Author Archives: Jim McGuiggan

About Jim McGuiggan

Jim McGuiggan was Ethel's husband for fifty-three years. They have three children and eight grandchildren. Ethel went to be with Christ on Easter Sunday, 2009 at the close of a gallant life. He has written some books including: Celebrating the Wrath of God; Heading Home with God; Life on the Ash Heap; Jesus: Hero of Thy Soul; The God of the Towel, The Scarlet Letter; and The Dragon Slayer.

Nothing! Absolutely Nothing!

“And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”
Romans 8:17.
Heirs with Him, sufferers with Him, glorified with Him.
It’s fairly easy for us to think we are heirs of whatever God has in mind for us (see 4:13, 16) and the promises of Abraham, expanded by Paul from Canaan to “the world.” Note 8:18-21.
Those of faith are heirs but 8:17 says Christ too is an “heir”. Jesus Christ is the man GOD is being but it’s critically important that we remember that He is the MAN God is being. He’s one of us. What God’s law/will for us couldn’t bring about because of our moral/spiritual corruptness (5:6-8) God accomplished by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (humanity)—8:3; John 1:14; Hebrews 2:10-14.

Romans 5:20-21 provoked the need for Paul to defend his gospel and its relation to the law/will of God (6:1-2) and the discussion goes all the way through to 8:13. At that point he returns to the Abrahamic promises (4:1—5:2) as they are fulfilled in the Lord Jesus (note 5:17, 19, 21). Note the words “glory” and “reigning” and “tribulation”.
Well, that’s all very well, in Adam we inherit sin and death and in Jesus we inherit forgiveness and life, but where’s the glory? It’s coming, in its fullness. Yes, that sounds like “fine print” that undermines the reality promised. If glory is “in Christ” those who have trusted themselves ought to have it now. Where is the glory that’s promised?
We inherit and reign with Him if we are “in Him” and are one with Him (8:17). He is not only the author and guarantee of life and glory He is the way, the model, of how it comes about! This entire section 8:17-39 is part of a theology of suffering that multiplied millions never earned in a world they didn’t build. But it deals particularly with the mission and destiny of the Church.

8:28-29 says all things work together for the good for the called who love God, “for whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren…”

The section is not saying Jesus was kind, compassionate, righteous and more—of course He was/is all that. That’s not the point here. God eternally purposed a People (the Church) who would image the Lord Jesus in His suffering and the glory that followed (see 1 Peter 1:11; Luke 24:25-27, 44-46; Matthew 16:21-23; Acts 17:2-3, passim).
He came into the world to share the suffering of the world, to weep and hurt, to anguish over their disease, to take on His heart their illnesses and destroy Death(Matthew 8:16-17; Heb. 2:14) and experience the injustice they lived under—He wanted to be our brother and wasn’t ashamed of that (Hebrews 2:10-11; 11:16). He modeled life lived for God in a world that has experienced a cosmic moral wreck (1 Peter 2:21; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Ephesians 5:1-2).
He saw their weariness and watched the powerful humiliate them and enslave them, He saw religion that should have lifted their hearts and given them assurance become chains that bound them and further wearied them. He denounced and damned all that but He did more, He chose to share it. He didn’t worship pain! He didn’t shrug at injustice and oppression, He came to expose and destroy it! This is what the Church is called to be and do—image Jesus Christ. Jesus is not the firstborn alone! He wouldn’t have it that way! He chose to be the firstborn among many sisters and brothers! He wouldn’t distance Himself from us; He was GOD with us! Living with us amid the ruins!
So we aren’t getting our rights, so we’re suffering injustice, so our prayers aren’t being answered how and when we think they should be. So we’re sharing the world’s cancers, heart diseases, broken marriages, humiliation, loneliness, confusion, so we wrestle with drives we never invited into our lives and can’t yet get rid of them—so we don’t get exemption from the crushing experiences of the human condition. Should we shrug at all that as if it were nothing? He didn’t! Look at Jesus! Dear God, look at Him! Does He look or speak as if such things don’t matter to Him? Was He sadist or masochist? Did He act like that?
Romans 8:31-39 says nothing we see, hear or experience proves God doesn’t care! Nothing! Over against all the horrors, the agony, and anguish, over against all the unanswered questions and the hard religion and theology that arms itself with verses from here and there—over against all that stands Jesus Christ and beside Him men and women, girls and boys who have been called to be conformed to image Him that He might be the preeminent One among many fellow-heirs.
The current suffering is not worthy to be compared
to the glory to come. (8:18)

