woensdag 25 april 2018

Money of God

In my country, The Netherlands, a debate has started about religious financing. Sources say that 10% of the Dutch mosques are seeking money from donators in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. The number of Salafi mosques is growing quickly. Some politicans are seeking legal prohibitions of foreign donations for religious activities, which they do not like. Especially Christian political parties are hesitant: they want respect for freedom of religion and they are themselves active in sending 'Christian money' to Muslim countries! Like Gert-Jan Seegers, political leader of the Christian Union, who was a missionary in Egypt and certainly was active in distributing Christian donations to Egyptian Christians.
In 1978 there were two regulations of the Indonesian government to curb financial gifts and visa for foreign preachers/missionaries. At that time there were two reasons given for this measure: 1) it was seen as an action to prevent Christian mission and therefore quite many Muslims supported the idea; 2) there were also rumours that it was a measure to prevent the spread of fundamentalist Islam, because in packages of religious books from the Middle East, also weapons were found for activist/terrorist Muslims.
Whatever may have been the purpose of the two measures, they had little effect: there was no serious control of the arrival of money through persons or banks. Only procedures for visa became more difficult for Christian missionaries (but not impossible, and anyhow, at least from Europe few missionaries were trained to be sent to Indonesia, because of the quick decrease of young priests in those countries. And nowadays Indonesian priests are sent to various European to lead parishes).

When I did my research on pesantren education in 1970-1, Kiai Zarkasji of Gontor told me that he had received a very big donation for the first mosque to be built in this compound from East Java Governor Charles van der Plas. The money originated from the lottery of the planters in that rich region of Java. Although a lottery is not allowed, rather haram for Muslims, Zarkasji gladly received the money for his new pesantren. In a realistic mood he said that it shoud be used in a good way, even if its origin was unlawful!
We see now in Indonesia that salafi Muslims receive money from the Middle East, while liberal Muslims also seek money from Adenauer Stifting, from Ford Foundation and Cordaid. The money of God goes in various streams to those who need it.

woensdag 18 april 2018

Hong Kong day 4: open debates about Falun Gong, a subsidized mosque

For the trip back to Holland/Utrecht I had a flight of 00:15 on Sunday 15 April, and so still a day extra to do some sightseeing in Hong Kong. From the hotel on the campus of CUHK (and metrostation University) I could use an Octopus card for senior people. This would only cost HK$ 2.00 per trip. Also the ferry from Kowloon and the buses were available for this fare, because I am an 'elder', over 65 years.
I went  in the morning by metro to Kowloon and made the walk to and along the beach, Salisbury Rd. Hong Kong is a marvellous town to walk: not too hot and at all very busy places it is either without cars or there are walking promenades some 5 metre above car/street level.

A first encounter, after leaving the metro, was a quite serious of posters about Falun Gong, the spiritual movement, now so persecuted in China. It was quite disturbing to see first that the left series only was full of praise for the movement: Falun Gong is an advanced practice of self-cultivation based on Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance. ...  5. The Chinese Communist Party is the true evil. But  a few steps further on there were several series against the 'sect': those who were members of the sect were called 'losers',  people with no goal in life, no friends, no self-confidence. The 'self-immolation' of the young man crushed by a tank on Tiananmen-square was a 'crazy act' of someone who had no perspective in life..  The lady who stand side by side with the posters gave me a pamphlet, in English, but she apologised that her English was not good enough for a real debate about the strange combination of support and attack as seen here. It became clear to me that she was a strong opponent (or paid to give a demonstration against the movement).
The warnings in the guidebook about many people trying to sell something, even to rob simple tourists, proved to be not yet needed on this rather quiet Saturday morning.
I saw just one man fishing in the Victoria harbour of Kowloon, with a view on the skyline of Hong Kong island
After a walk through the busy streets along the southern beach of Kowloon I arrived at the Museum of Art, now closed due to restoration and expansion. With the Star Ferry I went to Hong Kong Island, quite busy but easy for walking people. After one kilometre the road goes up the hills and here is an escalator in many sections, bringing you easily to the higher levels of the island.

