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Soul Force

Jonathan Stoll
On Relevance (March 2021)
Inward Light

This summer, MC Stoll and DJ Cole dropped the first track of our new album, Soul Force Ones (SF1s). It’s not music (though an SF1s spoken-word album is in development), but it’s recorded to a sort of spiritual harmony. What does that mean?

It means that my friend, colin cole, PhD candidate studying the intersections of Hip Hop, language use, and identities of Latinx youth in the Pacific Northwest, and I, Director of Career Education at Oregon State University, released the first episode of a new podcast that interrogates professionalism and the workplace in a revolutionary way, exploring how Careers, Activism, Spirituality, and Hip Hop (CASH) rule everything around us.

This podcast is my Quaker practice in action. Sharing my spiritual philosophy, centered by Friends, is my personal and professional ministry. I believe that faith without action isn’t a faith worth believing in. All action begins within. Eventually, as we learn to witness the Light within, it shines beyond and outside us for others to experience.

Soul Force Ones is a multi-dimensional metaphor with layered meanings. It includes our shared oneness and a nod to the call by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for “meeting physical force with soul force.”

We encourage everyone to embrace our collective being; that makes us Soul Force Ones. We have simply realized that the same Light that burns bright at the source within ourselves also burns within everyone else. We Quakers often refer to this as “the Light.” On the podcast, we call it “Soul Force.”

Some will misunderstand spiritual seeking as a yearning for heaven, for a reward in the afterlife. I tell my students that a career path is not linear. It has pitfalls, fallbacks, and switchbacks. We switch careers, get promoted, and get laid off. And yet we climb. Along the way, we find we need different tools, different equipment for the climb. Religion can provide such tools. Some people need scriptures to make their way on this journey. Some need other tools.

The Soul Force Ones podcast is a spiritual tool. But I secretly wonder if it’s a Quaker tool. It’s my ministry to be certain, both professionally and personally.

I’ve worked in higher education for the past twenty years, with a recent transition to career education. I was drawn to the Corvallis Friends Meeting about five years ago, because of the simplicity and because the meeting accepted my family as we are. My background is that of a Catholic turned atheist turned agnostic turned animist with leanings towards Sufism, Taoism, and other indigenous and animistic practices and philosophies. I am married to a woman who has practiced Islam. Among Corvallis Friends, I’ve found support for local and national activism, a spirit of Oneness, community, and elders willing drive through our cul-de-sac to celebrate our daughter’s fifth birthday during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there are few children or other young families in the meeting for us to connect with, and also few teenagers or young adults. And so, our meeting persists as a place of worship for mostly older, mostly middle-upper-class, white people.

As a relatively young Friend of color with children, the demographics and the state of our meeting concern me. I fear we may be on the brink of collapse. Like the outdated depiction of a Quaker on an oatmeal box, the ways we present our faith and practice are outdated. Both our membership and our message seem to be aging. And I firmly believe that the Quaker Way is not just something worth saving; it is something worth sharing.

Our society’s most pressing problems require greater self-awareness, self-understanding, equanimity, empathy, and concern for others. Quaker faith and practice provide guidance towards those ideals without ostracizing or condemning anyone to Hell. I’m convinced that the Quaker Way could be of significant value to many others, if only because it’s proven to be of such tremendous value to me. I believe our way is also a way that embraces many different ways. After all, many one-way streets can run parallel with each other. Different paths can all reach the same mountain top.

I am inspired by the great orators of Quaker ministry and history. We need our Quaker evangelicals, campus preachers standing atop soap boxes spewing love rather than the hate. Quaker faith does not require us to demean what others know and believe. We respect whatever perspectives our brothers and sisters may share with us, whether they satisfy us or not. New cultures, slightly differing perspectives about meaning and purpose, all are rooted in that which unites us, our shared humanity.

I understand why Friends might be wary of evangelicalism. We believe that each person’s relationship with God is theirs alone. But to be in communion with earth, to appreciate our interdependence with each other, is to be in relationship with God. We need to reach out to each other. We need to be in relationship with as many humans as possible.

We need a Quaker evangelicalism that is fresh and relevant, that shares content that reveals our faith and practice in meaningful ways that others can relate to. We need podcasts and YouTube videos. We need to avoid the stale, stereotypical Quaker brand that’s stuck to old oatmeal boxes. At the same time, we need to connect the dots with our Quaker history. I genuinely believe that Quaker faith and practice – rooted in simplicity, equity, and activism – is aligned with the same principles that every episode of Soul Force Ones explores.

Everyone’s relationship with the Source, Creator, Spirit, God, whichever name is preferred, is admittedly personal. Saving and converting others is not the business of Quakers. But the word “evangelize” has several meanings. The original root in Greek means “to bring good news.” The sense of “converting” others to one’s own ideology came later. Evangelicals say that by proselytizing they are spreading the Gospel or the “good news.” Perhaps it’s time that Quakers, too, should share “the good news” again. George Fox proclaimed the original simplicity of Christianity. Friends today still appreciate the simple concepts of love that lie at the heart of virtually every religious philosophy.

