I’ve never read a book that felt like it was written just for me until now. God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America is part memoir and part investigation into the way in which churches and Evangelicalism play such an important role in the culture of the Midwest. Lyz Lenz moves to South Dakota as a teenager, then to Minnesota, and then when she’s engaged to Iowa, where she still lives today.
I grew up in Minnesota, quite close to where Lenz did for the last years of high school and I was heavily involved with a Christian campus organization and in various churches throughout my twenties. Most of the people who know me today would be surprised about that last sentence. But as I read Lenz’s story I started to feel like she was, in some ways, writing my story. I didn’t experience what she experienced in her marriage, but I definitely experienced the way in which view points are shut down and people are not truly welcome in so many different churches.
Lenz so clearly punctures many of the myths that surround Evangelicalism and the Midwest. Along with this she articulates the aggrieved nature of Evangelicals, how they feel persecuted, when the reality is so different. Is it any wonder that they cling to political leadership that expresses those sames grievances?
She writes about the yearning for another time, even if those times weren’t actually good times, the example of the farmer who’s conveniently forgotten about the farm crisis of the 1980s. The people teaching pastors how to pastor in rural areas who won’t acknowledge the reality of high abuse rates of children in these areas. How the number of people who went to church in the middle of the Twentieth Century isn’t that many more than go to church today.
One thought that I’ve thought about a lot since the 2016 election is something a friend said in a slack in the year following the election. And Lenz’s book proves this out in powerful ways, but it’s that we’re constantly talking about how we have to understand rural American better, but in this book and in much of the coverage of the divide in our nation, I’ve never heard a rural person say they need to understand city folks better. And as Lenz hears a woman say that the city is full of sinners the point is proven.
Lenz and I didn’t go the same way in our stories, but I found hers so helpful in thinking and understanding my own.
The power of the Midwest is that it is the sanctifying myth of American. (p 32)
Nostalgia works like the yew. It is a protection, but a poisonous one. It offers shield and weaponry, but often turns on those who touch it. It os both everlasting and a harbinger of death. (p 44)
Love is political when it is radical. Faith is political when it believes in something better. Hope is political when it looks for something more. (p 94)
The problem of the megachurch is the problem of the faceless corporation—the problem of power. The way it twists a narrative, the way it controls a region, the way it flattens and assimilates, expects adherence, and capitulation. Challenges are ignored. And the story that is told is a tight flat circle—those who don’t fit fall away and the circle closes (p 120)
I am conforted by the ritual of liturgy, the way it provides a scaffolding to acess the mystery of what is happening around us. The cycles will continue. Seeds will break down into plants. Plants will grow to produce a seed. Death. Life. Resurrection. ( p 144)