More than half way going up with the escalator, I went left to see one of the five mosques of Hong Kong: the oldest is this Jamia Mosque on Shelley street, built in Malaysian/Arab style, with a nice minaret. [Three other mosques in Hong Kong island are the Stanley Mosque, near the southern Stanley Prison, because the guards in the prison were Indian soldiers; this mosque is built in the style of North India, with a large open square inside and a very small covered area; the second other is on the East Coast of Hong Kong island, Cape Collinson; the third is Masjid Ammar on Oi Kwan Road, in the real centre of the town; there is one mosque in Kowloon, quite close to the beach].

 Arriving at the Jamia mosque I saw one Mr. Khan, bare breast, talking with a lady looking like a Malaysian Muslima, neatly veiled. The man proved to be the son of a migrant from Peshawar (Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan) and a Chinese lady, living close to the mosque. He later went to the mosque to collect a number of booklets for me, and probably was warned by another lady that he should be properly dressed, entering the mosque and talking with a stranger. According to his sources there are some 80.000 Muslim in Hong Kong. He was quite proud to tell that the Jamia Mosque is part of the Financial Assistance for Maintenance Scheme for Declared Monuments in Hong Kong and gave me a booklet about this programme. Also Buddhist tempels, as well as Christian churches are part of this programme.
I had also a chat with a visitor from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, who was for some time in Hong Kong: my Indonesian was clear enough for this Malay Muslim. The Christians are more numerous and definitely more visible than Muslims in this part of China.
Finally I took the cable car to Peak, the highest section of Hong Kong island. After waiting nearly for more than one hour I could see the entertainment buildings found here, as well as the old colonial mansions on his green part of the island.

dinsdag 17 april 2018

Hong Kong day 3: World Christianity and local cultures

On the second day of the conference The Asian Ecumenical Movement, we came together in a marvellous place: Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre located on a hill, 500 high above the centre of the New Territories. The centre claims that it is only a 20 minutes walk from Sha Tin railway/metro station (on the same chain of hills as the Temple of the Ten Thousand Buddhas of day 1). It is in the middle of a nice green area. The centre was initiated by the Lutheran Mission from Norway and designed by a Danish architect in the early 1930s. It is now part of the cultural heritage of Hong Kong and (like the mosque which I visited on day 4) receives some government subsidies for maintenance and restauration.

Three pictures here: on top (taken from the bus toward the place) first the small piece of land between hills and the South China Sea, full with highrise building. Then the idealised location of the Christian centre on tiles: just one small chapel in Chinese style, below the actual centre.  It is called in English Christ Temple. Like traditional Chinese compounds it is a series of rather modest, small buildings. There is a conference room, enough for some 40 people, a Centre for Chinese Culture, facilities to stay for some 20 guests, dining room, library. And, of course this nice chapel with the radiant red pillars.

In Muslim-Christian relations there is a common formulation about the conflict between 'Islam and the West' where the religion of Islam is in contrast to a society, political power, culture. In this case people talk about the Christian religion and Chinese culture. In all debates it is clear that Ecumenism is not only about the unity of all Christians, but even more often about the place of Christians amongst other societies and cultures, usually as tiny minorities.
This started with a nice presentation of probably the tallest member of the conference, the Japanese Lutheran Dr. Arata Miyamoto. He held a positive story about the Catholic participation in the anniversary of 500 years Lutheran Reformation in the Catholic Cathedral of Nagasaki.
After his talk Dr. Jan Aritonang from Indonesia came with his burning question. The very small Protestant Church in Bali owns a nice hotel with a chapel in Kuta, near the airport. It is often used by Japanese couples for their marriage ceremony. These couples are not Christian, but like to marry in a 'Christian style' with Western style clothes, readings and songs about love. Myamoto agreed that 60% of Japanese marriages are celebrated this way: bigger hotels provide such facilities. When possible the couples even like a true chapel and a true minister and are willing to pay for it. Miyamoto did not defend the practice: is it a matter of money for the church and the minister? Or even some kind of propaganda for Christian religion?
Dr. TONG Wing-sze is here presenting the rice bowl of the centre, with the Nestorian Cross on the bottom (the cross seen as growing from a lotus tree). Left of her Dr. Miyamoto. In the centre LUK Chi-lan Iris, a PhD student writing a dissertation about the British Anglican Ronald Owen (bishop of Hong Kong between 1930-1968), who lived not in the bishops' house in downtown Hong Kong, on the HK Island, but in the Christian Centre on the hills in the new territories. Second from right is the Congolese Dr. Batairwa who works already 17 years in Taiwan and gave an historical overview of the transition of missionary societies to Taiwanese independent churches: not united, although efforts were made for it. There is a Council of Churches in Taiwan, where also the Roman Catholics are member. Also here 'the Taizé prayer is an engine fostering ecumenism in Taiwan.'

