Who is Ian?

Isn’t that the question? Who are you? Who is God? What is anything? I can’t tell you who Ian is; I can only tell you things about Ian, but if you are interested in knowing some of those things, this page is for you.

I am a piano playing, preaching, video game playing, craft-beer loving, German-as-a-second-language-speaking, knitting, Bible-loving, husband, Hausfrau, and loving owner of my cat Sven. I am the Pastor at St. Mark Lutheran Church, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and I live in Hamilton, New Jersey.

So I was raised Roman Catholic, and I wanted to be a priest at a young age (I played Church with my siblings and stuffed animal collection), but I walked away from institutional religion after High School when I began to be able to think critically for myself.

I went to college at Penn State University to study computer science, because as a teenager, I wanted to be a video game programmer. Math got in the way of that dream, and I found myself in remedial Algebra my first year. I also found myself in intro to Anthropology, which I fell in love with. It ended up being my major. As someone who was always looking for deeper meaning in life, or truth, it was fascinating to study the intrinsic nature between religion and culture. It turned out what is true depends on who you ask, and any institutional effort to share the truth is completely dependent on the culture in which those efforts are born. And thus I became a postmodernist.

As an Anthropologist, I was exposed to all world religions, but approached them all from an objective point-of-view. Except Zen. Zen made sense to me on a personal level. How could it not? It was completely objective. It was grounded in reality, my real, every day experience. It was largely free from doctrine, tradition, having to be right, or proselytizing. It didn’t care if I chose to take it or leave it, it just insisted that the truth is present in every moment, (in fact the present moment is the only thing that is true!) whether I wanted to look at it or not. How could that NOT be true?

At one point in my studies, I had to undertake a semester long “participant observation” project. Anthropologists learn about cultures by becoming part of them and participating (which separates them from sociologists). I joined a Zen Buddhist community in my town (and I can’t believe there WAS one in small town PA). That was it for me. My search for meaning making and truth was done. I was all about Zen. I attended meditation seminars, retreats, and teacher training. I thought for sure I wanted to be a Zen teacher to share this with others.

But it didn’t last. As much as I practiced it, and loved it, and read about it, and took classes on it, it ultimately didn’t “fit” me. At least, that’s how I felt at the time. It seemed a little too exotic for me, what with the Buddha statues, incense, sutras written (and chanted) in Sanskrit, and twisting my legs into the pretzel position known as “lotus pose.” And when things fell apart, for me, I went running back to the Church.

I went through a few very bad years of anxiety problems and depression. Extensive counseling and medication got me through it, but in the process I always found myself back in the Church. Church was familiar, and that was comforting. I don’t know whether or not I mistook this comfort in the familiarity for God (it’s easy to do that) but all I know is that the Church helped me out when I was in trouble.

After attending a small congregation near my parent’s house for awhile, I was offered a job as the music director for the congregation. I initially took it just to make some extra cash while I was working full time at Subway as a manager. But I ended up loving it. Mostly the people. But the whole thing. After many years, after my experience of studying religions objectively, and my practice of Zen, I was able to see the Church in a way that made sense to me. I also saw the Zen in everything Church. Of course there was plenty in the Church that I disagreed with, but that’s ok. I never was made to feel like I had to accept everything unquestioningly. It was good to ask questions and be critical. My experience in the Church as a kid was not like that.

I decided to attend Seminary to become a Pastor because I wanted to be able to help people the way the Church had helped me. I also believed that I had a special perspective to offer having studied religion objectively, and from my Zen worldview. Both things were crucial in my seminary experience.

As I became more and more involved in traditional Church routines, over time my love for Zen and the insights it gave me were swept under the rug and eventually lost. It was only within the last year that it was rekindled after being encouraged to meditate as part of an anxiety and stress management therapy process I have been part of. And as soon as I started, it all came back. It clicked right away, and was somehow just right, just as it had always been. Zen is like riding a bicycle, you never lose it, and it’s always there.

I am now committed to living a Zen life more fully, and bringing its practice to the Church, as I have felt called to all along. I don’t claim to have any right or better answers, but as members of the body of Christ, we each bring our own slice of truth to the body, our own experience, and this is mine. And at the same time, it is rooted in the one truth and experience that we all share.