Lyz Lenz spent most of her youth immersed in the conservative subcultures of the South and the Midwest; as an adult, she carries a Feminist as Fuck keychain and describes her politics as “two steps away from joining Greenpeace.” She grew up in Baptist churches in Texas and passed her 20s in buttoned-up evangelical congregations in Iowa; now she attends a progressive Lutheran church in Cedar Rapids. But while Lenz has rejected conservatism’s earlier hold on her life—she divorced her husband in part because he supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election, showing just how far apart their values were—she says she also refuses to retreat to a liberal bubble. She has made her home in “middle America,” as she coyly calls the region in her new book, God Land, and is determined to confront the place and the people that have simultaneously shaped and vexed.
I first met Lenz a couple of years ago, at a conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Since then, she has written for the Columbia Journalism Review and has taken a columnist post at her local paper, The Gazette. I find her work interesting for its ambivalence: As she writes in God Land, she no longer believes in “bridging the divide” between conservatives and liberals, Christians and atheists, rural folk and city dwellers. But she also doesn’t believe in giving up on people who are different from her. “This book is an attempt to sit in the brokenness of our nation and our lives and seek to find redemption,” Lenz writes. She doesn’t have pat answers for “fixing” America. And that admission sounds more honest than what you typically hear from pundits lamenting and proposing solutions for America’s fractured landscape.