We had also here the walk through part of the large compound before and after lunch. Above is the view to the north, where the pagoda of the Temple of the Ten Thousand Buddhas can be seen. There is a very large cross (with me standing below, so the cross will be about 10 metre high). Below is a labyrinth as a way of meditation. Just follow the only possible direction after access and you will come to the central circle.
There were more local presentations. My talk was about Indonesia where the government has made the adherence or at least some kind of registered membership of a world religion (six possibilities only!) as an asbolute requirement and where interreligious relations are more prominent in the cultural debate than the intra-Christian unity. Not the final goal of unity, but first of all the prevention of conflicts is in Indonesia the goal of these debates and official laws and rulings.
Aswin Fernandis from the Orthodox Malankara Syrian Church talked about the long history of his church from amidst Hinduism (more or less seen as a rather high Hindu cast of traders) and amidst the arrival of Christians from Portugal, Britain and many other countries. How his church retains its own Indian character.
John Roxborough from new Zealand, talking about Malaysia and Singapore has the story of the Asian Council of Churches, renamed Asian Conference of Churches, CCA and from 1965-1988 located in Singapore. In line with the dominant discourse of the time (liberation theology, strongly in favour of human rights, democracy), it had troubles with the government of Singapore and moved to Hong Kong, while now it is located in Thailand, Cheng Mai.
He saw a new blossoming of local councils of churches in Malaysia and Singapore, after they were no longer dominated by liberal church leaders, mostly expats/missionaries from Western countries, but now supervised by more evangelical local leaders who refrained from interference in politics.
All in all, the conference talked about some high ideals, beginning in 1910 with the World Missionary Conference of Edinburgh, wanting 'the world for Christ in this generation' and then possibly a united Christianity. We came here to talk about the reality of the tiny and divided minorities of Christians in this region of the world (with the Philippines as dominant Christian an exception, but not really a radiant example).
So we had the closing session: sometimes wiser, better informed, always somewhat sad. With the exception of two participants they were all new and inspiring people for me. Thank you Jackie Foo for organizing it in such a smooth way!

Hong Kong day 2: General historical and theological remarks about ecumenical issues

