Quick Q&A: Lyz Lenz

A woman in a blue top smiles with her head slightly turned to the right.
Lyz Lenz

Courtesy Pilsen Photo Co-Op

In the book, you visit a lot of Midwestern houses of worship —from megachurches to tiny, small-town congregations—to gauge the region’s zeitgeist. How did you get the idea?
It began as a magazine article for Pacific Standard. In late 2015, I underwent a crisis of faith in both my personal and professional life. I grew up fundamentalist and evangelical, and married someone who was very religious. I was trying to figure out how to work and be a woman and just live, and all these ugly political things were happening around me. We’ve been divided politically for a long time, but something about the 2016 election felt different.

What, exactly, felt different?
It was deeply personal for me because the political divide was what ripped my marriage apart. I’ve always been very liberal. My ex-husband was very conservative. For a while, we made it work. But at some point, it started to really, really matter. We live in Iowa, which was the third state in the nation to legalize gay marriage. When that happened, we had very different reactions. We kept trying to work through it, but there was a moment when we woke up and realized, We haven’t been making this work at all. I think people had that same moment on a national political level.

When you traveled around the Midwest researching the book, did you see evidence of that divide?
Yes, but I don’t think it’s necessarily an awful thing for the nation. It’s OK to have disagreements. But to bridge a divide, you need to listen to people. Until that happens, there’s going to be no reconciliation.

So for two years you drove around the heartland, visiting churches and talking about faith and politics?
Yes, I drove everywhere. I’d just hop in the car and go. I put a lot of miles on my little Mazda. I risked life and limb, and ate a lot of junk food.

What sorts of churches did you visit?
I tried to hit up as many different kinds as I could. I went to Humanist meetings and even a Wiccan potluck. Sadly, that didn’t make it into the book.

What do you hope people take away from God Land?
So many churches are closing in the Midwest. What happens to us when we lose community gathering places like that? That’s what I hope people think about. And I want people to take the other side’s ideas more seriously and try to understand where they came from. Maybe we can think of ways to build a country that has room for everyone. We have so much space in the Midwest. We should be more open with it.