Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld


Inspired by recent blogging by my friend Jason Goroncy I’ve been reading the above title.  At various times I’ve picked it up and read bits of it over the years.  Finally got to the end.  Hammarskjöld blogged a very dense ‘sound-bite’ spirituality over a life-time.  I found the first part of the journal difficult.  It was an unsympathetic spirituality for me, very aristocratic and elitist.  The second half that I have been reading recently mark his conversion to Christianity.  A book of conversion narratives I have on my bookshelf includes extracts from pages 87-94 from Markings beginning with the first of Yes! statements and ending with Psalm 139:8, a journey in time through the years 1953-1954.

I have lingered over passages, savouring their their words and extracting as much meaning from them as possible.  The first theme I found was Hammarskjöld’s awareness of his own mortality and his movement to seeking affirmation in life.

Night is drawing nigh — How long the road is.  But for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed  every second of it in order to learn what the road passes — by.

— Night is drawing nigh —

For all that has been — Thanks!

To all that shall be — Yes!

To say Yes to life is at one and the same time to say Yes to oneself.

Yes — even to that element in one which is most unwilling to let itself be transformed from a temptation into a strength.

— Night is drawing nigh —

Let me finish what I have been permitted to begin.

Let me give all without any assurance of increase.

The pride of the cup is in the drink, its humility in the serving. What, then do its defects matter?

To say Yes is never more difficult than when circumstances prevent you from rushing to the defence of someone whose purity of heart makes him defenceless before an attack.

We dare your Yes — and experience a meaning.

You repeat your Yes — and all things acquire a meaning.

When everything has a meaning, how can you live anything but a Yes.

Night is drawing nigh —

Each day the first day : each day a life.

Each morning we must hold out the chalice of our being to receive, to carry, and to give back. It must be held out empty — for the past must only be reflected in its polish, its shape, its capacity.

. . . and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask, vouchsafe to give us . . .

Yes to God: yes to Fate: yes to yourself. This reality can wound the soul, but has power to heal her.

Endless the series of things without name

On the way back to where there is nothing.

Two other passages caught my attention.  Two passages suggested to me Hammarskjöld an awareness of living in the Holy Trinity:

Righteous in Thine eyes,

With Thy courage,

Within Thy peace.

Before Thee, Father,

In righteousness and humility,

With Thee, Brother

In faith and courage,

In Thee, Spirit,

In stillness.

These are values to which Hammarskjöld would return again and again in his meditations.  This is a book I will return.  Let me wrestle from it such values as its writer discovered.

Doctor Who: Cold War

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“Life’s too short”, and defrosting an Ice Warrior from its corpsicle is an effective way of making it shorter!

Enter the Doctor, in the middle of a crisis; and exit the Tardis.  Is this related to its doors jamming to refuse Clara access last week?  Or is it playing games?

It’s behind you!  The monster of the week is revealed quickly.  That’s sudden.  A Grand Marshall of the Ice Warriors, with inbuilt sonic weaponry, classic!  Re-imagined Who establishes Ice Warriors as Martians in cyborg-armour.  The cyborg reference is new.  The adventure takes advantage of the new description as the Grand Marshall shucks his armour and runs amuck in a Cold-War Russian submarine like some sort of Cybermat.  We never get a complete look at an unarmoured Ice Warrior, just its face, which is rudimentary, and its arms, which look like E.T.  A small-fast alien perhaps?  What distinguishes Ice Warriors from either Cybermen or Sontarans now?  Nevertheless, even without its armour, it’s fast and strong.

It thinks it is the last of the Ice Lords, with nothing to lose, not even it’s own code of honour considering the way it exposes itself without its armour.  In the end its lost species proves to be still out there, among the stars, in the future.  Quite literally they break through the ice.  We never get to see the modern Ice Warriors, or the interior of their ship.  They leave without revealing themselves.

It turns out the Tardis disappeared because the Doctor re-activated the Hostile Action Defense System (HADS).  That’s the first time I think it has been referenced in the television series since Doctor Who and the Krotons back in the days of the second Doctor.

Guest star appearance goes to David Warner as a Russian Scientist with a taste for Ultravox and Duran Duran.

With the end of the analogue signal my television has succumbed to the blue screen of death and that’s the end of my Doctor Who reviews for now.

Child Poverty in New Zealand

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I have already blogged about Child Poverty in New Zealand at The Irrefutable Proof About Hobbits last year.  It is a surprise to be doing it again after hearing similar things said at a forum hosted by my friends at the Centre for Theology and Public Issues.  Haven’t we fixed this problem?  Apparently not!

I learned two things before the lecture started:

  1. The technology available in the Archway lecture theatres makes an interesting popping noise when changing between programmes; and re-assuringly,
  2. other people have problems with hardware too.

