Project Conversion

Project Conversion


It Is Finished: Reflections on a Year of Religious Immersion

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I hope everyone enjoyed their New Year’s festivities and that those of you who indulged (perhaps a little heavily) recover quickly.

Here we are on the first day of a new year and I have no new religion to immerse in. Indeed, at the beginning of each month of 2011, I felt like I had married into a new world. This morning, as I tossed and turned until I finally rose at 4:45, I found no new spouse. I was alone in my spiritual bed.

Perhaps some of you supposed I might “pick” a faith, as if it’s something you go shopping for or a movie you pick out on a Friday night. That was never the purpose of this journey. No, my purpose was to fully integrate myself into the humanity I once shunned and judged, to become those I once hated, to walk that mile in the shoes of another.

So where am I now? Who am I…what am I?

That’s what the next stage of this journey is all about. In most of our world faiths, a central figure comes to a climax in their life where they must confront their destiny. Once they overcome this trial, they usually begin their ministry or mission. In Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” this might be the stage of the “supreme ordeal.” This is where one (any of us) faces their most difficult test–their darkest moment.

For me, it’s returning to the River Temple.

The River Temple

Once a place of meditation and refuge, it gradually became a place of immense pressure and discomfort. By September, I could no longer bear the experiences, or the invitation to join my fate. So I ran, abandoning the Temple knowing full-well I’d have to face it in the future. I wasn’t ready then…

But I’m preparing now.

Here is a video I made which contains many images from the Project Conversion year and gives some indication of what the future holds:

YouTube Preview Image

In preparation for this trial, I am fasting for three full days. On the third day (Jan. 3rd), I will go to the River Temple and face whatever may come. I can take nothing with me, only myself and a clear heart and mind. Only in complete surrender will I discover what I wasn’t ready to accept those months ago.

After my visit to the Temple, I will spend the next four days in contemplation and with my family. This means that there will be no posts until January 9th. I will make a status update on the Congregation page announcing my arrival at the Temple. I appreciate your patience during this time.

Now, as requested, a brief summary of what I’ve gleaned from each month and what I’ll take with me:

Hinduism:

This large and manifold faith system opened the door for all spiritual expression. I will always use Sanatana Dharma as a reminder that the divine can manifest itself in many ways.

Baha’i:

My first glimpse at progressive revelation. I gained a new vantage of how spiritual truths might transmit from one “Source” and shine through different “Manifestations” throughout the ages depending on cultural/spiritual context. Also, my introduction to interfaith work.

Zoroastrianism:

The first month of difficulty. I understood the nature of a faith withering by its own cultural walls. In many ways, this faith contributed to the theology of the three Abrahamic faiths which dominate much of the spiritual landscape today. I pray the flames of this religion burn bright for generations to come.

Judaism:

Here, I learned just how interconnected faith and culture really are. Jews bond with one another via faith and tradition in very intimate ways. Jews introduce us to a pious way to struggle with God, to know the divine more deeply. Jews are also fantastic cooks.

Buddhism:

I’ll never forget my weekend with the Thai monks at their monastery in Bolivia, North Carolina. There, I learned the art of being present in the moment, of the inevitability of change, and that hammering a random piece of crooked metal can change one’s life. If you are walking, you are only walking. That’s meditation.

Agnostic/Atheism:

A strange month for all of us, I unexpectedly came to rely on the structure and routine of religion and so not having one during this month disoriented me. Here, we challenged the notion of faith and religion. What does it mean? Is it useful? I learned the art of doubt and reason and how to use them to either hone one’s faith or dismiss it all together.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

The only month in which members actively tried to convert me, but I love ‘em anyway. The LDS challenged my notions of who or what a Christian might be and how Christ could reach other peoples. The welcome and involvement of my local Mormon branch was hard to top.

Islam:

A month of healing. I once hated Muslims to the core, and now…I consider them brothers and sisters. As I fasted during Ramadan, I was trained in the art of discipline and reflection. The five daily prayers (salat) kept me focused and tuned spiritually in ways nearly unrivaled anywhere else.

