Just like the rest of the UK, one of the more controversial social issues right now is the growing migrant community, in particular from Eastern Europe.
Me, I don’t subscribe to the “dirty foreigners taking our jobs” view, nor indeed the variations along the lines of “they should learn more English and be more like us” or “just send ‘em all home.” The more the merrier, I say. It’s not like we’re in a famine or a drought, here, and we stand to be greatly enriched as a society.
I’m slightly sad to detect the little hints of prejudice that do still manage to creep into my mind, though. Example one: behind a car with a Polish reg on the motorway, I find myself watching out for dodgy driving. But then, I do that when I’m behind an Irish reg, too, so maybe I’m just a driving snob. Example two: the window cleaner came to our house the other day, and he has a Polish guy working with him. Why did I have to fight down the little bit of unease I had? Totally unjustified.
It was that window cleaner who got me thinking about this, though. While his colleague, who didn’t appear to have much English going by the interactions I saw between the two of them, was doing most of the work - climbing the ladder, cleaning the windows, cleaning the small forest out of our guttering - the window cleaner stood in the front garden chatting to me while he watched. He talked plenty about his Polish colleague. None if it was too nasty, although some wasn’t 100% nice, either, but the tone and the flippancy - especially with the other guy maybe twenty feet away - left me wondering if he’d have spoken in quite the same manner if he thought the subject of his gossiping could understand what he was saying.
I felt very uncomfortable with this. Did I say anything? No, I just smiled and nodded. What’s that about? When they left, I did make a point of thanking the one who I’d seen do most of the work. He looked a little taken aback. Working round here (in the heart of almost-countryside middle-class land) I wasn’t terribly surprised.
How come I’m thinking so much about this? How come it’s such a big deal to so many people, whatever side of the line they’re coming from?
Moving to a new country isn’t an easy thing. I found it tough enough going to Scotland, and I knew people there and spoke the language. Actually, I’ve found it tough enough returning to Northern Ireland, and this is home.
The notion of community runs right through the Gospel, and it’s one of open and welcoming community - all the more challenging since human community by its nature tends towards being a bounded and exclusive thing. If we’re trying to discover a true expression of Gospel community, how do we respond to the incomer, the economic migrant, the guy here looking for a slightly better life for him and his family (I hope he finds what he’s after), the seeker of asylum, even the tourist.
In light of Jesus, I’m not sure how much emphasis needs placed on matters of nationality and geography, at least in the negative way we like to. Even if we go back and consider the Old Testament, there’s a lot in the Law about right treatment of the ‘alien’.
Of course, I don’t know the answers. I just ask the questions. But I wish more people would ask the questions.