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Troublesome issues like divorce and homosexuality take on a different cast when you confront them not in a state legislature but in a family reunion.

I resist the trend toward megachurches, preferring smaller places out of the spotlight. I never fully understood why until I came across this paradoxical observation in G. K. Chesterton's "Heretics": "The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world....The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us."

Precisely! Given a choice, I tend to hang out with folks like me: people who have college degrees, drink only Starbucks dark roast coffee, listen to classical music, and buy their cars based on epa gas mileage ratings. Yet, after a short while I get bored with people like me. Smaller groups (and smaller churches) force me to rub shoulders with everybody else.

Henri Nouwen defines "community" as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives. Often we surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, thus forming a club or a clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.

The Christian church was the first institution in history to bring together on equal footing Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free. The apostle Paul waxed eloquent on this "mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God." By forming a community out of diverse members, Paul said, we have the opportunity to capture the attention of the world and even the supernatural world beyond (Eph. 3:9-10).

In some ways, the church has sadly failed in this assignment. (Yes, 11 o'clock Sunday morning remains the most segregated ...

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In the Magazine

May 20, 1996

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