Monday, July 31, 2006


We drove 3000km across our country. And just about every dorp and town has a prominent koppie or ridge with a fluorescent cross planted on it. These are particularly visible to the traveller at night. I suspect that Christian people think this is a way of witnessing to their faith in Jesus….and wonder if the people who erect these Christian symbols ever ask what people of other faiths experience when they see this.

I recently read a letter from Dr Thillayvel Naidoo, a Hindu, who comments as follows about his experience of Christian witnessing:
Hindus would welcome a display of willingness on the part of Christians to at least begin to understand that others too have a perspective on life that is worthy of much recognition….Surely proselytizing religions will yet reach a stage in history when they will develop the maturity of outlook they lack at present...We hope this means too that disrespectful missionaries from other faiths will stop trying to convert us to their religions.”

I wonder if the towns that display the fluorescent crosses will encourage Muslims, Hindus, Jews and people of other faiths to erect their religious symbols in a lighted form that appropriately matches the Christian crosses.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I Don't Understand

I hated mathematics at school - in fact I ducked out of school and went surfing at Glen Beach during the maths lessons. Suffice to say that I don't understand maths. But that does not prevent me from appreciating the symmetry in numbers:

1 x 8 + 1 = 9
12 x 8 + 2 = 98
123 x 8 + 3 = 987
1234 x 8 + 4 = 9876
12345 x 8 + 5 = 98765
123456 x 8 + 6 = 987654
1234567 x 8 + 7 = 9876543
12345678 x 8 + 8 = 98765432
123456789 x 8 + 9 = 987654321

1 x 9 + 2 = 11
12 x 9 + 3 = 111
123 x 9 + 4 = 1111
1234 x 9 + 5 = 11111
12345 x 9 + 6 = 111111
123456 x 9 + 7 = 1111111
1234567 x 9 + 8 = 11111111
12345678 x 9 + 9 = 111111111
123456789 x 9 +10= 1111111111

9 x 9 + 7 = 88
98 x 9 + 6 = 888
987 x 9 + 5 = 8888
9876 x 9 + 4 = 88888
98765 x 9 + 3 = 888888
987654 x 9 + 2 = 8888888
9876543 x 9 + 1 = 88888888
98765432 x 9 + 0 = 888888888


And finally, take a look at this symmetry:

1 x 1 = 1
11 x 11 = 121
111 x 111 = 12321
1111 x 1111 = 1234321
11111 x 11111 = 123454321
111111 x 111111 = 12345654321
1111111 x 1111111 = 1234567654321
11111111 x 11111111 = 123456787654321
111111111 x 111111111 =12345678987654321

I also don't understand the Creator of life. But that does not prevent me from appreciating the gift of life. And this appreciation keeps me searching for clues about the Originator.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Dirt on the Mirror

Telescopes are amazing things. They help us to see that which is unclear with new clarity. The best telescope in the world is SALT, and is to be found at Sutherland, South Africa.

SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) uses mirrors to reflect light from space into a computer. These polymer mirrors are treated to a Kodak polish, and layered with aluminium...all at a cost of R300 000 per mirror. There are 91 of them. And they gradually gather a layer of dust. This is not solved by whipping out a Kleenex, because this would damage the aluminium surface. So every two years they are taken out and the aluminium is replaced. And clarity is restored.

And I thought of St. Paul's idea (2 Cor 3:18) that God's beauty is reflected into our lives. But I know that God's reflection in my life becomes obscured by my self-interest and my fears. I also know that I become used to this dirt. It becomes part of the way I see life, and the way others see me. And then people no longer see God in me, and I lose sight of God.

I am indebted to faithful friends who act as my spiritual maintenance crew: Jenny, Peter, and Kevin are amongst those who confront this dirty mirror with cleansing honesty. And I am grateful.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Slowly but Surely

Paternoster caught the scent on the morning breeze. Slowly he moved his head from side to side as he tested the strength of the attraction. Finally he made up his mind. It definitely was female, and he wanted to meet her. So he set off, out of town into the Karoo veldt. The object of his desire lived on the farm of Sheila Snyman, some 10 km outside of Carnarvon. This distance did not deter Paternoster. His attention never wavered, and many days after disappearing from under a bush in town, he arrived at the back door of the farmhouse – determined to meet the new mountain tortoise that Shela had been given. The product of this adventure was Bloukraans. He is a 16 year old mountain tortoise, who has now translocated from Carnarvon to Cape Town.

