During April's Independent Film Festival of Boston, a local arts function for which I volunteer, a friend of mine introduced me to a woman who had just arrived to town.

"We're losing Patton," my friend explained. "He is about to move to Colorado Springs." The woman's eyes widened.

"Why would you move there?" she asked, her disgust palpable.

"Well, I'm from there."

"But why move there?"

"It's home. There's family there. Good friends. We have a baby now. It makes sense."

"But aren't you scared you'll become some kind of televangelist?"

I tried to explain that she was thinking of Tulsa, or Southern California, or the Southeast, but it was no good. "No, no-Colorado Springs, that's where all the big televangelists are." I tried again, glossing the difference between, say, Compassion International, a Springs-based relief agency, and the Trinity Broadcasting Network, a California-based televangelist empire. She shook her head. I came up with a reason to walk away.

Her Colorado Springs is not my Colorado Springs, but I understand why the shades of distinction are lost on her. They are hard to discern from afar. A recent Harper's magazine piece by Jeff Sharlet won't help, because its Colorado Springs is not my Colorado Springs, either.

The article, part of a feature on the "Christian Right's War on America," is an account of my nondenominational church ("America's most powerful megachurch"), New Life Church, and features interviews with my pastor and some dear friends. In the pages of Harper's, some of these loved ones are made to appear not just conservative, but narrow (there is a difference), and sometimes downright spooky.

The article emphasizes the city's conspicuous peculiarities: people believe in demons and talk to Jesus; a neo-conservative streak runs through the city; Bush is seen as a godsend; some folks have highly nationalist views of American history; evangelical ministries have transformed the region, and now evangelicals congregate there because, well, evangelicals congregate there. As David Brooks has argued, communities become more like themselves all the time, so just as Boulder's population of liberal mountain bikers has grown over time, so Colorado Springs' population of transplanted evangelicals has grown over time. Those observations are true of Colorado Springs, and I can't fault Sharlet for making them.

But the piece has kept me up nights and has been the subject of long conversations for days on end. Friends in Colorado Springs are aghast at what they consider to be a misrepresentation of their city, their theology, and their political-cultural affiliations. Friends in Boston are aghast that a place like Colorado Springs really exists, and that someone like me could be from there, and that, horror of horrors, someone like me could choose to return.

Return I will. This summer, my wife and I will pack up our cramped urban condo and leave the physical claustrophobia of Boston for the cultural claustrophobia of Colorado Springs.

What's it like to be "middled?"

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  • Jeff Sharlet's Harper's article about Colorado Springs
  • Actually, that's too easy, another Red-State/Blue-State distinction that works for the Op-Ed pages, but does not get us close enough access to reality. Boston's liberal elitism can feel just as frustratingly narrow and claustrophobic as anything in Evangelicaldom. And there's more to Colorado Springs, and more to the city's conservative religious element, than the media has ever took care to cover. For every arcane Bible study, there's a benevolence group caring for the city's poor. The churches may respond to Asian tsunamis and Middle Eastern wars by sending missionary teams, but they also send aid dollars and volunteer medical professionals. Christians in the area may, like millions of people in America, gravitate away from established neighborhoods toward new housing and shopping developments, but many others intentionally remain, or move into, the city's center. And recently, the megachurch has used its purported power for purposes that the readers of Harper's might applaud, namely in reminding evangelicals that social justice and environmental care are also moral values.