(Holy and Compassionate Father, you know how hard it is for the real sufferers to believe you care. For them life is savage! But if you are really imaged in Jesus Christ we trust you because He trusted you and we wish to image Him as He images you. Help us to believe that our share in their sufferings plays a part in glorifying Jesus. We’re profoundly glad that you will judge the world in fairness and righteousness in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus and we think noble things of you. In the name of Christ and for the sake of the plundered poor whose brother He is we pray.)



“Something in Common.”

When we come face to face with serious and sustained trouble it’s not easy to believe that countless lovely things are happening in life! Your beloved one dies and you half-wonder why there are still people enjoying one another’s company. Why are aren’t the clocks stopped, how come birds still fly? Why aren’t all the deer standing still and silent as though they too are stunned by your grief? Why is it that cars continue to rush by and why are children still laughing as though they can’t stop? Life goes on and rationally we know it makes sense but emotionally we want to scream for noise to cease. He left you for another woman or the wife you adored said she wanted to be free—she didn’t know why, had no explanation, but she’s now gone and there’s nothing you can do about it. Financial ruin, a son and suicide, a parent and relentless disease, a daughter, drug-addicted, pregnant, marrying the drug-addicted father.
One day this will happen; you’ll be faced with something you can do nothing about. You’re not wise enough, equipped enough or emotionally strong enough—not to face this! Not This. Other things, many of them, and you made it through somehow, but this—this is different. So you slip off to some isolated place, a hill outside of town maybe, and there you begin to sob your heart out. When you’ve wept and can weep no more you hear someone else sobbing and moaning; you can’t help it, you must check and there, just beyond where the hill twists, not far from you, you see Him. Eyes streaming, chest heaving, bowed head, between his hands, sobs getting louder as you get nearer. He’s in too much pain and you just can’t let Him be like that alone. You put your arm around Him and gently ask Him if He would like to tell you about it and He tells you the awful thing that is going to happen and that He can do nothing about it—absolutely nothing. Then with his face wet with tears, He asks, “You too?” You tell him your heartbreaking story while He listens intently. He then puts His arm around you and whispers, “You and I have a lot in common.” He asks your name and you tell Him, “My name is, ‘Every One’.” You ask Him His name and He says My name is, “Me Too.”
Luke 19:41-44; Matthew 6:36-38.

What About Them?

