Reflecting on holistic choices: freedom, slavery, and fruits of the spirit from Paul’s letter to Galatians.

Allegories of slavery & freedom in sacred texts: liberating or problematic?

At the end of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. alludes to the apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”. — Biblical Archeology Review

Prejudice, discrimination, resentment and violence are enemies that never die. Every generation must redream the dream to overcome these destructive forces. — Bill Tinsley

Community of the Spirit— Rumi

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.
Drink all your passion
and be a disgrace.
Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.
Open your hands
if you want to be held.
Consider what you have been doing.
Why do you stay
with such a mean-spirited and dangerous partner?
For the security of having food.
Admit it.
Here is a better arrangement.
Give up this life,
and get a hundred new lives.
Sit down in this circle.
Quit acting like a wolf,
and feel the shepherd’s love filling you.
At night, your beloved wanders.
Do not take painkillers.
Tonight, no consolations.
And do not eat.
Close your mouth against food.
Taste the lover’s mouth in yours.
You moan,
But she left me.
He left me.
Twenty more will come.
Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought.
Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.
Flow down and down
in always widening rings of being.


To the Holy Spirit — Wendell Berry

O Thou, far off and here,
 whole and broken,
Who in necessity and bounty wait,
Whose truth is light and dark,
 mute though spoken,
By Thy wide grace show me
 Thy narrow gate.


Songs about Spirit (many cultural references, including Holy Spirit):


Learn more about Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:

Questions to consider:

  • What do you need to be freed from? What do you desire to be freed for?
  • Can you recall or focus on a moment when you have experienced liberation? What parts of yourself were affected: body, mind, spirit, emotions? What led to your experience of freedom?
  • If you could be a “new creation” … what would you imagine or claim for your transformed identity?
  • Which aspects of unhealthy living do you most struggle to bring back into balance? What does your spending tell you about which parts of your life may be out of balance? Galatians suggest some problem areas such as: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy,[drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.
  • What fruits of the spirit do you already have? Which fruits of the spirit do you need or want more fully in your life? Galatians identifies them as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

