Religious arrogance is a no fly zone! Paul exudes it in his letter to the Galatians, becoming a religious bully with his claim to be “set apart” by God. Is this a crusade for his version of religious orthodoxy? Where is the spacious generosity of an invitation to become fully alive with the breath of life itself?
One of my favorite biblical invitations is from the same writer, Paul. Writing to the church in Ephesus he invites people to a faith journey that is about the “walk in love” of becoming “a fragrant offering.” He touches a deep spiritual chord with those words. I can imagine him and Rumi celebrating a spirituality of love.
That Paul seems completely removed from the one we meet in the first chapter of Galatians. You’re either with him all the way or else you are a “sinner.” From a historical perspective he was crusading for a particular belief system among the earliest followers of Christ in Galatia.
Scholars believe that Celts had settled in the area. The Celts would come to believe that there are two sacred texts – that of scripture and of creation. They would come to cherish the image of the beloved disciple leaning up on the chest of Christ. Is it possible that Paul’s bullying stridency helped to move them in those directions?
In a congregation I once served we welcomed scores of people looking for spiritual grounding. I remember sitting one night with a group of 30 newcomers. Each person in the room spoke about their spiritual journey. Each had experience of at least one other religious tradition – Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Druid and Pagan traditions were among those mentioned. To a person they asked, “Is it safe for me to bring what I’ve learned from another tradition to this new place on my journey with the Holy?” The answer was, “Yes!”
Paul’s stridency in this chapter would have most of them heading for the exits immediately. The absolutism and exclusivity of this passage leaves little room for the capacious imagination of the spiritual life. Surely the Holy existed before religion and dogmatic orthodoxy?
When I am fearful or attacked is when I am most likely to seek the imagined safety of a boundary. But the boundary all too quickly pushes itself to become an enclosure. Enclosing me off from myself, others and the Holy.
So what does it mean to have faith without becoming a caricature of a no fly zone pilot? Is there a spiritual invitation in this writing of Paul’s that draws us in instead of circling the wagons?
My grounding in my tradition is clear to me. It gives me the foundation to know that I am only a person in the context of other persons. I am enlivened by the journey to the heart of love that I discover when I live the questions that life presents. Surely we are each “set apart” to discover this love?
How do you react to what Paul writes? Where does it sit with the invitation to become like a fragrant offering because you are walking in love?
Robert V. Taylor is a speaker, writer, blogger and Chair of the Demsond Tutu Peace Foundation. He is a guest blogger for the Darkwood Brew seriss on Galatians. Visit him at