| Steps Toward a Quaker Media Practice
Part 2: Discernment of Calling & Preproduction
by Pamela Calvert
This article is the second installment of four based on the author's thesis presented
at the Pacific School Of Religion.
that has the smallest and least degree of a gift in the ministry,
as he waits in it, and minds to keep to it, and neither on the
one hand goes before it, nor on the other neglects it, but carefully
minds the openings of it and follow its leadings, he will in
due time by experience find an enlargement both of [subject]
matter and spiritual understanding, which will give him great
encouragement to go on."
As in any ministry, the first step upon the path must be the discernment and seasoning of one's call. In this, I can think of no better guide than Samuel Bownas's 18th century classic, Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister. Bownas gently but firmly leads the reader through "infancy, youth and adulthood" in ministry, with the tests and discernment necessary to each. It is neither necessary nor appropriate within the scope of this paper to provide a detailed treatise on Bownas, but it is important to contextualize Quaker media ministry within established Friends practices for discerning all ministries. These practices start with-and are constantly renewed by-spiritual preparation: "The tree must be good before the fruit can be so; and right and true ministers are to be known by their fruits." 
Any number of careers in media may indeed be good and useful work, but they are not necessarily ministries. One must discern whether this calling is undertaken in accord with Divine guidance, or whether it is based in self-will. Bownas admonishes the prospective minister, "Mind that thee, without being inspired, undertake not this work of preaching, neither in thy own time and will, nor by thine own contrivance."  The media culture is virtually defined by excesses of vanity and ego, and it is extraordinarily difficult not to be led into any number of destructive forms of self-regard, no matter whether one is going to make documentaries to "save the world" or commercial features-"whatever ye are addicted to," Fox reminds his readers, "the tempter will come in that thing." 
Friends believe that true leadings will stand the test of collective discernment, grow stronger with time, and show the promise of bearing "fruits of the Spirit." Lloyd Lee Wilson observes that they are also "risky business": "The individual who does not feel stretched by her calling, who does not feel to some degree exposed and made vulnerable by the act of ministry, is not likely to be surrendered and accountable to the true promptings of the Holy Spirit." This sense of risk, this essential humility must be the producer's constant companion-not only at the onset of one's ministry, but at all points thereafter; indeed, the more "successful" in the world's terms one might become, the more one must ask: To whom do I answer? To whom am I accountable? "He who speaks on his own does so in order to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him." Pre-Production
The minister must contend with the "feast or famine" nature of work in media not only on the world's level, but on the spiritual plane as well. Bownas writes: Thee may find thyself as this day drawn forth and greatly enlarged in thy ministry, but tomorrow thee may be shut up, barren and poor, having but very little to say, and that but very brokenly, as with a stammering tongue, which may seem very uneasy to thee so to appear; and under such a condition thee may be tempted to go beyond thy commission. This ought to be watched against ... If thee has but little to say, say little; and if thee has nothing to say, be silent." 
"Being silent" seems like facile advice for Friends, but it is difficult to sustain for media professionals, where success is defined by a continuous churn of projects. The temptation will be constant to seek and accept work that is not in keeping with Truth, just to stay "in the game." Bauman cites early Friends' warning against becoming "false ministers [who] did not 'speak as the oracles of God', but in their 'own will' or 'as they are ordered by men,' preaching on subjects of their own choosing, without concern 'whether it be fit or seasonable for the people's condition or not.' .... Thus corrupt, the false ministers were in fact incapable of speaking the Truth." If you maintain an attitude of worship and consecration in your work, these choices may not be easy, but they will be clear.
Assessing a leading to undertake a production is, essentially, assessing a leading to speak in vocal ministry in worship, and is subject to the same tests. One might, for example, profitably ask whether the message is for you, or for the meeting. Just as one hesitates to speak in ministry if the message seems purely personal, a Quaker media ministry will tend to be outward-focused and of benefit beyond one's own spiritual, professional, or artistic development. The video diary and personal cinema forms can certainly speak to the conditions of a wide audience, but the Quaker minister will have that intent in mind in making such work rather than leaving it to chance and hoping for the best. Educator Paul Lacey is adamant that "self-centeredness, willfulness masquerading as originality, laziness hiding behind creativity must be challenged, especially when they claim the authority of the inner voice." Although, as in vocal ministry, it is certainly wise to speak from your own experience, you might ask whether you are truly called to this work if your experience is so limited that your only plausible subject is yourself. The Holy Spirit is moving in the world, speaking through history; a minister will be irresistibly drawn, with true evangelical fervor, to bring this to light.
