Normally I wouldn’t respond to puff pieces on real estate websites, but a number of my Facebook friends posted a feel-good article called Twenty Things You Need To Know About State College Before You Move There, and it irked me just enough to make me want to share my take on my hometown. It’s been almost two and a half years since former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on 48 counts of child molestation. Many locals have gone out of their way to prove to the world that this town really does only care about football. The mainline churches and the Catholic Churches tend to be older, grayer, and they like it that way. That number is probably a lot better than most places in rural Pennsylvania, but for a college town, the Christian community is pretty anti-gay, and only three churches accept gays as they are.
My church used to call State College a crossroads town, which is another way to say that most people are here for just a few years before they move on to another town. The town is populated by college students, married academics, white collar workers, and retirees. The university also has this really cool policy of laying off employees before they turn 65 so they can save money.
That said, State College is refreshingly devoid of the kind of snobbishness you see in towns where the population is static and people have lived there for generations.
I say this because some people might be hopeful (or worried) that moving to State College will mean seeing dozens of angry sophomores railing against The Keystone XL or either side of the abortion debate. And if you have teenagers or are a college student, you’re going to Calvary Baptist Church.
Back in the 90’s, downtown State College had six bookstores, in addition to two more out in the shopping centers. For me the most fascinating discussions took place when two fundamentalists found themselves on opposing sides of an issue, like the dating vs courting craze: Fundamentalist A would say that closely monitored dating was acceptable, while fundamentalist B would call A a foolish liberal and insist that courting was Biblically mandated.
Inevitably the more extreme Christian would accuse their brother or sister in Christ of being a heretic or dangerously misguided. These people don’t just disagree on minor issues like whether you can tell raunchy jokes and still be called a feminist. I think this blanket disregard for singles explains the hostility we’ve seen towards Millennials. If singles want a voice, then they need to do three things: show up on Sunday mornings in droves, volunteer your time, and tithe regularly. By and large churches are geared towards married couples, and philosophically that won’t change. I’ve said before that part of the problem is that Singles Ministries are dysfunctional by design. A few months before I joined Campus Crusade, I started taking a drug called Felbatol for my epilepsy.
Even though I knew Felbatol was probably slowly killing me, I didn’t want to quit it.
But that night I din’t mind the guy strumming his acoustic guitar in the corner and singing bad praise songs. It took me a few months for people to figure out my role in the Campus Crusade Bible Study. In Christian lingo, a Seeker is someone who is genuinely trying to figure out who God is or if God even exists, and they’re open to hearing the Gospel.
But as the semester neared its end, I began to hear more and more about Laura and Fred, the couple who normally ran the Bible Study.
I will give Kaitlyn credit: even though Bible Study had become one big, tangled mess of unrequited love and growing animosity between Jason and Dwight, she handled herself well. So one night Monica announces that she consulted with Laura and Fred to find out whether she should give Dwight and Kaitlyn permission to date. The amazing twist to all of this is that no one minded Monica’s presumptive decision to contact Laura and Fred except for Jason – the guy who was about to be left out in the cold!
It’s a suffocating environment, but to my pleasant surprise, there are signs that teens may have figured out a way to game the system a little bit.
Dumbfounded and feeling a little old and disconnected, I decided to investigate this new pre-dating phenomenon. I’ve seen the town from the perspective of a teenager, college student, townie, and adult student. Even though Sandusky was tried and sentenced in 2012, the fallout from his crimes still dominates our news, and people act out about it in all kinds of annoying and embarrassing ways.
If you go to an evangelical or fundamentalist church in this town, you’ll see a lot of young couples and college students. Obviously this affects students the most, but adults tend not to stick around long, either.
That translates to schools with high academic standards and motivated parents and students. There used to be a happening bar scene with lots of good bands and great small-label acts playing. In spite of the image of an ivy-covered nirvana of intellectual growth and connecting with the future leaders of America, Penn State’s administrative structure is ruthlessly corporate.
The concentration of academia here tend to add a little complexity and nuance to even our most conservative churches (hence the fact that I belonged to an evangelical church that counted three evolutionists on its Deacon board, including myself.) The obvious first tip is that people here tend to have a better vocabulary and manner of expressing themselves. What it doesn’t say is that you have to drive 90 minutes before you hit the nearest city, Harrisburg. The presence of students combined with the high elderly populations means that the public transportation is excellent, and most sidewalks and buildings are wheelchair-accessible. The snobbery here tends to be directed towards all those drinking and sex-crazed students passing out on their lawns in the middle of the night.
State College has struggled for decades with businesses closing downtown due to high taxes and lack of business. Bigots here tend to be very cautious before they show their cards, but if you’re around you long enough that they think they can trust you, you might hear rants about darkies or niggers. That’s Penn State voters flexing their political muscle on the conservative boonies that surround us. There were great bookstores with really eclectic and interesting stuff- the kind of bookstores you’d dream a good college town would have.
Ar first they helped serve as an outlet for the frustrations I felt dealing with the evangelicals I was hanging out with.
