The true story of my little Viking man
It was 50 years ago, almost to the day, when I took possession of my little Viking man.
I won him in a 400m race in the university town of Uppsala, just north of Stockholm– the first race of our athletics tour of Scandinavia.
It wasn’t an easy race: I started too slow. Nevertheless I eagerly anticipated an exciting prize; some of the team had already won some impressive stuff. So on the podium I fought back the tears when presented with my little pottery Viking man. I had been hoping for a Rolex.
He came unboxed, I think, and back at the hotel I simply stuck him in the bottom of my blue Adidas bag until I unpacked him on my arrival back home some weeks later.
Not having any use for him I presented him to my Mum who promptly placed him on the mantlepiece, where he remained for some years. When visiting my parents I sometimes gave him a cursory look and wondered why he was still there.
My parents eventually thought the same thing and so one day he was relegated to the garden to stand guard in all weathers as a Viking gnome.
Even there his days were numbered. Eventually he was shoved onto a shelf in the potting shed alongside the empty plant pots, where he remained unseen and uncared for. Eventually one day clearing out the shed, my Mum decided to throw him out.
But first she decided to check with him. “Yes, just bin him,” I replied. Jacqui, however, intervened: “He’s part of your past.” I was concerned that a daughter might cut her hand on his chips. However, on inspection and to my surprise, he was in mint condition.
So we took him home and placed in some remote cupboard.
There he remained until one day Jacqui’s school, where she taught Reception, had a special day for their Swedish visitors; everyone was asked to bring into school something Swedish. “What do we have?” Then I remembered” “What about that little Viking man?”
We eventually found him and off he went, rattling in Jacqui’s resources box to All Saints Becconsall for what turned out to be their IKEA day. There he was placed on display for the Swedish visitors
On entering Jacqui’s classroom, they stopped in their tracks. “Look,” they said in perfect English, “there is a Taisto Kaasinen-designed ceramic, an Upsala Ekeby!” They were stunned to find such a precious work of art abandoned and unappreciated in an English Reception classroom. And sure enough, on inspection our little Viking man was initialled underneath by Taisto Kaasinen himself, that is before he left UE in 1961. Production ceased in 1973. That makes our little Viking man, they explained patiently, even more valuable.
For your info, Taisto Toiro Viljam Kaasinen (I’m glad I’m not reading this aloud) was a noted Finnish-Swedish potter, sculptor and painter; he lived 1918-1980. Look him up on Wikipedia.
So our little Viking Man came home that day wrapped in layers of tissue paper and then carefully placed in the very centre of our mantlepiece, well away from the edge. My very own treasure.
You may have read this week that the river Mersey has, according to Greenpeace, the highest concentration of microplastics than any other river in the country, making it proportionally more polluted than the great Pacific garbage patch. Important because microplastics are at the bottom of the food chain.
For the sad truth is that we are treating our planet as I trashed my little Viking man, oblivious to its value and indifferent to its fate.
But our primary task as human beings is to steward God’s good earth, to rule as regent. The Bible begins: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” (Genesis 1:26)
And the Bible ends with the same vocation: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and father.” (Revelation 1:6)
That is, our fundamental calling is as kings to represent God to his creation and as priests, to represent creation to God. It’s not just an extra, an addendum to our calling to be disciples of Jesus. Caring for God’s good earth as stewards is at the heart of our discipleship.
Reading John Stott’s final book, The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling, I was surprised to read that one of his eight key themes was creation care.
So this leading conservative evangelical wrote: “It seems quite inexplicable to me that there are some Christians who claim to love and worship God, to be disciples of Jesus, and yet have no concern for the earth that bears his stamp of ownership. They do not care about the abuse of the earth and indeed, by their wasteful and over-consumptive lifestyles, they contribute to it.”
We each need a Taisto Kaasinen moment.