When I say that I'm against religions ...

... it's because I want to put God in the proper position; out of all kinds of box we humans - especially those who proclaim their inferiority over a Supreme Being - have put him/her into.

... I never say I'm an atheist, neither an agnostic - for I humbly admit that I don't fully understand the meaning of it.

... it's because I believe humans should be either godly, or godless. Any doubt to make you stand in between will lead to confusion and false beliefs that will spread like a deadly virus.

... I am encouraging those who are identified as merely religious to free themselves from rules, laws, and doctrines that predecessors had stamped and/or suggested, and elevate to the level where we are supposed to be: a personal communion with the Supreme Being we believe where we can enjoy first-hand experience of their supremacy.

... it's because we all have witnessed the mess religions have made and are still making in this world.

... it's because I truly believe that religions are man-made. Spirituality doesn't count on rules, laws, and doctrines, but ultimately on personal experience. A communion of believers should be focused on edifying each other to escalate the level of spirituality and godliness, and should never interfere with other things, especially politics.

... I am also saying that I am a Christian, and Christianity is not a religion. I am truly sorry if many who claimed themselves as Christians - even "born again" ones - still think otherwise, thus not helping to make the world a better place for all.

... I am encouraging all of us to be free from symbols, and claim each of our own selves a unique individual, spiritually defined by either a very personal relationship with the Supreme Being, or absolutely none of such things.

I believe ...

... God has zero interest in your religion. That, if you believe in God.

... God won't mind how many times you follow or break the rules. God will only be concerned about our personal relationship with Him/Her.

... religions have too many things to do with God. God has nothing to do with religions.

... religions do not care about us, but we care too much about them.

Illustrations by Daniel Grizelj, GettyImages

Posted at 02:17 by VE HANDOJO

Stop Waiting

"He has made everything beautiful in its time." This first part of Ecclesiastes 2 verse 11 is usually left standing alone, implying us to wait for the perfect time when God will answer our prayers.

The following part of the beautiful verse is easily neglected, and rarely thought about; "Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end."

Have we had eternity in our hearts, or are still bound by the dimension of time? What is the sole indication of someone who has had an eternity in his heart? Only one, and one alone: there's no fear of the end of days. There's no fear of death. Eternity rests, thus he is not bound by the dimension of time. Patience, therefore, is never an issue anymore. He will no longer ask the question "when".

To put the heart into total surrender, digest the last part of the verse, saying that none of us - not a single one of us - will be able to understand or comprehend the work that God does from the very beginning, to the very end. God is beyond our reason, beyond our understanding of time, because God is Eternity himself. The dimension of time is within him.

There is no waiting for the perfect time. There is only total surrender to Him. You don't question when your prayers will be answered anymore. Once you believe that "everything is beautiful in its time", you have to stop waiting. You have to let eternity rests in your heart, and face the fact that you will never understand what God is doing with your life. And, that, my friend, is a beautiful thing.

Bible Verses: New King James Version
Illustration: Amanda Hall, GettyImages

Posted at 23:59 by VE HANDOJO

Samarinda and Balikpapan in a Flash

Picking Balikpapan and Samarinda as my birthday spot was an easy choice since I met Dragono Halim through Twitter. Yes, it's fun to go to new places where you don't know anybody - and, even better if English doesn't valid there. But, exploring new territory and friendship at the same time is also a good idea.

That, until Puppy and I fell sick.

Samarinda Sky was heavenly, and the impression was made stronger with the elegant Islamic Center and its minarets by the Mahakam River.

We spent almost half of the time in Balikpapan and Samarinda not feeling well. Surely, it didn't stop us to enjoy Kepiting Kenari in Jalan Pasar Pagi, Samarinda. Halim convinced us that cracking and sucking the giant arthropode will make us at least 30% Samarindan. I'm not a big fan of hassle dining. Cracking those tweezers is as hard as hammering a nail on to the wall. Yet, the crab was really good, bathed thoroughly in sweet and sour sauce.

The next morning, we cross the Mahakam River, and reached Samarinda Seberang. Strolling Jalan Pangeran, not far from the busy pier, we found wooden houses functioning as small shops, and sarong "factory". Old housewives tending the shops while weaving the threads in a traditional manner. The sarong they produce would then be sold in the town, priced at Rp 500,000 - Rp 1,000,000.

