Reesheda Graham-Washington and Shawn Casselberry are grassroots leaders who were living out Soul Force long before they wrote about it. Their voices and leadership are what we need at this critical time. If you want to unleash the power of change in your life and community, this book is a roadmap.
Because they truly live the message that is narrated in Soul Force, Reesheda Graham Washington and Shawn Casselberry are extremely well-qualified to speak to the soul of the justice movement. More than a description of what’s possible, Soul Force offers the tools needed to both enter and shape the movement. This book is the good news that the watching world is desperate for.
Soul Force is a clear call to action for individuals and communities. While many are feeling despair about our current political, religious, and social climate, Reesheda Graham-Washington and Shawn Casselberry remind us that small, intentional pivots can make a significant impact for change.
Soul Force is what we needand we need it right now! This is more than a brilliant set of principles or a stunning social strategy. Soul force was the secret strength that propelled the great social movements of Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s day. But can it be lived out by ordinary people, in everyday lives, at such a time as this? Reesheda Graham-Washington and Shawn Casselberry have given us the pathway forward, and it is surging with the Spirit’s love and hopefulness. This will be the handbook for the movement.
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Read an Excerpt
An Entry into Soul Force
Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. — Martin Luther King Jr., "I Have a Dream," August 28, 1963
The sunlight on Robben Island is exceedingly bright as it re fleets off limestone. A thirty-minute ferry ride from Cape Town, South Africa, on the mainland, Robben Island is the site of the high-security prison where Nelson Mandela spent eighteen years for his opposition to the apartheid system. The quarry where prisoners like Mandela once labored still exists. There, in an unrelenting sun so bright that it actually blinded some prisoners, Mandela and other political prisoners and dissidents dug up and broke apart rocks in hard labor that is difficult for us to imagine.
We had both traveled to South Africa with a group of national faith leaders to dialogue with South African leaders about the common struggles we faced. We were both feeling tired, emotionally and physically, from the community work we were each doing in Chicago, where we both run national nonprofits. Yet here we were, having traveled nineteen hours to the tip of the African continent to find some inspiration. We visited several faith communities and met brilliant women and men who were doing innovative work. Although apartheid had formally ended twenty years earlier, the effects of poverty and racial segregation were still very much apparent. The apartheid system had economically depleted Black and colored communities, in many cases robbing them of their land and livelihoods and creating a vacuum that was currently being filled by drug trafficking, prostitution, and gang activity. While learning this history and hearing people's stories, we saw many parallels with the issues plaguing our own city.
We were feeling the weight of all this when we arrived at Robben Island, not fully prepared for what we were about to encounter. Walking the island, we tried to imagine what it must have been like to be restrained on this small strip of land for so long. We visited the cell where Mandela spent most of his time; it was about the size of a small bathroom. And we heard stories of abuse by guards and how the apartheid system was maintained even within the prison, with Black prisoners receiving fewer food rations than "coloreds," or those who were of mixed racial heritage.
Given this backdrop, we were astounded that Mandela not only survived Robben Island but left with no chip of bitterness on his shoulder. He offered forgiveness for the brutal oppression he endured as a result of the ignorance and greed of the white ruling class. Not only that — he led the country into a place of national forgiveness and unity. While Mandela was far from perfect and South Africa still has many challenges, his witness remains a tangible example of the power of reconciliation for our divided world.
On Robben Island we found our inspiration. This experience led us to a deeper examination of our own hearts and an exploration of the faith and lives of courageous people throughout history. We began asking questions like:
Where does courage come from?
What caused a lowly shepherd boy with a slingshot to go up against a towering giant?
What caused a young leader to keep marching around a city until the walls came down?
What caused a privileged queen to risk her position, and possibly her life, to advocate for her people?
What caused a humble girl of little means and influence to say yes to bearing a child who was destined to save the world?
What caused a brash disciple to step out of a boat in a raging storm while the other disciples stayed in the boat?
What caused the widow in Jesus' parable to persist until she won justice from an unjust judge?
What caused Jesus to face the violence of the cross and offer forgiveness for the very ones who crucified him?
Or African slaves to sing and keep hope in the midst of hundreds of years of brutal slavery and oppression?
What caused a little girl to write in a diary in the middle of a holocaust?
Or an unassuming Indian religious teacher to challenge the British Empire through nonviolent resistance?
Or a Black Baptist preacher from the Deep South to show love in the face of racial hatred and bigotry?