This brings us squarely to the matter of accountability, the core of the practice of a Friends minister. First and most fundamentally, a minister is answerable to the Divine, but this is never an individual undertaking. "An Abraham may sometimes start out alone, but his leadings must then be woven into a community covenant." The communities to which a media minister will be accountable will be multiple; these communities are necessary to bring the minister's prophetic witness into full fruition. A minister should not hesitate to call upon her monthly meeting for regular spiritual support, clearness committees, oversight, and eldering. On occasions where contact with the meeting will be irregular, such as shooting on location, one might consider how to sustain the mutual responsibility of the meeting and minister. Early traveling Friends went out in pairs, with an elder accompanying the minister, as a way to take care that the minister did not outrun her light. You and your meeting might consider how to practice the same loving discernment in your own situation.
The "subject" is the next community to whom the minister is accountable. Here I will speak directly of documentary. The "auteur" model of a filmmaker coming into a community from outside, shooting a "good story," and then leaving, is an utterly bankrupt one, which should play no part in the conduct of a Friends minister. If you find yourself blessed with a leading to document some aspect of the life of a person or community-regardless of how divinely inspired you feel yourself to be-the subject must have a deciding voice in what you will shoot, how you will shoot, how the film will be edited, and under what circumstances it should be seen. The community's discernment must take precedence over your own. A camera is a powerful thing, and they don't call it "shooting" for nothing. You are called into a relationship of trust with your subjects: just as they must trust you to tell their story with sensitivity and truth, so must you trust them-and the Inward Teacher leading you both-to discern what that story is and how it will be brought to light.
This notion may seem unrealistic and self-defeating (as it were) to those wedded to classic forms of cinematic practice. Happily, there is a long and honored alternative tradition of collaborative work, exemplified and in many instances pioneered by documentarian George Stoney. For over 50 years, Stoney's work has been rooted in a quiet faithfulness, although he would consider it the height of pretentiousness to call it a ministry. Describing himself as "a very happy collaborator," Stoney observes that "filmmakers are used to playing God. ... Now we are saying to them, 'Let the people tell you what they want to film. Listen to them. The film is going to be their film." To claim the prerogatives of artistic license in such a context is a kind of ranterism, or spiritual egoism, that is anything but Spirit-led. "The apostle Paul said that 'where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom' (2 Cor 3:17); but that freedom is not license to do as we please in the name of the Lord and the Holy Spirit." In the very name of the Holy Spirit, the minister is privileged to bring gifts of technology to communities bringing gifts of story. Potluck: the only Quaker sacrament.
Just as an individual Quaker is an oxymoron, a solo filmmaker is an illusion. The next community to whom the minister is accountable is the community making the production: the crew and, in the case of a narrative, the cast. In pre-production, the minister is called to exercise equality in all areas of hiring and compensation. The abusive hierarchies between almighty producer/director at the top and production assistants (known as "slaves" on more than one shoot) on the bottom have no place in the Kingdom. The work of each person is equally necessary and worthy and should be treated as such, without exception. "The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you." Prospective production members should be made aware of, and be in substantial unity with, the distinctive discipline that will govern the production. Jack Willcuts notes that "the only authentic leadership in the Friends Church is divine 'fellowship'" -this will likewise characterize the conduct of a Quaker minister in establishing leadership in the new production.
Finally, the minister will be accountable to the audience of the work. Before you shoot a frame, ask who desperately needs this information, who will be transformed by it. You may have no idea what the ultimate impact of your work will be-and many times it will flat-out amaze you-but you cannot wait until the work is edited and screened before these questions occur to you. Insofar as you can identify a "primary audience" for the work, involve them in the project from the beginning. Remember, you are not the "owner" of your leading if you wish it to have a life in the world and not be limited by your own small measure of light. Seeking the early discernment of the people you most want to reach with your work will ensure that it can be "woven into a community covenant that is inherited, renewed, and reformed by succeeding generations."
It is necessary to discuss one remaining level of accountability, very much of this world. In seeking financial support for their media work, Friends should exercise great discrimination. Sources of funding are few, and compromises to integrity are abundant. "The one who pays the piper calls the tune": how will your work be served or damaged by your choice of paymaster? Will you be able to maintain the integrity of your leading in business dealings with your financial backers, particularly as they affect your relationship with the subjects of your film? These will often be difficult questions to answer, particularly if turning away funding seems to endanger your ability to undertake the project. At such times, be mindful of how your choices in the scale of the production have affected the projected costs, and endeavor to maintain simplicity so as to avoid financial entanglements that will estrange you from your Guide.
Pamela Calvert is an itinerant
televangelist currently studying media
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Copyright 2002 - Pamela Calvert - All rights reserved.
Published with the author's permission by
Faithful Witness - Journal of the Friends Media Project