Project Conversion: One Man, 12 Faiths, One Year is a passionate and, at times, raw account of "a year of spiritual promiscuity," as the author Lumberton resident Andrew Bowen puts it.
The book, published by Fourth Gate Books, is the culmination of Bowen's quest in 2011 to rid himself of his hatred of faiths different from his own and to find a new vision of humanity. It was released on Feb. 6.
From the moment the book begins, Bowen lets us in to an intensely painful period of his marriage after he and his wife, Heather, lost a child to pregnancy complications. Their paths diverged: Heather became a Christian, and Bowen rejected all religion completely (even the evangelical Christianity of his youth), seething at God for their child's death.
Bowen realizes, thankfully, that his path is leading him to ruin and makes the crucial decision to rid himself of this hatred through immersion in a different faith system each month. Hinduism, Baha'i, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Agnosticism, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Islam, Sikhism, Wicca, Jainism and Catholicism.
At the end of each month, he would literally go to sleep in one faith and wake up in the traditions, dress and even eating preferences of another faith.
And he did all of this while living with his two young daughters and his wife, a nurse. His daughters learned some of the traditions, and he even helped one of his daughters calm herself before a tonsil surgery using meditation.
As you might expect, his experience with some faiths had their lighter moments - like when he almost set their bedroom on fire while meditating on the 108 names for Lord Shiva early in his Hindu month.
The sights and smells, the language and life, everything changed around me and for a moment I felt as if I could be anything and anywhere. Was this Hinduism? Was this Sanatana Dharma (the Eternal Dharma)?
“Is something burning?” Heather said behind me.
Her words broke my trance. The small flame on the wick had moved and now the entire bowl of oil was on fire. Black smoke rose toward the ceiling. I jerked and dropped the lamp on the altar.
“Crap! It’s on fire!”
But it wasn't easy, by a long shot. As in any faith walk, there are serious struggles - physical and mental.
To Bowen's credit, he doesn't gloss over the really hard parts of the journey nor his previous predjudices about other faiths. He tells how he once cornered and heckled two Mormon missionaries while they were speaking about their faith to a young woman. Bowen even includes a baldly honest blog post his wife wrote about how much she hated the project when they were at the halfway point.
"On days when I’m having a particularly difficult time adjusting to being pushed
down the priority line, he recognizes my struggle and asks, “Do you want me to quit?” I honestly believe if I said, “Yes, I have had all I can take,” he would make a post letting you know and that would be his last. But don’t worry, I won’t do that. Project Conversion is too important. It’s making a positive impact on too many lives for me to put a stop to it. But listen up: December 31, at the stroke of midnight, the carriage changes back into a pumpkin and I’m taking my husband back."
You might think at the end of all of this, Bowen would want to choose one faith and stick to it, but he realized his role was as a conduit, "laying down my ego, hatred, ignorance, pride, and self that I might be resurrected into my purest form: a conversion from hatred to compassion. My religion would be found in the joys and agony of others on their paths."
He calls his discovery The Fluid Life, the idea of conversion through immersion into other faiths to create a compassionate core within people. And though Bowen says the last thing humanity needs is a new faith, judging by the thousands who still read his blog and follow his Facebook updates, he will have followers for years to come.