Psalm 28:7–8 The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Isaiah 43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
Much of my orientational focus is eastwards towards what is happening in Japan and China, but more recently I have been looking in a more northerly direction. Is it, I wonder, due to the fact that the other two-thirds of my family have been watching in their spare time over the past weeks (months?) the epic Netflix series “Vikings”. I remember watching a couple of the early episodes on a long haul flight to Shanghai a few years ago and having been struck (apologies for the pun) by the extreme violence of these marauding perpetrators of pillage, death and destruction.
What truth is there in it? They certainly were fearsome warriors and may have been motivated by greed, though they were also engaged no doubt in a daily struggle for survival in extremely tough conditions. They were the epitome of the indomitable human spirit: their belief in a future that might lie elsewhere in the world yet to be discovered made of them the most brilliant explorers, seamen and navigators. As for the major characters, Ivar the Boneless was a Viking Chieftain who suffered from osteogenesis imperfecta (“brittle bone disease”) who dreamt not only of pillage, but also of conquest. Amongst his other prizes most notably in Ireland and Scotland, he is credited with the successful capture of the city of York, then the capital of Northumbria, in 866. Whether he was actually Ivar Ragnarsson, one of the sons of the Danish King Ragnar Lothbrok and whether or not he was transported into battle on some early form of the Sedan chair is less clear.
Why Ragnar’s surname did not bear the traditional Scandinavian patronymic suffix “-sson” is also a mystery to me. The Icelandic husband of a friend of ours living in Rawdon, Rafn Kjartansson, was therefore the son of Kjartan and he Karlsson, the son of Karl, who was himself son of Steingrimm and so on and so forth! Similarly, a suffix (“-dóttir”) is used for females, so the first female Prime minister of Iceland was Johanna Sigurdardóttir and the current holder of the post Katrín Jakobsdóttir.
Another fascinating Netflix TV series I have been watching recently is the one co-hosted by Zak Efron (once of “High School Musical”) and Darin Olien, vegan and superfood enthusiast. They also visited the “Land of Fire and Ice” to see how this tiny nation has harnessed the natural elements to the extent that their energy needs are provided 100% by renewable energy. One power plant they saw was able to produce from one 45-megawatt turbine sufficient power for 45000 homes! That is the rough equivalent of a third of the population of Reykjavik, the country’s largest city, and capital, home to about 123000 souls and itself accounting for approximately 30% of the total population of Iceland. This “new way of looking at the world’s resources comes highly recommended, though I would warn you of the cataclysmic comclusion!
This is beginning to sound like a “best of/editor’s choice” of the most interesting and edifying media offerings over the past few months, but there is a point to it, I can assure you of that!
In the past couple of weeks “Desert Island Discs” featured Jens Stoltenberg, who became NATO Secretary General in October 2014, following a distinguished international and domestic career. As a former Prime Minister of Norway and UN Special Envoy, Mr. Stoltenberg has been a strong supporter of greater global and transatlantic cooperation.
Under Mr. Stoltenberg’s leadership, NATO has responded to a more challenging security environment by implementing the biggest reinforcement of its collective defence since the Cold War, increasing the readiness of its forces and deploying combat troops in the eastern part of the Alliance. He believes in credible deterrence and defence while maintaining dialogue with Russia. NATO has also stepped up its efforts in the fight against terrorism. He strongly supports a partnership approach, with cooperation between NATO and the European Union reaching unprecedented levels.
Before coming to NATO, he was the UN Special Envoy on Climate Change from 2013 to 2014. He has also chaired UN High-level Panels on climate financing and the coherence between development, humanitarian assistance and environmental policies.
As Prime Minister of Norway, Mr. Stoltenberg increased the defence spending and transformed the Norwegian armed forces with new high-end capabilities and investments. He also signed an agreement with Russia on establishing maritime borders in the Barents and Polar Sea, ending a 30-years dispute. Mr. Stoltenberg was also Prime Minister during the deadly terrorist attacks, which killed 77 people in Oslo and Utøya on 22 July 2011, urging in response, “more democracy, more openness, and more humanity, but never naïvete”. This was a particularly difficult time for Stoltenberg as he had always attended the labour youth congress on the island of Utøya, devastated by the rampage of the far-right extremis Anders Brevik. He spoke passionately about his motivations, love of his country and his family and especially of his younger sister, Nini, a recovering heroin addict who died during a relapse.
Norman Smith, a familiar voice on Radio 4 for many years announced that Thursday 30th July who be the last day for this most distinguished of journalists, since 2011 the BBC’s Assistant Political Editor. He spoke of the last 30 years as “calamitous”, listing many of the earth-shattering events over that period. It seems that, although Smith will not be there to comment publicly on them, we are set for a continuing time of flux, transition, upheaval.
It occurs to me also that Stoltenberg is right and indeed has hit the nail on the head: we need more true democracy and accountability, we must be more open with each other, we have to learn to cooperate in a much more effective way, being much more aware of our human fragility. However, we must look in all directions and we must tackle head-on those that would challenge freedom and democracy, be they in Russia, China, the US, the UK and indeed anywhere in the world. We do this by talking, not by aggressive posturing. The alternative is the complete devastation of the world as we know it, as the power to allow this lies in our hands!
Such waste – making all the mistakes once and again, each generation making the same mistakes, fumbling in ignorance and darkness.
Our lives are not long,
but long enough to learn.
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16–18
Peter Lambert – August 2020