God is at work in the world! Jesus said so (Matthew 5:45-48). Paul said so (Acts 14:16; 17:24-29). We see His work all over the place, in non-Christians as well as Christians. It’s just that millions of us don’t know that it’s His work when we love faithfully or think and do lovely things or refuse to do what we know is plainly unjust. We do see this all around us and we need to acknowledge it as the work of a gracious and faithful God who works in the midst of a world of humans who don’t know the truth about God or themselves. Are we capable of cruelty and selfishness beyond belief? Of course! Who doubts it?
Sin in all its forms is brutal, infectious and corrupting; it blinds and enslaves, it justifies itself in sophisticated ways—“It’s right that we should do these things because…” and individuals and movements and nations offer moral justification for what they do. Once more, “What we are doing is morally right because…” Few are willing to be and do evil without attempting to justify it. It’s true that in some quarters the question, “And why did you beat her to death?” gets this for an answer, “Hmmm, maybe because it was Tuesday and I was in the mood.”
Humanism in its strident crusading form proclaims as its watchword: “Goodness without God!” “Humanism” doesn’t weep but many humanists do. Humanism doesn’t help others but many humanists do. Humanism doesn’t place the ‘blame’ where it belongs for cruelty and selfishness that beggars belief—on powerful, cruel and selfish humans but many humanists do.
There are those of us who had grown weary of the evil we were/are addicted to, evil that God couldn’t or didn’t help us to overcome, so we say we converted to Humanism without God to build a better life and to help others live freely and in peace. No Sin, you see! This is ‘the higher calling.’ Reject God and you reject “Sin” and find peace and a guilt-free life. Rather than confess we are enmeshed in sleaze or cruelty we become ‘intellectually honest’ and turn from God, no remorse about the past or repentance required in the present or future.
I suppose that would mean no one sins. We end up with a world that agnostic and humanist, Bertrand Russell, looked at with great sadness; confessing that he saw things going on in the world that appalled him but he said he had no rational grounds for condemning it. Agnostic Nietzschean scholar, Walter Kaufman said, “Try not to call anything evil.” No one lives this way! No one can live this way. We all end up believing there’s a ‘higher ground’ and Herbert Butterfield (Cambridge professor of modern history for 35 years) said he learned down the years that all the nations claimed they stood on that higher ground. History proclaims a central sin: “Self-righteousness.” You never heard Stalin, Hitler or Paul Pot confessing they had done wrong. You would have heard them admit they made tactical or strategic mistakes, but they were always doing the right thing.
Oh God!
The wave that is climbing highest and becoming stronger in the West, in scholarly theological gatherings and religious conversations and sermons, is the social justice wave. How can we regret the desire for social justice and the concrete attempts to gain it? We can’t and shouldn’t! It matters much to GOD! Read through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures, and if you have a mind to, read some of Rabbi Heschel’s work on The Prophets and see how fiercely interested God is in social justice.
But the speech of the prophets is saturated with phrases like, “Thus saith the Lord!” What they had to say was not based on rational argument or warm humanitarian feeling (though they would  not sneer at such things)—what they had to say was the voice of GOD and they weren’t educated enough to hide that!
Most of what we (at least what I) hear these days is sociology and the religious/theological fashion which is the result not of sustained listening to and reflection on the self-revelation of God beginning in Genesis and culminating in the indwelling Lord Jesus—Humanism and many fine humanitarian people are the engine that drives it.
Of course if that’s what it takes to waken God’s Companions we should thank Him for it but, as Lesslie Newbigin, warned us years ago, it’s astonishing how quickly the reign of God becomes a church program or a theological fashion.

This piece has wandered from what I meant to say and say in few words. Humanism promises a better world now, or at least soon, and it promises it on the basis of human effort and thought (without GOD, of course). It’s a bit like looking in a cemetery for the secret to staying alive. (See Isaiah 8:19 which is addressed to God’s people.)
The Humanistic speech is addressed to those who have the time and freedom to think about it. It might be useful to a great host here and far away but it assumes they’ll be alive tomorrow to hear it and benefit from it.
The trouble with a Humanism without GOD that troubles me most is that it destroys—utterly destroys—all hope of justice for the unnumbered millions who never got any from the day they were born until the day they were butchered or burned, raped and sold and starved into oblivion!
What about them? What about them?
The future offered by Humanism is THE VAST DEATH OF THE MINDLESS UNIVERSE THAT KNOWS NOTHING OF ‘JUSTICE’ AND NEVER DID! It ignores the machete-hacked parents, the boy-soldiers in Africa and the very young girls who are kept to be gang-raped to death before they become mentally unhinged and kill themselves.  This! This is superior to the prophetic “God will judge the world in righteousness and has given assurance that He will do it by raising Jesus from the dead”? Acts 17:31.
Lectures and sermons that nod at appropriate ‘liberation texts’ from the Holy Scriptures, and then proceed to offer sociology and historical surveys, without remainder, are no substitute for establishing congregations of Jesus Christ with Him and the meaning of Him as the throbbing center of “the whole counsel and purpose of God.”
No doubt we will, and should, take any help God gives us through any avenue but when hermeneutical strategies and society’s newest and focused interest become our major interest and impetus and our teaching/preaching/writing and lecturing is for peer review or peer sampling then the Holy Scriptures are pushed into the background and the entire world suffers loss as it spins farther from its Sun and deeper into unfathomable cosmic darkness.

