Category Archives: 8. Michigan activities: Church; Islamic Center; UM Ginsberg Center; Labadie Collection; Museum of African American History; Earthworks Urban Farm

Is tolerance really tolerant?

It seems unreal that exactly a week ago, the program ended and everyone left to resume their separate lives. It’s even more unreal when I think about the experiences that were packed into one month. I was given the chance to explore another country in extraordinary ways and then given the same opportunity in my own country. It’s really amazing when you reflect on how much of your own country’s history and culture remains unfamiliar to you. What’s more, is that until this program, I really didn’t have an understanding of what religious pluralism meant in America, let alone an appreciation for it.

In Indonesia, there is no doubt that religious pluralism exists, but in my opinion, it exists in a limited sort of way. There is a hierarchy of religions in which the six nationally recognized religions are given special privileges over the secondary and rural religions. Furthermore, there are certain sects of religions that are forbidden from being practiced in Indonesia, yet these sects are allowed to practice freely in the United States. To me, this demonstrates a difference in tolerance between the two countries. The United States on a whole is a more tolerant country in terms of religious practices than Indonesia is. While many people may look at this and think, wow that’s great, I’m not really sure it is. When we went to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit, a man who worked there asked us if a tolerant society is the best solution. Tolerance doesn’t encourage people to embrace and learn from other ideologies; instead it asks us to merely show “willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” Tolerance is most definitely better than any other violent alternative but is it something that we ought to strive for? Or is it merely a stepping-stone between two places? And if so, what’s the next step for us as a society to move past tolerant behavior?

 For me, I see the solution to tolerance as a move towards a more compassionately oriented society. During the trip, we spent a day at the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center in Washington, New Jersey. There we participated in a meditation session and also attended a Buddhist class. Through those experiences, we were exposed to what one might call a Tibetan Buddhist’s approach to life. An approach that is simple in its understanding and refreshing in its ideology. For Tibetan Buddhists, there is an emphasis on compassion for all mankind, regardless of past grievances. Compassion is compulsory even for those who have committed an act of violence against one another. Moreover, there is not just to be a tolerance for other religions but an embracement of them, a love for those who find their truths in another religious practice. In a society that reflects a Tibetan Buddhist approach, there would arguably be less conflict and harmful misconceptions, as embracing another religion calls for a greater understanding of it, a greater appreciation of the difference. I don’t see that the Tibetan Buddhist ideology as only limited the Buddhist religion. I see it as an ideology that can be adopted by all different schools of religious thought, an ideology that speaks for a more peaceful and equal society, the kind of society in which all religions should strive to create.

Tolerance walks a thin line, as its pillars are weak and thus can easily be transformed into a deep seeded hate for those who are different. Before WWII, in Germany and parts of Eastern Europe, while the Jews were most certainly discriminated against, they lived in a society that was more or less tolerant to their religious views. Yet that tolerance was never developed into compassion and instead, grew stagnant. During the Holocaust, tolerance worked in the Nazi’s favor as those who did not agree with their ideology simply tolerated their existence and as a result, 6 million Jews perished. While this is an extreme example, it nevertheless shows what can happen in a society that endorses tolerant behavior.

In this way, to ensure progress, we must constantly work to push our society beyond a simple tolerant view of those different from us. While this change may seem daunting, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Anne Frank, a quote I find particularly inspiring.

 “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”



The Ford Rouge Factory

The Rouge Ford Factory

June 21, 2011. It is still the third day of USIPP in USA. After leaving the Charles H. Wright Museum and having lunch along the beautiful Detroit River (and across from Canada!), we headed to the Ford Rouge Factory in Dearborn.

The Tour of the Ford Rouge Factory consists of five parts. Since we arrived a little late in the afternoon, we only did four of the five:

  1. The legacy Theater

Here, we learned the history of the factory: the striving of Henry Ford in maintaining the human resources and creating it into something worthwhile; the ups and downs it went through (repeatedly changing name of the factory), right up until the peak of its success; how then it became one of the main source of economy in Detroit; how the people of Detroit really depended on this one industry and the withdrawal of the city when the factory went bankrupt.

