Category Archives: 7. Welcome to America and reuniting with our UGM friends

USA

I love irony.

So while I’m in Indonesia I’m popping Imodium and Tums like candy and worrying that I would get owned by the “D” and be confined to the bathroom for hours.  Then, only once I’m on my way back from Indonesia after having a nutritious Burger King dinner at the airport in Singapore do I get sick.  I will spare you all the details but I will say that my stomach has probably never been through so much turmoil before.

Anyway, once we got to Michigan we went to visit Pine View, a Pentecostal church in Ypsilanti… a definite first for me.  Though I am not a person who identifies as being “religious” I can appreciate religion and find it fascinating to see how deeply a religion can affect people.  And I must admit that I have never seen a religion touch people as powerfully it did at Pine View.  I enjoyed seeing all of the joy that religion brought those people and I really got into the music.  I had one of the songs stuck in my head the other day haha.  One of the most notable features about the church that I really respected was how racially diverse it was.  I feel like most American churches are racially segregated so it was really nice to see blacks and whites worshiping together and supporting one another.

After going to Pine View, we went to the Islamic Center in Dearborn where I got an even better understanding of Islam and the interreligious issues that Muslims face in America.  The next day we went to the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning at U of M to learn about the new Interfaith Action program that’s been created on campus.  It is interesting being back in the United States after having spent time in Indonesia.  From what I gathered from our lectures in Indonesia, more conflict stems from religious issues rather than racial issues (as it is in America).  However, while I believe that race will always play a rather significant role in this country, I do believe that in America today it is increasingly important to promote interreligious dialogue and understanding.

In several discussions in Indonesia and in the U.S we have talked about how negatively Muslims have been portrayed (especially in the media) after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  I feel that when the attacks happened, it sent a surge of panic through every American household and suddenly instead of worrying about a nuclear disaster or contracting lyme disease, Americans all over the country became consumed by a new fear, the fear of Muslim terrorists.  It was as if after 9/11 equating Islam with terrorism became so wide spread that it became difficult to rationally think about what  exactly were creating by the reactions we had in this country.  This trip has really made me realize the importance of truly interacting with individuals or groups that may be misunderstood or stigmatized in society.  Even though one can read about Islam and about how peaceful most sects of Islam are, it simply does not have the same effect as being able to sit down and engage in dialogue.  Because it is only when we are given the chance to interact on a human level that we can realize that while we may have differences, there are also many commonalities that we share as people trying to live, laugh, and love in this crazy world of ours.

But anyway…the next day I was really sick and didn’t get to go to the African American History museum and the Ford Rouge Factory in Detroit.  But the next day I got to go to Detroit to volunteer at Earthworks Urban Farm.  I was really excited about this because I have known many U of M students who have volunteered there.  I must say that I think that what they do out there is so great and really admirable work.  It’s no secret that Detroit has been struggling for some time now and it is really lovely to see that there are people out there trying to change the city and improve the lives of those who live there.  While we were there we got to have a really tasty meal (though I couldn’t really enjoy it due to illness) and then we cleaned yellow and white onions.  Lastly, we went out to one of their gardens and transferred broccoli sproutlings to new soil.  It was really fun and I also bought some of their FANTASTIC honey.  I can’t wait to cook with it!  Going to Earthworks made me feel hopeful for Detroit.  And then our trip concluded Thursday with canoeing at Gallop Park and later having a great dinner at Kate’s house.

Now I’m in Bethlehem Pennsylvania at the gorgeous campus of Lehigh University and with that…I think I’m all caught up now!

Oh and did I mention how nice it is to be in the position of helping the Indonesian students and their answering questions, and explaining American food and culture.  After all of the questions I had there and all of the patience and kindness they have all shown to us, I want to make sure that I can make it up to them now that I’m feeling well again 🙂

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Back in the U.S !

Back in the United States! We are spending the next six days at the University of Michigan continuing our studies on religious pluralism, democracy, and multiculturalism. What is there to learn in Michigan about the subject? Quite a lot! The city of Dearborn, Michigan is home to one of the largest Muslim populations outside the Middle East. It is also home to many other religions which we will also be studying and comparing.

As part of our first activity we attended a non-denominational/Pentecostal church service yesterday. I say non-denominational because the church was open to people of all types of faiths. We were welcomed with open arms by the church staff eager to have us witness their service and the way they feel Christ should be praised. We were also greeted by the pastor who welcomed us to the church and made a clear point in saying he was “against religion” Huh? I was quite taken aback by his statement especially since he was the church’s pastor and in my mind held the utmost religious authority in the church. He went on to say that religion as a whole has failed us and has not provided society with any success. It was an interesting concept, however I was still quite confused given that 1. He was a church pastor and 2. This was still a “church service” where believers still follow a system or guideline on what they should or should not do. We were told that people in the service will probably speak in tongues or jump around but that we had nothing to worry about. Somehow, I don’t think we were ready for what we saw. As we took our seats in the first couple rows of the church, I could see that this church service was nothing like the “traditional” Christian church services. As people began to jump and shout along the church the Indonesian students turned to us and asked us questions about what was going on. I did my best at explaining the difference between the services we attended and how a Catholic Church service for example would be held. The Indonesian students were surprised at the immense passion, excitement, screaming, shouting, and running around that was taking place. It was quite different from their religious practice and probably from anything they had ever seen. While I was surprised as well, it was important to me to talk to the other students and hear how they felt, primarily “why” these individuals practiced their religion in this manner. I tried to explain the idea of spirituality and the belief that God speaks directly to believers and that is where the speaking in tongues and need to jump and shout comes from. I doubt that made much sense but it was quite difficult to explain especially when coming from a religion where religious practice tends to be more quite and reserved.

After attending the church service we headed to the Islamic Center of America where we had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Alawan who is in charge of inter-faith outreach in the community. He spoke to us on his work at the center, the various inter-faith outreach that has occurred with the Islamic center and neighboring churches, as well as the importance of intra-faith dialogue as a key to creating unity in the religion. In comparison to the mosque we attended in Indonesia. Mr. Alawan stressed how there was not much separation between males and females. They were allowed to pray in the same area as men and use the same doors to get into the mosque. He stated that the Quran specifically demonstrates the importance of women in Islam. I thought this was an interesting point to make since many people believe that Islam as a religion degrades women and does not give them equal opportunities in comparison to those that men share. I was truly impressed with his desire to create more dialogue among different faiths as a way to continue educating people and break the many misconceptions that exist among one another.

That is all! Until next time!

Reunited!

June 18th, 2011

After 40 hours and 49 minutes of traveling, over 21 hours of flying, four flights, and four countries different countries, the American students arrived at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The Indonesian students met us at the U of M with open arms and warm smiles.  It felt so good to be reunited with the other half of our team.  Now it’s time for a really, really, really long nap.

Selamat Tidur,

~Anne Marie