We went to Pampang, the designated Dayak village for tourists, and stopped by at the zoo to have our first encounter with orangutans. They were all quick visits that made us officially check-list tourists - God knows I actually hate that, but the unfit condition gave me no choice.

The East Borneo Experience will typically include eating fried mantou, crossing Mahakam River, and cracking the giant crab, Kepiting Kenari.

Our favorite discovery in Samarinda was a small and promising coffee shop by the Mahakam River, called Kopirenk. Serving French-pressed Arabicas from Toraja and Sumatera, the coffee shop had a cool open air rooftop terrace upstair, where we sip hot - but, too watery - java while gazing at the stars.

Leaving the town to Balikpapan, we stopped by to take some snapshots of the city's Islamic Center under an angry sun. The sky was heavenly blue, with soft cotton-like clouds blessing the day.

The overland trip to Balikpapan took almost three hours. We had our dinner just across Aston Balikpapan, our condotel. Then, we had the overview of the city's modern lifestyle in the new mall; Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and all that. The young people of Balikpapan seemed to ready to spend for heightened lifestyle. Thriving indeed.

Most impressive place we went to Balikpapan as The Beach House in Manggar area, around 30 minutes driving from the heart of the city. It's the playground for the haves and the expats. The beach itself was narrow, but the view gave no border between heaven and ocean.

We crossed the city to the other end, only to try the fried mantou - that small bun you have in almost every Chinese restaurant - served with slices of grilled deer meat in black pepper sauce. Apparently, it made us like 90% native Balikpapans.

Balikpapan Beach promises an enchanting evening for the whole family. Pray this place won't be too commercialized.

Overall, Samarinda was a nice town, filled with nice people, and great food. There's a sense of familiarity in almost every corner. There seemed to be no rush, and no ambition. With a little push and a bigger vision, the city could be a cool destination. Balikpapan, on the other hand, needs some control in developing. The mall was nice, yet alarming. The little promenade and waterfront area should be the focus of development to welcome travelers, and serve locals with good, authentic, well-anchored lifestyle.

Posted at 18:30 by VE HANDOJO

Sebuah Malam Ulang Tahun

Saya kurang ingat saat itu menjelang ulang tahun saya yang keberapa tepatnya. Entah ke-delapan, entah ke-sembilan. Yang jelas, beberapa hari menjelang hari itu, Ayah tidak pulang ke rumah.

Satu malam berlalu tanpa Ayah, dan lalu dua malam, dan Ibu mulai beralih dari marah ke kuatir. Di malam kesekian - atau beberapa jam sebelum saya bertambah usia - Ibu meminta tolong temannya mengantarnya mencari Ayah. Karena saya juga merasa kehilangan, saya pun diajak naik mobil keliling ke daerah Kota dan Mangga Besar malam-malam. Di setiap hotel kelas melati, mobil kami berhenti, saya menunggu di dalam bersama Ibu, dan temannya bertanya-tanya apakah Ayah menginap di hotel itu atau tidak.

Saat itu, saya tidak mengerti kenapa Ibu dan temannya mencari-cari Ayah ke hotel-hotel. Saya tidak mengerti kenapa Ayah tidak pulang. Saya tidak mengerti kenapa Ibu yang pertama marah, lantas jadi kuatir, dan lalu sedih. Yang saya tahu, saya jadi jatuh sakit malam itu.

Pencarian tidak membuahkan hasil. Sepulangnya, Ibu menelepon semua teman-teman Ayah yang ia kenal, dan mengabarkan bahwa saya sakit, dan suhu tubuh saya meninggi.

Paginya, saya bangun, dan Ibu mengucapkan selamat ulang tahun. Saya hanya bisa bertanya apakah Ayah sudah pulang. Ibu menggeleng. Namun, ulang tahun saya harus tetap dirayakan. Ibu memasak lebih banyak, mengundang teman-teman sekolah saya untuk datang di sore hari, dan memesan kue ulang tahun.