(Holy Father, give us we pray, teachers drenched with a rich understanding and living relationship with your Holy Bible and with yourself the loving Creator and the Judge of all the earth who has done, is doing and will finally do what “is right.”)


The Lord: Present or Absent?

  1. Thoughtful [truly thoughtful] people are not nor do they need to be thoughtful in the same areas. They have different interests, life-settings, giftedness and so forth. (To oversimplify, these are the product of ‘nature and nurture’—or lack of it—and they lead persons to reflect in and about some areas and not others.)
  2. Many people share similar life-situations but they differ in depth, intensity so some are ‘interested’ in music and others are ‘obsessed’ or ‘taken’ with it.
  3. A person can be “present with” and “absent from” us in the same experience though not in precisely the same way in that experience.
  4. The physical note you sent that I read was you making yourself present. The medium you used to make yourself “present” isn’t making itself “present”. It made no choices, has no mind.
  5. You made yourself “present” using this medium. There was a “meeting of minds”—your mind met mine. You chose to send your mind into mine. Your questions, proposals, doubts, convictions and other realities entered my ‘world’ of questions, proposals, convictions and such and dialogue begins.
  6. “Mind” is notoriously difficult to define because there are so many aspects, facets of a human. Our “mind” is not the totality of us—it is an aspect of us, it is not our physical body though in this phase of human living it cannot be severed from our physical make-up. It’s an entire person that “thinks”. “Thought” does not “think”. We think. “Speaking” does not speak—we speak. “Writing” does not write—we write. Imagine this:
    “Did you get a note from Herman?”
    “No, but I got a note from his mind.”
  7. In you sending me a note we didn’t make contact in any of the five physical senses ways so in that sense of “present” you are “absent.”
  8. Nevertheless, your thoughts, tone, emotional depth, attitude are currently with me. Since none of this is possible without you as an entire person in that sense you are really present with me.
  9. If someone should say: “The person is not really present with you,” they would be using “really” within the “five senses” limits. In saying that they would be saying, “The only way someone can be ‘really’ with another is if they are physically/spatially there.” That makes sense only if we confine the word ‘really’ to physical/spatial reality.
  10. Our words and thoughts are not the totality of us but they are us functioning as a total person. If that were not true then we (persons) never do anything. It would not be you that loves or weeps, or builds a house, or teaches a class. It wouldn’t be me writing this.
  11. The note did not come from X. So it isn’t who contacted me—it was you; you and not another person. The note did not write itself so I am not in touch with a self-created note. Nor did it come into being by chance so I am not in touch with a mindless and therefore purposeless note. An actual, particular person made her or himself ‘present’ in and to me.
  12. So it is with the ‘absent’ Lord. We “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” He is returning so in that sense He is ‘absent’—He is not physically/spatially ‘present’ at this time. But in many ways He speaks to us and in particular and centrally He speaks to us via the Holy Scriptures. But it is HE who speaks to us. They are “Holy Scriptures” (Romans 1:2; 2 Timothy 3:15) because the Holy Spirit speaks to us in and through them. As it is you who speaks to me via your letter so it is that it is God who speaks to us through His Holy Writings.
    Your letter doesn’t speak, the Holy Bible doesn’t speak—you speak and God speaks in and through the media you choose.
    (Of course we commonly identify the letter or the book as the writer. That only drives home the truth that the person makes him or herself present in what they write. “Of course ‘she’ said it. Look! It’s written right here in her book.” She said it. Or even more pointedly, “You said it; look, it’s right here on page 29!”
  13. I need to end this! I’m particularly interested in God making Himself “present” in Holy Scripture. He doesn’t not need to do “space travel” to make Himself “present.” He wills to be “present,” wherever, and He’s there. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear know He makes His presence felt in sunshine & rain and fruitful seasons (Matthew 5 & Acts 14). But it’s His presence. The sun/rain is not God but He makes Himself present in our world and lives by those media.
  14. Take issue with whatever you think you need to in this piece, presuming you think it worth your time and energy. But if you think God makes His heart and mind present in and to you via the Holy Bible do allow yourself the joy of knowing HE, He Himself, is making Himself present with you. “He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17)

Death: To Hell With You!

