Parson to Person: “Daunting Drivers, Indonesia” Feb. 26, 2021

This column has nothing specifically to do with current events, political or otherwise. But, for me, it feels like a parable of how I might look at the worlds of people who do not think the way I do. Hoping you might find some relevance too, I share it with you today.

Several years ago I went on a trip to Indonesia with a family from the church I was serving at that time. (Actually, two members of the family are now friends of UCN, and one of them is also active on the UCN Social Justice Committee!)

One of the first things you experience when you arrive in Indonesia is the way people drive in that country. It is truly frightening (until you get used to it, I suppose–which I never did). On a two-lane road, for example, there are always at least three lanes of cars: one driving on the left, one on the right, and one right over the middle dotted line. If that were not scary enough, there are always motorbikes skipping through whatever tiny gaps there may be between the three crowded lanes. (If it’s a one-lane road, there will still be two lanes of cars navigating it. Consequently, a lot of driving is done on the shoulders of roads.)

This seems very dangerous, but we never saw an accident. You might expect there to be a lot of horn honking–and there is, but it’s rather subdued. That is, horns are generally honked, but only to let the driver ahead of you know that you are closing in (so they will have a chance to pull over to the right or left and let you through.) So the honk is not usually prolonged, and it is not used to “punish” another driver for doing something bad, but rather to prevent something dangerous. In general, car and bike drivers do move over when honked at, with no sign of irritation. It’s a very cooperative experience.

Still, though, the driving can be very close, and I could barely stand to look out the window when we were driving slowly through an alley with only inches between our car and the ones on either side. All the side mirrors were pulled in, to keep them from being knocked off, and a lot of driving was done on the edges of holes and ravines (with sounds of “thunk-thunk” as our car–and others–went over one hole after another).

Why have I told you this?  Well, I think that experiencing a different religion or culture is a lot like experiencing different driving rules. It all seems pretty scary–and even irrational–at first. But it still seems to work somehow.

I don’t know if this story will help you in navigating other religions and cultures (and even cultures within cultures!), but it reminds me that there’s always another way to look at differences rather than just dismissing them as wrong or unenlightened. I may not be able to view differences this way all the time (or even right now); but I have faith that it might someday be a possibility.

So there you have it–a UU with “faith”!

peace and unrest,


P.S. In Indonesian, “hati hati” means “look out” or “watch out.” But “hati” by itself means “heart” (and would be used in phrases like heart surgery and heart attack).  It’s interesting to me that in English we warn people by saying “look out,” while Indonesians say “heart, heart.”  In effect, English speakers are saying “use your eyes”; Indonesians are saying “use your heart.”  One form is not necessarily better than the other, of course. They’re just different. But that difference is rather interesting, don’t you think?