In the Dutch translation of the well-known book by Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus, the philosopher Bas Heijne writes that human beings like to cooperate with others 'but in small units'. This is also the case in religions: even small congregations are divided in smaller circles and these smaller groups define themselves often by mentioning negative qualities of 'others'. The history of religion, like that of other human activities, is full with schisms, problems of groups that do not like other groups. In the ecumenical movement, however, divisions are always qualified as very negative elements that should be removed. It is a pity for those devoted to the ecumenical movement, that the ideals have remained remote, not easy or absolutely never to be implemented.
But this morning we saw reports of ecumenical results in Hong Kong that were brought more enthousiastically than I have ever seen since years. Ms Theresa Lumo Kung of the Ecumenical Commission of the diocese of Hong Kong gave a nice presentation of ongoing activities. One was a trip to Rome, where the ecumenical group of Hong Kong could meet Pope Francis.
Another introductory talk in the well equipped modern styled hall of CUHK (a conference place to be found everywhere in the modern world), was by Dr. TONG Wing-sze, the director of the Tao Fing Shan Christian Centren where we came together the following day. In her own place, full with Chinese Christian Art and built in that style, she also showed a cross with some elements of Chinese culture. But here below she is at the walk after lunch in the open air at the pond surrounding the great banyan tree with a view on the sea below. That was an attractive part of the agenda: a walk before or after lunch to see more of the location where we gathered.
Besides the Lutheran Dr. TONG, it was the diocesan Hong Kong priest, Prof. HA who was the leader of the conference. This gentle leader of the Catholic Research Centre in the CUHK is here above with the blue jacket at the place of the second day: the nice Christian Centre, built in Chinese style on a mountain top.
I will here give only some salient points in the lectures and the debates. Prof. PAI Lan Shiu made reference to Martin Luther (because the conference was also held in commemoration of the beginning of the division caused by the reformation of 1517. He gave an analysis of Luther's view of the difference between divine and human love, in contrast to Thomas Aquinas. PAI sided here with Aquinas who did not define man immediately as sinner and distinct from God. In his argument he compared Mahayana Buddhism with Christianity for its non-duality, where human nature has simultaneously the characteristics of divine nature. Jesus is for him to be compared to a boddhisattva, 'a person with supreme wisdom and infinite compassion, especially the self-sacrifical love towards all sentient beings'.  Aswin Fernandis from Kerala, India, the only (Syrian) Orthodox among the 25 people invited for the conference, was very glad to hear this: in ecumenical talk the orthodox are often forgotten, or seen as too much looking to their old theological themes.
After some more general theological debates, the transition from Western Mission to local Churches became the topic. In China and India local church leaders wanted a united (Protestant) church as successor to the many denominational missionaries, but their results were rather poor.
A strong paper was given by Dr. Lisette Pearl Tapi from the Philippines, who blamed the political leaders of her country that they, one after the other had no attention for the suffering of the poor. This made Jan Aritonang to make the remark: 'What is the profit of adhering our religion, if it has no impact in society?'

The two pictures above show again a view during our lunch walk, while below Dr. Tapia is sitting second from left. On the picture in the middle a giant picture of Kwan Ying, the female 'deity' of Mahayana Chinese Buddhism is shown.
During the lunch walk we also visited shortly the ecumenical faculty of theology, where staff from seven Protestant denominations train some 300 students (partly also from Vietnam, mainland China and even Malaysia, in English and Chinese). The ecumenical movement has nearly impossible ideals and no easy or even realistic way can be given to reach that goal. Contact with the reality in such country is rather the goal of such a conference than a road map towards full unity.

Hong Kong, day 1b: a museum and a temple in the valley of birds and flat buildings

The temple of the ten thousand Buddhas was my first and most important goal for a day in Hong Kong. Second stop was the Heritage Museum. It is a very big modern building, not a collection of smaller units as the Buddha temple (and in fact most older traditional buildings like palaces), but one solid structure, opened in 2000. It has a warm heart for minimal art: empty spaces, even the first exhibitions of landscapes on porcelain: just a fragment of a tree, a few birds, imagenary of a mountain. 'Chinese people are reserved, they do not like the tumultuous expression of emotions as found with American Evangelicals,' was later this week said at the conference.
The central valley of the new territories has now a very strict controlled canal, nice birds, a museum here, close to the old Che Kung Temple.

Look at the birds along the canal! They also adapted to the metropolis. The Hong Kong Heritage Museum had the large collection of one Dr. T.T. Tsui on Chinese classical art, a theatre rebuilt in the style of the Cantonese opera and a large movie theatre where fragments of the Cantonese entertainment was shown in movies from the 1960s and 1970s, a full wing dedicated to Bruse Lee, filmstar in Kung Fu movies. I saw very few things or pictures from the British colonial period.
Nearby is the Che Kung Temple, big, busy, where piety and business seem to go hand in hand.

