Project Conversion

Here we are: the end of our third month of Project Conversion. March was a turbulent ride, but we are here–we made it out alive, and we are all older and wiser.

Because this month began on a Tuesday, each week begins and concludes on a Tuesday, thus today is officially the last day of normal posts for our Zarathushti month. Don’t worry, a short video is forthcoming.

What I’ve Learned:

1) Due to the history and influence of the Zarathushti Faith on the Abrahamic traditions, I now have a deeper respect and greater understanding of their theological position. Indeed, I chose this month to explore the faith for that very reason. Few people from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities understand that many concepts within their theology (such as the idea of “Saviors”, Day of Judgement, Heaven and Hell, One God, etc.) owe their existence to the Zarathushti Faith. Zarathushtra himself was also a product of Aryan stock–the same people who migrated to India and helped develop Sanatana Dharma as we know it today. Therefore, the area around the Aral Sea is a religious nexus–a crossroads to which the major faiths of the world owe their lineage and respect. Indeed, how can we truly understand our spiritual traditions if we do not understand where they come from? We are all neighbors in the world of religion, borrowing sugar from one another to create our own pastries.

2) Tradition has its place until its observance encourages atrophy. My most difficult challenge of Project Conversion thus far was the issue of conversion within the Zarathushti Faith. Traditionally, converts are not allowed. Though this sentiment is mainly found within the Parsi (those Zarathushtis from India) Community, elements exist in many hamlets of the Faith world-wide. New friends and scholars discovered me and illumined another way to see this problem–not as a religious one–but as an ethnic one. Parsis in particular migrated to India to escape religious persecution. They arrived in a strange land and therefore protecting their cultural, ethnic, and spiritual identity was a good idea at the time. According to the Gathas (those hymns written by Zarathushtra himself), the Mazdayasnian Faith belongs to all. In fact, he actively preached the “Good Religion” to all who would listen. Eventually this faith became the state religion of the Persian Empires. How can we say that conversion is not allowed when an empire adopted the faith? So here is the reality: while you cannot ethnically become a Parsi or Iranian Zarathushti, you CAN follow the path of Asha–the path of Good thoughts, Good words, Good deeds–and become a Zarathushti. There is a difference.

What I Would Change:

1)  Communication is an integral aspect of Project Conversion. Sure, there’s the Facebook and Twitter pages where I frequently update, however I’ve found that some of the most interesting and breakthrough moments transpire on the website’s chat. Often there are unanswered ‘hellos” and “Anyone here?” that haunt the chat box. This is a crime. Though this was a busy month with the recent purchase of a home and school, there’s no reason I cannot schedule dedicated times when I will be on chat to answer questions or just shoot the breeze. These times are forthcoming. Also, one of our “congregation” members suggested the addition of a Project Conversion Forum where everyone can post content and questions relevent to each faith covered. I think it’s a fantastic plan that encourages everyone to share ideas about religion as it influences our lives today. Again, details forthcoming.

What I’ll Take With Me:

1)  Fire. I’ll never look at this elemental force the same again. My life-changing experience with fire taught me new ways of viewing this powerful manifestation of energy, this pure symbol of the divine. I’ve always had a fascination with fire, but the added symbology and reverence to the flame in relation to the divine ensured that a flame will always dance and inspire with its life and warmth in a place of honor in my house.

2) A respectful, yet progressive view of tradition. We explored this briefly above, however it is important to mention that honoring our past often requires us to go beyond its reach to establish the future. The Zarathushti Faith is among the oldest in the world, yet there are so few adherents and so few people who practice an amended form of their tenets are aware of the tradition. Some have called it a dying faith. I cannot let it die, not when we owe it so much.

3) The knowledge that faith is a turbulent road, and that’s okay. I posted the music video late this month for a song called “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem and Rhianna that for some, was hard to swallow. I challenged everyone to reinterpret the song from the point of view of one’s struggle with faith. The video’s usage of fire and the turmoil of a love-hate relationship really struck a chord with me because, like the figures in the video and the lyrics themselves, even the lowest point in my relationship with faith in the divine is the highest point in my life. No matter how much it hurts sometimes, I cannot live without it. Some folks had a hard time letting go of the video’s obvious message and using the art to reinterpret the lyrics to fit within a new context. I give out tickets for the ride, people, it’s your choice on if you buckle up and go.

Faith, like life, is a struggle. It’s a relationship. Sometimes there will be fights, tears, blows exchanged. Other times are filled with passion and love when faced with awe and mystery. Gregory of Nazianzus captures this when he said of contemplating the Trinity: “When I think of the Three, I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me.”



That’s it for now. If I think of anything else, I’ll post it later. I want to thank my Mentor in Chicago for her patient guidance and wonderful materials. Also, my two new Zarathushti brothers and friends, Shawn and Dan. They are dedicated members of the faith and I can honestly that without their support, wisdom, and encouragement, this month may have ended in failure. Last but not least, Zarathushti scholar Ms. Dina McIntyre. Here, articles and essays on reform within the religion provided deep insights into my struggles this month. Her analysis was instrumental to my understanding of this faith. For more information on her material, visit the Association for Revival of Zoroastrianism.

I will post a short video in the next two days to officially close the month. When I say short, I mean short. Because I spent this month virtually alone in the faith and much of my time was consumed with moving into the new house, there was little time for capturing footage. I did manage to shoot a scene where I jump over a fire right before my wife and mother forced me to put out the flames…

Ushta te, my friends. I’ll see you soon.

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