NOTES on SLAVERY: Then and Now

  • Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true. — Nikole Hannah-Jones
  • Fellow Citizens … The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men … The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. — Frederick Douglass (full article on Douglass’ historic Independence Day Address)
  • Not only does birthright citizenship bestow upon us a privileged status that we haven’t earned; our nation’s unparalleled wealth and power, as well as our actual borders, lack a sturdy moral foundation. But for slavery, genocide and colonization, we would not be the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world — in fact, our nation would not even exist. This is not hyperbole; it’s history. — Michelle Alexander, None of Us Deserve Citizenship
  • … it feels to me like the urgency of the history of this struggle, of a struggle for genuine racial justice and equality in this country feels more alive right now, has more bite and teeth to it than it probably has in my lifetime. — Chris Hayes, Why Is This Happening?
  • Hundreds of thousands of Africans, both free and enslaved, aided the establishment and survival of colonies in the Americas and the New World. — History’s Slavery in America
  • However, many consider a significant starting point to slavery in America to be 1619 … some historians have estimated that 6 to 7 million enslaved people were imported to the New World. — History’s Slavery in America
  • Slavery itself was never widespread in the North, though many of the region’s businessmen grew rich on the slave trade and investments in southern plantations. — History’s Slavery in America
  • They were statesmen, patriots and heroes … I will unite with you to honor their memory … Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? … Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. … The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. … You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. — Frederick Douglass (full article on Douglass’ historic Independence Day Address)
  • And the thing about the history of all of this … it gets very sanitized. And the reason I think it gets sanitized is there is a kind of apology that is draped over all about it. Which is that, “Yes, it was bad back then, but they didn’t really know any better.” Do people feel like that was the message they got? Not that it was okay, right? But, they were creatures of their times. — Chris Hayes Why Is This Happening?
  • Though the U.S. Congress outlawed the African slave trade in 1808, the domestic trade flourished, and the enslaved population in the U.S. nearly tripled over the next 50 years. By 1860 it had reached nearly 4 million, with more than half living in the cotton-producing states of the South. — History’s Slavery in America
  • I think white Americans woke up … to the America that black folks have always lived in … “Oh, this isn’t the country I thought it was …” So there is this desire, I think, to excavate our history to understand how we got here … And when you studied history, then suddenly the architecture of the inequality is revealed, and it’s calming because then you say, “Oh, so this does actually make sense, but not for the reasons that we’re told.” And I think that is a similar thing that is now happening to white Americans and other nonblack Americans. — Nikole Hannah-Jones, Why Is This Happening?
  • Since 2010, when I published “The New Jim Crow” — which argued that a system of legal discrimination and segregation had been born again in this country because of the war on drugs and mass incarceration — there have been significant changes to drug policy, sentencing and re-entry … initiatives aimed at eliminating barriers … for formerly incarcerated people. — Michelle Alexander, The Newest Jim Crow. Full article.
  • … hopefully we can now see that Jim Crow was a less restrictive form of racial and social control, not a real alternative to racial caste systems. Similarly, if the goal is to end mass incarceration and mass criminalization, digital prisons are not an answer. They’re just another way of posing the question. — Michelle Alexander, The Newest Jim Crow. Full article.
  • Black people remain the most segregated people in America in every aspect of American life, we remain on the bottom of every social indicator of well being, us and Native Americans, the two groups who didn’t choose to be part of America. But other groups are clearly more fluid, right? The historian who wrote, “How the Irish Became White” died today, and he talks about how whiteness is fluid. How people who were Irish, who were Jewish, who were Italian, or Greek were at one time not considered white and then they became white, certain Latino groups are considered white. Even Asian Americans who, in the 1800s, were classified as not being able to be assimilated just like black people, often the laws were against black and Mongoloids, but now are considered a model minority … — Nikole Hannah-Jones Why Is This Happening?
  • Of course, it can be argued that virtually all modern nation-states were created through violence, exploitation and war. But we claim to be unlike most nation-states; indeed, we insist that we’re “exceptional.” We are the only nation that advertises itself as “a nation of immigrants” and the “land of the free”  …  our nation was birthed by a Declaration of Independence, a document that insists that “all men are created equal” with “certain inalienable rights” including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” After centuries of struggle, including a Civil War, we now claim to understand that all people — not just propertied white men — are created equal with basic, inalienable human rights …  Even if we’re tempted to treat as irrelevant the circumstances of our nation’s founding, we cannot ignore the fact that our recent and current foreign policies, trade agreements and military adventures — including our global drug wars — have greatly contributed to the immigration crisis that our nation is now trying to solve through border walls and mass deportation. … challenging us to see immigrants not only as fully human, created equal, with certain inalienable rights but also morally entitled to far greater care, compassion and concern than we have managed to muster to date. — Michelle Alexander, None of Us Deserve Citizenship
  • Fortunately, a growing number of advocates are organizing to ensure that important reforms, such as ending cash bail, are not replaced with systems that view poor people and people of color as little more than commodities to be bought, sold, evaluated and managed for profit … If our goal is not a better system of mass criminalization, but instead the creation of safe, caring, thriving communities, then we ought to be heavily investing in quality schools, job creation, drug treatment and mental health care in the least advantaged communities rather than pouring billions into their high-tech management and control.— Michelle Alexander, The Newest Jim Crow. Full article.
  • The deeper question raised … how we ought to manage immigration in a manner that honors the dignity, humanity and legitimate interests of all concerned … Reaching for a radically more humane immigration system … does require a certain measure of humility on the part of those of us who have benefited from birthright citizenship. Rather than viewing immigrants as seeking something that we, Americans, have a moral right to withhold from them, we ought to begin by acknowledging that none of us who were born here did anything to deserve our citizenship, and yet all of us — no matter where we were born — deserve compassion and basic human rights. … our relationship to those who are fleeing poverty and violence is morally complex … — Michelle Alexander, None of Us Deserve Citizenship
  • Worldwide contemporary [21stc] slavery … refers to institutional slavery that continues to occur in present-day society. It can also be called forced labor and human trafficking. According to the International Labour Organization, a UN organization, an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labor and 15.4 million in forced marriage. 1 in 4 of these people are children. Of those trapped in forced labor, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labour imposed by state authorities. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors.ilo.org

