Reflections On The Quest To Be A Faithful Witness
By Dana Kester-McCabe
As this is the premiere of edition of Faithful Witness, it seems appropriate to tell a little bit about how it came to be. This Journal and the organization it will serve are in their infancy. While I can claim them as my own ideas, the practice of Friends is to test such leadings: to lay them before the community to season and gather support. As a matter of fact, the only way this project can succeed as a productive and useful agent of God's will, is for a community of like-minded people to join in this work. While seeking this support, it seems only fair to share the story of the journey that gave birth to the Friends Media Project.
I was raised in a Quaker home near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And so, when there was no Meeting near the community I settled in with my husband, I really missed it. I became a member of Wicomico River Friends Meeting, in Salisbury, Maryland; which was established in 1987 - just a few months before I found it. My enthusiasm for this new Meeting has always inspired me to think about how to grow the Religious Society of Friends in my region. I can't remember a time since then that I have not dreamed about a local and permanent retreat that would help in this endeavor. The desire to meld my spiritual life and my creativity runs even deeper to the roots of my childhood.
I have always loved drawing and painting. My family had many creative types so this was greatly encouraged. So, it is no surprise that I received my training in two-dimensional art. For most of my working life I have been a freelance graphic artist, painter and teacher. About seven years ago I began to look for more regular work in search of two things: a steady paycheck to help subsidize my children's education, and training to help update my essentially 19th century skills for the 21st century. Up until that time, my work had brought me in contact with many different people of various ages and backgrounds. But, I kept coming back to Quaker projects: publishing my Meeting's newsletter, teaching religious education classes at my Meeting, working at Catoctin Quaker Summer Camp for five years, as well as serving on local and regional Friends' committees. My journal is often dominated by writings about my experiences as a member of the Religious Society of Friends.
My paintings, however, were decidedly not Quaker. They had become largely a reflection of my impressions of the spiritual journeys of women. They were somewhere between allegory and surrealism; and they were mostly nudes. The creative process that percolated each piece was deeply personal and equally satisfying. However, even when gallery directors were willing to hang them, they did not sell. I attempted to market them unsuccessfully. Gallery openings and open houses were attended by kind friends, students, a few family members and the occasional patron. But, the last open house I mounted was so badly advertised that no one came - not even friends or family. I had no one to blame really, but my self. I knew I had to make a change. I prayed and meditated sincerely searching for God's direction.
Through out my life I have been blessed with signs from God. They are most often small coincidences or synchronicities that can only be explained to me as divine intervention. Yet, when I needed a burning bush more than ever, there didn't seem to be one. I was extremely depressed. As I look back on this time, I honestly can't say when I decided that I needed to move into mass media work, though I think it had been on my mind for a very long time. I do know that there was one epiphany I can point to on that horrible day when no one came to my open house. The reason that day was so painful was because I was alone - completely alone. I came to realize that I needed an audience; that God called me to be a communicator, not creatively self indulgent. Unless my painting could enlighten or lift up the viewer in some more direct way - I was wasting time and resources - and I was barely serving my own need to share my ideas. I also realized that though I enjoyed working alone - I really needed to work in community with others.
|It might seem to some, that selfishness is a necessary evil for the pursuit of creative endeavors. A single minded and determined quest for the perfect solution to an artistic challenge leaves little room for the consideration of others. But even if this is so, it is also true that the best inspiration for such tenacity is a truly worthwhile message. Most artists really believe they have something important to share with the world through their work.||
"To be involved in aesthetics only, for me that is worthless.
I want to say something."
- Saul Steinberg
At the heart of all that I do, is the desire to leave the world a better place - to be a productive and faithful servant of God. It is not difficult to hyper focus on work at the expense of those we love, but that is certainly not the only way a true creative leading is accomplished. I have often put family before career. Being a freelance artist is great for a stay at home Mom, because your schedule is your own. But it does not necessarily make for great financial success. When push comes to shove, kids and husband will usually come before all else. In the end, I did not feel like I could continue to do work at the expense of my family that did not have a clear and moral objective. I began to search for ways to serve my family before my creativity.
Once my children were in high school I briefly took a job in a hotel just to help with our bills. It was not the worst job I ever had, but eventually I had to give it up when I could not secure a schedule that gave me enough time with my family. In all honesty, even though I easily learned the job I could never have been happy for long with out an artistic outlet. About a year earlier I had produced a pilot for a regional television magazine show on the arts. I had the generous help of two other folks who believed in my idea. I had almost no training in this field, and it showed in the quality of the production. Though I pitched it to public television unsuccessfully, I liked the kind of work that went into the project. And the tape helped me to get a job at a local CBS affiliate.