Spreading “the good news” doesn’t need to be about spreading the Gospel or a belief in Jesus or the Trinity. Fox preached in market places, sharing his truth, which grew into the Quaker Way. The good news, Friends, is that we Quakers have no answers that are proscriptive and divorced from the unfolding truth within each person. We have queries. Where other faiths demand that newcomers accept a doctrine, we accept newcomers as they are. We make no demand that any creed, doctrine, or dogma must be declared. While many faiths teach that there is only one way to salvation – their way, through Jesus and their church – we are convinced that people who do not follow our faith and practice are not lost. The diversity of our faith embraces multiple paths. While many faiths are convinced that God is found outside themselves, through Jesus and their church, we are convinced that all people – Quakers and non-Quakers alike – already have the ultimate answers within themselves, in that part of God centered within each of us.

And so, we do not view others as fundamentally lost or misguided. We welcome our non-Quaker friends into our meetings to listen for “that of God” already within them. We simply provide a space in which our friends may sit in the same silence we do, waiting to hear from the depths at the Center of that beautiful space, where the Inner Child, the Inner Teacher rests.

And even though I acknowledge that what works for us will not necessarily work for everyone, even though I embrace religious pluralism, I reject moral relativism. There is an Absolute Truth. There is one God. We are all interconnected with the Inner Teacher. I realize I am sounding like a borderline proselytizer, but I want to share this good news.

I want to share it particularly with young people, people of color, young families and their children. Because I don’t see many people who look like me in our Quaker meetings. I believe that the Quaker Way must cultivate an inclusive faith community that reaches across class, race, and age boundaries. The fact that we do not currently do that is something that puts us out of alignment with our purported values and begs the question: What are we doing – or not doing – that fails to reach people who hold diverse identities?

Jay O’Hara, Friend in Residence at the 2019 Annual Session of North Pacific Yearly Meeting, said during his keynote remarks that humanity is not suffering from an ecological crisis as much as we are suffering from a spiritual crisis. In early 2021, this sentiment still rings true. We are more than ever in the midst of crises – economic, social, medical – accentuated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, these intensified material crises have only served to intensify the spiritual crisis that Jay spoke about.

We are fortunate that we can find some solace in our Quaker meetings. But our non-Quaker brothers and sisters are suffering, too. It is not our Quaker Way to “save” others. But can we share? I firmly believe that our practice, our silence, provides a Way that many would find to be healing.

It’s important to note that Jay is 38 years old, like I am. A group of young adult Friends (meaning Friends under the age of 50) coordinated an extemporaneous worship-sharing time during that 2019 annual session. Friends mostly shared about their struggles for belonging in their respective meetings. Middle-schoolers and high-schoolers shared with me that they felt disconnected from the adults in their meetings, and from the meetings generally. Perhaps this is another place where a modernized approach to sharing our faith and practice could be helpful. Maybe new ways of spreading the good news can help facilitate connections between the younger members and the older members in our meetings. My call for spreading good news isn’t solely concerned with “recruiting” new members, but also with how we strengthen relationships within our current meeting communities. I hope Soul Force Ones may provide some semblance of a way forward.

Every episode explores the interconnection between a guest’s purpose and practice.  We explore the purpose of their work (e.g. politics, pottery, porn, professor, police) and the practice of their inner workings (Buddhist, Indigenous, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Bahá’í) as a means of advancing a multifaith worldview, centered by our shared humanity and differences, by our Oneness across race and religion.

We explore what connects us. And in so doing so, we critique the world and engage in critical discourse, exploring progressive and revolutionary thought based in critical race theory and liberation theology.  We reimagine ways that our workplaces and our relationships might be better. We explore what it means to be human. We explore the significance of building bridges, finding common ground, and networking. The aspects of the podcast that concern career education and leadership development are centered, I hope, in the same soulfulness that moves Parker Palmer (episode #19) to promote the alignment of “role and soul.”

That is soul force, the driving force of creative nonviolence. People often misunderstand the philosophies of King and Gandhi as promoting something simplistic. But creative nonviolence is so much more. Kingian nonviolence and Gandhian Satyagraha embody complexity and depth of practice that defy passivity; they are rooted in action. These philosophies – and the philosophy of Soul Force Ones – are not about passivity and weakness, but are instead about promoting active resistance against oppression and suffering. Soul Force is the internal strength within us, the courageous practice of resiliency and love that emanates from the center of our spirit, our Oneness. Seeking social change and the alleviation of suffering is our work. That’s what makes us Soul Force Ones. We Quakers most certainly are Soul Force Ones, too.  ~~~

Jonathan Stoll is the co-host of Soul Force Ones podcast and a member of the Corvallis Friends Meeting. He is a co-founder and associate of Soul Force Education as well as Director of Career Education at Oregon State University. Jon is writing a book about the career and spiritual guidance of IEMWEI, a student who exposed him to ways of preparing interviews through the inner view.

All Soul Force Ones podcasts are available wherever you listen to podcasts or at http://soulforceones.com

Evangelism diversity Young Adult Friends podcasts

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