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"Lord," said His Holiness Prophet (HHP) Noah, looking up to a clear sky for the first time in 40 days, "Since the flood is residing, the olives are growing and the pigeons are flying, You think I might suggest something about the nature of man?"

The Lord who was deeply saddened with how His favorite creation destroyed under His Wrath, was barely in a chatty mood. Glad that He didn't let the angels or demons have the ability to snigger, He shrugged at HHP Noah's request.

Since the Lord didn't react by sending another drop of rain, HHP Noah took it as a good sign and went on with his request. "Lord, don't let man live too long. After 950 years of preaching, we barely got out of this flood with a handful of believers; barely worth the time and effort invested in saving them. Man is as arrogant and obtuse as they are, whatever we say to them. My bet is that any prophet coming in line after my time is going to go through the same sheer stupid stubbornness, and it's not worth Your heartache, Lord, nor the Prophets'."

So the Lord gave man a shorter life span.

"Lord," said His Holiness Prophet Abraham, "Circumcision at younger age? That was some tough meat my wife had to cut."

"Lord," said His Holiness Prophet Solomon, "Don't allow man to command the djinns. They could barely manage with material wealth. How do You think they could manage the supernatural?"

"Lord," said his son, His Holiness Prophet David, "Limit the women and material wealth too."

"Lord," said His Holiness Prophet Moses, "Don't set Your commandments on stone, for if there's anything dumber and tougher than stone, it'd be the mind of man. They might yield to what is gentler."

"Lord," said His Holiness Prophet Jesus, "Not the other cheek; don't be too gentle on man for they often need a lick of whip up their assess from time to time."

"Lord," asked His Holiness Prophet Mohammed on his final days as the last prophet sent to man, "How should I leave them until the end of days?"

The Lord said, "Tell them that, today, I have completed your religion, perfected My blessing upon you, and I have decreed Submission as the religion for you. [Holy Qur'an 5:3]"

Hence, after nearly 4000 years preaching, was the Prophecy's Farewell Sermon to man.


Tora Sudiro is a walking sheet of Batik: His tall and broad physique provides plenty of drawing space for tattoo artists. The thing that made him worth mentioning – aside from his adorable qualities and sense of humor – is that, this is a Muslim man who, more than once, has been witnessed observing prayers in a mosque or musholla.

The first thought we had was, "Why did he wear tattoos when he never really renounced his religious duties?" Weren't tattoos damned since our fifth grade teachers made us memorize hadiths about all methods of damnation?

The same damnations were applied to breast reduction and enhancement, eye-brow trimming, liposuction, facelifts, noise and fragrance or jingle emitted from females (intended or not), and male-piercing (although I'm not sure about female body piercings, are we limited to the ears or is also okay to decorate the nose, bellybutton, nipples and youknowwhere?).

There's a recent long discussion about this here, and there's always the forums and FPIs** to set things clear for you in case you want the simpler clarifications.

The underline is that wearing a tattoo is not okay.

And if you seriously want to end up in heaven, you have to refrain from permanent modifications, unplug the internet, the phone, the television, drop your children out of school, maintain illiteracy, declare war on western and eastern medicine, convert to hermitdom, marry four orphan women AND live in the dessert like a proper Bedouin. It's an atheist who said it best: You either take it all, or to hell with all.

Is the Lord really is that narrow? Did He bring us all here just to taunt and scare us with damnation? I might as well do everything wrong – oh that tattoo! – if whatever I do is only going to be chucked in hell anyways. And if I can't have fun in the afterlife, might as well have it here, right?

It's not like anybody could ever really, definitely prove that there's such thing as an afterlife anyways, right?

No, not really.

I think a lot of us get stuck at the end of that paragraph, where a cognitive shortcut forces itself in. You either stop questioning and just settle with "tattoos are not okay and Tora Sudiro is going to hell, God have mercy on his soul". Or you let go of the entire religion system, and be the pantheist, add more tattoos and don the liberated-but-conflicted attitude.

Honestly? Being a non-believer is a lot freedom. The mind unshackled can cross unimaginable boundaries and do wonderfully little crazy things. It's like attending a funeral for God and then going make up your own belief systems that works best for you and the folks around you.