  1.  Art of Manufacturing Theatre

This theatre is, to me, the most exciting. It is a 14 minute film explaining the process of car making. What makes it special is the 3D effect and loud noises. The room is shaped like a dome and screens go all the way around it. It was actually quite fun.

  1. Assembly Plant Walking Tour

This part of the tour is the longest, but the most interesting. During the half-an-hour walk, we saw the real process of building the newest Ford car. It was really my first time in a car factory, let alone seeing it being assembled.

  1. Legacy Gallery

I consider the Legacy Gallery as the icon of the Factory. The five antique ford cars exhibited attracted many of the visitors, including me of course. We took nearly a whole hour looking at them!

From this tour I did not only have fun, but I also learned what one person, Henry Ford, and his one industry can contribute to. His dreams of making automotive affordable to the public came true and without planning it, became the main source of economy for decades. The decline of its “power” has such a big effect on the city, which I saw through my own eyes the next following days in Detroit. Detroit is now like an abandoned city, schools are closing down, and people are moving out. I never thought I would see anything like it in the US. Maybe because the condition exposed to the general public, worldwide, is not as explicit. Still, however and whatever, the name of the ford factory will always be commemorated for its contribution to Detroit and the United States.



Where Do We Go From Here?

“Where Do We Go From Here?”, The famous speech from Martin Luther King. No, we did not go to his memorial, neither did we learn about the philosophy of his speech. But we did go to the place that recognizes one of the things he is the most devoted to: Equality for African-Americans.  

June 21, 2011, the third day of the USIPP program in USA. It was sprinkling and chilly outside, which made it perfect to have an indoor activity. We had all our usual routine of trying to wake up early in the morning, and then have breakfast. We then drove over to The Charles Wright Museum of African American History, located in Detroit. This museum is founded in 1965 and is said to be the world’s largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. Our half-day at the museum was divided into 3 parts: the introduction, the tour, and the discussion.

The introduction in which we went through a series of art work that described very briefly the coming and protesting of African-Americans in Detroit in very early days. We saw many art works done by Guyton, who decided that the “black and white” city needed more color, and so he went around painting the city. He also put hangings on people’s houses (I actually got to see a street which still had stuff puppets hanging all over the outsides of a house later that day)

After the Introduction came the tour: And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture. We playing out scenes of the story of the African-American history: from when the journey begins in the prehistoric days of Africa, the forcing of civilians through the door of no return, it’s shipping right up until how they become an integrated part of the community. It was a very interesting journey. Our tour guide made it very exciting, since he went into “character’.

The last parts is the one I consider most loaded with information. It was the decussion and lecturing by Yolanda Jack. In the discussion, we received further explanation of what we saw during the tour. Also the current condition of how African-Americans are living today. Though the racial discrimination has died down, conflicts do still erupt every now and then. Then there is also the debate amongst the African-Americans regarding their identity and where to bring their future. It is still questioned whether they have responsibility to go back to their homeland, or are they to stay put. It was a very interesting discussion, and I really learned a lot. Though I previously understood that the African-Americans had a rough time in the US during their earlier years of settlement, the experience of going through the story and seeing of “what really happened” is a great joy and very eye-opening.



While it was sad to leave Indonesia, it was great to come back to the United States and be reunited with out Indonesian friends! Much of our time in Michigan was spent in Detroit, learning about the city and its rich history. We went to the Charles H. Wright African American museum in Detroit and had a wonderful tour. Our tour guides were from the different eras in African American history and it took the group a little while to figure out that their accents were fake. We also had a themed tour of the underground railroad tour at the First Congregation Church in Detroit and the Indonesians asked if all museums in the US were like that.

Anyway, all the time we spent learning about race relations in America really got me thinking about our country’s history. The United States prides itself on freedom and equality, yet we struggled (and still do struggle) to grant those values to every citizen. For the Indonesian students, it was their first introduction to slavery in the United States and they didn’t quite understand the concept of the underground railroad. By explaining slavery, the civil rights movement, rascism, and the experience of African Americans in the US, I began to see just how dark and horrible our history is. Slavery, an institution that lasted far too long in my opinion, was something that was based on the color of someone’s skin, enforced because of economic reasons and justified by the bible. It was interesting to see the way in which religion in the United States had a profound impact on , both for and against it. I think that slavery is a good example of how religion and religious teachings can often be used in a manner that has negative effects on the lives of many. When you reflect on slavery and the intense struggle that African Americans have had with American civil society, you start to realize just how significant it is that we have a black President.

