Monthly Archives: June 2014

Today was a good day to be in K.L.

I’ve never been to Malaysia before, and to be honest wasn’t planning a visit, but when I booked my trip to Europe a couple of months ago, Malaysian Airlines were significantly cheaper than anyone else  (one guess why)! I figured if I was going to be flying through, I should stop and look around for a couple of days. So, I’ve had two days in Kuala Lumpur, and I can say it has been worthwhile.

Scale model of the city
Scale model of the city

Coming from Adelaide’s wet and windy winter days, 35 degrees + 80% humidity was a shock to the system, but it is nice to be back in summer! And despite the predominantly concrete jungle, there are glimpse of KL’s tropical beauty all around if you look for them.

It would be great if photos came with smell!
It would be great if photos came with smell!
What have I loved about K.L.?

There are basically two city centres in K.L. – the old and the new. In the new is the most famous part of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline: Petronas Towers, for 6 years the world’s tallest building, and still the tallest twin towers in the world (they held this honour pre-2001 as well, although it’s hard not to think of what happened to those others towers while here).

The top of Tower 1 viewed from Tower 2
The top of Tower 1 viewed from Tower 2

The skybridge between floors 41-42 of the two towers is a separate structure, which means you can feel a good gust of wind.

Taken in the skybridge
Taken in the skybridge

KL’s other significant spire is the telecommunications tower.

KL Tower
KL Tower

The “old” city is roughly 100 years old, with lots of early 20th century buildings built by the British.

The Selangor Club at Merdeka Square
The Selangor Club at Merdeka Square

The old city is really where the cultural mix here is most evidently seen. Malaysians are rightly proud of the way Malay, Chinese and Indian heritage, culture, and food come together.

The lanterns of Chinatown
The lanterns of Chinatown

I did a great walking tour that included sampling a variety of local foods – all of which were amazing!!

Roti Tissue - paper thin and sugary, yum!!
Roti Tissue – paper thin and sugary, yum!!
Indian noodles with secret spices
Indian noodles with secret spices
Chinese clay pot chicken
Chinese clay pot chicken

Where there are many cultures coming together, you also have many beliefs. Although Islam is the dominant religion in Malaysia, KL has temples of all kinds.

The city's oldest Chinese temple (Tao/Buddhist)
The city’s oldest Chinese temple (Tao/Buddhist)
Hindu priest relaxing at the Sri Mamamarianmanan temple
Hindu priest relaxing at the Sri Mamamarianmanan temple

A little out of the centre of town is the impressive looking royal palace, strictly available for photo ops out the front.
Royal Palace

What have I learned from K.L.?

I love visiting different cities and walking the streets to get a feel for them. K.L. presented some challenges – in many parts the city is really not designed for walking, and trying to find a way through the busy streets was its own kind of “fun”.

A small taste of K.L. traffic
A small taste of K.L. traffic

Kuala Lumpur is certainly a growing city, with plenty of construction everywhere you look. Whether this is all positive “progress” depends on who you ask – there are those who lament the destruction of heritage, and I couldn’t help but notice as in many parts of the world, it is the homes of the poor that seem to be being taken over for construction of buildings for the wealthy.

Construction

I was also challenged by the sheer number of shopping malls. Both for tourists and locals, it seems that there is another growing religion in K.L – consumerism. I hate to sound too judgemental, but given the poverty I have seen around the world, and yes, here too, I find myself struggling to know how to respond to the whole “shopping as entertainment” culture which is so heavily promoted. We all have much to learn about living in a world of global injustice.

Mall

Another recurring impression I had was that while Australians like to think we are multicultural, a place like KL reminds me that many of our cities are really quite mono-cultural, and perhaps we have something to learn about accepting others. Hearing the most recent news from home about our response to refugees while here certainly brings some heartache and huge questions.

Signs abound here for “1 Malaysia” – a claim of harmony in diversity. Questions remain whether you can scratch too far beneath that surface.

Part of the National Mosque
Part of the National Mosque

I spent some time in the Islamic Arts Museum, and it was good to appreciate some aspects of the beauty of a faith I sometimes struggle to understand.

Islamic Arts Museum

Ramadhan is just starting and there was an exhibition of photos from around the world. This remarkable picture of Mecca is no doubt as close as I will ever get to the real place!

Ramadhan exhibition Mecca

But I have to acknowledge that along with a bunch of other points of contention, I find the way women are viewed and treated in Islam really confronting, and I’ve had a few experiences while here that have only added to my unease. I can’t imagine finding hope in a faith that seems to view me as less than simply because of my gender.

The oldest mosque in K.L.
The oldest mosque in K.L.

And, yes, I’m aware that some people think members of my own faith have not always treated women well. But I would vehemently state that that is not the gospel, and I am reminded again how important it is for the church to respond to gender issues well. In the end, I am grateful that my faith is not in a system of beliefs but in a person. I will continue to wrestle with how following Jesus works out in practice, particularly in diverse contexts such as this, but I am continually grateful for His complete acceptance of me, and His abiding presence with me.

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Celebrating and weeping on World Refugee Day

Image Copyright Michael Leunig/The Age http://www.theage.com.au/photogallery/national/cartoons-for-wednesday-15-august-20120814-246ud.html
Image copyright Michael Leunig/The Age

The UN General Assembly agreed in 2000 that June 20, today, would be celebrated as World Refugee Day. It is designed to be a day on which the world takes time to recognise the resilience of forcibly displaced people throughout the world.

