Sunday morning we’ll be in northern Wisconsin, talking about Nehemiah. It’s the only public event on my first “Great Work” book tour. That’s what we’re calling it just for fun.
I will be standing in a church congregation my grandfather walked away from seventy years ago.
My grandfather was fully human, though I never thought that. I thought he was amazing. As far as I know so did most other people. His children loved him. So did his grandchildren. The people of the township trusted him as treasurer for decades. However, he liked his smokeless tobacco. It was, for my mother, the one small vice in the greatest man in the world.
The preacher of that little church didn’t like smokeless tobacco, any more than he liked any other kind of tobacco (or dice or drink or dance). The preacher picked on that topic too often too hard from the pulpit. And grandpa left the church.
And now I’ll speak to that congregation about Nehemiah. About a man returning from exile. It’s curious that Nancy and I will drive 10 hours to say those words, the grandchild living for decades far from the homeland.
I don’t want to make too much of the idea of exile. I have cousins in that congregation now, and my parents attended that church every summer for years. But I must confess, I understand a bit of Nehemiah’s prayer now. As I stand at that pulpit on Sunday, I’ll think about John Larson and that preacher. I’m related by blood to one, by calling to the other. And Nehemiah’s prayer, simply, was “My nation sinned, my family sinned, I have sinned. But we’ve come back to you, God. Please bring us back to our land.” That’s my prayer, too.
And I understand Nehemiah’s tears about the homeland he had never lived in. If the walls of the house my grandfather built were burned, and the gates he checked in his walks every Sunday morning were broken, I’d be devastated, too.
First Baptist Church of Webster
And of course I’ll have books.