A fascinating phenomenon would then take place: the fundamentalist whose faith was being questioned would start speaking like a moderate, and their tone would become much more polite while they defended their positions. Conservatism appeals to our selfishness and fear, our desire and self-interest; they neatly nurture and then harvest the inherent and incubating individualism.
Instead, we see liberals engaging in a constant cycle of purging sinners like Baldwin, and doing so with more zeal than the conservatives who already despised the man for his politics. That fundamentalists sparring over doctrinal issues are in no way similar to Baldwin’s gay slurs.


That group had its own share of problems, but the bottom line was that I could relate to them better than I could other singles. My strategy of not acting like a single person led me to all kinds of opportunities most singles missed out on. Have you ever struggled with being a leader in your church or in ministry because you are single?
For the reasons I listed above, I overcame the stigma by avoiding the singles crowd in church. Unless your  church is founded by young Christians or is largely dependent on singles,  you do not matter. Do you think that there is a bias towards married people in the church or am I overstating the problem? That might sound overly pessimistic, but trust me when I say that I am understating my fatalism. The exception would be youth-oriented congregations and parachurch organizations geared towards singles.
But the truth is that the risk-reward balance for any church committed to singles ministries isn’t good.
Underlying them is a tension between the desire for singles to meet that Special Someone, and the squeamishness the church has towards facilitating a meat market. Like it or not, the fact is that even if you’re a dedicated tither, odds are your monthly check to the church pales in comparison to the 4-figure donation the fiftysomething married  couple gives.
I submitted dozens of applications for gallery exhibits, got in touch with old friends, and I also made a concerted effort to advertise my talents for potential clients who might want to commission me. I got way more printed out than I could ever hope to use, but that was my unrelenting optimism at play. I kept quiet about it as long as I could, hoping that I could stay on it as long as possible. Soon after my Felbatol saga, I was back on a crappy drug that left me drowsy, unmotivated, and it sent me back to the depression Felbatol had saved me from. I was halfway through the new Pink Floyd cd, working on a painting as I  grabbed the phone.
It was a nice enough place and the owners were very pleasant people, so I didn’t mind supporting their business with my money. I was knocked silly by the news I had to share, and I realized that my Felbatol-fueled energy had masked a full-blown crush on my soon-to-be client.
I was amazed that he still willingly hung out with the gang even though he despised Dwight and resented Kaitlyn’s rejection of him. She insisted that I was wrong when I admitted that I was holding a candle for my new client. It gave me room to play contrarian and offer unpopular opinions and thorny theological questions. I gave up trying to defend my faith because I realized that their understanding of God was a lot more dysfunctional than mine was.
Everyone else thought that Monica’s proactive intervention was a sign of maturity and responsibility, and Dwight in particular was thrilled to receive an official blessing from Laura and Fred. Even in oppressive systems, teenagers find small ways to interact with each other that resemble normal, human communication. Seems either no one is talking about louis daguerre at this moment on GOOGLE-PLUS or the GOOGLE-PLUS service is congested.
They have also infiltrated the Penn State Trustees Board, creating this weird dynamic where members are suing each other and badmouthing each other during Trustee meetings. Businesses that don’t cater to college students tend to struggle, and the ebbs and flows between the academic calendar can be jarring. Back when I was a twentysomething hunting for a church home, a pastor explained to me that geography was the key: the closer the church was to the campus, the more hostile it was to the students.
That scene is pretty dead now, but a surprising number of big-name acts do come here, and the university itself draws a lot of well-known speakers and performances. Pretty much every person not working in a classroom walks in fear of losing their job or getting their healthcare axed.
I can get off the mat and make new friends more easily that most people, but a lot of townies just get burned out and tired of having people come and go in their lives, so they hold onto the friends they have with every fiber of their being and don’t let others into their circle.
As student housing has spread towards the northern end of town,the downtown situation has become more lifeless. Pretty much every evangelical in this town has either become a member of Calvary Baptist or attended enough services there to feel like a member. Locking horns with fundamentalists online had fewer social consequences than doing the same with my Bible Study friends. Women’s heath care clinics are being shut down across the country and liberals are busy fretting over whether Hollywood actors known for their off-color remarks can still be a part of the club. When I decided to start attending church again in the early 2000’s, I explicitly decided to not make my singleness part of my identity. I served as deacon for eight years and chaired three different ministries over the course of six years.
That messes with their expectations of how we’re supposed to live our lives, and they resent that cultural shift.
In many churches the most entrenched members of the congregation hold more power than the pastor or Elders. Not only can you not relate to them, but people will try to squash any budding romance between singles of such a wide age disparity. That was an angle on my art career that I knew I needed to pursue, but for years I couldn’t get up the nerve or the motivation to make anything happen. I wasn’t normally the joyful extrovert I had become, so a lot people picked up on the change in me.
January came and I joined the Campus Crusaders, and aside from getting a few paintings accepted for group exhibits at NYC, most of my career efforts were unsuccessful. That was the default question whenever anyone expressed interest in someone the Bible Study didn’t know.
I had a crush on her, she insisted, and I was overjoyed because I was excited to see her at the coffehouse. Intellectually it was invigorating, because I found myself reading and studying books about the Bible to bone up on my theology.
