“I can imagine, but not describe, the long wearisome voyage, or the courage required to face the experience of those days.” -My great-great grandfather, the Rev. John Mackay, a Gaelic-speaker, a Highlander, a Christian, describing the journey of his parents across the Atlantic.
I’m proud of my Protestant heritage. Proud of the Gaelic Highlanders that, carrying their Presbyterian faith with them across the cruel Atlantic, built a community in the wilderness of Manitoba and put church at the centre. Proud of the Armagh Quakers who refused sugar from slave plantations, fought for Irish women’s suffrage, fed the starving and offered work to the destitute during the Gorta Mór, and campaigned for tenants’ rights. Proud of the Norwegian emigrants, steadfast in the their Lutheran faith, who created a new life in the frozen lake-lands of Minnesota. Proud of the Protestant-rooted American musical tradition I practice, Sacred Harp, for its focus on community and inclusivity. Proud of the justice and mission work of my own non-denominational church-home here in Belfast. This is who I am. A transatlantic, transplanted, pan-Celtic Protestant.
I’m proud right up to the point of it being a sin—because none of that matters as much as following Christ Jesus, and when I get caught up in worldly identity, I have lost my true identity. “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (St. Paul to the Galatians). For Christ-followers, worldly identities are sacrificed and a new identity, discovered through relationship with God and those around us, ushers in new life and new self-understanding. Yes, I brace at the chauvinism of those who dismiss Gaelic culture, both Irish and Scottish. I sympathise with all minority cultures and linguistic groups across the world who face annihilation. I take pride that Gaelic services were held in the Canadian Presbyterian churches of my ancestors well into the twentieth century. Even now, reading the Bible and worshiping in Irish helps form my religious identity. But ultimately it is my relationship with Christ and living a Christ-focused life that I seek to put first. Seek, but mostly fail to do.