Her husband was Allan
Her daughter was Cassie
Her name is Jennifer
Cassie died maybe two and a half years ago—Death snatched
her in a head-on crash.
Alan died maybe a year and a half ago—Death took its own sweet time dragging him off—cancer of the esophagus.
Jennifer…….. (confirmed  day before yesterday, stage 4)
One of God’s glorious daughters.

Revelation 20:14
John 11:25-26

Preparing a Young Person for Baptism

I’m one of those, right or wrong, who cannot believe that a child is born alienated from her/his Creator on the basis of someone else’s guilt. I’m acquainted with the texts used to say they are. It isn’t the texts I quarrel with—it’s the interpretation placed on them. Even John Piper a thrusting and forthright Calvinist no longer believes they are born sinners and alienated from God. Enough on that—Romans 9:11 will do for now.
With evangelicals there’s quite a bit of discussion about when children are ready to give themselves to Jesus Christ. Setting the above aside, we have questions like: “Is my child old enough?” “Does my child know enough?” “Is my child mature enough?” “Does my child ‘know’ what he/she is doing?”
These are all sensible questions and matter a great deal to people who are convinced that there is no covenant relationship with Jesus Christ unless there is a personal commitment of faith by the believer. Being one of those, and since I take the view that infant baptism hasn’t a shred of support from Scripture, the questions above do make sense.
But though they make sense and though they do indeed matter I don’t think there can be a generalized and satisfying answer to the questions. Children are all different! Some mature more quickly than others, some mature in some ways more quickly than others and at the same time more slowly in other ways. Their environments differ; their emotional make-up and their critical experiences differ from each other. Their parents differ and sometimes the parents aren’t able to assess their children’s life-experience. It makes no sense—and everyone knows it—to say, “My child gave her life to Jesus Christ when she was thirteen therefore all thirteen-year olds are capable.” There are too many variables in each life for us to be able to offer blanket and one-fits-all advice advice.
I’m certain we can more easily identify extreme positions than we can offer advice about children we know nothing about. Let me be silly just to make my point. He who says a three-year old child is capable of a faith commitment to Jesus Christ or he who says that a person must be at least eighteen to be capable of rendering a faith-commitment to Jesus will have no credibility with us. It isn’t the extremes we have difficulty with.
While I presently judge we can do nothing do determine with precision when this child or that one is ready to give him/herself to Jesus in faith, we can certainly do something about taking seriously a child’s growing sense that she/he is being called by the gospel. It simply won’t do for parents to dismiss a child’s expression that he/she wants to belong to the Lord Jesus in a faith relationship.
It may well be that when my child comes saying, “I want to become a Christian” that she is responding merely to some want to do what a friend of hers did—so as not to be left out of anything, don’t you know. Hearing someone say something that frightens her might result in this emotional surge. (Her parents are Christ’s and she has heard something that suggests to her that if she isn’t a Christian she will never see her parents again—no wonder she wants to become a Christian.) List your own illustrations of what I’m getting at.
But there are times when we’re uncertain about motivation even though in our wise love for the child we think she is not yet “able” to say yes to Jesus in trust with the full consent of her heart to enter a saving covenant relationship.
Let’s say, for discussion’s sake, that she’s twelve or thirteen. She’s an ordinary little girl; enjoys life, plays children’s games, watches children’s television programs and sometimes pouts like a little girl when she’s crossed. (Are twelve or thirteen year olds still that “young” that they play with toys/dolls etc,? Shape the illustration as you see fit.)
It would be easy for adults to note all that and conclude that she isn’t “adult enough” to give a heart’s consent and surrender to the Lord (especially if she still sleeps with a doll in bed beside her).
But it’s just as easy to watch adults playing their childish games and draw a similar conclusion. See the programs they watch, note the games they play and how they pout and sulk if they’re beaten or crossed in their desires by a spouse or a boss.
That we wrestle with such questions is a good thing for it shows we’re interested in something vitally important (and a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus is vitally important). We won’t breezily dismiss the questions with barely a thought. Once we come to think that this child’s conscience is awakening, that he/she is coming alive to the message of the gospel and Jesus’ call on her we will not (certainly should not!) airily put her off even if we remain uncertain.
We mustn’t give her the impression that her feelings and thoughts are not to be taken seriously but we’re not to give her the impression that she is an adult. However we work with the matter it can only help her if she knows we’re anxious to give her a hearing and to help her, while we live up to our own responsibility toward her/him as our child. To put her off making a public commitment to Jesus with a few sentences while we’re watching television or heading for work, or wherever, should be avoided under all circumstances but especially if she is repeatedly raising the issue.
If the boy is persistent and anxious (that will be determined by those who are in the position to know) even if the parents are still in doubt, it might be best to set the wheels in motion for the child’s self-giving to the Lord who is graciously drawing the boy and calling him into the grand adventure. Once all who love the child and are in the position to know best [at least better than anyone else] think the time is right for him/her to render a faith commitment of themselves to the Lord Jesus the following suggestions might be useful.
What I have to say from this point is not meant as some “this is how it should be done” outline but some suggestions as to the direction I think we could go if we’re to act wisely and well in an area where sensitive parents and children have questions like those above.
But I offer the suggestions with seriousness and if you take them to be useful perhaps you could have discussions with others about them, looking for weaknesses or strengths and drop me a note.