The Expert Advisory Group on Child Poverty introduced two definitions of poverty: material deprivation and low income.  There are other definitions of deprivation causing poverty.  These are the two they used.

Poverty rates in New Zealand are higher now than they were in the 1980s.  This is caused by:

  • Parental unemployment and under-employment
  • Low income and work at a minimum wage
  • Policy design issues

Child poverty is reducing prosperity in New Zealand.  Income support and child support is not taken up by the government.  This is for all children.  It’s time to change the agenda!  The political wind is blowing in the wrong direction.  It’s time to take a stand in the manifesto bidding wars.

Liz Craig, Director of the New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service,  talked about family history.  Her great-grandmother was recorded in the case studies of the Otago Benevolent Society of the Nineteenth Century.  She was a widow supporting nine children, two of which initially were bringing in income.  The Otago Benevolent Society based their assessment on what the family were doing and could they meet their rent.  The widowed mother had a mangle and could earn some income using it.  The case officer would assess what she was doing for her situation and whether it was felt that she was counted among the deserving poor.  If the case officer felt she was not doing enough to provide for herself and her family the society’s benevolence to her would be reduced.  This situation lasted in New Zealand until 1935 when the minimum family wage was introduced as benevolence was unsustainable during the Great Depression.

How do we frame issues to positively express the liberal story of care?  How do we frame income adequacy for families?  How do we start a new, vulnerable, innocent generation ‘climbing to the light’?  We make it public agenda — politicians should be accountable.

How do we convince middle, male, New Zealand to take the issue of our country’s human capital seriously.  Male New Zealand needs to take the issue of our children and families’ welfare seriously.  According to Professor Jonathan Boston the attendance at the forum of one-third made up of men is actually a high percentage in such a discussion.

And we need music.  Les Miserables which I used above is a start.  There needs to be more songs.  ‘This Child Is Your Child’.

I think I might have to do some letter-writing.  I can think of several Members of Parliament who need to hear from me!

Doctor Who and the Rings of Akhaten

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Somebody can’t spell Akhenaten?

It’s cold, it’s autumn.  Yes, I’m feeling that right now.  A background story introduces Clara’s parents.  Yes, I’m aware of the significance of the date on the tombstone.  It’s the date the mannequins attacked London in the first story of the re-imagined series.  Is there a connection between the Doctor’s return to Earth after the Time War and the Oswald family?

The sound of a TARDIS landing.  Cue a slow smile from Clara.

Where would you like to go? Well, if it had been my choice I would like to have travelled back to Eighteenth Century London and gone to a concert with Handel.  That would be nice.

Instead we arrive at the Rings of Akhaten.  There are supposed to be seven worlds which seem to be planetoid-sized and capable of supporting life in the Rings around a central star, and a gravity that appears normal for the Doctor and Clara.  Curiously enough all the buildings we see face the same way up on the worlds we see and that is the same as the angle that the TARDIS lands for our perspective of the Rings.

The Doctor last visited the Rings of Akhaten with his granddaughter.  That is probably a reference to his first travelling companion called Susan Foreman.  We know she came from the same homeworld as the Doctor.  Presumably she was of the Time Lord caste.  The Elder god of Akhaten is known as the Grandfather.  This is Science Fiction, never trust anything that calls itself a god.

Why did the TARDIS lock?  Is there something special about this child?

One thing you need to know, well apart from the blue box and the two hearts.  I don’t walk away.

The Doctor is very attached to his sonic screwdriver.  A bit of an issue on a world where objects of sentimental value counts as currency.  Come on, Doctor, give it the magic wand shtick.  You have managed without it in the past.

The Doctor makes a promise.  Cross my hearts.  Both of them.

What’s too much for a psychic vampire?  The secrets in the Doctor’s head?  An artefact that represents all the stories that cannot be fulfilled?

The Doctor refers to visiting a universe where the laws of physics are made by a madman.  Is that a reference to Omega, the architect of the Time Lords, forever trapped in an anti-matter universe?

Once again the Doctor stands in between the children and the monsters in the darkness who claim to be gods.  The ending became confused to me.  I don’t know if I trust this Doctor now.  He has all the secrets of the universe from its beginning to the end of time in his head.  He stands among the gods that he protects us from.  Never trust a hero who knows the things that should not be learnt.  They need to be challenged, why not?  Why should they say what’s good for us!

I am disappointed that so little time could be spent exploring the cultures of the Rings of Akhaten.  That part was over all too quick.

The Locational History of Lunatic Asylums in Nineteenth Century Scotland: Uncovering the Ideal District Asylum ‘Blueprint’


This was a lecture by Kim Ross, a visiting student from the University of Glasgow, to the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies.  It was an introductory lecture and had to cover a lot of material lightly.  It has something to say about the history of Lunatic Asylums and Mental Health in New Zealand too.