When we were Indonesia, Jack was telling the Indonesians how Americans typically tend to shy away from any discussion that relates to race-relations today. Many people prefer to think that rascism and tense white-black relations are things of the past, but in reality, they are even more pressing than they were before.

Another day in Detroit we went to the Capuchin soup kitchen which was probably my favorite place on the Michigan part of the trip. We ate our lunch there and then worked in the community farm, Earth Works. We learned about the Capuchin friars and about the work the soup kitchen does to empower its surrounding community. I personally love when organizations don’t simply “help” those in need, instead they give them to tools and basic information for them to help themselves, giving them agency in their lives. It’s a truly remarkable organization and I love the locally grown food aspect. In Detroit, there’s really not a lot of access to fresh fruits and vegetables and people really don’t have a lot of options when it comes to grocery shopping. Capuchin Kitchen, however, saw an opportunity with empty lots of land and changed them into something productive for the community.

While we were there, we also got the chance to meet with a Friar who told us a little bit about the Capuchins and Saint Francis. Saint Francis was someone who believed in the equality for all people. regardless of gender, race or economic standing. He devoted his life to working with marginalized people, something the Capuchin friars still do today. I think that in the United States, there’s a common perception that religious institutions are corrupt and inherenetly evil. To those people, I would ask them to spend a day at the Capuchin soup kitchen and they would see just how powerful a faith-based organization can be in revitalizing a community.

Tomorrow we’re headed to NYC to see the Statue of Liberty among many other things. We have an early morning and have to be at the bus station by 5:30am.

Thanks for reading and check back for more updates on our exciting travels and learning experiences!



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 🙂

Images from Michigan

At the Detroit river

At the Islamic Center 0f America, Dearborn

Eating ice cream at Washtenaw Dairy, a Michigan summer tradition

Our last night in Michigan

Interfaith/ African American History Museum

Yesterday we visited the Ginsberg Center at the University of Michigan. The Ginsberg Center is focused on community service and learning in particular interfaith action/dialogue. As part of their dedication to interfaith action, the center is active in bringing together various faith based groups on campus as well as students in order to discuss topics and misconceptions that in any other case would never be discussed. The interesting thing we learned about the University of Michigan is that as a public university the school does not have a religion major or religious study department. Classes in religious subjects are still taught but they are taught under a specific area study such as Asian studies. Students of all faiths sitting down together and discussing religion, bringing into question all the misconceptions people have of one another, and educating others about their religion is to me one of the principle ways that we will finally begin to break down the stereotypes that are continuously placed on various religions. As we travel along with Indonesian students we have learned more and more about the misconceptions both sides have about one another and where these misconceptions stem from. As we live and study with the Indonesian students, it is interesting to go back and forth and discuss the misconceptions that exist among people in our respective society. It is through this type of interaction that both American and Indonesian groups have developed a greater understanding and respect for the diversity in religion and culture that exist in society.

Today we had the opportunity to visit the museum of African American History in Detroit. The struggle of African Americans beginning with slavery to today’s issues with racism and stereotypes has been an intricate part of the development of American History. As we entered the museum and began learning about the history of African Americans starting in the continent of Africa and slavery, I began to think of the idea of multiculturalism and religion in the United States and how it has developed. Although in Indonesia we observed that the problem with multiculturalism, religion, and pluralism stems more from a religious aspect, in the United States most stem from racial tension that exists. Although we accept and recognize all types and forms of religion there is still a large issue of race and how it is dealt with today. For the Indonesian students learning about the history of African Americans gave them the other side of “democracy” in our country and the price and struggle for freedom that some of our citizens had to pay. They might have found it shocking for America a country that prides itself on “liberty and justice” for all to have such a dark history but I think it was key in understanding the overall idea of democracy and its development in the United states.

Until next time =)