It's also extremely exhausting.

So, if we don't want to settle with sending Tora to hell because he's still "generally a good guy", then where would he fit? We also don't want to dismiss the religious systems, because we've seen a lot of good that faith can do to a person and a society. The question is, again, why would the Lord put us in a world full with temptations if He was just going to constantly threaten us with hell and making it sound (almost) impossible to achieve heaven?

Looking at it from another way around, if Heaven was as easy as drive-thru hamburgers, we wouldn't have needed to pour our daily focus on achieving it, or at least try at it. We've got to go through temptation, children, work, illness, old age and whatnot to deserve anything remotely heavenly.

What lays assuring is to know that Heaven, ladies and gentlemen, is NOT out of reach as much as Hell is not a definitive answer to all our mistakes and tattoos. Heaven is just a carrot and we're the donkeys. The idea is to keep it in our minds-eye; live primarily based on hope and Not. Look. The. Other. Way. Around.

And maybe we don't need to look so far to an afterlife for a reward, when parts of heaven is already here, in the breaks between crunches, under an umbrella in a rainy day, or just pick any one of the most satisfying simple pleasures life has to offer.

The Lord didn't make it easy for us just for the sake of breaking humanity, but because He wants us to work our asses for it. He made it really hard to achieve the reward because He doesn't want us to become lazy or indulgent.

And you know what, that's fine by me.

The point to these questions is not, and will ever be, to provide resolute answers. The point to these questions is to spurt more of them. As long that you are willing to look, as long that you don't give up on Him or on your self-achievement, these questions aren't waiting to be answered, merely waiting to be asked.

Don't you wonder?

* Gorgeous tattoo image powered by good ol' Getty.
** FPI: Front Pembela Islam (Islam Defenders Front), an aggressive organization of brutal and disoriented hooligans that vandalize public property on the behalf of God and religion.

And the stone word fell
Upon my still living breast.
Never mind, I was prepared for this.
Somehow, I shall stand the test.

Anna Akhmatova (1888 - 1966)


1.


Gong Xi Fa Cai are words that you would not hear if Soeharto was still president of Indonesia, lest you want to risk a serious penalty. Seeing the city decorated in the spirit of the Chinese New Year was assuring. No matter how corrupt and busted this country's systems are, some words still proclaim diversity and laugh at the face of xenophobia.

A solar eclipse occurred on the day of the Chinese New Year, and since the Chinese are super-superstitious, it is considered as a very ill-omen. So they brace themselves for a rough year. What is worse than rough patches and ill-omens is not to be prepared for them.

We may not be as superstitious as the Chinese, but we follow suit and brace ourselves just as well.

Just in case.


2.


Yes, we can. And we have. These were the words that the new US President somberly stated in his inauguration, not because it's a funky motto to repeat to your ears' sick-content, but it's an omen, that we should brace ourselves for whatever rough patches coming in our way.

As the cynics, we should be the ones most superstitious, since we are the first to chew and spit and "I told you so" at calamities.


3.


I woke her a breath before dawn broke. "Mama, bless me. I'm about to go, Mama."

"Take care of yourself," Mama said sleepily. Some things are sensible through the thickest fog, the darkest shades of twilight. "My prayers are with your every step, child."


.


"Let there be light," said the Lord, in which to these words the universe shifted, and there was an eclipse no more.

For words, my fellow cynics, are often all that it takes to start the change, or to bear standing through it.

Gong Xi Fa Cai card from here.

My favorite parts of the inaugural speech (aside from learning to actually spell in-au-gu-ra-tion) went straight to my twitter and facebook status updates: "know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy". The sum of his speech though, were clustered into two major lessons, each can be divided into different areas of practice.

Lesson One: Honor Thy Parents

When the 44th President of the United States of America mentioned the elders, the "men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom," all I could think about was: Dude, that's what I'm talking about!

We are here today, leisurely viewing our computer screens because some folks in our ancestry have gone through a lot of deal to assure our survival.