Somewhere in my floundering I had come to the conclusion that I wanted to work in mass media - especially television - because I have always been an unabashed fan of the medium. I knew I could not afford to go back to school so I opted for on the job training. Another asset I brought to this new job was my ability to create web pages. This was the early days of the Internet and like most web designers I was completely self-taught. I supposed that this demonstrated my ability to learn and work independently since I was not hired initially to work in that area. My first job at the station was as a television commercial producer. The only downside was that I had to rationalize my Quaker discomfort with the crass world of advertising. I have to say that I truly felt like I was helping small businesses communicate with their neighbors, which is good for the economy. So, I got over that concern. The only project I ever had to refuse was a spot for a gun shop. I was lucky. My boss did not even argue about it. Eventually I was also given a number of very worthwhile public service campaigns. I felt like I was learning a lot and helping the community at least a little. Then opportunity knocked.
I had asked for a promotion and I got one that I did not expect. I was made the general manager of the station website. I was fortunate to spend the next three years working with the news division and some people I really liked. I have always been a bit of a news junky so this was a real delight. Getting information out to the public when they really need it is exciting. There were long hours. I put demands on my own time neglecting family and friends. These sacrifices seemed in good order because the information was helpful to the community. This included: severe weather updates, school closings and election results. And, I felt like a pioneer in this new industry. Along with my staff, we built a successful online publication - successful in viewership that is. The weekly numbers quadrupled. Unfortunately, the site never achieved financial success. Sales were handled reluctantly by a variety of different departments. But sites with more resources then ours faced similar defeats. Eventually the troubled technology industry and the down turn in the advertising market forced the company to automate the site and lay off my department.
Office politics aside, this turn of events was not unreasonable. Few companies can justify a department that generates no revenue. And, even though becoming a journalist was very satisfying for me, one thing was lacking: a direct connection between my work and my spiritual life. So, I have returned to freelance graphic and web design while I search for ways to make my life's work meaningful and helpful. Again I return to my spiritual roots. Again I return to my perpetual dream of a Quaker retreat center in my region. I have prayed a lot. I have brainstormed with a number of people about how to make this happen; including a clearness committee at my Meeting. How might I do creative work that will serve others? All these things have converged with my concerns about the world and especially the Religious Society of Friends. The Friends Media Project and this online journal "Faithful Witness" are the culmination of my creative and spiritual experience. During the week that I learned I was to be laid off I randomly opened the Bible a passage that helped me recognize the opportunity in front of me:
"Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie…"
- Habbakkuk 2:2
Unprogrammed Quaker worship has been my spiritual anchor throughout my life. God has blessed me with a wonderful faith community. I am very optimistic about Quakerism even though like many Friends I am disheartened to see the numbers of our society slowly dwindling. Everyone has an opinion about why this is and what can be done about it. Naturally I have a few ideas and they have figured heavily into my concept of the Friends Media Project. (I am sure there are others of equal possibility that should and will be pursued by others.) For a long time I have felt like my beloved Society of Friends is in another period of quietism. Many trends have converged to create this condition. These were born of good intentions but they carry unintended consequences:
I believe the Friends Media Project is an opportunity for Quakers to rediscover their prophetic voice and to share it with the world via new technology. There is also an opportunity to preserve our oral traditions - the rich treasures of the shared experiences of those we cherish. Most importantly, there is a chance to rise up to God's call to share a message of peace and love. There is great potential for outreach with new media publications on Quakerism and many other topics of great interest to Friends. Already great and innovative works are being done with literature and data. The Friends Tract Association [ http://www.tractassociation.org/ ] has published their work on line and Friends Arden Buck, Elise Boulding and The Mountain Forum for Peace have begun a Database Project [ http://www.dbsst.org/ ] compiling over 700 successful strategies to address human rights issues and more. There are many more worthwhile text oriented projects as well, but few in video or interactive media. Wouldn't it be great to bring Quaker faces and voices alive through other media forms? Think how many people would be reached by such inspiration.
It seems appropriate that this ministry move forward in any form or medium that will reach people. Like Pamela Calvert in her article Conversation of The World, I am inspired by William Penn who challenged Friends to "better live" in the world. He does not suggest we should shelter ourselves from the temptations and troubles of the world. He clearly recommends that we actively engage ourselves in a constantly changing environment. We should not let it weaken our faith. We should be resolved to do God's work making use of all gifts available to us. The nature of work in mass media is in short: community. No radio, television or new media project can be done by one individual alone. Each takes a variety of individuals with their own unique leadings and skill sets working in concert with others to bear the fruit of a finished work. Consensus is key. If ever an organization could be inspired by Penn's idea of the "Holy Experiment" - the spirit lead community - it is this one.
"True godliness don't turn men out of the world,
We are at a cross roads in history. We can be voices for positive change at a time when the world needs them desperately. I invite all of you who read this to search your heart for a way you can unite with this ministry. Join this quest to share the most important lessons of our experience - to explore new and creative forms of ministry in the service of God and humanity. Come along and be a faithful witness to that of God in the multitudes you might meet through the blessings of divinely inspired technology.Respond to this article:
Email your comments by 10/18/2002 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your thoughts will be posted in next month's edition of Faithful Witness. All replies must include full name and location to be included. No email addresses will be posted online. Please indicate if you would like your note forwarded to the author of this article.
Copyright 2002 - Dana Kester-McCabe - All rights reserved.
Published with the author's permission by
Faithful Witness - Journal of the Friends Media Project