So I’d show up at Bible Study wearing a John Constantine t-shirt, knowing that it would mess with their heads. I learned that a lot of the decisions made by the Bible Study were actually made by Laura and Fred from afar.
So while the evangelical neurosis about sexual relationships wasn’t as rigid and legalistic as it is now.
But Jason and I stood alone in our protests that nobody had the right to decide who dated whom.


We’ve seen purity balls, screeds against dating (and the real lives that have been damaged by this kind of ideology), the quiverfull movement, and the list goes on and on. But I love how these teens have taken a rigid system and added a radical new element to it: talking.
For more than a decade the university has started the new year with by revising health care policies that screw over both employees and retirees who assumed that their healthcare plan was secure.
These churches tend to shuttle members back and forth; if things go bad at one church, you move onto one of the other four. And I know that most churches would not have given my those opportunities due to my singleness. The stereotype is that they lack the discipline, maturity, and dedication of married couples, therefore since few people can relate to the needs and experiences of singles, they are easily dismissed. I’ve noticed a number of pastors have tried to promote getting married earlier so they can reverse this trend.
Back when I first joined the church I served in for eleven years, the ministries were geared towards young couples.
If they don’t like the direction the church is going they can (and sometimes do) threaten to withhold their donations and send the church spiraling into a financial collapse.
This is a chicken-and-egg quandary, of course: are singles less involved because they’re less invested in church, or are they less involved because churches are less invested in them?
Some people genuinely want fellowship with people in their life stage, but many want more, and generally these factions don’t trust each other. And the fact is that the more impact you have on your church’s budget, the more likely your church will have ministries catered to your needs.
It felt like an organic High On Life energy, like you just couldn’t wait to start your day. But I kept the insomnia secret for a few weeks, until my mother noticed that I was not sleeping at all.
No one wanted my business cards or responded to my letters until I received a call in late March of ’94. But I didn’t want to put her on the spot because of the whole drama about me using the Bible Study as a meat market. It’s assumed that anything a Seeker has to say indicates the status of their journey towards accepting Christ. On one hand it was nice to see how quickly they squashed the animosity over my knee incident with Marcy. Laura and Fred gave Monica permission to green-light Dwight and Kaitlyn’s  budding relationship. All of this is intended to create an asexual environment where teens conform to strict gender roles and pine for marriage.
Hanging out with each other without taking pains to define the purpose of the relationship. If you move here, you will have to endure all of the ugly revelations that are certain to come out.
When one plan gets shut down, you can bet that another, more aggressive plan is coming down the pike. The restaurant selection is pretty good, but the only stores that succeed are Penn State memorabilia stores, kitschy trinket stores, and pizza joints.
Limbaugh and Beck might be going to hell, but they’re great at giving marching orders and rallying the troops. But I also knew that the image I projected erased most peoples’ concerns over my singleness.
Then the young couples got older, their kids grew up, and the ministries shifted to serve middle-aged couples.
One of the other things I did to nudge things along was write to a few people in town I admired. Even though I was as happy as I was the day I started Felbatol, I knew that my new client was just that: a client. Aside from the fact that she was a little bit nicer to me than the other women and we both went to the Methodist church, we had a little in common. In fact, at this stage any lingering suspicions regarding my supposed sexual motives had virtually disappeared.
Someone had to rise to the occasion to make unbiased decisions for the group, so a sweet but boisterous woman named Monica became our default leader in the absence of objectivity among the other three.
As a former Elder in my church said, people never worried about it because I seemed happy to be where I was in life. When there was a big surge of young married couple in our church in the early 2010’s, the church reverted back to young couple focus.
Not only did I offer my wares, but I also heaped gushing praise upon them even though I only knew them by their reputation or their status as a public figure. I had no dreams or expectations of anything more than a brief but professional relationship.
You get a nod and a figurative pat on the head for your contributions, but Believers are convinced that you have no spiritual insights to offer. But on the other hand I got the strong sense that Laura and Fred wouldn’t tolerate Hellblazer t-shirts at their Bible Study.
At least Circuit City had the guts to just pull the plug on itself instead of living off an IV Drip of Monopoly games. Santorum is a warrior for one of their biggest causes, so they hold their nose, tolerate his Catholic values, and praise all the good he’s done for the pro-life cause.
Kaitlyn wasn’t anywhere near the most attractive, confident, or friendly woman in the Bible Study, so it was strange to see her become the center of attention. In spite of their reputation of being simple-minded sheep, the Right is able to approach politics with enough nuance to recognize that even heretics can join the team if they serve a useful role. Once we both got over our initial awkwardness, she thanked me for the kind letter and said she would like to meet me to talk more about painting her portrait. While liberals fret whether they should ever allow Alec Baldwin to utter another word on causes that he’s supported for decades. When I did sleep, it was never for more than an hour or two, and then I’d pop out of bed (and I always popped!), get something to eat, and find something to do. All of the time, like the scene in Ruby Sparks (great movie, by the way) where Paul Dano makes Ruby so relentlessly upbeat that everyone gets annoyed by her. Not only was she was one of the public figures I had reached out to, but she was also the one I was really hoping to meet.



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