Thursday, August 01, 2019


Yesterday we went for a walk along a forest trail on the side of a loch where, in 1307, Robert the Bruce’s men ambushed and defeated English troops. It was more a skirmish than a battle, but it was a strategic turning point, introducing guerrilla tactics to Bruce’s campaign, and credited with leading, seven years later, to the (more conventional) decisive victory for Bruce’s army at Bannockburn.

Robert the Bruce believed himself to be entitled to rule Scotland, and fought fiercely with other men who believed themselves to be as entitled or more-so—getting what he wanted, only to die of a wasting disease—with the population-at-large caught up in their games. Seven hundred years on, some things haven’t changed on this island.

Growing up the son of English parents in Scotland, I was regularly reminded of Bannockburn. Put in my place as an unwanted symbol/representative of the old enemy. Never mind that Bruce’s family name, like mine, is from Normandy. Or that my mother’s family traces itself back to James Douglas, who fought alongside Bruce at Bannockburn. We choose which bits of information to discard.

I abhor nationalism. It always requires a scapegoat. And has always more to do with the personal glory of a few than the interests of the population as a whole. Scottish nationalism. English nationalism. A plague on both your houses.

Moreover, independence is an adolescent state for a state to be in. It may be a necessary one, and better than colonial rule, but it is not a state to remain in. Maturity lies in voluntarily giving yourself, as a nation, to something bigger than yourself. That is what the EU was (is) and that is why the campaign to leave was led by entitled middle-aged men who, emotionally, had never moved on from being public schoolboys. It is also why many people in Scotland want both independence from Westminster, and to remain part of the EU.

Jesus told a parable—a guerrilla story that slips under your defences—about a man who had more than anyone could want but wanted more, yet could not mock God or cheat death. What was the point, Jesus was known to ask, of gaining the riches and status and power the world has to offer, only to lose one’s soul—one’s self, a person defined by knowing and being known by others—in the process? To object?

Jesus also told many parables about the kingdom of heaven. Like lost treasure buried and forgotten in a field, or an impossibly perfect pearl, or a net bursting with fish, this kingdom is not so much one we can possess as one that possesses us, that captures our imagination, as subjects of a higher King.

It is a bigger vision than either nationalism or the EU.

But the stories I tell are also selective, perspective-d, have also been used against people simply for who they are. Stories are dangerous. They always have been. They call for both courage and humility. And a desire to know and be known by others.

Here’s to the story-tellers.

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