Thinking About Prepping

Original version: November 7, 2011

This is a response to a few questions that were posed to me by a parent and uncle, in response to my forwarding of this article.

Do I believe a “crash” is coming?

So I have a question for ya. Do you think this nation is going to crash in the near future? I do not understand how the United States can be 14+ trillion in debt, yet still have a functioning monitory system. Just curious what your opinion might be.

Well, there are several definitions of “crash.”  A number of folks commenting on Médaille’s “Will There Be Zombies?” article made the point that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and didn’t fall in a day either.  (Shoot, I imagine even the sacking by the Visigoths took, what, two or three weeks?  😀 )

Point being, if America and/or the West is “in decline,” then we should calibrate for that.  But although a cataclysmic overnight disaster is possible (and works better in films or novels than a hundred-years’ slow disintegration), I’m not convinced it’s imminent.  I can imagine it; but I can also imagine a slow waning of America as a strong and influential nation.  Empires have been conquered in a few years; but I don’t see that happening to us, probably.  The world economy is a big mess, and pretty “fragile” (to go back to Médaille’s critique), but I think a crumbling slide is more probable than a quick implosion.

That said, no, I don’t believe our current national debt—with its other related fiscal delinquencies, national or individual—is sustainable.  It’s a balloon that keeps getting filled with more and more hot air.  There are two possible outcomes: (a) people (meaning both the nation’s leaders and the populace at large) start making radical spending cuts—at the individual, local, state, and federal levels—and tighten their belts for the good of posterity, or (b) general badness ensues.  I predict (b), and hope that (a) will then occur shortly afterward.

How should we prepare?

It is basically prudent to have be reasonably prepared for an unexpected disaster.  Red Cross wishes everyone was prepared to be able to live in their house for at least 3 days, and preferably up to 2 weeks.  They have books on this. (It would make their job easier!)

Preppers are storing up food, moving to the country, collecting ammo and weapons, banding together in like-minded communities and many more things like this.  There are conferences and an entire industry has sprung up to support this.

Are you thinking like this?  Are your peers?  What steps are you taking in this direction?

Well, again, see the “Zombies” article and my response.  I quote myself:

Alarmism is out of the equation because the kinds of things Médaille is arguing for are precisely the kinds of things we should be doing in any event, whether cultural collapse is imminent, or generations ahead, or ten years behind.  Because our kingdom is not of this world, our task does not change with the ebb and flow of empires.  Christ calls us to build the Kingdom, but he does not call us to build heaven on earth: heaven is coming by storm, soon enough.  Thus the means of preventing, delaying, preparing for, mitigating, weathering, recovering from, or repairing a “crash” are all one and the same: build the Kingdom.  Build healthy communities composed of serious disciples of the coming Lord.

By the phrase “healthy communities” I mean to include (a proper degree of) self-sufficiency, preparedness, health, capacity for self-defense, etc.  These things are not of primary importance, but they are, to a degree, prerequisites.  I’ve concluded that living in a wholistic, intentional, communal, self-consciously Christian way will, in and of itself, push us towards things like: having networks of (local) friends and neighbors whom we trust and can rely upon; gardening; being financially responsible (out of debt, etc.); having means (and attitudes) that allow us to assist others who are in whatever kind of distress; providing for our families’ well-being even in less-than-ideal circumstances; and so on.

Therefore I think that if you are living well, “prepping” becomes significantly less necessary.  I would rather focus on this goal first, and then put specific preparedness measures appropriately down the totem pole, as circumstances, available resources (including time), and judicious foresight suggest.

What are we doing, right now?

So what are you thinking/doing to prepare for either

  1. A slow economic decline (we cannot deny the inflated food prices that keep going up) or
  2. A crash or
  3. A crazy disaster (EMP, failure of the electrical grid, etc) things that Preppers are prepping for?

I know first of all we need to trust the Lord with our lives and livelihoods.

We know many generations have weathered hard times of various kinds…and been better off in many ways for it.

Well, we’re not doing a whole lot, honestly.  Not quite as much as we should.  Again, time and resources are limited.  (Our current house has about 12 square feet of garden space, including pots.  We intend to remedy that when we move to our next house.  Etc.)

But before we take significant practical steps, I want to be sure we’ve thought it through from the right directions.

I attended the Iron Sharpens Iron men’s conference in VA this October, and ran into one of the vendors there who, I felt, pretty much nailed it on this issue.  For a while, he was “obsessed” (his term) with the prepper/survivalist cult(ure), but eventually realized that the motivation behind it was almost entirely selfish.  So he pulled back and reevaluated.  Now he gives seminars on preparedness based on a motivation of “equip yourself to be in a position to help others” when disaster strikes—of whatever type—for the ultimate purpose of being able to be Christ to them and share the gospel with them (verbally and visibly).  Plus, it’s kinda silly to worry about the end of the world, if the thing that will actually threaten my life is a flood or tornado or extended winter power outage.  Here’s his/their web site: not a whole lot here, but you get the gist.  If you’re ever in the mood to put on a seminar for your friends & neighbors, these are guys I’d recommend checking out: http://www.evangelisticsurvival.com/seminar.html

(By the way: I highly recommend ISI to any of you who are men.  The conferences seem to run every spring and fall.  Get on their mailing list and sign up for the next one in your neighborhood.  You’ll be encouraged and exhorted to deeper Godly manhood.  Here, you can listen to Stu Weber’s keynote address from the VA conference, entitled “Stay in the Battle.”  Do it.  It’s good.)

