koji berry

koji berry

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Finding God in a strange church

Observing how people struggle to find their gods turns out to be my favorite hobby. Years ago, I wrote in the Indonesian students mailing list the things people do to find their own gods, like by being member of a church located in another city, or changing the denomination. I say 'god' without capital G as I believe what we are looking is our own personal god, not the God as written in the holy scriptures, but the one who speaks personally to us.

Last Sunday, I had the urge to see my own god. I felt weak and depressed after the talk I had before with some friends, which can be summarized to "why haven't you find a job at the moment, after being unemployed for so many months". Because yes, I have been asking myself too. There is no job out there yet worth selling my time to explore myself and to perform the experiments with Lrrr. That is it.

So I woke up early (for a Sunday morning) and biked to the Catholic church in the city. And alas - it was locked. The priest must be on vacation again, and they forgot to put the announcement on the door, again. What to do? In normal situations I would have gone home or spend the afternoon in a cafe, reading a book. But I desperately needed my god, so I entered the only church that was open at the moment, a Christian church called "City Life Church". From outside, it looks like the regular Protestant church, with some ushers standing outside with "You're welcome" printed on their t-shirts.

Inside, the band was playing worship songs with many Jesus' in the text. This is also typical Protestant: beside saying how great is Jesus, the song lyrics do not say anything much. However, the gesture of the singer, asking people to stand up and rejoice for Jesus, as He has risen and He wanted to be with us ... it was enough for me to make my eyes water. Oh, how I needed Him to speak softly to me and say that everything will be fine, that I am loved!

I deduced that City Life Church is a Christian church without a particular denomination, based on the songs (only about Jesus) and the attendees. There were many immigrants there, including me. We were people that do not fit into the normal Dutch churches. For me, it is easy to enter a Catholic church and feels a bit at home, but I cannot imagine a Somalian asylum seeker entering the Dutch Reform Church. The guy next to me had an Arabic Bible, and I could not believe that he is a Protestant. Probably Coptic or some other very old Christian. To gather people from various streams, the church needs to be as neutral and basic as possible, hence the Jesus-only text.

After the worship, the young pastor came to the stage for the sermon. The sermon was about going out and spread the good news, like how Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman. Then the praying - well, they pray for people who needs jobs and who struggle with their relationships. Very modern, isn't it? I liked this part. This is a part that I missed from Catholic church, the ability to react to nowadays problems. The pastor said, Jesus is working on giving you a right place, so that you not only can earn money but also be a blessing for the people around you. Hey, I like this! My eyes started to water again. So maybe that's why it is very difficult for us to find jobs: we need a good place.

And that was it. There was no confession, no communion, even no Our Father. Basic, I told you.

My thirst for god was fulfilled. Thank you, City Life Church! Hope lost souls like me can always find your door. That being said, I would prefer my Catholic church whenever possible. I missed the silence, the opportunity to have intimate talks with The Transcendent, the rituals. I am not a puritan, so for me church is not the matter of keeping it strictly by the book, but to connect with the spiritual me, the part of me that has grown from years of singing Gregorian songs and chanting Hail Mary.

(Back home, they adapted the Javanese tunes into the hymns. This was even better as I can connect the Javanese-me and the Catholic-me.)

But when the Catholic church close their doors, I know where I could turn to.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I am a prophet - no, you're a lunatic

The advantage of having spent some time in the university is that I got to know people with various areas of expertise. So that is how I got to know Chris, a psychiatry resident. We call him doctor-doctor Chris, since besides an MD he also has a PhD. I know him through Iwan, his housemate, my fellow countryman whom I knew since my PhD time. Last time we saw him, he just moved to the mental institutions for the criminally insane as a standard psychiatric practice bored him. At the moment he is a resident in the acute psychiatric service.

Yesterday we had a barbecue at Iwan's house. Chris was at on-call duty, which means that he should be ready to pay a visit if somebody had an "sudden and severe psychiatric symptoms". However, I expected that there won't be many emergency situations so he could enjoy his dinner with us (minus the beer). I was wrong.

He also had on-call duties during his time with the criminally insane. Emergency situations happened scarcely, and most of the time he can just stay at home. But this time it was different. When I arrived late in the afternoon, Chris was recovering after taking care of two patients. Not long after that, he got a phone call and he was gone and did not return until 10 pm. We have left some salads and nice pieces of meat for him, so he could enjoy a proper, albeit late dinner. Then around one in the morning, when we were talking with a nice cup of tea from the small plantation owned by Iwan's mother, he got another call, and he returned at around half past six, exhausted.

(The criminally insane were probably sufficiently drugged to keep them stable.)

He told us about his patients over breakfast, when his service time was finally over. Here we heard about words like depression, manic, and psychotic. One patient said that he`s going to buy a gun and shot himself dead. Another patient is a depressed tenured professor (!). The last patient, however, was really interesting. She was a very religious woman, and at that night she said that God has descended on her.

How appropriate as yesterday was the Pentecost day (!!).

She became severely psychotic and her husband, who has seen such behavior before, called for help. When Chris came in that unchristian hour, she fiercely attacked him with questions often asked during exorcism.Think about questions like "who's your master? Do you believe in Jesus as your Lord and savior? Are you sent by Lucifer?" . It is rather eerie, and my apology for the hard working psychiatrists, I find it ironically funny.

I was also sure that she was trying to perform exorcism on Chris as she spat on him, poor Chris. She also cited many verses from the Bible. After Chris' boss came and the major granted his permission (yes, it is required), the religious woman was brought to the hospital.

Should I remind you about Pentecost? This was the day when the Babylon curse was lifted. Fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit descended unto the disciples who keep their faith that Jesus will return as a King. As the results, everybody understood everybody although they came from various regions, as everybody was "speaking in tongues". This day confirms the Christians belief that Jesus has ascended to heaven and sit next to the Father, and that He stays inside us Holy Spirit. Basically the ultimate confirmation for the Christians' faith.

If you had a religious upbringing like me, you'll probably be disturbed as well. I had friends who joins the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements and believes in "speaking in tongues". It is not my cup of tea, but turns out that it is indeed possible that they are crazy. And also: when the saints and disciples said that they have had a revelation, who can tell if those are not one of those psychotic or manic attacks?

A clear description of the revelation is the ones St. John had, the famous revelation of apocalypse.

"And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority." (Revelation 13:1-3)

There is no way to know if this was a real revelation brought by the Holy Spirit, or if St. John's brain was short-circuited. Or maybe, it makes no difference since we can interpret anything freely. We also have no idea if the things experienced by those mentally troubled are not true. Who knows if the woman was really "god"? Maybe those people have wider perception compared to "normal" people and therefore have the ability to detect more signals.

Oh, one thing just struck me. I have an idea on how could we differentiate between prophets and lunatics. Chris mentioned that the stories mentioned by the insane often reflect their world view and belief. The religious woman thought she was god. Napoleon used to be very popular among delusional people, but it is not a trend at the moment. I guess the lunatics will just use the existing ideas they've learned to create their own self view. Prophets (assume that they exist), I guess, will come up with new ideas, something people have never thought of before. 

I stand corrected. But for now I will see the Bible through different eyes.