I think the young girl should be told how wonderful it is that she is going to become Christ’s covenant child because He has loved her all her life.

I think he should be told he is going to make a solemn and joyous meeting with and commitment to Lord and that he must prepare for it.

I think the church leaders should be consulted and asked for input on what can be done to make this momentous event memorable and substantial.

I think a period of time (maybe four to six weeks, for perhaps thirty minutes a session) should be set aside to bring the lovely matter to a conclusion.

I think a room in the meeting-house (or a home other than his/her own) should be committed to which the child travels “to prepare” herself/himself to meet the Lord.

I think the parents and select people should be there to make the child aware that his/her purpose is being taken with the joyful seriousness it deserves.

I think a curriculum should be devised for such occasions that includes foundational truths about God and the gospel and the Body of Christ into which she/he is being brought and received by the Lord Jesus who will come to live in them by His Holy Spirit.

I think it should be announced to the entire assembly in the presence of the young person what she/he is doing in preparation to give his/her life to the Lord, and the assembly should be asked to pray for and encourage this person at this special time. If screens are used for announcements, the names and perhaps pictures of those who  are in preparation for such a glorious event could be kept in the minds of the congregation—parents and young people.

I think when all this heart preparation is done and the time has come to immerse this young person into a faith-union and covenant relationship with the Savior & Lord Jesus Christ that it should be done in the presence of the entire assembly.

I think that his/her first engagement in Holy Communion at the Lord’s Supper should be underscored perhaps by having them come to the front to be served first.

Other things, little things, could be done to emphasize “the magnitude of the moment.” (Discussion with creative women teachers might be especially beneficial on such occasions. I say women only because in my experience they are more attentive to class-creativity than men.)

The room at the appointed time could have his/her name put on it and the time appointed. The night before the morning of baptism could be made a special evening in the home, some people appointed for the purpose could call him/her and commend them to God. Congregational leaders and teachers might visit and speak God’s name in blessing on the young people. Perhaps women who will continue in a teaching capacity with the young girl might be especially appropriate.

The object of it all is to focus the mind of the young person and the minds of the parents and the assembly on what is happening. My own view is that the “salvation” and “initiation” (?) of young people in this situation is taken far too lightly, off-handed almost, and where that occurs it’s tragic.
Perhaps a document could be created and framed marking the grand occasion, and an opportunity for the entire congregation to sing its welcome could be recorded and given as a gift. It’s nice to imagine such a person, when many years have passed, being able to look back on such a momentous occasion with joy and contentment and saying, “After that experience there was no going back!” It must be made joyful, but but the faith commitment is made to One who says, Follow Me!”