The easy answer is "God." But that would require assuming that everyone else around them didn't have God. It would mean these people's actions didn't require something on their part — a posture and a persistence that enabled them to find strength and resolve when others cowered. Each of them tapped into something extra inside. They found a courage — an internal conviction and resolve — to act in faith and hope despite their fears.
It's easy to think that this kind of courage and power is restricted to biblical times or the virtue of the most saintly or heroic among us. But all over the world, people have risen up to resist, create, forgive, advocate, and bear witness to love in the most distressing and depressing of life's circumstances. Somehow they have not let fear, insecurity, or opposition keep them from pressing onward. In the face of hurt and violence and despair, they find power within to resist cynicism, love their neighbors, and not return evil for evil.
They channeled their soul force. Discovering and developing the practice of soul force can make it possible for us to do the same.
What is soul force?
The concept of soul force derives from the Hindi word satyagraha. Composed of two Sanskrit words — satya, which means "truth" or "love," both of which are often attributed to the soul, and agraha, which means "polite insistence," "holding firmly to," or "force" — satyagraha is a philosophy of nonviolent resistance that was rooted in the teachings of Jesus. Mahatma Gandhi developed the idea in the Indian context, and Martin Luther King Jr. further refined and claimed it for the civil rights movement in the United States.
Historically, we have seen giants in civil rights apply the power of soul force to social movements, political activism, and socioeconomics. But it can also be applied to our daily lives in whatever location, vocation, or season we are experiencing. Exerting soul force requires us to name and know our true identities, live out our truth courageously and unapologetically, and hold firmly to all of who we are. When we start to meander away from our true identities, soul force requires us to insist on the truth.
Soul force is where the Spirit of God and our human resilience meet. The Spirit doesn't override our will, nor does it bypass our humanity. The Spirit works in concert and collaboration with our ingenuity, gifts, and grit. Soul force is a power that emerges when we align with the Spirit of truth, love, and liberation. Soul force is an awakening to the realization that we have a creative force within us, because we all bear the divine imprint of the Creator. But so rarely do we tap into this power.
Soul force is an inner alignment with truth, a fortified internal strength that creates the capacity for courage and change in the face of great adversity. Soul force is a courageous, compassionate love that leads to personal and social transformation. Gandhi and King utilized soul force in their contexts to ignite movements for social change, and we can utilize it for movement in our lives too.
So what does soul force look like for the rest of us? What does soul force look like for the teacher who shows up every day for her students? The nonprofit leader trying to do good in the community on a shoestring budget? The neighborhood matriarch who faithfully tends the community garden? The pastor who feels burnt out from carrying the needs of his congregation? The parents who stay up late worrying about their kids?
Soul force is just as needed for everyday struggles of life as it is for larger social change. Soul force is not reserved for the few saints among us. It is an energy that each of us has the capacity to tap into and develop.
Soul force is needed now more than ever.
You already have it
It is important to underscore soul force's "already existence," which is to say that we do not have to do anything to create it. It is also important to note its internal way of being. Soul force comes from within, from inside us. Jesus told his disciples, "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21 ASV). They didn't need to look outside themselves to find God or to access God's power. In the same way, soul force is already and always accessible to us.
The idea of soul force as internal is critical to the way we understand it, as its internal nature is so contrary to who we have become as a society. We live in a context that tells us to only believe what we can see: that which is tangible. So much of who we are and what we do is external, and so much of what we use to define, energize, and mobilize ourselves comes from outside ourselves. We attempt to discover who we are through our acquisition of titles, promotions, achievements, and recognition from outside ourselves. We attempt to achieve comfort and safety through the acquisition of material things such as money, houses, and cars. We attempt to find rest by binging on social and mass media that are focused on others and that often rile us up rather than create true moments of rest. There is nothing wrong with any of these elements in their own right. Yet when we use them as distractions or replacements for true identity, peace, and rest — which can only come from a connection with soul force — we cheat ourselves out of the opportunity to be true to who we are and who we have the capacity to become.
The idiosyncratic nature of soul force is such that we must trust in its existence before we can maximize its existence. Because soul force is a spiritual energy, it does not take on a form until we manifest it through our courage to live the truth. In order for soul force to influence our lives, we must trust that it lives within us, and we must live as though it lives within us. Only then will we witness its impact.
Soul force on the mount
The good news is that we don't have to create soul force. It is already there, ready to be accessed by each one of us. And the even greater news is that we get to harness it, galvanize it, and direct it toward our own individual and communal brilliance.
