Keeping Score: Nehemiah 8 – 13

A Reading of the Law. Summarizing the Israelites. A Group Apology. Some Changes. 

I had just moved into a brand new city and needed somewhere to live, and so I shacked up with some extended family members. It didn’t work. I moved out about 6 months later. Arguments led up to the end – I left with no notice after a particularly bad one, just packed my stuff and shoved it in my car. With nowhere to go, I moved in with a co-worker for a few days before finding a place. We spent months trying to figure out where it went wrong, going over the details. We didn’t put too much thought into it on the front end – there was that. I was in a particularly low place – high anxiety, fresh move, no initial job – which made me a handful to live with. They had existing tension completely unrelated to me and their own job issues. It just wasn’t a good fit – let’s call it “a little of everyone’s fault.”

Years later, the damage is still apparent. No contact, not even after space and time to settle. It is a particular shame, because we were all very close. Lots of vacations and adventures. Lazy summers on the Carolina beach – Thanksgiving spent eating bison burgers in the Rockies – Christmases holed up in small houses packed three and four to a room. Good memories.

No one acted maturely at the end either. We queued a dangerous game of “don’t you remember what I have done for you?” We all had ammunition. I spent hours aiding in his work. They helped me land a job. I often played as a go-between in awkward situations. They took care of me during a hard time. Round and round it went. We all won, and so we lost. Those conversations always get particularly ugly. I did so much for you! Well I did more! You ought to be thanking me! And so on. I remember these arguments vividly, as well as what motivated my point of view. I did not care about blame. I just wanted to be labeled “good.” Bad people selfishly take up a rent-free room and recklessly destroy a family’s home life. I am not that guy – there are many implications that I do not believe apply to me. Say I did wrong – sure. Say I was the arbiter – okay. Say I am a bad person – no, I cannot allow that. Do not misremember me. Remember me fondly.

Fear drives Nehemiah’s actions towards the end of his narrative. As I mentioned in my previous entry, there is little to no drama in this book; rather, it feels much more like a respite before another hit of rising action. It resolves on a telling downbeat, one filled with a solid dose of psychological fret. Nehemiah lists his accomplishments: rebuking the Levites, closing the gates on the Sabbath, purifying the priests, contribution to the firstfruits, among others. Then, he says:

…Remember me with favor, my God.

Nehemiah 13:31b (NIV)

I sense a fear here, not tangible but existential, that should his actions go unnoticed, then all his good will have been for naught, and it will not have gained him any clout from His God. The reader knows this thought to be ridiculous, because Nehemiah’s actions have been perfect, boringly perfect, even to God’s high standards. So what does he have to worry about? Why the dread? He must know that he is good, that he has done good.

But he doesn’t, because we don’t ever know. I know that I am good, that I have done good. But I have also done bad, and history chooses its own catalysts. Will history remember my good or my bad or some combination thereof? Which has had more effect?

When I moved into a tenuous situation and made it worse by my presence, I became complicit in its undoing. Good and bad aside, I was a part of it. And so in the dusts of the broken relationships and the Thanksgivings and beach trips that will no longer be had, I still clamor to remind them of the good. Don’t make me list everything off one-by-one. Just remember the good as a feeling – sense the togetherness and the family. Dig your heels into nostalgia, because it feels oh so good.

Just, remember the good. Remember it so that I’m not the only one.

A Nice Story: Nehemiah 1 – 7

Nehemiah is a lesser version of David. Well, that is certainly an assumption on my part, as I did not know either of these men personally, but based on their life stories, the similarities outweigh the differences. Nehemiah comes from humble beginnings as the cupbearer of a king, and before long, he catches wind of the return of the exiles. He approaches King Antaxerxes – his overlord – in order to ask if he can return to his land to aid in the rebuilding effort of Jerusalem. The King tilts his head towards the lowly servant and declares that…!

…It is fine. And so, off Nehemiah goes.

Huh. That was easy.

So Nehemiah returns to Judah and begins rebuilding the walls around the city. However, he barely makes any headway when an opponent named Sanballet threatens violence if they continue. So Nehemiah prays, stations some men to stand guard, and…!

…Sanballet takes his soldiers and leaves. Okay, then.

But then, a continuing famine causes much suffering among the newly returned exiles. What could Nehemiah possibly do?

He prays to God and feeds the poor.

Finally, Nehemiah receives letters threatening the city!

So he closes the gates. And that’s… well that solves the problem.

Maybe there are more differences between Nehemiah and his golden-boy counterpart than it initially seemed. Yes, they both start their journeys as lowly servants and end up rising to become leaders for God. But David did not get a whole lot done without violence, and Nehemiah… well things just go so smoothly for him.

Granted, there are six chapters left for tomorrow’s reading, so it could all go to Hell very quickly. But without any significant foreshadowing, condemnations from God, and apparent bad behavior, it seems like things are looking up.

And I have to say, what a relief.

I hate romances and would much prefer to watch a heavy, thought-provoking movie rather than something light and meaningless. I like my drama gritty and my comedy dark and am often the first person to mock something egregiously melodramatic. Some call me “gloomy;” I would agree.

But not now – not with this. I am happy with the happiness. It is uncomplicated; it works.

Here’s to simplicity – for now.