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Christian Viewpoint: Immigrant reflections post-Brexit reveal a deeper message we can all learn from

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Barbara Henderson with Scottish by Inclination.
Barbara Henderson with Scottish by Inclination.

Barbara was 19 when she flew to Scotland from Germany to study, her course funded by the EU, writes John Dempster.

Desperate to find the friend-of-a-friend who was meeting her, she wandered round the arrivals hall singing Celebration by Kool and the Gang, his favourite song by which he was to recognise her.

Inverness author Barbara Henderson has just published Scottish by Inclination which contains interviews with 30 other people from Europe who settled in Scotland and made significant contributions to Scottish life. Their stories are interspersed with chapters describing Barbara’s own 30 years in Scotland, written in the vivid, zesty prose and with the same narrative gift we’re grown familiar with in her children’s novels.

There are some common themes in the interviews: a love for Scotland; the possibility of being both…and – both Scottish and German in Barbara’s case; a desire to make a difference.

What struck me most was the powerful sense of indignation and rejection felt by these people as a result of the Brexit vote. One described her sense of being talked about as an immigrant “like some sort of insect that had just invaded the house and needed to be exterminated”.

This is horrifying when contrasted with the ultimate Christian vision of a united global family.

Christians are called to welcome the stranger rather than contrasting ‘them’ and ‘us.’ Individual Scots may have made Barbara and her contacts feel part of the community, but there were loud voices side-lining and ‘othering’ them.

Barbara quotes Victor Hugo’s vision of Europe as a family of nations each keeping its distinct features while building “a close and higher union to form a European brotherhood”.

This old dream goes back at least to the 1780s and the poet Schiller’s vision of universal brotherhood in Ode to Joy. But there were 154 years of intermittent European wars after 1790.

So has God been inactive? I believe that, acknowledged or not, God works with everyone who seeks goodness, truth and beauty as Barbara and her contacts do. But other ignoble impulses – including selfishness and ‘othering’ – lead to conflict.

As Christians, Scottish by Inclination challenges us to seek God’s help in working for unity. Barbara matter-of-factly gives some examples of the place of prayer in her and her husband’s life, prayer which is answered and shapes the daily trajectory of their living.

Behind the words in this book, you can almost hear Barbara singing an impassioned song. It contains lament – whatever our views of the economics of Brexit we must surely agree that culturally it is a retrograde step.

But there is invitation: love our nation, welcome those who come here, seek goodness truth and beauty whatever our beliefs. This song too is celebration.

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