Discovering George Fox’s Journal when we was just 14 years old, Kevin-Douglas Olive found a language to describe his experience and the people he belonged with.
There was always this part of me that yearned for something outside of myself, something bigger, something beyond. What I read from Friends, especially Early Friends, was that I didn’t have to go beyond myself, that I could find what I’m looking for within. And that no matter what was troubling me, what was hindering me, no matter what my hurt, habit, or my hangup was, there was a power that could help me overcome that and that I wouldn’t be ruled by that.
How I Became a Quaker
So I’m Kevin-Douglas Olive, a member of Homewood Friends in Baltimore Yearly Meeting. I’m a French teacher in Baltimore County Public Schools.
I grew up most of my life in east Tennessee–Knoxville, Tennessee, go Vols–and my dad was military. He was army and we lived here in Maryland for a while; we lived in Korea; I was born in North Carolina, so we traveled around a bit and that was sort of the context that I grew up in. My family was secular. We didn’t talk about religion. We didn’t go to church. I went to Baptist church with friends.
I happened to read the Witch of Blackbird Pond in 7th grade when I was 12 and identified with the Quaker in the story. So I asked the librarian, “Hey, who are these Quakers?” and she gave me a book about the underground railroad and Levi Coffin. They’re made for middle schoolers and there was only so much reading and I wanted more. And what did the public library have but The Journal of George Fox. So plowing through that at 14 was an endeavor, and then Barclay’s Apology.
How Quaker Theology Spoke to Me
I was going to school every day with people who said that you’re going to hell if you didn’t believe in Jesus, that Jesus died for you and it’s your fault that he was crucified. That’s what I got at the Baptist church that I did go to for a while. So Quakerism, from what I read and understood, was this revolutionary idea or this revolutionary way to approach God through sitting in silence where we’re all ministers, we’re all potential ministers, we all have this responsibility to not only be faithful and yield to this power within us but that when we turn over to this power, we also have the power to transform the world around us.
That’s not what I was hearing from church. I was hearing about heaven and hell and I’m reading George Fox basically saying, “Heaven and hell, meh!” He kept talking about all of these things that are so important to the Christians around me and kept calling them “airy notions”. That was radical stuff for me, and it gave me a language that I was able to use to describe not only what I was experiencing, but also I felt like these are the people I belong with. They stood up against a Christianity that was oppressive as best they could. They stood up against social structures that were oppressive as best they could, and that’s what I wanted to be a part of.
Talking with My Parents
Finally I told my parents what I was doing, and they were like, “Uh… what? The who?” They still saw bonnets and hats and carriages, and when I disabused them of that concept of who Quakers were, they still said no. Well, you don’t tell a teenager “no”, that’s how you light the fire. The more they said no, the more I… but I felt that God was actually calling me to this. There’s no other way to describe it, really.
I remember sitting the second time in Meeting. The sun was coming in on my back, it was springtime. I was in this deep space, the only way I can describe it is sort of someplace between the dreamworld and the waking world. It was a very deep place. And I heard a voice say, “speak”. It was as clear as if you were talking to me now. “Speak”. So I got in this argument with the voice in my head. “What am I supposed to say?” “Who are you?” “Am I going crazy?” “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say!”
And in the middle of that argument with the voice, all of the sudden I was speaking. My heart was racing, I was pouring sweat, and then I was done. I could feel my mind catching up with the words and once my mind caught up with the words, the words quit.
It’s like the bucket of evidence that there is a power greater than me. A bucket of evidence. And I find that most often in unprogrammed worship where I am not in control (in fact, the more I try to control my experience in worship, the more I get in my head) where I can just sit back and say, “This hour of my week I’m going to let the Spirit direct things.”
The Promise of Quakerism
There is the promise that Friends provide that there is a way and a truth and a principle that can lead us into peace and unity, not just with God but with ourselves. And that’s what’s kept me coming back when I’ve run off to the Wiccans or run off to the Episcopalians or run off to the Russian Orthodox—all of which I’ve run off to—I keep coming back, because it’s a simple faith that doesn’t require much in terms of what we have to do other than to be present and be willing.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.
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- When Kevin-Douglas Olive was just 12, he discovered Quakers through a library book. Then he read everything he could get his hands on, including George Fox’s Journal and Barclay’s Apology, which had a profound effect on him. What books have you read that had the most impact on your faith and/or your understanding of Quakerism?
- Kevin-Douglas describes his second experience of unprogrammed worship as a teenager, when he heard a voice urging him to speak. Do you remember the first time you spoke in meeting for worship? How did you know it was time to speak? What was the experience like?