Monday, July 29, 2013

My Indonesian Experience in a Nut Shell

If I was to be honest, when I arrived in Yogyakarta, I was really nervous and a little frightened. I was excited to get the Luce Scholarship; however, that moment was also bitter sweet. Before coming to Indonesia, the longest that I have ever left the United States was a week, and even in these trips, I was always with friends who shared common beliefs and goals. My experience in Indonesia was completely different; I left my comfort zone alone and for a very long period of time. I entered a foreign country where I had no familiarity either culturally or individually. This was my most difficult challenge to overcome; however, with the new friends that I made as well as the cultural experiences, the homesickness was cured. Once that was accomplished I began to realize many things about myself, life, and especially Indonesia.
            My religious background is Christian, but I attend Florida International University and am a student in religious studies. My primary focus in my studies is Islam and this made Indonesia a great opportunity for me to visit and study. Prior to my experience in Indonesia, I fell into the same trap as many other people do concerning Islam. I always thought that Islam mostly revolved around the Middle East. I thought that the Middle East was what all of Islam represented. Thus, this was one of my first lessons in coming to Jogja. Indonesia is the largest Muslim majority nation in the world. It contains more Muslims then every nation in the Middle East combined and within it is a multitude of voices and interpretations of Islam.
            The reason why I chose to study Islam is because I have a desire to share with the masses. There are many people that look at Islam in a negative aspect. When some hear the term Muslim, terrorism and Osama bin Laden comes to mind. Indonesia destroys this misconception. Islam is not a monolithic story; there is not just one interpretation. On the contrary, Islam is more of a Mosaic that holds numerous interpretations and outlooks. This is true when it even comes to the interpretation of the Quran. Some people in Indonesia look at the Quran as promoting exclusivism, while others see it as promoting pluralism. Others see Islam as a perfect way to govern society, while others see flaws that will bring injustice and corruption.
            There is one specific event that exemplifies this during my stay in Indonesia. One evening, a group of Luce students went to see Cak Nun speak. It was a very powerful evening. None of us realized the honor that we were given to be in the presence of this very famous individual. Cak Nun led an event that reminded me of an evangelical conference. There was music, jokes, preaching, etc. There were also hundreds of Muslims in attendance. There was a lot that happened during this evening; however, there are not nearly enough pages to record its entirety. What stood out were the beliefs of Cak Nun. He categorized himself as a Muslim; however, he stated that even claiming that he was a Muslim did not really come close to what he really believed. He believed that once you categorize religion, you categorize God. His view was that God is so much more then Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc. In actuality, all these religions were manifestations of truth that attempted to describe God and the ways of God. Not even the Prophet Muhammad had it all together. This is definitely not an orthodox way of thinking.
            This event also helped confirm an idea that I already held: salvation and faith is a complex phenomenon. I know many people who are very exclusivistic in their ideas of faith and salvation and there are plenty who would state that Islam, or any other religion for that matter, is a lie. In some of their interpretations, Muslims’ are deceived and in the end will be judged by God. Before coming to Jogya, I held a conviction that salvation and religion is not so simple; on the contrary, it is very complex. During the time with Cak Nun, there was a major prayer session where hundreds of Muslims were crying out to God during a prayer of intercession, many of which had tears streaming down their face. It was a beautiful and powerful moment. To hold a view of salvation and religion with such simplicity is a major error. It reveals a deep ignorance (or maybe even arrogance) of the individual. Though I am not Muslim, there was no doubt in my mind that those individuals were experiencing something very powerful. It was their desires, hopes, dreams, etc., put into a powerful cry to Allah. This event for them was not a lie, nor a deception, but an experience of the Divine.
            The problem to seeing religion as exclusive is due to the fact that the majority of these individuals don’t personally know people of differing faiths. This is something that I explicitly learned from my trip to Indonesia. When an individual has no interaction or relations with people of other religions, it becomes easy to reject their ideas, culture, and religion as a fallacy. It is a completely different situation when these different ideas or religions have a face associated with them. This was one of the main points in my interfaith class that I took at ICRS. Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., have something very powerful in common; they are all human. Each individual, both religious and nonreligious, are trying to figure out meaning and purpose for their lives. They are all on a journey and find hope in different things. Some find it in Allah while others find it in Krishna or Jesus. This actually resonates deeply with me because I personally believe that it is impossible to ‘know somebodies heart’. It is easy to make a fast judgment on someone; it is much more difficult to try to understand them.
            The last thing to be discussed is another interesting element in Indonesian society: syncretism. From my observations, there seems to be syncretism in almost every religion I encountered, at least to some degree. I was previously familiar with religion syncretism with culture, and I encounter it a lot in America; however, I never really experienced religion syncretizing with religion, I mean I was aware that it occurred, but I never seen it practiced. One example was found in an outdoor catholic church. From my experiences in Catholic churches, there are usually a plethora of Christian symbols being represented. There are crosses, statues of saints, and other religious symbols being represented all over the building; however, at this Catholic Church, there were only a couple of Christian symbols that I could see. Most of the symbols were of Hindu and Javanese ( a large culture within Indonesia) origin. It was very interesting and this church was a very popular one. Also, outside the Church was a Hindu temple, and usually within the temple there is a statue of a deity to whom people will pay their respects to. Within this temple was not a Hindu god or goddess, it was Jesus! That honestly blew my mind. It seemed like it brought multiple cultures together into communion. It was really fascinating to experience.

