Robert Benson, the author of six books and a busy retreat leader, lives in Nashville, Tennessee, which some locals call "the buckle of the Bible Belt." He was born in the Nazarene tradition, then became a Methodist, and now is an Episcopalian. Over the years as a pilgrim, he has experienced the bounties of God's grace in many different religious communities, prayers, rituals, and conversations with people about their faith. In a book that has great relevance and persuasiveness in a time when controversies have split many Christian denominations, the author brings a lively message of unity and respect for what believers have in common.
"We Christians can be awfully hard on each other," his friend Reuben Welch once told him. "We are especially hard on each other when it comes to things that matter the most. And we can be just as hard on each other about the things that matter the least." During heated arguments over interpretations of the Scriptures, for example, people from different denominations often overlook their common ties as Christians prayer, worship, and the attempt to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Doctrinal differences even keep certain Christians from coming to the Lord's Table with others.
Benson believes that it is high time that believers of different stripes become more tolerant of each other. Brother Roger, the founder of the ecumenical community at Taize in France, serves the Eucharist each day to all who are gathered there but he does not join in the communion. He is waiting, he says, for the time when all can partake together. Benson agrees with another friend who tells his congregation, "This is not the Table of this congregation, nor is it the Table of this denomination, it is the Table of the Lord. And it is, therefore, a Table to which everyone present is invited."
Benson's spiritual practice of hospitality shines through every page of this salutary work. He makes a good case for putting the emphasis within Christendom on unity. "We must make more room for those who are different from us, not less room. We must learn to greet each other as brothers and sisters not just the ones who look like us, act like us, and theologize like us." In the end, Christians can celebrate the diversity within the wide community without the divisive politics of judgment and the harmful actions of exclusion. After all, Jesus called his followers to love one another.