Throughout history, settled societies have had both a deep curiosity for but also deep suspicion of travelling communities.
There was excitement when the circus or the fun fair came to town. Crowds flocked to enjoy the entertainment and some would dream of the fantasy of life on the open road. But there were also warnings of not getting involved with these strangers and that they might trick you, pick your pockets or otherwise take advantage.
The Romany gypsy calls at the house with her lucky heather or offering to read a fortune. For a moment there is the temptation to believe that some how her very foreign-ness might give her some mystical power or is she just a con artist preying on the vulnerable?
Then came the new age travellers with their convoys of battered vans. Part of us envied their easy going lifestyle, the hint of free love and their go where you will attitude. Part of us resents their camping in that field and the way their vehicles block the road.
Travellers are, we assume, untrustworthy and on the make, and worst still dirty, creating litter and responsible for a spike in the local crime rate. And because we never really get to know them, we never get to know any better. Those who have had the privilege of getting to know them will tell a different story but few want to listen.
Rather, we who are settled seem to have always been suspicious of those who, to us, seem to want to live in an unsettled way. The implication is that to be a traveller means you are always running away from something.
And we react to migrants in exactly the same way. Who are these strange unsettled people? Surely they are on the make, wanting to exploit our benefits system and look at their squalid, untidy camp and their dishevelled clothes.
We forget that they were once, like us, a settled people, who have been uprooted by war, political oppression and desperate poverty. And all they long for is stop being travellers, to no longer be on the move, and be settled once again. They know better than us that there is no glory in the open road. They need not our suspicion but our compassion.
Before we give vent to our distrust of the traveller, the Christian should remember that we are all but pilgrims passing through. All Christians are on a journey and there is no final resting place until we come to heaven. Perhaps if we could remember that we should all sit more lightly on this earth, we might find it in our hearts to be more generous to other travellers we meet along the way.