I offered Nehemiah cinnamon tea. He shook his head. I went ahead and made my own.
“I think I’ve just realized something about your account,” I said. “I’m not sure I saw this before. If I did, I forgot.”
He leaned back in the rocking chair. That’s where he’s sitting now. I’m in the desk chair.
“That’s how learning always happens,” he said. “We live and reflect and study and arrive at conclusions. Then we test them with more living and reflection. But sometimes, the combination of reflection, changes in us and our situation, changes that happen to us because of what we had learned, bring us to new observations, new questions.”
He smiled. “It’s healthy, that process of learning. Unnerving, but healthy.”
I took the teabag out of my cup. “Here’s what I think I see,” I said. “Before you knew what you were going to do in Jerusalem, you spent time with God reviewing a history of generations of disobedience. In the middle of the building process, you challenged a pattern of mistreating people who were being brought back from being enslaved to the nations. When the wall was built, the law was read to remind people of the long history of God’s work and the people’s disobedience. And then there was a public document of confession of generations of disobedience. And then you wrap up your time as a leader with a series of reminders of repentance and returning to obedience.”
“Your account of your work is a history, yes, but it’s one long lesson with one simple thread: you have to own up to your personal and group disobedience to God.”
“It’s like every turn in your own story was an opportunity to remember the connections to God’s story, the connections to your participation in the sins of your forebearers and the opportunities to experience reconciliation and blessing though confession.”
“It’s a problem that goes back as far as people,” he finally said. “And it goes on as long as people.” He paused for a moment, as if wondered whether to continue. Then he said, “You have to think about where you fit in that story. Morning and evening, day and night.”