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On spiritual view

Two days is all you need to get around the biggest religions in the world. But how high is it really under the roof?


[religion] We dare not take tape measure and ladder, but ask so easily:

- And how many meters is it to the roof?

We have invited ourselves to a demonstration in the five world religions – while there is burning and war in and around Israel – the holy land for Jews, Muslims and Christians. We who stumbled and lingered away from childhood for a while back will look at facilities in Oslo, offers, feel the doors, how open they are, and so; distance to the roof.

Sky roof

The first thing we look up is Majorstuen church. Blue roof, beautiful, like ocean, like sky.

- Is it heaven?

- Yes, it should mimic sky, you see the stars and…

General Manager Knut Sørheim points out. It is eleven o'clock, church time, but not Sunday, just empty, clean, square. Here everyone lets in, here is Friday worship for the gays in the Open Church group, besides Sunday worship services also weddings, funerals, concerts. Sørvik tussles, has his hands in his trouser pocket, thick glasses, a huge key ring, pointers and sermons, about ten meters below the ceiling, quite high. And you don't have to be a good Christian to sit on the ward council either, it is enough that you are a member of the Norwegian Church and that you live within the ward area. In this church there is also a small chapel, and in the basement there are choir exercises, conversation groups, Bible groups.

- To be a Christian, it means that you believe in God, says Sørheim, we are sitting in his tiny, crowded office, Kirkeveien is noisy outside, and he says the advantage of Christianity is that you are taken care of by God.

In other religions, man searches for God, while God seeks man in Christianity, he believes.

A golden Buddha

Sørheim closes the door behind us, and in search of the Buddhist temple, we run wild under the real sky. Between thick earths, red barns, past the Skedsmokorset. On the left is a yellow farmhouse. The Thai Buddhist

the monk Phrakruvitetdhammavitit opens the door, welcome. Not many meters under the roof, but welcome we are, just sit down, there are blankets on the floor inside the temple and a golden Buddha smiles. In the corner a money tree with dog tags, two hundred notes, a five hundred note, a toothpaste, another hundred notes, gifts for the temple. Money is being raised to build a new temple on the same site. It will be completed on July 7, 2007. There it will be nine meters under the roof, and it is not bad. And here too, everyone who is welcome to attend, men and women and children, religion comes from within, says the monk. Around 1000 Norwegians have converted to Buddhism.

Into the blankets comes a woman with long black hair, she bends towards the Buddha, sits well away from the monk.

- She has come from Sweden to pray here, the monk says, she says she finds peace here.

- That's what it's about, gaining control over one's inner self, in order to be able to control the world. You can come to the temple for all occasions, birthdays, deaths, weddings, wedding days when you are happy. It is difficult to make rules, you can come whenever you want, it is open every day, says the monk, demonstrates chanting, goes down on his knees, turns on the small candle first, then two a little bigger in front of Buddha and the king of Thailand, prays .

Warm colors

We continue from summer day to early evening, park in front of a tired, green barracks between Rødevet and Ammerud in Groruddalen, Norway's Hindu Cultural Center.

- Are you ready?

Master Pulendran Kanagaratnam comes walking, a bell sounds from within. The Hindu worship service is underway, we are going up the second floor, statues of gods are placed around the room.

The same event every night at 19 o'clock. The bell, drum, whistles accompany the prayers of the various gods, and the main god Shiva. Women and men and children about each other, folding their hands, lifting them, a lady in blue yawns a little. Many colors, sounds, loud sounds, hum, murmurs, sweaty beeps and light bulbs in all possible colors do not stop flashing. Hot. The photographer says he believes the Hindus can withstand heat better than him.

The service ends with applause.

- Everyone can practice Hindu, even if one is not born into it, says Kanagaratnam and says everyone is welcome to worship, regardless of religion and nationality.

In the premises here are youth group, discussions, teaching groups, cooking for sacrifice. Three times a week there are yoga exercises. Weddings are also arranged, but not funeral. When we ask about the best arguments for becoming a Hindu, Kanagaratnam says that, like other religions, it is basically about respect, love and showing care.

- And then it is not so strict here, we are very adaptable.

Afterwards it is down to the basement for lots of good food and thank you very much and they also say thank you very much for visiting, warmly welcome again. He smiles, yes everyone has really smiled all these hours, and of course we smile back.

At night this thought that you are so used to the extreme. So it is almost shocking how ordinary and nice and hospitable people really are, and shocking that one is shocked, bewildered at one's own reactions, restless night.

