Sunday, May 26, 2013

Functional Art

Don't you just love this 4-seater bench? Designed so that each alternate person faces the opposite way, making it easier to have a face-to-face conversation while sitting next to each other. But I also just love the detail of the mosaics. Beautiful. I wish there was more functional art like this around Cape Town. This bench is in The Company Gardens.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

How cell phone providers get away with daylight robbery

A few weeks back my phone stopped charging. Now, for anyone who knows anything about me, you will know that I LOVE my phone. I love my social networking, and I love technology, so my phone is an essential part of my life.

Unfortunately, because it goes everywhere with me (except my bedroom when I sleep - radiation fries the brain, you know!) it has wound up getting rather wet at times. Four times, to be precise. Soaked, to be even more precise.

But each time, good 'ol Tastic rice lived up to its name and saved my phone from certain death. In the process, I got quite good at opening my phone and disassembling it, and then reassembling all the parts. The volume button died, so to change the volume I now have to go via the settings page, which is a lus, but to be honest, that's not a huge train smash, because I so seldom watch videos on my phone (and the volume for everything else is already set at a comfortable level), plus there's another short-cut I use for muting and un-muting.

However, there came a day when the connection point for my charger just died. Understandably. (Personally, I think my phone has put up with quite a bit of abuse from me, so I'm rather impressed with it!) But I don't have insurance (I only have life, medical and car insurance... I can't afford any other type of insurance.)

So off I went to my cell phone provider, to see what they would charge me. Firstly, it took them more than a week to give me a quote, because the phone had to be sent to Jo'burg. Ja. Apparently they don't do repairs here in Cape Town. But take a guess at the quote.... go on! Take a guess.

R1783. Let me say that again. R1783. That's nearly the cost of the phone today!

Forget that! There's no way I would pay that amount, even if I could afford it. That's daylight robbery if you ask me.

So I phoned and told them, rather politely, that they were insane, and exactly what they could do with that quote, and, oh yes!, to please send my phone back to me IMMEDIATELY.

Well, 'immediate' must be relative, because it took just over another week to get here. Sigh!

But there's a little cell phone shop in my shopping centre. A very nice, upmarket teeny weeny cell phone shop. What the hell, I thought - it couldn't be worse than what my provider wanted to make me pay. Right? It was worth a look in at least.

You can see where this story is going, right?

Yes, I got the guy in the rather nice, upmarket, teeny weeny cell phone shop to repair my phone.

Firstly, guess how long the repair took? Go on... take a wild guess...

1 day. Less than 24 hours in fact.

And then, guess what I got charged? Seriously - take a guess.



And I'm sure that he put the price UP after hearing my sob story. (When will I learn to lie to salespeople and stop wearing both my heart and my conscience on my sleeve??)

So let me ask you this - if some random little cell phone shop guy can not only fix it PRONTO, but can do it for a 7th of the price, how is it that cell phone shops get away with such daylight robbery???

Because people are suckers.


I hope I never have need of cell phone repairs again (although, maybe I should get my friendly cell phone shop man to look at the volume buttons for me...), but if I do, I know where I'm NOT going.

And nope, Trevor Noah, I won't be telling you about it either.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Does God cause natural disasters?

Before you read this post, please first go and read 5 God Excuses to Avoid After a Natural Disaster (Thanks to Dave Meldrum for sharing.)

Through losing Zoe this is the lesson I have learnt.  There are no easy answers in the face of natural disasters, or tragedies. God did not cause the death of these people. Instead, he weeps alongside those left behind.

So how do we make sense of natural disasters? I believe the answer lies in the "Butterfly phenomenon". Essentially, the world is inherently chaotic, unbelievably complex. For us to be able to track each event, and all of its ramifications, is impossible, even with the most advanced computer.

Because we cannot comprehend the width, depth, height and breadth of the natural events around us, and the complexity of their interactions, we cannot predict, nor can we adequately explain, why natural disasters occur. What we can say is that God is not behind them.

God is not powerless, nor is he capricious. He is all powerful, and all good. However, he is MUCH bigger than we can comprehend. We cannot know why he has not chosen to supernaturally prevent the disaster, except to say (rather inadequately) that sin has warped the natural realm as much as it has our own nature and our relationship with God, and that somewhere therein, lies the reason.

So how do we respond? We do not give up, we do not accuse God, we do not turn our backs on faith, we do not condemn. This feels inadequate. We are not accustomed to being powerless, especially in this age of technology where we can control the very temperature of the air around us. To be reminded that there is something out there bigger and more powerful than we are leaves us feeling small, helpless, inconspicuous.... and we don't like it.

Instead, we respond in love, with tears. There can be no other response. We tread gently, we do not offer pat answers just to fill the space, we weep with those who weep, we mourn with those who mourn, we allow our hearts to be broken as Christ's is, we become Christ's hands and feet as we offer the comfort we ourselves have received from Christ himself. THIS is why Graeme and I continue to run Born Sleeping (or see our website), even though it is heart breaking, and impossibly hard at times.