Sikhism:

The most visible faith, my appearance literally changed as I wore a full beard and turban (dastar). I received a small taste of what it’s like to stand out as a minority, to feel the stares and assumptions of those around me. I fell in love with the “saint-soldier” philosophy and will certainly take this mentality with me through life.

Wicca:

Perhaps our most bitter-sweet month. We began with a week-long battle to earn the trust of the Pagan community as I thrust myself into the Wiccan tradition. Through perseverance and faith, we came out in the end with a fuller understanding of this faith tradition which honors nature, the Goddess and the God. This was my first intimate connection with the divine feminine.

Jainism:

Another rocky start. Few were fans of my decision to observe the entire month as a monastic (especially my wife), however despite the disagreements and struggles, this faith offered a glimpse into what it means to be truly non-violent and to honor and care for the life around us. The Jain way also reinforced my lessons in wants vs. needs from my time with Islam.

Catholicism:

The capstone of Project Conversion. In many ways, this faith experience brought all the positive elements sought after each month. For me, Catholicism was strange yet familiar, as it helped me see my former Protestant faith in a whole new and exciting way.

———

I would like to thank, from depths of my soul, the Mentors who gave up so much of their precious time, effort, and resources in helping me this year. You are the unsung heroes of Project Conversion. Without you, I would have been lost. I am in your debt for the rest of my life. Thank you.

And for you, Congregation. You are that glorious accident I never saw coming. Without your support, insight, and encouragement, Project Conversion would just be one man’s journey. Together, we set up a blueprint for humanity, and with your help we’ll only continue.

To my family. In many ways, you three were the stars of this journey. It was incredible how a simple comment or action from a little girl could excite so many. And Heather, yes, you are my Shakti…my gravity. I may have made this journey, I may have led this Congregation, but you three made it worth following. Thanks and I love you.

So, what was your favorite moment from the last year? Did you have a personal “Ah-ha!”? What did this project mean for you?



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abowen

posted January 12, 2012 at 3:53 pm


Amarjit,

Thank you for that. I’m hard at work on a book in the hopes that this journey blesses many.

Sat sri akaal!



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amarjit singh bamrah

posted January 12, 2012 at 9:21 am


well done
It took a much courage and determination to do what you did.
A book would be a good idea

Many blessings
Sai Ram
amarjit



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abowen

posted January 3, 2012 at 3:44 pm


Deep,

Writing a book, yes! The post will continue, so don’t leave us just yet : ) They will only change form and purpose.



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abowen

posted January 3, 2012 at 3:43 pm


Narinder,

Knock lightly indeed



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abowen

posted January 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm


Sam,

Thank you for providing such a great point and for being with us!



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abowen

posted January 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm


Mary,

I had some help along the way from all of you ; )



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abowen

posted January 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm


Art,

Yes sir.



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abowen

posted January 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm


Shari,

You are welcome any time! After all, the earth is ours to share.



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abowen

posted January 3, 2012 at 3:40 pm


Ishna,

It certainly has. Thank you for joining us and I hope you’ll continue to follow along!



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abowen

posted January 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm


Art,

Right on, my friend, right on.



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abowen

posted January 3, 2012 at 3:38 pm


Mary,

Thank you for coming along with us, and no need to apologize for the missionaries, they are wonderful friends!



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Kenneth Opitz

posted January 3, 2012 at 3:32 pm


Well done, indeed.



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deep

posted January 3, 2012 at 7:02 am


i will miss reading your posts you should definitely write a book about your experiences in different religions. experiencing yourself is really a best way of learning i would say what people take years to learn you done that in a month.. although it was a difficult year i am glad you learned things from each religion that transformed you as a person :)



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Narinder Chana

posted January 2, 2012 at 1:35 pm


“Knock lightly.”

Thank-you for sharing your journey.

All the best wishes along all your paths.



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Sam Karvonen

posted January 2, 2012 at 3:59 am


Andrew,

A year ago you had no clue what you got yourself into, now did you? ;)

In the language of the medieval Sufi poet Attar, you have now become a wayfarer in the path of God and firmly entered its first valley; the Valley of Search.