We spent the night at “Out of Africa”, a B&B in Carnarvon run by Marie Jacobs. She is hospitable, gregarious, and very helpful (even to posting Jessica's shoes left under the bed. Armed with her directions to Sheila Snyman’s tortoise farm, we set off on a farm road into the veldt. We missed the farm – by 30 km! Eventually the driver (me, male) conceded that we needed to ask directions, and we stopped at a farmhouse where we were put right. The amazingly friendly farmer could not understand why we did not first have a cup of tea before going back along the road to the tortoise farm. But we, the city people, had things to do. We needed to see the tortoises, have lunch at the local cafĂ© on the square, and get to Douglas. So we declined the offer of tea. Little did we know that we would engage in a leisurely walk among 60 or so tortoises, and then chafe under the unhurried hospitality of the lunch venue.

Sheila Snyman is an expert on Mountain Tortoises, and published the definitive South African Mountain Tortoise book 1987. We learned about their mating habits (the female can store male sperm for up to 4 years), the egg-laying process (they are stored inside the top of the shell while a hole is dug to lay them), and the rings on the shell that denote each year of age (much like a tree). And Sheila gave us Bloukraans, who now has residence under a bush in the back garden.

I was reminded of the story of the tortoise and the hare from Aesop’s Fables: I, from the city, wanted to get through the day. The people of Carnarvon, however, wanted to meet us. The former required time frames and deadlines. The latter asked connecting and building relationships. I, the hare, wanted to get to the goal. Paternoster proved that the tortoise approach can also reach a goal – but with greater texture to the journey.

Monday, July 17, 2006


The Farm is called Dwaalfontein – literally translated as “wandering fountain”. To be in a dwaal can also mean to be "zoned out", to be elsewhere, or to be mentally in neutral.

Dwaalfontein is just outside of Hanover, exactly halfway between Johannesburg and Cape Town. And we were booked into the guest house. Van Zyl and Jolene Venter run the place. Van Zyl is a sheep farmer and is the seventh generation in his family to farm this land. Jolene runs the guest house, and loves this life. She spoke of the joy she finds in the business of sheep farming, and how she loves working with the meat, and making sausages, and making soap from animal fat, and the thrill of the auction. She tells of her love for her young son, and her contentment at the wide open spaces, and her four Labrador dogs, and the interaction with the wild game on the farm. The only word to describe this is "passion". Jolene, who lives without the ready comforts of a city, lives life passionately and joyfully.

And I wondered at myself, who lives with every modern amenity that the city life can offer. I wondered at how easily I can dwaal around in the city, and how Jolene can live with such passion in the middle of nowhere.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Road Less Travelled

Our aim was to drive from Cape Town to Johannesburg without using the National Highway. And so we set off on a route that combined our English Colonial past with  Afrikaner political history: we drove through Ceres,  Sutherland (the coldest place in the country), Fraserburg, Loxton, Carnarvon, Prieska, Douglas, Kimberly, Boshoff, Hertsogville, Bothaville, Viljoenskroon, Parys & (an unavoidable bit of highway) Johannesburg.

At least half of this was on gravel roads. The rest were minor roads. All were the kind of roads that don't have one-stop stations dispensing fuel and fast foods. They were the kind of roads that have no container-bearing transport trucks; roads that have people who wave as we pass by; roads that go through towns rather than around their perimeters; roads that require us to pay attention to the river crossings, the stunning views of the onder and bo karoo, and of wild game alongside the Northern Cape roads. We took three days, and learned something new from each place we stayed the night - bits of which I will offer in subsequent blogspace. We arrived at our destination wiser, more curious, and refreshed.

Robert Frost writes of choosing roads to travel: 'I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference' I find this a useful analogy: it is only when I choose to step out of the well worn paths of my life that I  learn new things.

Of course this is hard. And uncomfortable. And I become afraid. But if I am unwilling to be challenged by new roads in life then I will slowly shrivel and die. In the words of M Scott Peck (from whom I borrowed the title of this weblog):
A life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged.
To my friends and enemies - please challenge me. Vigorously and often. I have unknown roads yet to travel....and much still to learn