If you’ve ever run the second hand bookstall at a fund-raising event, you’ll know what I mean. No matter how many you sell, no matter how many you jettison as useless, there are always loads of leftovers. Before each advertised sale the number doubles with new donations from people with overcrowded shelves, desperate to part with their excess in a good cause. Living with this adds colour to the words of the Preacher: "Of making many books there is no end." (Eccles. 12:12). I didn't set out with the idea of making things worse.
Several adults approached me, all about the same time, asking to be prepared for Confirmation. I prepared notes for them to read between sessions to stimulate discussion. Reading was a major pastime in the expatriate community where I was chaplain at the time. It seemed worth to trouble to prepare relevant basic literature for enquirers of varied backgrounds. The readers ranged in age between twenty two and sixty. Each had lived in different places around the world. Most were Sunday School drop-outs, one had been forbidden to attend church by parents, few had any clear idea about Christianity, all were searching. Some had started attending church again because they wanted their children to have some kind of religious teaching. In France and Switzerland where this book first saw the light of day, this was absent from public schooling, due to the separation of church and state. Some enquirers came to church regularly, others sporadically. All were touched by the welcome and the atmosphere of worship they found, and this stimulated their search for something spiritually relevant to the complexities of their lives.
Paradoxically, the opportunity to work with this group came at a time when my faith and spirituality were being shaken to the foundations by incomprehensible events going on in the world. I was being asked to give of my best in dialogue and sharing Christian tradition, when I was feeling at my least capable. Without understanding how I got there, I arrived at a point where it seemed that all the ideals and values I lived by were called into question and found wanting. My confidence and morale were undermined, but I continued without surrendering to a strong desire to quit. Despite everything, my enquirers found enough in our sessions to move them towards a personal faith commitment.
During a year of distressing confusion, re-telling the story of faith became the most important factor in regaining my serenity and stability. On Easter vacation, a year later, I found myself in a quiet alpine farmhouse churning out six chapters in a week of non-stop writing. That was when this book first began to take form. Seven years have passed since then. Much more tribulation in my personal life, and unforeseen world events have further shaped and refined what I want to say about the relevance of Christian faith to the world's future.
I hope the journey undertaken in this book will encourage those already on the way to committing themselves fully to Christian faith, also those who have been given a rough ride by both religion and life. I do not try to respond to every question and contradiction that arises, nor is this a spiritual autobiography, although aspects of my life story feature as part of my reflections. Here are convictions and teachings which are wholesome for me, and for some whose journey I have shared thus far.
In the end, this is no more than one beggar telling another where bread is to be found.