Why is “A Great Work” conversational?

You: So why did “A Great Work” turn out to be a series of conversations?

Me: Thanks for asking. I’ve been wondering how to post about the book without sounding too selly, But if you ask questions, then I can answer them. Even if I’m just making you up.

You: But I’m not made up. I’m really here. And I’m really asking.

Me: I know. And that’s how the conversations with Nehemiah went as I was writing. I had actually started an enews to talk to some people about the book, kind of a set of teaching notes. I had taught through the book of Nehemiah a couple times during the summer and fall of 2012 and wanted to explore some of the themes more carefully. I knew that it would be easier to have some people to talk to, to know my audience. So I started a weekly enews. When it was time for the first issue, I realized that I was talking with Nehemiah.

You: Really? You know that he wasn’t sitting in that chair, don’t you?


Me: Yes. But when I was writing about talking with him, I felt pretty conversational. Oh. And as I’m writing this, I’m realizing that I was moving into your chair.

You: What?

Me: I don’t like small talk. But I really like small talking situations. Sitting around a kitchen counter with two or three friends or out on the back of a pickup, talking late in the evening about the questions that never seem to come up earlier in the day. I love being pushed in those conversations to be as clear and cliche-free as possible. As I talked with Nehemiah, I found myself on both sides of those conversations, asking Nehemiah — and the text — what was going on. And then looking for the answers.

You: Is that what Eugene Peterson describes as heuristic writing:

Writing to explore and discover what I didn’t know. Writing as a way of entering into language and letting language enter me, words connecting with words and creating what had previously been inarticulate or unnoticed or hidden. Writing as a way of paying attention. Writing as an act of prayer.

Me: Exactly! That’s in his book about being a pastor, where he talks about being a writer, isn’t it?

You: Um. That was pretty obvious.

Me: Sorry. But the conversational approach did put me in a learning mode. I hope that helps you understand Nehemiah better. The process certainly helped me.


A Great Work (paperback)

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