Saya tidak ingat siapa saja yang datang di sorenya. Teman-teman sekolah, tetangga-tetangga, sanak saudara - itu sudah pasti. Tapi, saya tidak ingat wajah mereka, saya tidak ingat nama mereka yang datang. Satu-satunya yang saya ingat adalah ketika di ujung pesta, saat hampir semua hendak bubar, Ayah akhirnya pulang.

Ayah membawa sebuah bingkisan hadiah yang besar sekali. Isinya ternyata seperangkat mobil balap mainan, lengkap dengan sirkuit-nya, dan lampu-lampu yang bisa menyala. Saya masih ingat dengan jelas ketika Ibu mematikan lampu rumah, dan membiarkan saya bermain dalam kegelapan supaya nyala lampu mobil mainan itu semakin terang.

Sekarang, saya mengerti bahwa saat itu saya adalah satu-satunya alasan buat Ayah untuk pulang entah dari mana. Saya mengerti bahwa dalam pernikahan yang seringkali tidak ideal, anak bisa menjadi satu-satunya tali pengikat. Terkadang, ikatan begitu kuat hingga seorang anak bisa tertekan hingga jatuh sakit.

Sampai hari ini, Ayah dan Ibu tetap bersama. Saya bersyukur dulu saya pernah jatuh sakit untuk membuat Ayah pulang ke rumah.

Posted at 04:12 by VE HANDOJO

Three Days of Gnetum Gnemon

Gnetum gnemon
sounds so funny I could never forget what it means in Bahasa Indonesia: Melinjo. Melinjo is found in Sayur Asem, my favorite dish, but until today I have never been able to crack this sort of peanut easily with my teeth. Melinjo is processed to become crackers better known as Emping. Now, Emping is good, crunchy, and addictive.

One night, as I was tweeting in Twitter.com, and thinking about how I have always been joking about Venna Melinda - one of Indonesian artists-cum-legislatives - and her unique image, I said to myself, "Hey! Why not take the joke to another level?" So, I made a new account in Twitter: @VennaMelinjo. It's a no-brainer parody of the lady, of course.

Nevertheless, I mentally built @VennaMelinjo as a fictional character that has the least resemblance to Melinda.

Melinda, in real life, has been quoted for her infamous erroneous comments. (To err is human, of course. The media just loves to blow out people's mistakes. Artist-cum-legislatives are easy targets.) @VennaMelinjo would exaggerate this characteristic - that's the start. @VennaMelinjo would make unbelievable mistakes in every single line she would tweet.

Next, Melinda loves to Salsa. Again, @VennaMelinjo would also be a flawed Salsa dancer.

Melinda is a legislative in the Indonesian parliament. @VennaMelinjo, since the start, was never a legislative, let alone a politician. She just stated in her short biography line in her Twitter account that, "Everybody can be a hero (or "Pahlawan Rakyat"), but not everybody can Salsa." The term "Pahlawan Rakyat" is different than "Wakil Rakyat" - a term for "legislative".

The first tweets of @VennaMelinjo dealt with her closeness with Salsa dancing, and some characters from our Parliament. These are quickly deleted, then. I wanted to keep @VennaMelinjo as far away as possible from politics.

During the first night, @VennaMelinjo gains a few followers only. I didn't promote this account, and just let it be. Just let @VennaMelinjo be found.

The next day, I kept twitting stuff using this account, and position her as a simple-minded housewife. The exaggeration of stupidity is clearly over-the-top, and everybody who reads the tweets would know that @VennaMelinjo was just making a joke.

The progress was overwhelming. The number of followers multiplied so fast, reaching more than 500 in the afternoon, and 1,000 by the end of the day. At that moment, I decided to modify the account into a shorter version: @VMelinjo. The reason? Well, followers really respond to this account because they believe @VennaMelinjo was created to mock Venna Melinda heartlessly.

As gnetum gnemon itself, the multi-layered character of @VMelinjo was not that easy to crack by many of us. We all just loved to enjoy the crunchy Emping jokes, and got easily addicted to them.

In the middle of the hike of the followers, I twitted using my account, @VeHandojo this line: "Apparently, most of us still get what a parody is." That was a sign of my discomfort. I wouldn't want to unfairly judge Venna Melinda in public because, no matter what, I have never had any personal problem with her. I would only love to joke about her, and I think the way she responded to the joke would determine what kind of character she truly is.

