There is a dead dog somewhere named Tucker. He is probably already reincarnated into a rambunctious but smart 5 year old boy who lives on the coast of Mexico, watches waves in the morning before his mom and dad wake up, and fishes with his older brother. But he used to be a handsome beagle and the canine soul mate to a wonderful human I know. I never met Tucker but he never got lost and so his rusty dog tag (C&C of Honolulu B20139 exp. Dec. 31 2003) hangs around my clavicle as a talisman to see that I too never get lost. I found it fitting to call upon the dog spirit this weekend to guide me as I journeyed into the northern province of Sulawesi where the Christians there don’t only cuddle with dogs but eat them too.
It was Polly’s birthday (a fellow Fulbrighter) so when we drove up to her school a gander of Christian students were waiting to hand over her birthday present: a brand new fresh, perfectly white, puppy dog. This poor and tiny soul was terrified, hungry, weak, and hot. The confusion must be incredible for those pups with higher IQ’s and better functioning logical faculties. This dog happened to escape the hot palm oil and homemade spices in Ibu Fatma’s frying pan yet, how? Is she prettier than most dogs? More intelligent? How do they determine which dogs they cuddle and which dogs they munch on? This Westerner would wonder but upon proper inquisition a good Northern Sulawesi Christian would shrug, mumble, puff a clove cigarette, gaze and squint, then smile it off.
But this post is really less about the Christian diet of dog and more about experiencing the Christian culture in the Northern part of my Island. And boy, was it a doozy! Having been immersed in the sweetness of gentle Muslim culture for more than 2 months it was shocking to visit the 85% Protestant region where rules, speech, food, garb, and simple life style are very different. Less than an hour flight north of my home I tasted firsthand the strength and application of Indonesia’s slogan: “Unity in Diversity”. Some Christians get drunk, grab your butt and whisper the stale stench of moonshine into your ear at long-winded weddings. Mostly all of them eat crazy stuff like man’s best friend and flying/walking rodents. They all have a different dialect than Gorontalans and an accent that stumbles over my nickname “Jo” when ending a sentence. There are friendly looking churches reminiscent of the backwoods in Alabama on darn near every corner. They are so civilized that fancy sidewalks stretch out adjacent from the houses. Of course the women aren’t carved out of the Koran in Northern Sulawesi so there aren’t many jilbabs and they proudly show their shiny black hair and long tan arms.
There are possibly enumerable differences between Indonesian Christianity and Indonesian Islam. The most poignant difference is surprisingly NOT the religion itself. Actually, I am certain the God the bible speaks of and the God the Koran speaks of is exactly the same God. They were written in and around the same time, they push nearly all the same morals and spiritual tenets and Jesus is even a prophet in Islam. The heaviest differences I picked up on, from my three day tutorial, are the following things:
1) Christians are allowed to drink and therefore do!
2) Christians are allowed to eat many disgusting and frightening things.
3) Christians don’t sing prayers into a loud speaker that skip atop rice paddies and echo through jungles four times a day.
4) Christians (specifically Protestants) wear skimpier clothing.
5) Christians don’t learn Arabic.
6) Christians eat on different plates than Muslims at social events like weddings.
7) Christians bow their heads and pray just like Grandma Edith back home.
…you see, the difference is more a cultural conundrum than movements marked in spirituality.
One might assume Indonesians to be intrusive about their religious preference because everyone is so religious. I believe one could have this assumption because Americans and Europeans (the culture to which most people reading this relate), associate religion with evangelicalism. Sulawesians and most Indonesians (perhaps because they were colonized by so many Dutch, Portuguese and Japanese) don’t talk about their religion very much if at all and would not even THINK to try and make you or me apart of it. A breath of fresh air, it is. However, there is a law in Indonesia that requires all citizens and long-term visitors choose a religion. It does not matter what it is so long as they have one. This is probably because an Ibu somewhere was concerned for the country’s spiritual backbone and mentioned it to her son who was the guy that makes laws and (because Muslims worship mamas right after Allah) he implemented this motherly concern into national mandate. Yet, Muslim schools celebrate the Buddha’s birthday and many Christian schools take Idul Fitri off. So maybe Christians digest doggy on the daily and Islamic folks cover their ladies and shun pork, bat and rat but they function right well with one another. There are even Muslims who work at Polly’s Christian school and crazy Pagan-Buddhist-Yogis, like me, considered a part of what (my) Muslims call family.
Per usual, it seems us Americans have a thing or two to take from the way they do things in Indonesia. I am not saying the Christians of America ought to start eating their house pets or drinking lots of homemade spirits. Nor that we ought to make a required religion in America. Rather that talk of religion should have a nice hush to it for the personal and political fruition of us all. Talk of God is a natural side effect of the human condition, as is language, but it can be so obtuse and contradicting a thing to apply something so limited as language to something so transcendent as God. So I applaud Indonesia for having figured that out, whether they know that have or not.