When this period of building for Lunatic Asylums  began in Scotland of 1857 the authorities began a plan to create 21  district asylums around industrial and urbanised Scotland.  They were medium-sized institutions, neither cottage asylums, nor the county asylums that existed in south of the border in England.  They were intended to be built in semi-rural areas away from the stimulus of the cities while close enough to house the patients.  They were separate from society, places of care and therapy for lunatics, and meant to be self-supporting.

Opinion changed over fifteen years of annual reports until the final districts were established.  It was observed that keeping patients out of the cities didn’t make much difference and the asylum became closer to the city.  It became evident that some patients were incurable.  The places that were built had to become permanent home environments for them, to a given model of a middle-class home, which was not necessarily familiar to every patient.

It is interesting to note that in Otago SeaviewSeacliff, a similar institution at the end of this period, gave way to housing patients at Cherry Farm, now Hawksbury Village.  This in turn lasted for a generation until in recent history the intellectually handicapped are housed in community homes in Dunedin.  While the community homes are in suburban residential areas they may prove to be no less institutional than what has gone before them.  What will be the next change in opinion?

Kim Ross’s studies can be followed on WordPress at Asylum Geographies.

Salvation and Soil: Martyn Percy

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Some thoughts from an excellent lecture hosted by the Abbey College and the Centre for Theology and Public Issues:

Practical theology is theology arising from story-telling.  All theology begins in the middle of things, in media res.

Much to our delight the lecturer read samples of the Archdeacon Returns of Reformation England.  What church wardens didn’t say is “We miss the old religion”, or praise the new reformed Anglicanism.  What they did say was “When will you do something about sending us a properly licensed priest, and what are you going to do about the state of our church buildings?!”  At the height of the Age of Religion most people knew as much about their religion as the average person of today.

Every Christian that ever lived, lived in modern times.  You may think it was the past, but for them it happens right now.

What does ‘compulsory’ mean for us? “There is a ‘firm expectation’ that you will attend this meeting.  Please advise my personal assistant if you are unable.”  If that is what ‘compulsory’ means for us, then what is compulsory in religion?  Religion becomes a consumer product.  We choose our favourite.  If that doesn’t work, then what’s your second favourite religion?

Soil is something that grows stuff.  In te reo Maori, whenua is both ‘land’ and ‘placenta’.  The discrete palate can taste the flavour of the land, its make-up, in the wine.  If it’s not from Champaigne, then it’s white sparkling bubbly.  Each church has its own ground of being.

You are the salt of the earth.  That’s not salting the earth to make it sterile, or salting the meat to preserve it, or salting the chips to make them taste good.  That’s the potassium-rich salts of the Dead Sea.  It’s not true that the Dead Sea is the sea that takes and doesn’t give.  It is rich in minerals to harvest and dig into the soil to replenish the land.  Be a resource that keeps giving back.

Churches are incarnate in an alienating and individualistic society, making contact across generations, ethnicities, cultures, classes…  Jesus hung out with the dirty members of society.

Finally some hints how to read the parallel stories of Jesus with Jairus’s daughter and the hemorrhaging woman: Jairus’s daughter was the same age as the length of time the woman had suffered from her unclean condition; in his role as warden of the synagogue Jairus was responsible with keeping the woman with a hemorrhage out of the domain of cleanliness; when Jesus went “whoa, who touched me?” Jairus was made to wait and suffer, just as he had made the woman wait.  Jesus had words of healing for her.  All things are good.

Stone Spring by Stephen Baxter

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The book that I wanted to read was no longer on the shelf.  This was a setback.  It had been on the shelf the two previous times I had visited the library.  What a conundrum!  Then it occurred to me that the above title had caught my eye.  I took it home.

I’m glad I did as it proved to be a good read.  Set 10 000 years before present Doggerland between England and mainland Europe is still above sea-level.  The tribe that lives by the edge of the sea speak a variant of Basque, their homeland called Etxelur, quite literally home-land.  The end of the Ice Age means the sea is coming in, and these people must find ways of protecting their homeland.

Those who play a part in the story come from as far afield as Jericho and America.  Umm, okay.  A glance at the other books in this trilogy at the library suggests that contact across the Atlantic Ocean happens earlier than we imagine in this time-line.  After a tragic tsunami, movingly written, characters work together to tame the land and sea.  The first sea-walls go up.  Unfortunately they have rivals in their great game for the future of the mesolithic world.

This book is a saga covering at least three generations.  I enjoyed it.  I haven’t read anything like it in a while.  It made a change.  Characters are driven by primal motives.  There is no great morality, only survival, appetite, and revenge.  The rest of the trilogy takes on equally great time-scales.  I look forward to reading them.

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