All of which to say: sometime—sooner rather than later, but not immediately: maybe in the next 2-3 years—I’d like to spend some time thinking through this issue with my wife, and maybe in company with some other local friends, and sketch out a plan to begin implementing.  Water storage; keeping a full pantry; maintaining a garden; etc.  Networking as possible.  I’m probably never going to be a hunter, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to cultivate friendship with the few guys I know who do hunt.  Maybe we’ll trade venison for blueberries, sometime :)—disaster or no disaster.  We already get our eggs from friends with a farm.  They’ll still give us eggs if the electrical grid is down for a week or three.  Why shouldn’t they?  We’re friends.  Plus, they won’t be able to refrigerate them all for themselves.  😀

After solidifying our (practical) philosophy on the topic, I think it’d make sense to get one of the Red Cross books my mom mentioned, and collect the items it suggests.  Maybe do occasional “fire drills” as our kids get older (and include a few more long-term items in the bags).  That seems sensible, easy, responsible, and not too obsessive.

Contra “Survivalism”

Our primary calling in life is not to ensure, or even specifically to prolong, our own survival.  After 80 or 90 years, you lose that battle, regardless.  Life is precious and good, yes, but this earth is not our home.  (Well, ok, actually it is, but it kinda has to get burned and remade first.)

In my original response to “Zombies,” I said: “God does not call us to survive.  He calls us to make disciples.”

My aunt replied: “Which is sorta hard to do if you’re dead.”  True enough.  This is why survival is, as I said, a prerequisite to the rest of life.  But it is not life itself, which is why survivalism, in the usual individualistic “me and my family first” sense, is non-Christian.

My friend Jonathan’s response to her statement is about all that needs to be said:

Since I’m getting ready to teach a series on Mark (which has the thrice-repeated emphasis in the middle section: the Son of Man is here to die, and if you intend to follow Him, you’d better be grabbing your cross-holdin’ gloves and building those shoulder muscles)… isn’t dying precisely what being a disciple—a follower of the crucified Lord—looks like?

God calls us to resurrection.  Which is sorta hard to do if you’re alive.

The tendency to diminish the Church (for all its problems), and/or to promote the family (with its own problems) to a place superior to the Church… simply has no New Testament basis.  (I think you could make an OT argument, if you’re willing to ignore the NT witness; and of course the family is important for the NT; just not of paramount importance.)

Repeat after me: “He cannot have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his mother.”  There is no union with Christ apart from the Body of Christ.

Or, if you don’t like St. Cyprian, try St. Paul: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’’”  And, “…we, although many, are one body, and individually members of one another.”  And, of course, Ephesians 5, which suggests that what marriage (the start of a new family) is all about, where it finds its ultimate fulfillment and purpose and meaning, is precisely in the union of Christ and His Church.

Whatever the next “crash” is, and however big or bad it is, the Church will survive.  If the next “crash” is Armageddon and The End of the World, the Church will survive.  Which means I and my family will survive, in the ultimate sense.

Should I therefore be stupid and reckless and wholly unprepared, being unable to read the signs of the times?  Uh, no.  That’s nowhere in Scripture.  Should I be obsessed with preserving this body that’s going to age and die?  Well, that’s equally silly.

So as time, resources, circumstances, God’s evident calling, and seasons of life permit, I will prepare my family for possible crises of whatever kind, in both general and specific ways.  And then I’ll go about the business of living, which I feel is more pleasant, useful, and biblical than worrying about how not to die.

Living

One more point to respond to: how to prepare for slow economic decline (which we’re probably already in).  Well, again, this is pretty much the same as asking “how do you live well”?  Because even if we believe that “the economy is going to go up and up and up and things will get better and better forever,” we still aren’t justified in pursuing ever-increasing spending and rampant materialism.

So what will we do?  We’ll:

  • Continue to improve our cashflow through wise investments (things like real estate, over which—if we do our homework—we have some measure of control; as opposed to the stock market, over which we have no control), and through multiple streams of as-passive-as-we-can-make-it income.
  • Continue to decrease expenses, or hold them at a minimum, through simple living, couponing, and not buying junk we don’t need (including more house than we can honestly use).
  • Continue to build means of self-sufficiency, like a garden, which brings monetary savings at the expense of time, but which also provides other benefits (fresh air, exercise, nutrition, variety, observance of nature, etc.).
  • Continue to build networks of local friends with whom we can trade baby-sitting favors, food, work, skills, and other things, with the multiple benefits of building friendships, having fun, and saving money.  (Aside: my wife received four baby showers when she was pregnant with our first child.  Four.  Carter’s took in maybe $20 of our money after his birth, for some extra pairs of socks, I think.  We bought next to nothing.  It was amazing.  There is a serious economic repercussion to this kind of communal generosity.  Now, when she teaches one morning a week, a family from church watches him.  Not because they’re “trying to serve us,” like it’s a sacrifice.  Because they like it.  They like him.  They don’t charge us anything.  They’re friends.)

So again, I’ll restate the theme: live well.  That’s how you prepare; that’s how you survive; that’s how you rebuild.  And most significantly, that’s how you show Christ to others through every stage of the ebb and flow of the cultural tides of fortune.  It’s the rhythm of reality.  It’s just waves.  There’s always one in front of you, one behind you, and one under you (or perhaps over you).  Keep swimming.  Ride it out.  Don’t panic.  We know the One who sets the boundaries of the sea, and who sends the storm, and who calms it.

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