On Fruits of the Spirit

Fruit is always the miraculous, the created; it is never the result of willing, but always a growth. The fruit of the Spirit is a gift of God, and only He can produce it. They who bear it know as little about it as the tree knows of its fruit. They know only the power of Him on whom their life depends — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The fruit of the Spirit is fundamentally relational. Rather than originating with us, it flows to us from our union with Christ, and it flows beyond us to bring us into fellowship with others. The secret of this flow – and our unity with God and others – is humility. — Jerry Bridges

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. — Henri Nouwen No one ever said the fruit of the Spirit is relevance or impact or even revival. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—the sort of stuff that, let’s face it, doesn’t always sell. — Rachel Held Evans

Jesus offered the world full and final participation in his own very holistic teaching. Jesus spoke of true union at all levels: with oneself, with the neighbor, with the outsider, with the enemy, with nature, and—through all of these—with the Divine. … The spiritual question is this: Does one’s life give any evidence of an encounter with God? Does this encounter bring about in you any of the things that Paul describes as the “fruits” of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22)? Are you different from your surroundings, or do you reflect the predictable cultural values and biases of your group? — Richard Rohr

There is a great deal we never think of calling religion that is still fruit unto God, and garnered by Him in the harvest. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, patience, goodness. I affirm that if these fruits are found in any form, whether you show your patience as a woman nursing a fretful child, or as a man attending to the vexing detail of a business, or as a physician following the dark mazes of sickness, or as a mechanic fitting the joints and valves of a locomotive; being honest true besides, you bring forth truth unto God. — Edward Bulwer-Lytton Already the new [people] men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognizable: but others can be recognized. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours; stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognizable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of “religious people” which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other [people] men do, but they need you less … They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognized one of them, you will recognize the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognize one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of color, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. – C.S. Lewis

About “there is no longer slave or free” from Galatians

Our relation to God is not a ‘religious’ relationship to the highest, most powerful, and best Being imaginable, but our relation to God is a new life in ‘existence for others’ … — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing, Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last. — Martin Luther King

The inclusive vision incarnated in Jesus’ table fellowship is reflected in the shape of the Jesus movement itself. It was an inclusive movement, negating the boundaries of the purity system. — Marcus Borg

And in the Jesus business there is not male or female, jew or greek, slave or free, gay or straight, there is only one category of people: children of God. Which means nobody gets to be special and everybody gets to be loved.— Nadia Bolz-Weber

I believe patriarchy is a result of sin, and that followers of Jesus are to be champions of equality. I believe it is our calling, as imitators of Christ, to reflect God’s new vision for the world, initiated through Jesus Christ,  in which there is no hierarchy or power struggle between slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female, for all are one in the family of God (Galatians 3:28) — Rachel Held Evans

So why does Paul put exactly these categories together? The three pairs that Paul includes in this verse all played a role in first-century conceptions of what an ideal world would look like. When imagining ideal or utopian communities, Paul’s contemporaries picture different peoples living together in one homogeneous group under one law—without ethnic distinction. They also imagine societies where people are not divided into households and families, but all live as “brothers,” as equals. Such communities could reject property, slavery, and marriage, since in the minds of first-century philosophers, doing away with possessions, slaves, and wives meant removing the major causes of social conflict. When Paul sums up the community of those who live “in Christ,” he uses categories that reflect such first-century ideals. — Karin Neutel

We also have been baptized in the one Spirit. But we are no freer than were the ancient Galatians from the bred-in-the-bone rivalry and competitiveness that can express itself religiously in any number of ways. Essential to the process of transformation in Christ is to see the ways in which we individually and communally fail to live out the spirit of love that fulfills the law of Christ. — Luke Timothy Johnson

RESOURCES:

  • Why Is This Happening? Examining slavery’s legacyNikole Hannah-Jones and Ibram X. Kendi with Chris Hayes (excerpt). Full article. Together they examine the 400 year legacy of slavery in America.
  • The Newest Jim Crow — Michelle Alexander: Full article.
  • None of Us Deserved Citizenship — Michelle Alexander: Full article
  • Slavery in America by History
  • 1619 Project Nikole Hannah-Jones

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