I have always been proud, and the pride has intensified since Obama came into the picture, to say that I come from a long line of wanderlusts, patriots, housewives, divorcees and villagers, because each one of them did what they could to stay alive and nurture their young so that we – you, me, our siblings and cousins across the globe – could have a shot at being born and try a hand at living.

The least we could do in honoring their efforts is to live as good and as honest as our darn asses can. Seize every day, ever opportunity, and ever cup of coffee that you can get your hands on.

No matter how dark and stormy it might get, don't falter, don't get stuck on wishful thoughts and "what if"s.

Most importantly, don't regret or be ashamed of the person that you are and want to become, because whatever our ancestors did, whether directly or not, has brought you here today.

President Obama stated his solemn vows using his full name; he said, "I, Barack Hussein Obama". His speech was as patriotic as any American should ever be, yet as filled with acknowledgement as any 2400 word speech can be.

Yes, Barack Obama is the epitome of an American Dream, Superman and idea of equality in every Founding Fathers' mind of any country or religion, but he is also the descent of the world's heritage (by encompassing Hussein in his presidential pledge, Kenyan and Muslim affiliations).

If any one of you, my brothers and sisters, wherever you may right now be, ever dare to question your cultural identity, take example in the man who has reset the barometers of "cool" in the world, and be proud for whatever mixture and affiliation you have in your blood and history.

After all, we are, said Obama, the keepers of their legacies.

Lesson Two: Just Don't Follow in Their Mistakes

So honor, respect and love thy predecessors, just don't be an idiot while you're at it. The past is just as laden with glories as much as wrongdoings. I'm not saying you should ever fear of making mistakes – by all means, mistakes are just another result of living – just don't do the mistakes your forefathers have done.

Don't justify war for freedom and humanity, because the collateral damages shames these honorable ideals that humanity lives for. Don't justify injustice, ignorance or indulgence, because merit wins all these games, no matter what the scores are. Don't slacken off, don't be lazy, don't ever neglect your responsibilities because, as Obama had said, "greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted…"

So,
If you ever wonder why you should bother, or why the words of yet another American icon should further infiltrate our overly-Americanized cultures all over the world, keep in mind that we're all on duty at this brief posting in the mortal world, and we suck and absorb as much greatness as we can in our journeys. So that,

"Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

Amen.

Footnote:
1. Original text clips of the Inauguration speech came this Electronic Village.
2. Image is powered by Inmagine.
This post parades a tent on Amazing Vision Carnival February 2009.

Hning thinks that you're a fool not to believe in reincarnation.

A lot of people believe in reincarnation, but not monotheists. Monotheists refute reincarnation. Monotheists believe that you only get one shot at being whoever you mortally are, and that's it. You can't bargain a re-do, you can't repeat the process and it's a one-way journey. From cradle to grave.


Is it? is the journey really that short?

[this is why Hning thinks that Atheism and disbelieving in an afterlife are just plain boring. There's just so little to look forward to in a day, in a life. But then, since they have nothing to look forward to, Atheists and Pantheist are also the ones who nail "Carpe Diem" to the fullest, aren't they?]

Danarto, an esteemed Indonesian magical-surrealism writer, wrote that "Man passes through 5 realms: Spiritual, Pre-Worldly (in a mother's womb), Worldly, Death and resurrection".

Now, Muslims are obliged to pray five-times a day. Aligning these two concepts, and adding the Prophet's hadith that "Sleep is a the brother of death", Hning came up with this:


Dawn prayer manifests the Primal Spiritual realm.
This is when the Lord said, "Let there be Light". Creation took its time taking shape, either a few a hundred billion years – or maybe just six spiffy days. Who knows? Our souls might have existed since then, hanging around waiting to be conceived. Who knows?

This is where we might have gathered before we're conceived. Hning wonders if she has met her soulmates here, in the primal spiritual realm. Can't help but want to believe every time a "stranger" seems that undeniably familiar. You know that pickup line, "Have we met?" You know what, maybe we have.

Midday Prayer manifests the womb.
Oh the rush and heat and pressure of a Midday! Loved ones separated to make a living, work around the house, pick up the kids, wonder what's for lunch and dinner. You might skip breakfast and decide on a light dinner, but would you ever dismiss lunch? Eat, drink and be merry!

