For the past six months or so I’ve been following the fascinating spiritual adventures of Andrew Bowen at Project Conversion. The concept is simple to grasp: He converts to a new religion each month, and he writes about it. Anyone who knows me well will understand why this sort of public art/life/video matrix is so compelling to me personally. A certain superficiality would seem to be implicit in the very parameters of the project, but Andrew really puts his heart into it, and pours his heart out in his writings, chronicling the joys and sorrows of his experience. The result is both more profound and more moving than one might expect. I’ve been slowly drawn in, despite the goofy clip-art. If you’re at all interested, this would be a good time to join the “congregation.” June has shaped up to be a sort of break for reflection, and next month he’ll be a Mormon.
I was most looking forward to June, because this month was the only one not designated as a recognizable religion. The schedule simply designated June as “Fringe,” which intrigued me. What could it mean? On June 1, Andrew revealed he planned to “spend some time with lesser-known faiths, sects, and organizations that hang…on the fringe of big, organized religion.” But things have shifted a little. Perhaps prompted in small part by a comment from your truly, it looks as if Andrew will be doing some exploration his own roots this month. Apparently he’s half Lumbee, which is a Native American tribe with which I’m entirely unfamiliar.
That led to a preliminary rumination on The Agony of Identity, in which Andrew posed some big questions.
Who [am I]? Where did I come from? What can I learn from my past? How will these answers influence my future? Am I a created being with some purpose or am I just… here?
He asked readers for our personal thoughts, and of course I relish any opportunity to think about such matters. What follows below merely expands on comments I left on the Project Conversion site.
For some reason, it’s easier for me to go in reverse order.
No, I don’t think I’m a created being, in the sense of being created by a higher being to some purpose, but it would be a mistake to say that means I have no purpose or that I’m “just here.” I believe we must all make a meaningful and purposeful life. I have no issue with people “just” being here, but in my experience we don’t have that luxury. A passive apathetic existence is not a moral option. We must actively engage with the world because we are a part of it.
I take a long view of the past. It’s not just where I grew up, personally, but where did humanity come from? I subscribe to evolution and believe humanity arose naturally without a guiding intelligence. Our history as a species is very interesting (at least to this member of the species) with so many diverse cultures over our planet. Unfortunately, I feel disconnected from my past, on an ethnic-cultural level. That’s part of coming from Germanic stock in wartime America, as the first half of the 20th century was not generally a time when German heritage was celebrated here. There were a couple global wars that kind of played a role in that. But it’s also part of a general pattern of immigrants assimilating into American culture. The last few generations of my ancestors considered this assimilation a marker of success, and indeed I enjoy many privileges in society. But I also feel a sense of sadness and loss and emptiness with regard to heritage and traditions from the Old World, specifically my Scandinavian and Slavic roots. That’s why it’s so fascinating to me to recover what pieces I can.
So much more to write and think about — but other responsibilities beckon. I thank Andrew Bowen for giving me pause to think on such things.
And if you have any thoughts on these matters by all means extend the conversation.