Before the disciples could light up the world with the truth and love of Christ, they had to believe they were the light of the world. Their responsibility was not to manufacture light, but to live in line with the light that lived inside them. They had to believe they were capable of shining their light for the world to see. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told them what it looked like to be a light in an evil and unjust world (Matthew 5:3-48). It meant being a witness to another kingdom, one that prioritized the poor, that hungered for justice, that worked diligently for peace, that did the right thing even when it was costly. Jesus was introducing them to a way of being and living that reflected God's agape love and peace.
The religious people of Jesus' day had become content with religiosity. They had become conditioned to the patterns and value systems of their culture. They needed a radical reorientation and realignment to love, compassion, nonviolence, and righteous justice seeking. They needed to understand that love overcomes fear, breaks cycles of violence, relieves economic anxieties, and liberates from status quo religion. Jesus was making the practice of unconditional and nonviolent love the central characteristic of what it meant to be a follower:
You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48)
It was precisely Jesus' message of nonviolent resistance and enemy love that resonated so deeply with Gandhi, providing the foundation for a practical method of resistance and social transformation that came to be known as soul force. Soul force takes the teachings of Jesus seriously and lives them out, quite literally, in the public arena. Gandhi and King both viewed soul force as a spiritual discipline for personal transformation as well as a social strategy for societal change. For King, soul force was his faithful response to Christ's mandate to love his enemy and a nonnegotiable quality of Christian discipleship for those he led.
For Christians, soul force is synonymous with the stirring of the kingdom of God within us and the demonstration of the kingdom breaking forth through us. Soul force is vital because it calls us to go beyond mere belief in Jesus to an embodied practice of Christlike love. While Gandhi never claimed to be a Christian in belief, he was a follower of Jesus in the most literal sense. He also encouraged Christians to live more like Jesus if they really wanted to make Christianity more attractive for people of other faiths.
Soul force will require some realignment for many of us. Will we be able to fully embrace ourselves as light bearers who already have access to the source and force of love necessary to change ourselves and our world? Can you imagine how we would live if we truly embraced the reality that within ourselves, we have the same access to the power of soul force that Gandhi, King, and others throughout history demonstrated? Can you imagine what life would be like if we really, truly, and consistently embraced this reality and practiced this way of being?
Soul force moves outward
Soul force is deeply personal and deeply social. While it has been utilized by people of faith in specific social contexts, it is available to all people, in whatever location we find ourselves. Although soul force emanates from within, it doesn't stop until it manifests externally, creating personal, communal, and systemic change. Soul force is not limited to personal spiritual growth alone; it transforms communities and social systems. Soul force creates an outward ripple effect, changing us and changing the world simultaneously.
Soul force is a way of life for courageous and compassionate people. Behind soul force is a theology of love characterized by the strength to love God, our neighbors, and even — and especially — our enemies. Soul force is a deep conviction and trust that, in the words of Martin Luther King, "unarmed truth and unconditional love" are the most potent weapons for transformation in the world. It's an abiding faith that God is on the side of the oppressed and the universe bends toward the cause of justice. Soul force quickens our courage and silences our cynicism. As we align our lives with truth and love and justice, we align with a power greater than ourselves, a power that is unstoppable and enduring.
If a force this strong already lives within each of us, then is it possible that massive change is not really what is required for transformation? What if we only need to effectively harness that which we already possess?
What if we only need to pivot?
The seven pivots to courage, community, and change
To pivot is to turn or cause to turn in place; to move; to change direction or course. A pivot isn't an entire overhaul. It is a slight directional turn that can open up new possibilities and pathways. We already have greatness inside us, and because we do, we don't need to generate or consume greatness; we simply need to unleash the force within us!
In this book, we introduce seven pivots that can transform your life, organization, community, and world:
Pivot 1: From fear to freedom
Pivot 2: From barriers to bridge building
Pivot 3: From self-centeredness to solidarity
Pivot 4: From hurt to hope
Pivot 5: From consuming to creating
Pivot 6: From charity to change
Pivot 7: From maintenance to movement
Can you imagine what our lives would be like if we each made these seven pivots? Can you imagine how that would affect our organizations? Our communities? Our world? When taken together, these pivots form a mighty movement.
Fuel for the journey
Soul force is the spiritual energy that makes change happen, and these seven pivots are the small, incremental changes that eventually transform us and those in our communities. Seems so simple, right?
Excerpted from "Soul Force: Seven Pivots toward Courage, Community, and Change"
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