Should we squeeze all of this productive energy through that birth canal? Might as well try! Should we separate now to do all of the stuff you mentioned? You, I, she, he might not make it. That's alright, we'll see each other again later. Much later in the evening.

Late Afternoon Prayer manifests the mortal world.
This is where we are right today, where we live and blog and watch the sun on its dangerous slope nearing the end. The more time we spend here is the more we pay attention to clocks. Biological clocks, birthdays, disease, mortality. Some of us might be on the way home, some might be trying to close the day's pending tasks…some very peculiar ones actually preparing themselves for work.

Evening Prayer manifests death.
How could it not? At dusk, the world seems to turn itself in, enshrouding every living and thought and longing under a dark blanket of secretive slumber.

Isha manifests Resurrection and Judgment Day.
So your day is done, whether or not you're ready to turn give it a rest. As you lay your prayer rug and make your bed, you assess how your day went. Some of you might be planning how you are going to spend the following day.

Normally, this is where the Hindu idea of reincarnation sets forth, prepping itself for a dreadfully repetitive cycle, or the hopeful glint of a second chance.


[If you live somewhere between the Cancer and Capricorn Tropics (23°27’ to the north and south of the equator), you would notice the brevity for midday, Ashr and evening prayers. The Lord has repeatedly mentioned this, in the Holy Quran and through His prophets و الآخرة خير و أبقى.]

The thing is, we live and die and live again every day.

Every day, we are offered a second chance to make nice and do better.

Every day, we are offered the choice to either spend it miserably, or not. As good as folks can be, or not.

How are you going to spend yours?

Footnote:
1. I used the Islamic Prayers allegory in explaining the idea of reincarnation ONLY because I am most familiar with its concepts. In no way do I dismiss Jesus' return to reign mankind prior to Judgment Day, nor do I think that Judaism lacks from such concepts. These are merely my shortcomings, not the religions'.
2. Images powered by Getty.

I've been feeling guilty that I'm so comfortable in my selective obliviousness towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue, where nearly everyone is so engrossed in spending their attention, either online or in dress code. The status changes and groups and post-it notes on my Facebook Homepage made me start wondering if I have an aggressive set of friends, or if I'm missing a sensitivity chip.

So to clear that out, the reason to my disregard to the issue mentioned up there, I dug deep in my memory; where I don't really want to remember anymore, where it pricked and – by recollecting these memory shards – could hurt again (some credit for that, please), and found this…



"...Bahrain and Jordan saw the most violent demonstrations in the Arab world…This is BBC News broadcast…"


The neighbors are practicing their English again, I thought, throwing onions into the pot, trying to ignore the muffled broadcast from the behind my apartment walls.

It's barely noon and I'm already ransacking the kitchen for lunch. I got home early because they shut down the university. A precautionary procedure, they had called it. A lovely interruption, had it not been so tense with looming violence; almost like skipping classes, but better because the teachers' allowed it.

The doorbell rang. I opened it to see an Arab-Israeli neighbor. His aloof grin quickly disappeared at the smell of cooked food.

"Great, you've cooked," He walks in, drops his jacket on one of the living room chairs, and immediately helps himself from the stove, and digs in.
"Why are you here?" I close the door behind him, pour a glass of juice for both of us, half-dazzled at his uninvited presence.
"What? Oh, foh vunch!" He swallowed his first meatball still standing, then he sat on one of the dining table chairs, "Goddammit, woman, what did you put in this thing? Why does it taste so good?"
"Mustard," I let him search his taste buds, then continued, "I meant, why aren't you out there with the others?"
"Because it's not safe. And it's raining. Besides, I'm hungry."

I looked out the window to see thick clouds dispersing. It's a lovely day actually, lovely enough for a walk outside, by the campus fence or in Abdoun. I wouldn't go out now, though. My friend was right about safety issues; and it would have been difficult to calm and explain to my parents if I came home to them in a coffin.

Putting my own plate in front of his, I picked on him instead of my meal, "Aren't you being a bit unpatriotic by being here, mister?"
"Why, because I ain't foolish enough to risk my life on a violent riot?"

