Sibu-sibu coffee houseBy: Jacky Manuputty

Choosing the right place for an interreligious encounter and dialogue is very important especially in a post “religious” conflict area. A neutral and secure place, as well as the entire atmosphere surrounding the chosen place, will guarantee all participants feel free to interact with each other joyfully.

In every society, there are certain places that function as centers for social interaction. For example, Malukans, especially those who live in its capital, Ambon City, favour coffee houses for public interaction. People gather at coffee houses more to hear and tell stories than for coffee itself. In fact, the phenomenon of coffee houses in Ambon is something unique, more like a community center. In the coffee house, people meet each other in a friendly way, spending a couple of hours together chatting about everything related to their daily lives. Right there, the conversation goes freely through various issues and topics, such as politics, sports, arts, music, and others.

This unique phenomenon of the coffee house as a central meeting place of society was taken into the account when we started developing processes of interreligious dialogue right after the conflict in Maluku. The nature of coffee house meetings is completely friendly. In general, every person there feels free to express opinions. There is no rule or formal regulation to constrain conversation among friends. A coffee house gathering is not a teaching context for interreligious encounters: it is not guided or conducted by a person recognized for the role of religious leader. Participants should be left to behave as they usually do, free to act in their personal capacity, whatever their limitations. The only rule to guide them is the unwritten norms of friendship. Coffee house conversation is tinged with laughter, cigarette smoke, jokes, and music. Participants feel free to choose their seats, with gestures while the conversation is going on. Everybody has the freedom to stay longer or leave the group if he or she has another appointment. What would we achieve by bringing the initial encounter in community-based interreligious dialogue to the coffee house? It is a peaceful space where people feel free to express what they think and feel, without the constraint of formal rules that apply in official dialogues.

Actually, the reason to focus on peaceful space for dialogue is that in many ways it can foster an atmosphere of friendship & interdependency between dialogue participants. In turn, interdependence minimizes any tension that may arise in dialogue due to different perspectives, or even due to doctrinal differences. Thus, the ability to respond creatively to these challenges may improve the quality of interpersonal interaction, even before the next steps of dialogue. The interreligious dialogue aspires to establish common understanding between people of different faiths. But the important issue in the dialogue process is how people of different faiths can engage together in ongoing peaceful relations and interdependence for the sake of their common needs.

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