Many of you know that, because of a donation from the Teska family – and a donation of three weeks’ time off from the church! – I was able to visit Indonesia three years ago and experience some of that country’s mix of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. A few weeks after I got back I gave my first sermon touching on my experience there. (It was our service on “border crossings,” and I talked about the 1200-year-old Borobudur Temple site in Java, which was only uncovered in 1815 – and how it exemplifies in architecture the Buddhist path to enlightenment.) My plan at that time was to give a future sermon on the other things I learned while in Indonesia, but they are so various and different that I realized it might be difficult to fit all of them into one cohesive service. So I decided to share some of my experiences (and learnings) in a few “Parson to Person” columns.
This is the first installment.
One of the first things you experience when you arrive in Indonesia is the way people drive. It’s truly frightening – until you get used to it, I suppose – which I never did. On a two-lane road, for example, there are always at least three lanes of cars: one lane driving on the left, one on the right, and one right over the middle dotted l line. If that were not scary enough, there are always motorbikes skipping through whatever tiny gaps there may be between the three crowded lanes. (If it’s a one-lane road, there will still be two lanes of cars navigating it. Consequently, a lot of driving is done on the shoulders.)
This seems very dangerous, but we never saw an accident. You might expect there to be a lot of horn honking – and there sort of is, but it’s rather subdued. That is, horns are generally honked, but only to let the driver ahead of you know you are closing in (so they will have a chance to pull over to the right or the left and let you through). So the honk is not usually prolonged and it is not used to “punish” another driver for doing something bad, but rather to prevent something dangerous. In general, car and bike drivers do move over when honked at, with no sign of irritation. It’s a very cooperative experience.
Still, of course, the driving can be very close, and I could barely stand to look out the window when we were driving slowly through an alley with only inches between our car and the ones on either side. All the side mirrors were pulled in to keep them from being knocked off, and a lot of driving was done on edges of holes and ravines (with sounds of “thunk-thunk” as our car – and others – went over one hole after another).
I mention all this because experiencing a different religion or culture is a lot like experiencing different driving rules. It all seems pretty scary – and even irrational – at first; but it still seems to work somehow.
In Indonesia “hati hati” means “Look out” or “watch out.” But “hati” by itself means “heart” (and would be used in phrases like heart surgery and heart attack). It’s interesting to me that in English we warn people by saying, in effect, “Use your eyes,” while Indonesians say, in effect, “Use your heart.” One form is not necessarily better than the other; they’re just different. But the difference is rather interesting, don’t you think?
Next month I’ll have a little more to say about religious and cultural differences, but for now, let me say “safe driving” and, of course…
peace and unrest,