To be honest, this was what I loved about him; his practicality. If going out isn't safe, a girlfriend would have something to eat in her house. Girls always do. It was also what I hated, his opportunism.

"You're basically Palestinian, you're supposed to show some support, man."
"Habeebty, I'm as Israeli as you are Saudi; and we both know how easy it is to claim or renounce comradeship to any group of a person's choice."

Ouch.

"You oughtta be ashamed of yourself! You're betraying your own brothers! They're being mauled by…"
"My brothers," he interrupted, slamming his fork on the table, "don't pay 17 shekels an hour, H. They wouldn't pay my overtime, which is double that amount, without a fight. They also wouldn't provide state-of-the-art healthcare for my parents, or any kind of treatment that you and I are only theorizing about here."

But…Israel, Yasser Arafat, the children, the death tolls, Sharon…

"What about them?! They're doing exactly what you and I are doing right now: Doing what they think is right, whether or not it upholds some vague idea about freedom!" He wiped his mouth, disgusted with the words and pain that smeared his heart.

He lowered his voice and took me where I wanted, the Past. "My mother was there, when the choices were made in '48," he said, "My grandfather had 13 children, and he had to choose between refuge or surrender. Who would you consider a traitor, the man who puts his life and family in mindless refugee-camp limbo, or the one who let go of some nationalistic pride and ownership in return for survival?"

I did not want to answer. Had I been alone in that kind of situation, I might have just opted to fight and die with honor and glory. Putting my mother or my brothers in the same picture, however, would force me to sit down and think more than twice. For love is both captor and liberator.

But to justify the unthinkable menace over…

"I am here today," he softened, "enjoying this glorious meal you've prepared because the folks of Arab '48 were right enough in their mind not to run away, or tempt the wrath of something that's disproportionately out of size. What difference did it make? The borders just shifted a little east, my grandparents continued being olive farmers just like their ancestors and their children and maybe my own children and grandchildren.

"The underline is, sweetheart," He picked up his fork again, and looked into my eyes, "You do what you can to get by. If that could only happen by handing over a passport or a citizenship in return to not dying, then it's fine. Otherwise, we'd think that all immigrants in America or Europe are traitors too."

We left his dusty words to reside on our minds. Yes, we get by. Better alone than with a contemptuous company. Better here than accidentally dead on purpose.

"How's the food?"
"Calming, borderline-heavenly. Can I have a second?"
"As long that you do the dishes after..."

Darah is Indonesian for "Blood".
The word darah is very close to Dara, Indonesian for Maiden.
Arabic for "to circle" دارَ , or the noun "circle" دائرة.


When a woman tells me that she's afraid of blood, I know that she's either pulling an immature trick to look cute, or that she's lying.

"Why do you bleed so much, mama?"

Still, when my seven-years old daughter asked, I took my breath. And then I took another. I've prepared my response long before she was born. Yet the gravity of this seemingly-casual conversation could affect the way she looks at her body, for the rest of her life.

"It's a big girl's secret," I took her to my lap, mostly comforting myself from the heartbreaking realization that my little girl is a notch closer to womanhood, just by knowing this.

"You know there's a room in a mother's body where a baby grows? Now, when a woman is pregnant, she shares her food with her baby from the blood that flows into this room, her womb,

"When a woman is old enough to carry a child, her womb begins to produce the food, even if it's an absent child, just in case. Since there's no one to eat the baby food prepared inside of her, it goes bad and yucky,

"That's why big girls bleed; her is body cleansing itself from spoiled baby food."


"Man's shell is woman because it is by her that he comes into the world; and woman's shell is woman because she is born of woman. One cannot enumerate the shells of all the things that this world produces."

Anonymous - Referring to the Polynesian belief that all reality reflects the shell of the primal matrix.
That was a personal recollection. A memory of how my mother explained the bloody cycle in concise and concrete terms. It's how I explained to my brothers and any man who'd bother to ask.

Never failing to enjoy the look of wonder on their faces when a woman's body mounts a bit higher on their esteem.

