Faith is personal; Religion is man-made.

And I mean, man.

Millions spent on concrete, wood and bronze in place of charming pine and cypress trees, only to build the largest, boldest and most domineering of all statues, paralleling the builder’s ego perhaps.

Is that what Buddha would have wanted?

20140418-191822.jpg

20140426-140823.jpg

20140519-144651.jpg

20140519-145415.jpg

20140519-151606.jpg

If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.

He’s the forest, he’s the desert.

He’s the ice caps, that are dying.

He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.

– Mary Oliver, At the River Clarion

True nation-builders in Myanmar

Myingyan

Working at an international organization focusing on the poorest of the poor “bottom billion” farmers demands grappling with two different realities on a daily basis. And especially so for a fundraiser like myself. How can one individual be worth 6 billion dollars? And another has to borrow money for a meal?

But don’t pity the poor just because they may have to borrow money. Here, we don’t speak of the culture of poverty. We talk instead about the spirit of entrepreneurship. People here know how to do business. Despite the five decades of isolation and economic hardships, the farmers we work with remain resilient. This resiliency is nothing short of great inspiration.

Then, there are all these international visitors that swing by my office. Movers, shakers, and high net worth individuals under 40, with their titles, awards and impressive resumes. How does someone from a genteel family with an opportunity to attend an Ivy League deserve more credit and public recognition than a single mom small holder farmer that dares to raise two children with grace and generosity even in the most economically desolate place of the world?

Just some Mary Oliver-induced thoughts on a late Friday afternoon at work.

Song of the Builders.

On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God –

a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope

it will always be like this
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.

– Mary Oliver, Why I Wake Early (2004)

Hudson River

Mary Oliver, but with drums

In a way, Dirty Projectors are a musical equivalence of Mary Oliver’s poems: positive energy, reflection, meditation and the beauty of nature.  After all, attitude is the only thing we can truly be in control of, and Dirty Projectors’ music celebrates life even in the face of difficult truths.

Here is my housemate’s cover.

..

..

..

..

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

A Tribute to Orwell and Coffee

This coffee here is after a week up in the mountains without any internet, cell phone service, a coffee machine, or a ‘normal’ toilet (there was a composting one). I was at Long Branch Environmental Center, near Asheville.

The best part about this trip was being off the grid. There was no one to intrude you or any bad news to stain your thoughts. It gave me an ample amount of time to pause and think, while doing simple, productive manual chores such as picking sticks in an apple orchard or transplanting blueberry trees onto a new slope.

Being with nature makes you realize how all alone you are and therefore vulnerable you can be. I was not completely secluded, but there were no artificial stimuli that we normally use to drown out ourselves. It was almost like a controlled experiment; once these external, temporal influences are taken away, what is left on one’s mind?

I thought of the running water from the creek and the chirping of the birds. I thought of George Orwell. And his book I read a long time ago, The Burmese Days. More specifically, I thought of a scene in which Orwell’s main character, or maybe a literary alter-ego, Flory swims in a creek, listening to birds, and describing all the beauty in the world. Remembering these details surprised myself for I read it way before starting college and I had not been thinking about this book at all.

Flory is an individual stuck in a crack between two different worlds. He finds himself unable to return to his home, yet remains estranged in Burma. Flory’s egalitarianism with the native Burmese is too radical for the taste of the expat British Club.

While Flory returns from the peaceful stream to the unfriendly country club of his, I return to my cozy single room at the Eco-House, surrounded by loving friends and laughter. I finally return to a place with a viable internet connection, cell phone service, a coffee machine, and a regular toilet!

In fact, I am about to go make some coffee and start my homework.