In front of a statue of some heroic and mythic Chinese ancestor people are showing their gifts: incense, flowers and fruits, while below a girl or young woman is moving to select the proper  number for her future destiny.
Private consultation possibly: to select a good day or time of a day for special acts? Private talk about individual problems or choice of life? As one who does not speak the language and is just an outsider here, much remains foreign or even strange for a visitor from the Netherlands.
Prof. Theo Sundermeier (Heidelberg, Comparative Religion) has written an interesting article on the differences between religions based/focusing upon 'liberation' (Befreiung) or 'reconciliation' (Versöhnung). Hinduism and Buddhism are, according to this distinction concentrating on liberation from life in this world which is seen as leading to suffering only. Instead, the Jewish Religion (in the Hebrew Bible not accepting an immortal life or 'distinct spirit' for humans, Christianity (and Islam) concentrate on reconciliation with nature, ancestors, other people in our life. It is good to formulate the focus of religion for daily life nowadays asnd not only in some uncertain 'afterlife'.  What I experienced about Buddhism here had not so much to do with extinction of passion and hoping for a Nirvana, or liberation from material things now, instead, also these rituals are very much close to daily needs and concern.

Finally arrival at the campus of the CUHK and at the Hyatt hotel, on campus also. The liberty statue of the symbol of freedom, equality and brotherhood was placed by students in 2010, as protest against the closer association with the Chinese Communist Republic and the loss of special civil rights for Hong Kong citizens. The President of CUHK wanted to remove the statue, fearing the Beijing politicians, but student protests were so strong that he decided to leave the statue where it is now.
Below in the lobby of the Hotel my good old friend and partner in many writings: Prof. Jan Aritonang from Jakarta: selamat datang ke Hong Kong!

maandag 16 april 2018

Hong Kong day 1a: more than ten thousand Buddhas

Last week I was during four days in Hong Kong for the international conference on The Asian Ecumenical Movement.  It was convened by the Catholic Study Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). I arrived very early, 06:00 at the airport and so I had the opportunity to do some sightseeing the first day, before the opening dinner.
I took the bus from the airport to the station of Sha Tin, heart of the so-called New Territories, highrise buildings along a canal in the midst of a valley, surrounded by green hills. From the station I had to ask several times for the entrance to the temple of the ten thousand Buddhas, which was quite difficult to find, around a corner past the giant building of the town hall of Sha Tin.

The lousy entrance gives first a warning: do not give money to people pretending to be a monk! In fact I saw no monks at all! Just a few tourists, some women coming for their devotion and even few families with small children and a handful of cleaners, mostly women, who also took care of the numerous incense sticks to be burnt there (just like the many candles in Lourdes and Fatima: also for those who are absent).
The monastery was initiated in 1949 by monk Yuet Kai (1883-1965), musician, poet, who had come to Hong Kong in 1933. Building activity still goes on, but the main construction was finished in 1957 with the main temple, where on long shelves 12.888 small statues of the Buddha are stored, about 20 cm high. It is not allowed to make pictures inside and so I cannot show these.

There are some 450 steps leading to the central platform, where the central temple is also located. Close to this platform the road is divided in several ways leading to this place and here we see for the first time a statue of the Buddha. For the rest it is a row of very funny statues of sitting or standing monks in all kind of realistic posures. There is also a variety of black bearded monks, some with crowly hair looking like Roman senators. The statues are made of plaster and some figures are present in five or more identical copies. On the whole it is a superb view and the most exciting entrance to a place of pilgrimage I ever had seen.

On the central platform there are, besides the main temple with the 12.800 identical small statues of the Buddha (besides quite a few larger ones and many other items, a big hall with lovely gold-red richness and splendour. The grave of the founder is here also, just in front of a major Buddhas statue), there is a well-pagoda, to be seen from far. Rows of arhat and boddhisattva.
From this central platform a new road leads to an even higher place. the access to this higher platform is surrounded by statues of ladies, some looking like ordinary (but rich) mothers, others perhaps deities. I guess that this is a road to be taken by women who want to become pregnant. One lady moved upward, often backward walking, with her bad over her head. She came down, then walked up again, looking very serious, because praying is a serious thing!

