Editor’s note: If you are not familiar with Andrew Bowen and the year-long spiritual quest he’s launched with Project Conversion, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Bowen has embarked on a courageous journey of exploration in search of the vast common ground that unites people. His work is not without controversy as proven in the response to the recent documentation of his project in the Raleigh News and Observer.
OTW invited Bowen to reflect on the response he’s received so far to the project, less than one month into his trek.
For Bowen, a.k.a The Dirty Prophet, theology is a playground. His fiction and essays splash in the often murky waters of religion and spirituality, and have appeared in over a dozen venues like decomP, Metazen, Pulp Metal Magazine, Sheldon Lee Compton’s Bent Country, and Michael Solender’s Not From Here, Are You? He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Divine Dirt Quarterly and blogs at The Dirty Prophet. His debut novella is forthcoming from Rebel Satori Press.
Project Conversion: A Baptism of Dirt and Light
by Andrew Bowen
I never expected this. At most, I thought Project Conversion would attract some regional attention, however as life often teaches us, our expectations seldom mesh with reality.
Project Conversion was born on impulse. Observing strife in the world based upon religious differences, I came to a place in my life where two roads were presented before me: I could either give in to the nausea caused by relentless conflict among the faiths and turn activist atheist, or I could swallow that acidic knot in my throat and do something about the conflict. I decided then that, despite the reality around me, I still believed in humanity’s capacity to life together in harmony because of their theological differences. The strategy was clear: Instead of focusing on just our common ground, I would point out our differences and present them as a blessing instead of a curse. After all, is not variety the spice of life?
For maximum impact, I needed to do something radical. I took inspiration from my two young children. Like most kids, they argue and duke it out over anything and everything. Sometimes mediation works, but most often the best way to end a fight and redirect their energies is to do something drastic—something neither one expects—and in doing so, they usually forget they were fighting in the first place. That’s what much of humanity is right now with regards to religion: a room full of kids arguing over toys (faiths), who’s daddy (God) is better, and regulating who can join which club (Heaven, Paradise, Moksha, etc.), and who has to play alone on the other side of the playground where no one wants to be (Hell).
So to try and get the kids to stop fighting, I came up with Project Conversion.
I decided to give my life to a year of religious exploration. And not just the rituals and stuff; each month is split into four weeks in which I delve into subjects like art, culture, and social issues. I will live everyday fully immersed in the lifestyles and practices of one who belongs to these faiths. People often fear and fight over what they don’t understand. Project Conversion is a way to take the focus off the conflict and place it on the act of learning. And I make it easy for everyone, because all they have to do is watch me. My goal is to inspire others to learn about a different perspective before committing slander or bringing ill will toward another simply because they don’t call God by the same name.
Seems like an idea everyone would be interested in, right? Wrong.
Once an article about Project Conversion in the Raleigh News and Observer went up on January 20th—just over halfway into Project Conversion’s first month—the dirt began to fly. One comment on the article goes, “I blame the young man’s parents for his reckless behavior of hopping from one faith to another! They should have more thoroughly screened his Nanny before offering her the job!” Reckless? Really? Whom am I putting at risk by setting out to understand the perspectives and beliefs of others? Nope, I couldn’t think of anyone either. But the negativity doesn’t stop there. “Why is this a lead story? A lot of people been there, done that in the 1960 and 70s.” Indeed, and it obviously needs to happen again, and again, and again. People should never stop learning about others. The hippies were not the end-all movement whose discoveries and enlightenments became the genetic dispositions of subsequent generations. We are all responsible for reaching out to our fellow man.
Of course I don’t expect everyone to agree with Project Conversion. Consensus isn’t my goal, dialog and an attempt to learn about others is. I’m not asking for anyone to “join” me, it’s simply an invitation. I’m serving as an example, that if one man can turn his whole life upside-down for a year in the pursuit of understanding and peace, then everyone can at least take a few moments out of their busy lives to learn something new about their neighbor. People have a tendency to complain about the issues that cause difficulty in life, yet are slow and even reticent to contribute to a solution. It’s far more comfortable to gossip about, slander, or even cause harm to those trying to heal a world infected with hatred, animosity, and strife. History is replete with examples of noble men and women snuffed out of existence for their efforts. No, I’m not perching myself on a column of greatness for posterity, but I am trying to follow in the footsteps of people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, and countless others.
To the vast majority who has reached out to me with words of grace, admiration, and encouragement for Project Conversion…Thank you. Your support means more than you know. As for my response to those detractors of Project Conversion, to those who would prefer to mock and slander one who is putting his money where his mouth is and living as he preaches: There’s plenty of room in the car if you want to go along for the ride.