The police are careful

Next morning there is the synagogue. This day, a man threw stones through the window and made his way down the stairs. We are locked in through two doors, all doors are closed and locked, locked and closed, and it is checked whether it is properly locked again. Troubled times. The synagogue looks like a small church, with carpets, chandeliers, round windows, stone walls.

- I hope the synagogue faces Jerusalem, otherwise someone has made a serious mistake, laughs Alex Levi. He is the summer acting head of administration in the Mosaic Faith Society.

Levi guesses that it is 15 meters under the roof, says it is a small congregation – and not many are religious:

- For example, it is not really allowed to smoke on Saturdays, but a couple takes a break during the service and goes out and smokes a little. And 90 percent drive to the synagogue even though it is not allowed, board member Edvard Aspelund chuckles, thinks it's nice that it is like that.

Anyone who wants to let in, but a Securitas guard asks routine questions if you haven't been here before, and a little further up the street, the police sit in a car when there is worship every Friday and Saturday morning. And here's the gender divide: The women have to sit in the gallery, the kids run where they want.

In the community building next door, different age groups are taught. Here are also youth work and sports club and bridge and choral exercises, kindergarten and study circles and evening care for the elderly. In the banquet hall there is disco, here is a cafe and Israeli folk dance every other Tuesday. In the synagogue there is also circumcision, wedding, burial. But Judaism is not a missionary religion, if you are not born a Jew it is difficult to become so.

- Nevertheless, there are always between five and ten people on conversion courses, says Aspelund.

A rabbi decides when you are ready – it can take years, there is intense training, a lot of tradition.

Levi and Aspelund believe the focus on family and social is the best thing about Judaism.

- We have ten Christmas Eves a year! If I come to a new city, all I have to do is visit the Jewish community. Then I will definitely be invited to dinner, says Levi.

Lots of marble

A few hours later, it rains on the last world religion. Councilor Ghulam Sarwar welcomes us in the new Central Jamaat-E-Ahle Sunnat congregation in Greenland, Oslo. It is 6439 square meters, Scandinavia's largest and has stairs of Italian marble. Sarwar sweats in his forehead, puts on the fan, turns out with his arms in the main room.

- There is room for 1088 men on the red-purple bean rugs, during Friday prayers it is packed here, he says.

At the highest at least 20 meters below the ceiling if we look through the chandelier from Hadeland glassworks and up and up in a kind of dome. We walk up the stairs to the gallery.

- And here the ladies sit then, here is room for 1400. There is a lot of screaming and shouting with them.

Sarwar hums and talks about the opening on June 11, when there were 4500 people inside the doors.

- And the visiting imam asked the women; "You, my dear sisters, you can not be quiet for ten minutes," but they kept chuckling. I got a real headache, you know.

Sarwar lobs again, and shows us all, all rooms, classrooms, Imam's rest room and we greet the boys and girls who teach Urdu, Arabic, religion and history, here will be a library, here will be homework help for children in collaboration with the Red Kors and Oslo municipality, past the conference room, offices, not everything is finished, money is still missing.

So get the goodies, sweet Pakistani cakes and watermelon and the abundance of peaches and apples and pears and teas, do we want milk in? A student group meets here every Saturday and discusses. The ladies gather on Sunday, to cook.

At the mosque, weddings and funerals and ceremonies are arranged for those who want to convert, yes please, it is just becoming a Muslim.

- Everyone is welcome, it is only to confess that there is only one God, Allah, and Muhammad is his last prophet. The rest you eventually learn, how to pray, wash and so on, says Sarwar.

Well good sweet cakes.

- An advantage of Islam is that we have the book of heaven, the Koran, which has not changed anything, as the Bible is. It tells us how to live on earth, he says.

It's still raining outside

This night, prayer blankets sneak into the dreams, all the damnation in the name of religion is dreamed up. What if the people we visited spoke true and ruled the world, roared, and made people believe what they wanted, then you would have just found other pretext for wars, right? Night thoughts, before the morning, explode and demand that something be said, such as this: Highest roof and good fruit in the mosque, decidedly hardest but socially to become a Jew, most violent in the Hindus, most peaceful in the Buddhist monk, finest blue sky in the roof of Majorstuen church . Open doors everywhere, togetherness, opium for the people, yes, but also a peace of mind, a meaning. Is it necessary to say something more than that?

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