There is more than one benefit to such a period of preparation (however it is structured). Once completed, we would know that this child wasn’t simply expressing a momentary and passing emotional desire that rose out of fear or merely wanting to do what some other young person did. We will know that this child’s coming to Christ in a covenant commitment mattered not only to the young person. When this boy or girl is buried into Christ’s death and rises again in Christ’s resurrection everyone will have had the opportunity to hear again cries around the cross, the rumbling of a great grave stone and the good news, “He is not here. He is risen just as he said.”

`       (Holy Father, help us to help one another to take younger persons seriously in such seriously WONDROUS situations.)


Victor Herman, in his Coming Out of the Ice, tells of a man who kept him from going insane during his first 24 hours in the Russian Gulag.
His cell (No. 39): five and a half feet wide, and ten feet long with a boarded up window at the far end and the cell door at the other. Two benches along the walls and sixteen men to the cell and closest to the door, a parasha, a round vat that served as a latrine and was emptied every ten days.
The stench was choking, silence was required and so was movement. From dawn to darkness they were forced to sit, silent and stare at a hole in the cell door through which the guards were able to watch them.
At night they lay like eggs in a carton on the cold stone floor. Every inch of space was taken and the slightest movement to ease a pain was bought at the expense of a fellow-sufferer.

Herman confessed that after only 24 hours of it he was on the edge of madness and was kept from it only by “the Elder.” The Elder—no names—sat closest to the parasha and to the door and if a guard had it in him to vent his bad temper or rage or whatever the Elder was always the first to get the beating.
This leader earned the right to make two decisions each day. One of them was to give the sign when everyone was to begin to eat. He would count sixteen bowls of soup as they came through the feeding hole in the cell door to ensure that nobody received less than his share. Twice in the night he would signal for the men to change sleeping positions so as to ease the awful agony of cramp and disability when the morning came.
I accept the fact that there are and should be people “over” us—we must have leaders, it isn’t a question of will we or won’t we; we’ll have them! We can juggle the language, change terms, substitute this word for that but we will all be “under” someone in some area of life; there’ll always be someone (or someones) who shows us the truth of things and when he/she does, in that realm we submit ourselves to them.
At its best authority compels us by persuading us that the leader has more in him/her than we have; more of the right spirit or wisdom or devotion, or whatever. They don’t compel us in the sense of coercing or making formal demands for recognition—they earn our respect and submission to their lead simply by their skill their giftedness, character and behavior. But at one point or another if we’re going to live as a community there will be “leaders”.
Leadership can be looked at in terms of how many people we can get under us but that’s the pagan kind that Jesus spoke about on the betrayal night when He spoke of leadership in terms of service. He said, “There’s either pagan authority or Mine.” So, maybe it’s not too sugary to say leadership at its best is seeing how many we can get under so as to lift them. Maybe it’s more about seeing how many we can get into to transform.
There’s something sinister (I think) in attempts to get rid of leadership (however that’s attempted) because we will always end up with leaders (call them what we may or call them nothing). They may speak quietly and with a smile, there may be more than one and they may even ask for opinions now and then but we will have leaders. The group may even “democratically vote” on occasions but there will be those that (ugly phrase but still) “call the shots.” There will always be those judged (not wickedly) not gifted to do this or that and they will happily follow the leaders & happily submit to them. (Call them what you want but they will lead and there will be followers.)
I can’t help thinking “the Elder” at the door was regarded as “the Elder” by common consent and not because he demanded recognition or because he somehow rigged the vote. He manifestly served, but “the elder” still called the shots twice a day and was obeyed without quibbling or worry about questions of “equality” in all things. (There’s something strange too in a person or a group that is pre-occupied with “I must be understood and treated as equal in all ways.” ) We will “obey” someone! Even if I’m given a turn at “calling the shots”—I’m given it by someone(s) with the authority to do it.
This entire area needs, and is worth, thinking about. I recognize that the most compelling piece of this little thing is the telling of Herman’s cell, so reflect on that a while. I’m tempted to say that those who are our best leaders are those who suffer most for us. But, yes, it’s too simple; still it’s not too simple for us to take that aspect of leadership seriously.