Shining, or Stark relief

To throw something into stark relief is to have something be compared with something else and become aware of the contrast. A stark relief moment happened this week while driving to work and I came across a collective of guinea fowl crossing over a road in Bellville.


A collective noun for guinea fowl is a ‘confusion’ of guinea fowl. This in and of itself is not unremarkable. I was a little miffed with the wanna-be chickens for blocking my path temporarily.


What is remarkable is that a few minutes before this I had found myself amidst a flock of human drivers, a ‘confusion’ if you will, not dissimilar from guinea fowl and my reaction to them was not as gracious. Not nearly as patient.


There became obvious a similarity in the flocking tendencies of guinea fowl and Cape Town drivers, but also a stark relief.


A stark relief in my reaction to said fowl (or foul driving). And a stark relief when considering how I should react.


A curious Newsboys song comes to mind about the Christian shining their light in the world. The world is dark: morally, spiritually and even unfortunately intellectually and if I or my Christian brothers don’t shine, then the world is going to remain a dark place indeed.


I had to repent of course, but I was also glad that I didn’t have a fish sticker on my car on this particular morning. Having a meltdown in traffic is not very Christ-like.


It’s vital that we remember that aside from occasional errors and selfish meanders, we return to what Christ said about His people:


We are the salt of the earth

We are the light of the world

We are to let our light shine before others

Let your light shine

It occurs to me that our character should be in ‘stark relief’ to the environment around us. The absence of salt or the absence of light is very noticeable: like eating a cold, bland steak in a dark room. Add salt and light and it’s a candlelit dinner with ambience and taste.


If we mess up, we repent and get back on the proverbial horse. This morning: no episodes of craziness on the way to work.


It also occurred to me that my lone light – although making a difference – is more noticeable among a collection of lights, a candelabra of Christians if you will.


It’s good to shine your light, but even better to shine as a collective.


To some people, Stanley Kubrick was a master of film, a figure as broad and artistically authentic as Hitchock.


I’m not one of those. There is but one motion picture directed by Kubrick that is any good, that I would watch when the mood struck me: ‘Full Metal Jacket’. I find the latter half of the movie unremarkable, but the first part is engaging, a celluloid temple to the profane and most ill-tempered of personal insults, a moulding of young men to prepare them for the crucible of war. And that only succeeds because of the casting of R. Lee Ermey as a Gunnery Sergeant at Parris Island.


It’s not for the faint of heart or the refined of ear. But anyone who has watched this movie will remember the Gunnery Sergeant.

Let me see your war face!

The actor who portrayed this loud curmudgeon passed away this week of pneumonia at the age of 74, an undignified passing for a former Marine, but an unfortunately typical one for a man of his age.


The passing of Winnie Mandela in this last fortnight meant very little to me as a South African. The passing of Barbara Bush most recently meant more to me as she was a strong conservative woman and I admired both her husband as well as her son, George W. Bush very much. To my political palate, ’41 and ’43 were decent presidents and decent men.


However it is the passing of R. Lee Ermey that caused me to reflect on a falling tree that is a man. The terrible Tourettes tour-de-force that Ermey brought to his role was forged in his time as a drill sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. For the most part, the US Marines churn out decent men who make it in society, and who also have the benefit of being able to kick bad-guy butt when the situation demands it.


According to a brief bit of research, the Corps can be traced back to the formation of Continental Marines on 10 November 1775 during the Revolutionary war. Thereafter the Marines saw duty against the Barbary pirates in the attempt to take Tripoli.


It makes you think, Tripoli seems to have had its problems for a long time.


The Marine Corps has seen action in every war that America has been a part of: the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and most recently the War on Terror. Stick a pin in a map of the Middle East and odds are Marines have fought bravely there.


I compare the generally quiet and otherwise unremarkable life of R. Lee Ermey with the attention-seeking former FBI director James Comey who has fallen from grace but in a stunning bout of ill-timing decided to release his memoirs, called ‘A Higher Duty’, with what many law enforcement careerists agree is hubris and pettiness.


Washington D.C. is Rome. Back-stabbing, leaks, character assassination, sabotage and outright lying is the norm. James Comey found himself thriving in such an environment. R. Lee Ermey was a soldier and an actor. Not in the typical Hollywood sense where an actor is a hypocrite, akin to a medieval ‘fool’. In later years when Hollywood producers became more aware of his conservative politics, Ermey was black-balled.