On the top of the place of pilgrimage/monastery there is a great mansion in colonial style. It was probably the house of the first rich Chinese donator to the place who supported the monk in building here this impressive Buddhist place. Below we see the big town hall of Sha Tin. On the bottom of the picture, below right, the beginning of the steep walk to the temple can be seen: it is all a testimony of the development of Hong Kong in the last century. It was a surprising, somewhat weary but rewarding beginning of a nice journey.

maandag 9 april 2018

The complicated lives of strong religious personalities: Bhagwan vs Fethullah Gülen

There is a new series on Netflix, the TV-channel: six hour on Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh, 1931-1990. Wil wild country. Most of it is about the period 1980-5 when the revered guru was in Oregon, USA. Thousands sold everything to live there in a new town, where this number many in a long series preached his light-hearted and positive religion/way of life: much sex, much laughing, young people. Through interviews with key persons, supported by sections of movies from the 1980s we can follow the developments nearly from day to day: the invasion of thousands in a quiet village in the countryside, the absolute lack of integration of the army of orang/red sannyasin.
Not only the Bhagwam himself is the key personality (he was silent for more than three years, very little of his original message in in the movie), but Ma Ananda Sheela, his manager, 'secretary' and trusted person, until there was a rival lady for the Bhagwan. Then Sheela supposed a plot to kill the Bhagwan and instead she planned to have the supposed-to-become-murderer killed. That was the beginning of the end of this great adventure of five years in the USA.

Many mystical teachers, all over the world have a lady and great supporter: it is clear with Eckhart, Ibn 'Arabi, Arnold Jansen, founder of the SVD order, Saint Francis of Assisi and Clara. Sheela was the organizing power, precise and practical instructions, while Bhagwan formulated the message.
Much talk is about immigration rules. I was also thinking about the man from turkey who arrived 18 years after the Bhagwan: Fethullah Gülen, who also had problems with the process of immigration. The compound founded by or for Fethullah Gülen is much smaller: only for the inner circle, arriving with him from Turkey (while most of the devotees of the Bhagwan were Americans). Little is known about life in the actual abode of Fethullah Gülen and it is also not found interesting by many dsciples in Europe.
There was last week an interesting article in De Kanttekening, the weekly published by Gülen people in the Netherlands. It is an interview with Ercan Karakoyun, leader of the movement in Berlin. He deemed the strategy of the movement too sectarian: often full of propaganda only, denying any weakness, not able to listen top critics. The critical journalist Ahmet Sik did not receive a good answer and was only 100% dismissed. And first of all: closed like a sect. Also the transition from support for Erdogan/AKParty to criticism had been too abrupt and without a thorough analysis.
I wish the person of Fethullah Gülen and his movement a better development than what happend with the Bhagwan!

zondag 8 april 2018

The future of old books: the LDI programme

I came for the first time to Indonesia in March 1970, for one full year of field work in pesantren, Islamic religious boarding schools. A collected as many books as I could buy and since then the collection has grown. But now my wife and I decided to move to a nice appartment. It is not so small, but anyway, many books had to be removed.

We started last year already with donations of nearly 1.000 books to the IUR, Islamic University of Rotterdam. Now many more followed: in 51 boxes (to a maximum of 20 kilo, average 40 books per box) and 69 somewhat smaller boxes, a total of 3090 books have now been selected for the programme LDI, Library Development Indonesia. It began in 2004 as a support for the new library of the Christian University of Ambon, which lost all its books in 2000-2002 during the interreligious conflicts in the Moluccas. My donation will partly go to Banjarmasin, for the Christian Theological Seminary and the Islamic University.
Many books went through my hands, who were never read. It reminded me of Mitsuo Nakamura who returned after his first dield work in Indonesia with so much material, that his promotor complained: you have so much different material, wenough for ten dissertation. So many more books to read, to write about, but there is a time to acknowledge that no new subject can be scrutinized in depth and in detail. After two decades of conversation with Muslims in Indonesia and writing about them , mostly about the way they wereconfronted with modern times, and also some historical material (1970-1990), a concentrated more on Catholics (1990-2015).
I do not know what will come in the next decade or so. But I am happy that the LDI will take care of sending these to Indonmesia back again.