            These few things that I mentioned barely cover my experience as a whole. I also learned a lot through relationships with people of differing faiths and even from the unique architecture of different temples. Stating everything in writing is too vast for this little report; however, this experience is something that I will never forget. Through my trip to Indonesia I have become more knowledgeable in my field of studies, but even more importantly, I have become a better and loving person because of realizing that people are just that: people. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pain and Loss

On July 24th, 2013, my cousin Joe Sweeney passed away. He left behind a wife and children. Currently my family is mourning for a loss that weighs on their hearts. I am also in this category. I have not seen my cousin for about 10 years, but I remember the joy and even the trouble he would bring when I was little lol. I also know that he was very loved by my family and I know how close my family is in the North and I know that they are all feeling pain. My heart breaks along with them and my prayers will continue to go out for them.
  Losing a loved one is traumatic and there is no word to describe the pain and heartache that follows. While the world continues to turn, it seems that your world suddenly stops. When my best friend, and who I still consider my brother Devon Monivis, passed away, my world again froze. People would offer their sincerest apologies but their lives would continue to move on. The fact of the matter is that loss happens every day, from the controversial death/murder of Trayvon Martin to the person who just died of starvation in Africa with the ending of this sentence. Death plagues our society. Yes, some of it is natural; however, much of it is not. There is too much murder, too many ‘accidents’, too many rapes, too many drug overdoses, and too much violence. There is too much pain, and yet, while all of these things happen, the world moves on virtually unaware of the morbid reality that millions (if not a couple of billion) face.
  Jesus calls us to mourn with those who are mourning. In order to mourn, one has to try to understand that pain. There are those ‘fake apologies’ that really bother me when a loss happens close to home. These are the ones who just say sorry for your loss like it’s an obligation. Then there are those who really put in effort to help bring comfort. They will cook you food, spend time with you, etc. Maybe the way that will help us to truly mourn with others is to place one of our loved ones in the shoes of the deceased. How would you feel if your child died of a drug overdose, how would you feel if there was a horrible car accident with someone you love in the car? What would you do if your mother or brother was dying from cancer? What would be your response if your newborn child suddenly died from some complication? Even with these thoughts, it is only a start to feeling the pain. No amount of imagination (unless you actually have experienced the same type of loss yourself) can come close to the reality of the pain. Yet, Jesus still tells us to stop and mourn with others. He does not want us to ignore the people dying in poverty; he does not want us to ignore the homeless or the drug attics. He wants us to be proactive and help them. He wants us to bring comfort to the hurting, healing to the sick, and clothing to the naked. So I encouraged you today, be aware of someone’s pain , pray for them and sincerely seek to love them.
  I also want to encourage those who are hurting at the moment of reading, comfort will come. Though the loss will always be there, the pain can be healed and love can fill that gaping hole. =)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” –Mathew 5:4