May you ever walk that straight path with sincerity, constancy and an open heart, which is clearly your defining characteristic.

In addition to the personal spiritual upliftment that your Project has obviously produced, perhaps just as important has been the example and evidence it offers on the fundamental unity of world religions when practiced in their purest and most spiritual form, and despite their superficial differences which mankind has chosen to trip over for centuries on end.

With the best of new year wishes to you and your whole beautiful family,

Sam



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Mary Wilson

posted January 2, 2012 at 2:42 am


You have shown that it is possible to immerse oneself in various religious faiths with openness and compassion and be enriched rather than conflicted. That is my A-ha experience! You have truly helped us to see ourselves as spiritual beings with human experiences rather than human beings with spiritual experiences.



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Art Sherwood

posted January 2, 2012 at 2:35 am


Hey Andrew, was it intentional your use of Christ’s last mortal words (according to John) as the title of your post today? Just wondering.



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Shari

posted January 2, 2012 at 2:01 am


I didn’t expect you to “pick a religion”. I believe deep down they are all one – the only difference being how each religion practices their viewpoint. I suspect you will take the parts of each that call to you and make your own religion out of those parts (adding & subtracting as you go along). I believe there is something/one/energy out there, although it could simply be parts of all of us, human and otherwise.

I also am very interested in the River Temple experiences, both past and present/future. [It looks beautiful - I'd love to visit it sometime myself.]

Thank you for sharing your year with all of us. It is appreciated.



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Ishna

posted January 2, 2012 at 1:28 am


Thank you so much Andrew for sharing your remarkable journey with us all. It has been an awesome project to watch, and I’ve felt for you and your family at times along the way!

I hope the experience has helped you, or at least illuminated some landmarks on the map of life.



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Jason-

posted January 1, 2012 at 9:06 pm


Andrew, From the “depths of my soul”…You are Welcome…and Thank you! May the God of Love lead you, guide you, and bless you always my friend.



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Art Sherwood

posted January 1, 2012 at 7:47 pm


Thanks for this incredible journey, Andrew. It’s been wonderful learning and growing along with you. I’m anxious to learn more about your experiences with the river temple, those you’ve already had and those that are yet to come. To me, that is where the true religion lies, in the direct revelation, instruction and inspiration coming from our Creator to our very hearts and souls.
I wish you the best for the coming year. Thanks once again.



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Mary

posted January 1, 2012 at 5:49 pm


Thank-you so much for this year. I learned so much about religions, some of which I didn’t even know existed. I am LDS, and apologize for the conversion attempts, but we can’t help ourselves, apparently :). Your attitude about it was great. I have several moments that touched me, so I won’t try to pick one, but thank-you for doing this. You opened more than your own eyes, which I think is a beautiful thing. Your family is amazing for supporting you as well.



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Janine van Rooij

posted January 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm


Hi Andrew,

Thanks so much for sharing so openly and for your respect and ability to totally immerse yourself in every religion you followed for a month. I also thank your wife for sharing her views and I find her patience and understanding of the importance of this project for you awe-inspiring.

For me it never was ‘picking a religion’. For me there is something, a Being far mightier and greater than me, to who I feel connected. My aim in life is to consciously feel this Being, learn from this Being, remove all the veils and walls that have been put up by myself or others and so sift out idle fancies and vanities and other impurities.
Yet I feel that this Being has a plan with mankind, and that is why I call myself a Bahai, because the teachings of the Bahai faith show me what is the plan. Most important I think is not what religion you belong to but how much your soul feels attracted to what I call this Being, and Source of life, and others give different names, like Enlightenment, Truth, Wisdom, Insight. I believe love for humanity, the pure love that wishes another totally well, that can rejoice when another has joy, can weep when another has sorrow, is the uppermost reflection of the love that is endless and pouring over us and creation every day.

Reading about your experiences made me realise this time and again, and therefore I have now grown in my insights into this. Thank you so much.



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Mandy Adams

posted January 1, 2012 at 12:57 pm


This was a wonderful year following you in your journey. I learned a lot about my own Faith and chosen “religion” when I saw it through your eyes.



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