It is good to celebrate. We can often think of people who have had to flee their home country due to war or persecution primarily in terms of their suffering. But so many refugees show themselves to be not only resilient, but incredibly gracious and compassionate, going on to make incredible contributions to the lives of people in their new home countries and around the world.

Did you know authors Victor Hugo and Joseph Conrad were refugees? As were actors Andy Garcia, Rachel Weisz, Marlene Dietrich and Jackie Chan, scientist Albert Einstein, artist Peter Carl Faberge, businessman Aristotle Onassis, philosophers Sigmund Freud and Freidrich Nietzsche, and musicians Bob Marley and Freddie Mercury.

High achieving Australians who came here as refugees include comedian Ahn Do, businessman Frank Lowy, academic Dr Anita Donaldson, scientists Sir Gustav Nossal and Dr Karl Kruszlnicki, politician Nick Greiner and AFL footballer Alex Jesaulenko.

We can be so grateful for what these people have contributed to our society, despite the challenges they faced earlier in their lives.

But I admit I find it difficult to celebrate today given the global refugee situation, and more particularly, given the heartbreaking attitude towards refugees in Australian society today, and from both sides of politics.

The UNHCR reported from Geneva today that the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons worldwide has exceeded 50 million for the first time since World War II.

This is a huge problem; one that we cannot simply turn a blind eye to. Each of these 50 million people is of incredible value, simply because of our shared humanity. They also each have the potential to contribute so much value to the rest of us, if only we can help them find a place to live out their resilience and compassion.

And yet in Australia we have suspended processing the applications of refugees who have arrived here by boat. We have instead locked these people up in what are basically concentration camps. We have taken away their hope. We have imprisoned over 1000 children. It seems to me that far from dealing with the global problem of refugees, we are adding to it.

And so on World Refugee Day I find myself ashamed of my country. I weep rather than celebrate. We have got this so wrong, and I can only imagine that at some point in the future we will look back on this day with incredulity and deep regret.

The one glimmer of hope in the darkness I see, the only reason I am not despairing today, is the response I see in compassionate and passionate people who are standing up saying “Not Good Enough” and “Not In My Name.” Who are advocating for a better political response to this crisis, and who are willing to pay a high price to make sure their voices are heard.

I think the key question for our nation, and for each of us as citizens of this country, is the one put today by Love Makes A Way’s Jarrod McKenna in this poignant and provocative article:

“Are we looking for a response that relieves our guilt, or one that responds to the suffering of others?”

Today would be a good day to be on Mount Nebo

Time for a Monday morning travel post. One of the reasons I love to travel is because I love history. I love hearing the stories of people who have come before, people whose lives and cultures and experiences were in many ways so different from mine today, and yet people who were seeking to engage in life and faith just like I am. I find it inspiring to reflect on whose footsteps I am following in, and what I might learn from their experiences. For me, travel and history are also strongly linked to faith, as I seek to learn from those who have sought to engage with God’s word and God’s world in their own time and place.

Today I’d love to return for a quick visit to a small mountain in Jordan, a mountain which isn’t really all that impressive to look at or from in many ways, but because of who has been there before me, has taken my breath away each time I’ve visited nonetheless.

Memorial sign

What did I love about Mt Nebo?

Mount Nebo is famous because it is the place in the Bible where Moses is taken by God just before he dies, where he looks out over the promised land to the west and beholds something of all the good things that God has in store for his people. (Deut 34:1-4) It surely would have been bittersweet for him, knowing he was not going with them, and yet I’ve found it a place that has a strong sense of hope.

View 2

Apparently on a very clear day you can see Jerusalem: it’s only  40 km away. Today, that short journey can still take quite a few hours, as it requires crossing the land border between Jordan and Israel, which can take quite some time. (Our study group from 2012 could tell you a tale about that!) But to stand so close to so many places from so many Bible stories, looking out at them laid out before you like a map is a reminder of the reality of historical experiences that lies behind the text.

Distances sign

Geographically, the hills and valleys, deserts, rivers and seas of Israel are all before you, waiting to be discovered, evoking all the historical events that have taken place there.

View

The first time I visited was a cloudy, grey day, and the view was very limited. But just as we were looking out towards the Dead Sea, the sun broke through the clouds in a few places. Suddenly spots on the horizon lit up and we felt like we had just a momentary glimpse of the excitement that Moses must have felt in this place.

Sun on sea

 What did I learn from Mt Nebo?

A church from around the 4th century has been excavated on the mountain, showing something of the way followers of Jesus in times past chose to remember and celebrate on this spot. It makes me wonder what they felt here, what they learned here, how God met them here too.

Church

The floor contains a number of well preserved ancient mosaics, testament to their desire to pass on truth and beauty in their own way.

Mosaic

This sculpture on Mt Nebo, combining the images of serpent and cross, portrays the words of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:14-15: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” It is a reminder that all the promises connected to the land come together in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That this history finds fulfilment in Him. It is also a reminder to me that people have met Him here in this place, where I too was able to meet with Him … but that I can meet with Him in faith any time, any where.

Snake on pole