My motherland! This Christmas is scary for me
A9-year-old boy recently scolded me when I told him that I hesitated to bring my family, especially my sick wife, to attend the Christmas Eve mass service at our church this Saturday. To be honest, as a Catholic minority and as an Indonesian, I am afraid about the safety of my family. Will the coming Christmas be peaceful or disastrous? You can say I have little faith in it being the former. But if you were in my position, perhaps you would understand my anxiety. The majority of Indonesian Muslims are tolerant, democratic and peaceful. It is very true. But the threat to our life is very real too.
This boy clearly could not understand my position. For him Christmas is like a birthday celebration, during which his friends, including his Muslim playmates, congratulate him and ask him for treats. Of course he also expects lovely presents from them.
He shook his head firmly and even stared at me when I cited a police report on the possible recurrence of Christmas Eve bombings by terrorists on a number of churches in Jakarta back in 2000. He clearly accused me of trying to find the perfect excuse to skip the mass service, even though I told him the church where I would celebrate Christmas was among those bombed 16 years ago.
“All my Muslim friends are very nice to me. They embrace a very good religion,” the boy preached.
“But many Muslims don’t like the Christmas celebration because for us Jesus is the Son of God and even God himself. For them Jesus is a just a prophet,” I argued.
Then I remembered the boy’s cousin who once told me about the unnecessary waste of time and energy of debating whether Jesus is God or a prophet.
His cousin, who dreamed of becoming an Army general in his childhood, compared the two statuses to military ranks. “For us Jesus is like a general and for others his rank is much lower, say a major. Both rankings are highly respected anyway,” he told me many years ago.
Christmas, like other religious celebrations, such as the Islamic post-fasting festival or Idul Fitri, is always a source of joy, which we are willing to share with our own family, friends, neighbors and even fellow citizens. I always teach my children to greet their Muslim friends on Idul Fitri because I believe it is a courtesy for our neighbors and friends. The greeting does not have any ideological implications.
Now many Indonesians feel anxious and frightened to celebrate Christmas. On Wednesday, just four days before the holy day, police shot dead three alleged terrorists who reportedly wanted to disrupt Christmas and New Year celebrations.
National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian has repeatedly convinced churchgoers to not feel afraid of performing their faith, which is guaranteed by the Constitution. He said the police had taken more than enough precautionary measures to ensure the safety of Christmas revelers. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo also said he had taken the necessary steps to protect the people. But why do so many people, including me, remain in fear despite the repeated assurances?
In the last few weeks, we have read many anti-Christian slurs on social media, especially after the controversial remarks of Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. He is standing trial for alleged blasphemy, which has sparked anger among Muslims against the Christian and ethnically Chinese governor
Many Christians in Indonesia and elsewhere across the globe are frightened by the continuous reports of terrorist attacks perpetrated by those who claim to represent Islam. Similarly, millions of Muslims in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Myanmar have to confront horrors in their daily lives.
The pictures and footage of mourning children in Aleppo and Rohingya have frequently appeared on TV, newspapers and social media. Threats of death are very real for them and even when they survive they may have to face a dark future.
Those people, including women and children, are enduring unimaginable suffering as victims of crimes against humanity in their own homeland. They have lived in fear for a long time and should the suffering end, the trauma will stay for years.
I have no gut to claim that my religion is the closest to God or the righteous one. My father often told me that no one had ever returned from heaven or hell to testify their experience in the two places. Some of my Japanese friends acknowledge that they have no religion. “But we faithfully practice your religious teachings. We neither commit corruption nor abuse power. We help the poor,” they said.
I still remember John Lennon’s evergreen song “Imagine” that may justify my fear despite the Bible’s assurance that the birth of Jesus that we celebrate on Christmas is an event of joy.
.... Imagine there’s no country/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion too/Imagine all the people/Living life in peace....
Merry Christmas! Hopefully my fear is totally groundless.