Home Sweet Clone

Twenty-year-old Highlands Ranch has grown into a mega-planned community of mythic proportions.

According to August incident reports, most crime in Highlands Ranch seems pretty tame. A woman demanding the arrest of her neighbor who went into her yard to fetch his son's stray ball; several barking-dog complaints; auto theft; seemingly nonstop shoplifting and check forgeries at Park Meadows (which is often misclassified as part of Highlands Ranch). Some reports are uniquely suburban. One recent domestic-violence report described a woman who threatened to kill herself by overdosing on Aleve. Her husband admitted hitting her in the head, but only, he said, as way of saying, "C'mon Amber!"

So Highlands Ranch has more crime than is presumed, but is still pretty safe. [Actual crime statistics are unavailable for Highlands Ranch as a whole; instead, the county is broken into zip codes for tallies]. If a new resident doesn't leave his garage door open his first night in a new home, he does so after gradually becoming accustomed to an otherwise secure neighborhood. And Monahan, despite knowing the worst details of all the worst crimes that occur in her neighborhood, has no regrets.

"I would not trade Highlands Ranch for anything," she says. "It's been wonderful. It still is."

Sermon

Follow the chain of cars up Fairview Parkway on a Sunday morning, past the Douglas County sheriff's deputies directing traffic, and you can't miss Cherry Hills Community Church. The 195,000-square-foot church squats imperiously atop a hill. It's mammoth, towering, bulging. And inside it seems, if at all possible, even larger.

In the bi-level auditorium (that's the best word: auditorium) are seven concert-style video screens, each at least five feet wide. The stage is blond hardwood, with a decorative rug thrown downstage center, like something out of a residential loft. Padded fold-down chairs replace wooden pews. Plain windows covered by white vertical blinds stand in for stained glass.

As the services begin, the mega-church's house band performs a Christian pop ballad. The sound system is excellent, complete with well-timed lighting effects. A mid-stage curtain parts to reveal about 110 choir singers. Mounted at the back of the stage is a single cross.

The action is directed off stage, in a soundproofed room packed with seventeen video monitors, several laptops, and high-tech production equipment. Cherry Hills fans can purchase the band's CDs online for a donation of $15.99 per disc.

One HR myth is that everybody who lives here is devoutly religious, near evangelical. But some conservative critics, such as The Geography of Nowhere author James Howard Kunstler, depict the suburbs as bastions of consumerism and anonymity that are "bankrupting us economically, socially, ecologically and spiritually."

The members of the flock in this Presbyterian church, up bright and early on Sunday morning, seem less than spiritually ecstatic. As choir singers blast the congregation with their song and the lyrics scroll upward on every video monitor, many of the parishioners simply mouth the words. Some stand there blankly watching the stage. And when the song concludes, the parishioners applaud. It's entertainment, after all.

From the stage, there are repeated pleas for members of the congregation to join the Cherry Hills small-group ministers, along with acknowledgements of the impersonal nature of the mega-church. Finally, Pastor David Meserve takes the stage.

Meserve is bright and witty, inherently likable. He tells the congregation that he just returned from a sabbatical in Europe, where he became concerned about "our culture." There's a Greek word he learned while he was abroad: homothymadon. The word literally means "the same wrath" but is used in the Bible as a synonym for "together."

"Now, in our congregation, we have a fairly homogenous congregation," Meserve says. "We tend to be very similar in our appearance; most of us happen to be on the fair side of skin color. Our socio-economic varies, but 'middle-class suburbia' tends to describe a lot of us. Even our political views, I imagine, have a lot in common. These things, homogeneity, have nothing to do with homothymadon. It's not about just being the same kind of person. It is something outside of you that you come together with. And when it comes together, it's powerful."

The congregation is silent.

"I think we need prayer to balance the power God wants to give us through homothymadon," Meserve continues. "As we come together with one mind, we're dangerous. Isn't this the story of the Tower of Babel? Genesis 11? All the cultures were together, and there was only one culture, one language. And they came together and built a city, a marvelous city. And they built a tower. Why? Not to give glory to God, but to make a name for themselves."

Meserve asks parishioners to turn to a page in Acts. Some members reach for the Bibles usually located on the back of the pews. But Cherry Hills doesn't stock Bibles in the balcony level, and parishioners search fruitlessly.

"[Homothymadon] is a dangerous thing to have," Meserve says. "And if prayer is not part of the package, I'm afraid that our homothymadon will be used for dangerous purposes rather than holy purposes."

Meserve concludes his sermon, and there is polite applause. As the congregation is led in final prayer, several people begin to leave. First a few, then in large groups.

Within seconds of the prayer's conclusion, everyone is rushing through the lobby. Looking straight ahead. Trying to beat the traffic on the way out.

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