from across the spectrum,
contributing additions and refinements to the theology, and drawing
out the implications for practice.
paper will mostly address issues of independent film and video production,
primarily documentary, again based in my own experience. I imagine
that the approach I describe may be extrapolated to other forms
of media, including photography, print and broadcast journalism,
feature film screenwriting and production, and various forms of
Like a set
of advices and queries, this paper lays out ideals for convictional
and prophetic engagement with media. Not every principle proposed
will be possible to a Friend in a given situation. Many may seem
unrealistic or even "ridiculous" to "those that walk in the broad
as William Penn warned. But without a sense of the goal-Gospel Order,
the Peaceable Kingdom-there is no way to measure one's faithfulness
or growth in the Light. Lloyd Lee Wilson notes, "In any individual
or corporate circumstance, there is among the alternatives a choice
that is in keeping with the gospel in all its fullness. It is incumbent
on Friends to help one another discern that one choice among the
many that may be open, and to carry it out faithfully." 
So this then
is my project, my offering of the measure of light I have found.
What follows is presented in three parts. First, I discuss Friends'
historic approach to public communications, worldliness, and the
arts. I then propose a Friendly approach to media production and
use, from pre-production through distribution and reception. Finally,
I explore the ministry of Quaker post-secondary institutions in
educating media professionals.
They hate idleness,
for they put themselves to work as soon as they are whelped."
Friends experienced direct communication with the Holy Spirit, and
found ample Scriptural license, even command, to preach the Divine
message at all times and in all places, on the housetops and abroad.
Their words did not fall on deaf ears; thousands were convinced, and
the burgeoning Friends movement caused widespread alarm in the established
Bauman has documented, early Friends developed conspicuous idiosyncrasies
around silence and speaking. Friends adopted silent waiting
upon the Spirit as their defining form of worship, and any "carnal
talk" was guarded against-to the point of abstaining from everyday
greetings so as to avoid falsehood: "To wish someone a good
day when he was in an evil day, because he was not in the Light,
was both to speak a lie and to partake in his evil deeds oneself."
However, when it came to religious speaking, the first "Publishers
of Truth"-Friends' name for their early itinerant preachers-were
unsurpassed evangelists, using every means at their disposal
to broadcast their message. Exasperated opponents compared them
to "mushrooms and toadstools springing up in a night...
all nations hear the word by sound or writing, spare no place,
spare not tongue nor pen..."
George Fox, 1656
As might be deduced from the brief comments above, while early Friends
were taking an active role in the world, they were most adamantly
not of it. All forms of entertainment and the arts were anathema,
thought to lead people into vanity and away from more useful pursuits.
The very foundation of theater, for instance, was impersonation and
falsehood, and the subject matter was unlikely to be in keeping with
the gospel. Even hymn-singing was considered to be an "empty form"
carrying the risk of singers' "professing without possessing" the
lyrics and thus falling out of the Truth. As John Punshon observes,
"Underlying their attitudes to the arts and also education and moral
life was a view of how you should occupy your time, a fundamental
conviction about what you are here for and how your life should be
as the Quaker 'movement' grew into a 'Religious Society,' and external
repression, particularly during the Restoration period of the late
seventeenth century, combined to damp Friends' evangelical fires.
In the eighteenth century, the Society turned inward for more than
a century of "quietism." Great emphasis was placed on exquisitely
strict obedience to the discipline, enforced by sharp-eyed Overseers.
Many living testimonies hardened into fixed custom during this period,
including the repudiation of engagement in, or enjoyment of, the
arts. It was not until the nineteenth century's Great Awakening
that Wesleyan Holiness restored some measure of missionary fervor
to Friends, as well as introducing innovations such as liturgical
music. Still, apart from the startling appearance of the piano in
some meetinghouses, the old prohibitions remained firm. By the time
cinema and television were introduced in the twentieth century,
Friends had a 300-year tradition of abstinence-and as "mass media"
and the "entertainment industry" have evolved, they have certainly
provided Friends with every good reason to continue to keep their
to stay behind their "hedges," protecting themselves from the influences
of popular culture, Friends have also inevitably abdicated any sense
of responsibility for active engagement in, 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:
The 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 than constant in it. No thanks if they commit not what
they are not tempted to commit.
The only media
George Fox had available to him were "tongue" and "pen." In light
of his words above, can we have any doubt at all, had he lived in
our time, that he would not have likewise exhorted Friends to master
video camera and website, and put them to use as powerful forms
of religious speech? Modern Friends have come to have few if any
scruples about the purely personal enjoyment of dancing, singing,
painting, or performing in plays. Some of us even have televisions
(on which we only watch PBS, to be sure). It is, very simply, long
past time for us to examine our peculiar pride about disengagement
with mass culture, whether it is not in fact an "empty form" and
"silly poor gospel" at that. We are called to "walk faithfully in
our own time and place,"
to discover how we might bring the continuing revelation of Spirit
into the strange new world of the third millennium. Frankly, if
we abstain from "the conversation of the world," why should Spirit
bother speaking to and through us at all?
Our far more
difficult path is, and always has been, "holy worldliness." There
is no question that this route is a slippery slope, paved with good
intentions. To undertake a life of ministry in the popular culture
requires faithfulness to the Guide, individual and collective discernment,
and the united support of the covenant community-as with any other
ministry. One bears in mind the apostle's admonition: "'Everything
is permissible'-but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is
permissible'-but not everything is constructive."
Indeed, everything is permissible-anything goes-in the mass media,
but the Children of the Light are called to bring the "one thing
to the darkened theater: the Holy Spirit, at 24 frames per second.
"gospel vision," the "eye of faith"
to begin to see what part one might play in this great work. It
would be the greatest betrayal of the Creator to believe that in
order to be faithful, one must limit one's output to the pious and
proselytizing, the dry, dour, and didactic. "There are no limits
to the pursuit of culture as long as it is sought in the spirit
of consecration and service. ... Pursued in the aim of enlargement
and for widening the area of life and happiness, [it is] as legitimate,
and as 'simple,' as the reading of Pilgrim's Progress or
Insofar as we are Spirit-led, we may be called to bring our messages
to Friends alone, one videotape at a time, or to the whole world
via web and satellite technologies. With all due respect to many
Friends who believe otherwise, Quakerism is not "a secret to be
and however one might be led to articulate its salvific message,
"the Quaker movement can only be true to itself by being a missionary
What follows is a set of preliminary guidelines for those "public
Friends" who are called, as I am, to the mission field as ministers
Part 2: Discernment of Calling & Preproduction
Part 3: Production & Postproduction
Part 4: Distribution & Media Literacy For Friends
Pamela Calvert is an itinerant televangelist
currently studying media
and theology at Pacific School of Religion.
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