Darah is Indonesian for "Blood".
The word darah is very close to Dara, Indonesian for Maiden.
Arabic for "to circle" دارَ , or the noun "circle" دائرة.



 Bananas for dessert?

We chuckled at the hostess' sense of humor when a massively meaty meal was followed with fat, yellowy, ripe bananas.

Since the husband was appointed head of prophets, the wife's behaviors just seemed to be getting weirder and weirder. First, she gave an out-of-the-blue invitation for a "married ladies only" lunch. Then this lavish meal followed with bananas.

We wink to each other and keep our peace – at least as long that we're still in their home. It's not the first time that our faith in Abe and Sara is tested. It's not the first time that their apparent insanity unfolds more wisdom than most of us would comprehend.

Besides, we love bananas. They're never too sweet or too sour, and no matter how enshrouded is the edible part of the fruit under so thick layers of skin, you can always judge a banana from its skin, making it a reliable and trustworthy fruit.

I was about to take my first banana bite, when the blacksmith's wife came to greet and boisterously hug me. We watched the banana to slip and fall from my hand. She smiled apologetically and offered me another from the table, and walked away to shock the Mayor's wife with yet another one of her earsplitting greetings.

I repeated the ritual of unpeeling another banana. And when I was about to take my first bite, the carpenter's wife nudged my elbow and dropped the fruit from my hand.

The third time's the charm. This time Sara, the hostess herself who shook my elbow until the banana fell from my hand. This time I got mad. Prophets or not, this is crazy.

"Look here, Madam, that was my third. Is there a reason why I should NOT skip dessert and leave? "
She smiled. "Would you eat your bananas unpeeled?"
"I certainly would not!"
"Then neither should your husband." And she, Sara, walked away.

I lost my appetite and left the gathering banana-craved and confused. At home, I found my husband, the soft spoken librarian, and immediately filled him with details of that strange lunch with the married ladies.

He gave me one of his 'you-women-I-can-never-thoroughly-understand!' laughs, took me in his embrace and gently guided my hand to the warmest crook between his legs, "I have something that might curb all and every one of your cravings."

He quickly grew in my hand. From a shy fruit under sheaths of wrinkled skin, to a fat stub that is bloated with desire.

And it struck me clear.

"I think I need to sharpen the kitchen knife."
"What?!" He shrunk. Entirely.
"I think Sara was implying on this," I squeezed my husband's shriveled shaft, oblivious to his yelp. "You men need to be unpeeled before enjoyed."
"Woman, are you out of your mind? Unpeel my manhood with a knife and scar me for life?"
"Yeah,"
"Well, why didn't Abe just tell me so himself?"
"You think you have the balls to do it yourself, husband?" I dropped to my knees and kissed him there, "Be my guest, but I wouldn't bet on your balls if I were you,"

The women were the ones given the order, the men to comply.
This was how men, not only women, began to bleed from between their legs. How circumcision began.

How enjoyment between man and woman had a blood clotted between the sheets, from the days of Abraham and his wife Sara.


A good pair of 501 Jeans
1. Can give relatively good protection from extreme weather conditions,

2. Can shield the covered flesh from malaria, dengue and itchy bug bites

3. Is a classic and durable fashion investment

4. Is socially acceptable worn in most daily occasions

5. Is environmentally friendly; since it can be worn daily with minimum care

6. Can be combined with a T-Shirt or a tank top, over a bra or chest hair

7. Can complement most body shapes, whether pear or apple or beer


God Bless the rugged and rough American cowboys for introducing, patenting and providing the world with enough 501 Jeans.

Sounds out of place, right? It's almost like you're on the wrong blog!

Here's the catch:
A quality-made pair of original 501 Jeans

a) Is usually sold in the hippest, fanciest malls of the world

b) Usually costs more than the average Indonesian's monthly minimum wage

c) Can only be purchased by the smartest, richest and securest individuals of the third world who are the least worried about six-legged semi-demonic beings popularly known as called mosquitoes


So,
If you're ever bored of your 501 jeans, consider that you're luckier than most of the world's population to ever lay hands on such valuable clothing material. You probably never had to worry about cows or bugs in your life.

Image stolen borrowed from here.
 
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