I was torn between keeping the fun and revealing the truth. The truth that @VMelinjo was operated by @VeHandojo. The truth that @VMelinjo, in my mind, was not a member of our Parliament, but a mere housewife with a gay-in-denial husband who lives somewhere in Pluit (North Jakarta area) inside a house guarded by twelve Greek-style angel statuettes. @VMelinjo, in my mind, was a lonely wife who escaped to Salsa and reading books of which she had no clue what about. @VMelinjo who thought she should watch "One" to "Eight" before the musical "Nine", and tiramisu is some kind of Japanese fish.

To give further distance between @VMelinjo and Venna Melinda, I rephrased the bio line to: "There are many Vennas, but I'm the only Melinjo."

The following day, followers kept on hiking to 1,500, and finally 2,000 in the evening. At that moment, I felt thrilled, happy, flattered, but kind of tired. It was hard to be two characters all day long, and I was not ready for multiple personality syndrome. It was hard to come up with silly, laughable, but quality jokes all the time. It was really exhausting and tiring.

But, funny things also happened. Real people who in real life despised me, or cut their communication with me, actually became fans of @VMelinjo. They ReTweet-ed @VMelinjo's tweets, and suggested their followers to follow @VMelinjo. It was a big irony.

At the end of the third night, I contemplated this one principle that I have always believed: "The best meal should come in a portion that leaves us wanting for more."

My jokes grew tired, and a few intellectual minds protested, saying that the jokes were getting redundant. I knew I wouldn't be able to hold it forever. I knew I'd better quit the game while I was on top. Yet, to do it right away was not that easy. As predicted, it was almost like killing my own baby. I needed a drive to do that.

The next day, @VMelinjo became more and more popular. Detikhot.com published a news that related @VMelinjo with Venna Melinda. Venna Melinda herself, according to the news, stated that @VMelinjo is faking her. Without further learning, research, and observation, Detikhot.com also judged @VMelinjo as the fake Venna Melinda. Poor journalism was put in practice, and I had no interest in battling with that.

It was a sign that very, very, very few of us understood what is a parody. Since the first time, there was not enough resemblance of @VennaMelinjo or @VMelinjo with Venna Melinda. Everybody could have the name "Venna". Everybody could have happened to like to Salsa. The key identification, that is being a legislative, was cut since the beginning.

Nevertheless, Venna Melinda also rather elegantly stated that the "fake account" was just a joke, and the only way for her to respond was to prove that she could perform well as a legislative. When I read that, I felt that it was the right kind of response. I could continue @VMelinjo, but if the 2,650 followers (by then) continued to associate the stupidity of @VMelinjo to Venna Melinda, then it would be very unfair to her.

That was it. That was my drive. That was then I decided to kill the account of @VMelinjo.

The response of that "murder" was overwhelming. Some even went as far as cursing @VMelinjo as a coward. The jokes - the silly jokes - had been taken too seriously. What was started as fun had been blown out of proportion.

Two days after the closing of @VMelinjo, I tweeted my "confession" in my personal Twitter account. I was not trying to claim the glory, but rather to clear things up. The game was really over, and we have to give credits to Venna Melinda. Her response was quite mature; she didn't find it useful to make a big deal out of the "fake account", and focused on her performance as a member of our Parliament. I think, even if we don't want to support her, it is not our rights to bring her down just because she had made several acceptable mistakes - both in making fashion and non-fashion statement.

My three days of @VMelinjo were, nevertheless, unforgettable. It was my closest brush with multiple personality syndrome, that's for sure. Furthermore, the "success" of @VMelinjo could have been a case study in the world of social networking and virtual community. These were reasons why I documented those three days here.

Venna Melinda Dirugikan Akun Twitter Palsu
Ketahuan, Akun Twitter Palsu Venna Melinda Menghilang
Why @VMelinjo isn't Venna Melinda's Parody
Belajar "Eksis" di Social Media dari Tokoh Fiktif
Venna Melinda: Balibo yang di Filipina, Ya?
Vena Melinda: "Balibo" Info Baru Buat Saya

Posted at 04:29 by VE HANDOJO

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