And the garuda shall lie down with the merlion

This week Indonesians all around the world are supposed to celebrate the 65th anniversary of its independence, but I guess I am going to ruin the celebratory mood. A bit coincidental, though, since actually I wanted to write this piece on last Sunday but only managed to do so today.

Anyway, basically I will just repeat what I have written one year ago: I didn’t feel comfortable singing Indonesia Raya after last Sunday’s service. I just can’t sing it with a good and clear conscience (indeed, Cint was amused to see me, who usually sang very enthusiastically at Sunday service, suddenly became tight-lipped during the anthem). I might be over-reacting (lebai), indeed, but I still think that it is inappropriate to sing a national anthem at a Christian worship gathering. A church is not defined by its nationality, but by its faith in Jesus of Nazareth. We are not in union with the Garuda, but with Christ.

I don’t know how does it feel to the Singaporeans (and to other nationals) in our congregation. Admittedly, our congregation was historically conceived of Indonesian diaspora in Singapore. And basically all Singaporeans in our congregation were converts from Indonesian nationality. So in some sense our congregation is indeed Indonesian in some sense although perhaps not in passport anymore for some.

But I guess we really need to learn that our congregation should not be defined by our Indonesian-ness but by our faith. What still holds our congregation apart from the English and Chinese congregation in our church from worshipping together every Sunday is not our nationality, but the language used in worship. That’s why if someday all of us start to speak English as our primary language, it is then time to join the English congregation. Lord forbid that there will be a separate “Indonesian” congregation which uses English in worship. It is pointless and defeats the purpose of being church. If we do so we will have degraded to a national club and not a colony of Christ.

Pentecost is the exceptional event that proves the rule, at least for now. At Pentecost “each one was hearing them speak in his own language.” (Acts 2.6) This is a glimpse of eschaton where we will meet face to face with our Lord and will understand each other perfectly without any kind of  barrier (I guess; I’m open to any kind of surprise that God has in store for his people). Pentecost is the future which breaks through to the present. But that’s the point: it is precisely still located in the future. For now, we must be content with glimpses and glances of (and, of course, strive and pray for) such kind of future. For now, for practicality sake, congregations worshipping around the world are still separated by the language used in worship.

To return to my previous point about Singaporeans in our congregation, it is also perhaps worthy to note that actually some of the youths (sons and daughters of the senior families) in our congregation are indeed Singaporeans through and through. They were born and lived their whole life here. Indeed, all of us who are third- or fourth-generation Chinese in Indonesia must have understood this better. We don’t identify ourselves with China as our nation-state anymore. If, let say, we worship in a Chinese-speaking congregation in Jakarta (of whom the majority are Indonesian Chinese) and every first of October (or tenth of October, depending on your take on PRC-ROC conflict) the congregation sing March of the Volunteers (or San Min Chu-i, respectively), what do you think your response will be?

Not to mention those who have converted their passports from Garuda to Merlion; I believe they have a good reason to do so and we must respect their decision. They have chosen to become Singaporeans and to be Christians who, I really really hope, will commit themselves for God’s mission in Singapore for a long period (and perhaps for the rest) of their life.

Does it mean that we can’t celebrate the independence day as a church, then? By no means! We can do it in a lot of ways, indeed. A prayer meeting, for example. You can take it as a time where the congregation devoted themselves to pray for a specific state-country in the world, just like a congregation would do in other kind of special events (praying for a relief after disaster, etc.).

Don’t mistake me for being anti-nationalistic, un-patriotic, or the like. I don’t have any problem at all to sing Indonesia Raya anywhere else, but not in a service. I just want to reiterate one more time the internationalistic or trans-nationalistic character of our faith. Admittedly, being internationalistic doesn’t mean you can’t be nationalistic and sing your own national anthem. I just don’t think that Sunday service is the right place to express one’s nationalism, even if it was done only once a year around the independence day.

And you might still think that I am still over-reacting to the whole thing.


11 thoughts on “And the garuda shall lie down with the merlion

  1. d

    A song is a song, i sang majulah singapura in the NDP preview, and will happily sing other national songs. (the lyrics for majulah sgp asks for a more prosperous sg, i can agree to that, so why cant we hope for kebangunan jiwa dan raga in indo raya) i treat those songs like a singing prayer.

    The crucial one is pledge, as long as its apostle’s creed and not some other allegiance, is fine. “the rest is just rock n roll”

    I get ur point though.

    1. septian Post author

      I guess that’s part of my problem. It did feel like reciting a pledge (perhaps because it was an anthem?). Yet I don’t know what my response would be if we sang another song.

  2. yosua

    I still think that religion is somewhat must be defined by their nationalities (as well as languages, ethnicities, etc). How are we suppose to enrich the kingdom of heaven if we don’t bring our own unique identity?

    But, I do think it’s okay for you to be ‘lebai’. (yes, u r lebai! :P)

    1. septian Post author

      Indeed. Our transnationality does not diminish our particularity but actually enriches it. Perhaps I am emphasizing too much on one side of the pendulum. I guess I am too wary of overtly-patriotic faith of the Americans (God bless America bla bla bla when they bombed Iraq) and somehow bark at the wrong tree.


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