What the Bible Belt Stereotypes Don't Tell You
In many ways, my stereotypical expectations of Nebraska turned out to be unnervingly accurate. Not only did my new state breed grasshoppers the size of Cornish hens and grown men who donned corncob hats on game day, Nebraskans were also shockingly comfortable discussing religion, faith, God, and Jesus in everyday conversation.
Take, for instance, that question posed by the new friend I'd met in the mom's group not long after I'd arrived. Asking an acquaintance in Massachusetts if she'd found a "church family," or even, for that matter, which church she attended, would be like asking her pants size. In New England, religion and faith is a private, personal matter; Massachusetts and its neighbors regularly come up on lists of the least religious states in the country. New Englanders are far less likely to attend church, believe in God, or consider religion important than those in the South and Midwest.
God and church are not discussed casually over coffee and blueberry muffins at your average playgroup in the Northeast. To talk about religion and faith with anyone other than your closest friends and family members is considered off-limits and decidedly politically incorrect. In Nebraska, on the other hand, God is woven fluidly into ordinary conversation, and questions like, "Have you found a church family?" and "How can I pray for you?" are not the least bit unusual.
When I walked away from faith my late teens, I swept my doubts and questions under the rug and promptly forgot about them. It was easy to avoid my questions about God and faith, because in my community and in my circles, spiritual conversations simply didn't take place. Relocating to Nebraska, however, brought my struggles with faith to the forefront and forced me to face my deep doubt head-on for the first time in 20 years. I couldn't ignore my questions about faith because God himself was part of everyday conversation. I couldn't avoid God because he was right there, staring me in the face at playgroup, in the grocery store, on the street.
For a long time Nebraskans' emphasis on faith and religion in ordinary, daily life startled and even annoyed me. I considered my peers' questions about my "church family" nosey and their casual mentions of God offensive. But as the months and years passed, my neighbors' and friends' ease with religion, God and faith eventually opened a door toward my own spiritual exploration. When I was finally ready, after a two-decade hiatus, to step a tentative toe into faith, their comfort and ease with talk about God was an invitation to join the conversation.
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