He took it like a man. And here is the rub. What Ermey, and other genuine men teach me is that a man has honour.



An unpopular notion, an un-cool idea, but honor: doing the right thing at all times and making it right when you do it wrong.


And that’s what I’ll remember about Gunny.

Thoughts while on camp

Camping out, to me, seems to be a very Biblical thing to do. The command from the Lord in the book of Numbers instructs the children of Israel to live in temporary shelters for a short space of time for Sukkot, or the festival of Tabernacles.


The festival and living in booths relates to the Exodus when the Israelites escaped from Egypt and travelled to Canaan and also to celebrating the harvest.


From the point of view of a suburbanite such as myself, living in a commune in a rural setting provides a fresh context:


Waking up to mooing cattle and bleating sheep instead of traffic and airplanes overhead. Jesus lived in the proximity of animals, mooing cattle and bleating sheep.


Witnessing the Milky Way in all its magnificence, unsullied by light pollution and noise. Glancing at the sky and just wanting to capture it on pixels, by day or night.

To the sound of cattle and sheep in the morning

Disconnecting from excessive television and connecting with people.

Communal supper, South African style

There’s even a higher possibility of simply stumbling into God’s presence without quite realizing it. The quietness is like a water surface in the still of the morning: by it, you can look down and see up.

Reflections in the stillness


The campsite was situated next to a mountain. Why does the Psalmist look to the mountains?

I look to the mountains…
  • Because the eye is drawn to them.
  • Because they are solid landmarks that are never moved.
  • Because they are natural fortresses (the defender on higher ground has the initiative over the attacker).


However, they are inanimate objects rooted to earth, with no feeling or favor for people. Therefore the Psalmist observes that his actual help comes from the Lord, the one who made these things:


Hot words spoken in anger. A higher path not taken, and there you have it: a crime scene, or more properly a ‘sin’ scene desperately roped off from the rest of polite society. An underbelly that would do well to remain unexposed.


Not keeping crime (sin) statistics, I don’t know what the tally is, but once again, the serial killer of sin strikes and there is a mess to deal with.


Perhaps it’s the sheer number of crime procedural shows on television – NCIS, CSI, NYPD Blue, Law & Order – but when I examine the scene of one of my moral failings, it evokes a crime scene.

No, not the trademark name for Chuck Norris’ left and right legs…the TV series

Blood. Shell casings. Spilled coffee. Garbage. And a plastic barrier separating the scene from the public for detectives to manage and investigate.


Why do I investigate the scene of the crime? To catch the killer (sin) and make sure it never strikes again. To pick apart the elements of the sin and analyse how it happened to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.


And yet it keeps on happening.


Apart from the detectives, one of the aspects of crime that might make an interesting television series is the crime scene cleaners: the clean-up of blood, bodily fluids and other potentially infectious materials. This is known in the business as CTS decon.


I’m not sure whether Mike Rowe has ever gotten his hands dirty on a job like this, but the fact that people have this all sussed out is in one way admirable, but also kind of creepy.


The idea of mounds of bio-hazardous material for disposal evokes for me Isaiah’s message to Israel, that their righteous acts are considered as filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6).


A perpetual crime scene is the default state of our hearts, but we clean it up and pretend that everything is sanitized. This pretence, this self-righteousness, is where the idea of filthy rags comes from.


It’s a mess that we cannot handle. I think it’s extremely interesting (and counter-intuitive) that in God’s way of doing things, it’s the blood of Christ that cleanses us.


Walking in the light and letting our sins be known to God (who knows anyway, so why are we trying to hide in some Adamic fail?) results in his blood cleansing us:


It’s a lesson that I have to learn regularly – to be honest with God and stop trying to hide the evidence, and adios the blood and gore. In His great mercy, he applies the blood of Christ and the scene of that crime against God (the crucifixion) means that my particular crime scene is cleansed.


In the same vein as Mike Rowe’s television series ‘Dirty Jobs’ you might say that God gets his hands mussed by doing the dirty job of cleaning up our lives. You’ve got to be impressed with that level of mercy.