For if Christians will not step up and be Christ to a weeping world, how can we expect the world to hear the good news that this tragedy (whatever it might be for you) is not the end; this is not all there is; this does not need to define who you are, that life in all abundance is still possible?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Plants aren't as passive as they look

When I was growing up my step-mom used to tell me about stuff she was learning or reading, mostly through the Org (Church of Scientology). One of the stories that stuck in my head was about how plants had been used to identify a murderer - The Secret Life of Plants ( Lyall Watson, a South African, was one of the researchers, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

As a teacher of science, part of me considers this book to be complete trash - pseudoscience at best. Yet, something about this particular story has stuck with me. Plants do react better, albeit anecdotally, to people who treat them well - talk and sing to them, and it's not just about increasing CO2 levels. Science has shown that plants do react to sound.

Since that book was published, other studies have shown that plants do produce stress chemicals - jasmonates are produced when plants become infected, or wounded by herbivory. They are also released into the air as volatile compounds, which nearby plants react to by increasing their own production of jasmonates, in preparation for herbivory or preventing infection. (Nitric oxide is another, also used as a cellular signal to kick-start the immune response in plants.)

What strikes me about this, is that plants whose roots or leaves are not touching are able to communicate with each other, and warn each other about potential impending danger. Recent research also shows that plants appear to be MAKING sounds, with their roots, to communicate with other plants. It appears that some plant roots produce and respond to sound in the 200Hz range (humans hearing range is from 20- 20000 Hz). It has also been shown that plants in danger produce a higher pitch sound than when they are not threatened - the equivalent of screaming or shouting.

 Obviously, there is a lot more going on than we currently understand. But all this begs the question - were Lyall and his cronies onto something? Were they just ahead of the curve? Are plants sentient in some way?

While the Bible is often metaphorical and allegorical in its language, I can't but help thinking of certain texts with fresh eyes now...

Is 55:12 the trees of the field will clap their hands...
Ps 96:12 ...let all the trees of the forest sing for joy...

When the trees clap their hands, when they sing, I wonder... are they wafting praise chemicals around??? It's an interesting thought, isn't it?

Mother's Day is pain for some

Mother's Day, like so many other celebrations, can be a fabulous day, or a torment, depending on one's position and perspective. For those who have children, it's usually a good day, but for those who long for children, it can be a torment. For those of us who have a foot in each camp though, it is a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, we are eternally grateful for the children we have, for the blessing they are in our lives. On the other hand though, Mother's Day only serves to highlight the lack in our lives - the missing children; the ones we have lost to death, the ones we long to have but can't.

Sitting in church on Sunday morning, I was struck by the fact that most of life is lived between two camps. 

A friend adopted a beautiful girl several years ago. For her, Mother's Day is a day to celebrate the fact that she has this beautiful child n her life, but it is also a day of great sadness, thinking about the tragedy that made it necessary for the birth mother to give her child up for adoption. It is also a day of sadness for her, being aced, yet again, with her own inability to be pregnant and give birth.

Another friend is single, and longs for a husband and children of her own. She celebrated the gift her own mother is to her, but weeps that (as yet) God has not chosen to bless her with children of her own.

Then there is the mother whose adult son, a member of our congregation, was tragically shot and killed in a mugging over the weekend. For her, Mother's Day will always be linked to her son's murder....

There is my own story, of nearly losing one child, and then losing the next one, because of a disease I didn't know I had, until it was too late. As a child, I also have two mothers - my birth mother, who raised me and loves me and is an awesome woman; and my step-mother, who loves me despite the fact that for years I thought she was the cause of my parents' divorce. 

For all of us, and for so many more, life is this dichotomy, joy and pain, laughter and tears, celebration and mourning. Yet, in the midst of it all, there is God. 

Losing my child was the most difficult road I have ever had to walk. Those of you who have followed my blog will know the story, the deep questions I had about God, and for God. As I emerged on the other side of grief though, I discovered that through it all, God had been holding me in his hands. Wile I had let go of him, he never let go of me. I learnt that it is possible to praise God in the midst of pain, not FOR the pain, but despite it. 

The tears still fall. The hole in my life is still there. My daughter is still dead. YET will I praise him. I praise him for the gift of motherhood, of children, even though this gift has come with large doses of tears. Love involves grief, it cannot be otherwise, this side of heaven.

Thus, I am always on the look-out for songs that, as the Psalms do, express something of this dichotomy. I often feel that our western style of worship ignores the lament, the worship given in the place of deepest sorrow, because we live in a culture where pain is medicated away, or surgically fixed, and therefore we don't know how to handle the pain of a soul, which cannot be treated so easily.

I recently re-discovered Tim Hughes' song "When the silence falls", popularly known as 'When the tears fall', which is exactly this kind of song. I found two versions on YouTube that I like, for different reasons. Watch them both, and decide for yourself which one you prefer.