Being Prepared: Necessity

Photo by Rafael Pires on

A couple of weeks ago, I began listening to a podcast called It Could Happen Here, a podcast all about the prospect of a Second American Civil War. The host of the show, journalist Robert Evans, takes the listener through a list of possible scenarios that may occur if a Second American Civil War broke out. Evans, who has travelled to and covered the Ukrainian protests in the Maidan Square in Kiev, the Syrian Civil War and Iraq in the battle against ISIS, uses this experience to paint a picture of a civil war not unlike the one in Syria, with besieged cities held by left-wing separatists, to gangs of right wing militias roaming the countryside, and a state unable to handle the violence. A handful of the episodes begin with Evans narrating your life as someone trapped in a city at war, trying to maintain a life in a place where nothing is certain. The city you live in experiences violent clashes between militias, protesters and soldiers, the attempts to rebuild a normality which is then wiped out in bombings, and the subsequent flight from home as a refugee. Why do I bring this up? Apart from being an amazing podcast, Evans talks about the necessity to be prepared in case of events that change our lives.

Imagine for a moment that your life was turned upside down. Its probably a lot easier now than it would have been three months ago, perhaps even three weeks ago. As we have seen, Covid-19 has caused huge upheaval in all of our lives, whether its through uncertainty around employment, exams, or family, all of us have been affected in some way. For me, its made me realise just what a precarious position I am in in terms of employment and income; up until recently it was uncertain as to whether I would get sick pay as a zero hour contract employee. I am also worried about being a carrier of the virus whilst not exhibiting major symptoms; many of my closest friends and people I know are at risk of being severely affected by the virus.

But that’s not really what I mean when I say imagine life got turned upside down. Instead, lets think about what’s been happening in our supermarkets right now. I went to my local Tesco on Monday night for a Mothers Day card, and walked through the rest of the store to see if what I had seen on the news was true. And it was. There was barely any food on the shelves at all; no pasta, no potatoes, no rice, no paper products of any kind. It reminded me a little of a zombie movie, except the store was still lit and no one was chasing me for my brains.

But it made me really think about just how vulnerable we are to disaster. Covid-19 has caused many people to panic buy, taking as much food and other things as they can carry without a thought for anyone else. And this is thankfully for a crisis in which we can stay safely tucked up in our homes! Imagine if we had to leave en masse for a natural disaster such as a flood or hurricane, or were left without power and access to other services. Imagine if that happened tomorrow:

  • would you have enough food, or would you know where you could get more food if you needed it?
  • Would you have access to clean water or a method of making your own?
  • would you have suitable clothing in case you needed to travel long distances, potentially on foot?
  • would you have enough medicine, or even know someone who could treat any injuries?

There is a necessity to being prepared for unexpected events. Life as we know has changed, and i don’t think we can now go back to whatever “normal” was after this. So much of our world and its systems have been shown to be flawed, whether its the medical preparation for pandemics, the number of people who are unable to save money, the fact so much wealth is concentrated into the hands of a few. The world is a house of cards that could topple at any time. Our modern wisdom of individualism and capitalism have come up short against this crisis and will come up short, and will do again. But perhaps there is some older wisdom that may help us.

Be Prepared for the Unkown

“The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭21:20‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Now we are so detached from the food making process, that it probably didn’t occur to many people in the West that starvation is a real potential threat within the next few decades. We are so used to having full supermarket shelves, it’s the first time I remember in my life that people in this country may not know where their next few meals will come from if they can’t access food.

We must remember however, for us, this is a new phenomeon. When the Bible was written, people were far more vulnerable to sudden changes, particularly in food supply. If your local harvest failed one year, you may not have enough to eat, or even have enough money to buy food! You could be one bad season away from starvation. So people had to be careful with food and resources because you never knew when scarcity would strike.

So preparedness is already part of the Bible. Before the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites had packed everything and were told to eat unleavened bread (bread without yeast) so they could leave at a moments notice. They were only in Egypt in the first place because centuries before, Joseph had stored grain to prevent starvation during a famine, which lead his family to come to Egypt.

Jesus once told a parable about ten virgins, half of whom were wise and the other half foolish. They were waiting for the bridegroom of a wedding to arrive for the wedding party, but the bridegroom had not appeared by nightfall. The wise virgins being savvy had packed oil so they could light their lamps, but the foolish ones hadn’t prepared at all. They had to rush off to find oil, and while they were gone, the foolish virgins were locked out of the party, all because they weren’t ready. No this story is often told in the context of the Kingdom, but its just as relevant to peoples lives today. If you’re not prepared for unexpected events you will be caught unawares.

So I hope this post has made you think about being prepared. We are fools if we don’t prepare. Events like this do not always come with warnings, but we are getting some. The growing danger of manmade climate change will likely increase the frequency of pandemics, famines and natural disasters, threatening our way of life. So what are we going to do about it? We know the world is getting worse, that our very existence could be under threat within decades. So what will you do to prepare for it?

But in some ways, the more important question is who are you preparing for? Just yourself? Or do you have others in mind?

Love and Vulnerability: Armour

As I have discussed in previous posts, being able to love often requires us to be able to remove the masks and clothing that keep people out. This can be very difficult to do, especially when we worry that others may not like us for who we truly are. It ultimately boils down to one thing, that revealing your secrets, especially the ones that paint us in a negative light, is to expose yourself to potential injury.

Wearing Armour

We are all familiar with the expression “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”. It’s taught to us as children in order to tell us that we shouldn’t worry what others say about us because the words cannot cause you pain.

What a load of crap!

We should all be aware of the damage words can do! Just look at the damage social media can do to someone, especially the young, when they cannot escape their tormentors. Words have a power sticks and stones do not have because they can cut right to the core of you as a person. Someone can zero in on an aspect of your personality or appearance and slowly destroy you.

This is where the armour comes in. Wearing armour protects you from these attacks, allowing you to continue functioning. It protects the core of your being from being damaged. This is something I learned to do at school because I am quite sensitive, so jibes at my person often hurt me quite badly. Or at least I had the appearance of not being able to care, because armour still has weaknesses.

Armour doesn’t just protect us from strangers though. Far more dangerous is the power the people we love have to hurt us. When we let people in, and they can see all of you, your foibles, flaws and damage, you are giving them access to ammunition that can hurt you really badly. When someone you love insults you, they have access to a far wider range of points to attack you for. It also hurts so much more because a level of trust has been broken in the attack; you let them in, and then they did this?! So putting on the armour prevents this kind of damage being inflicted because people never get close enough to access that kind of ammunition.

Rebuke and Weapons

“Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favour rather than one who has a flattering tongue.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭28:23‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

We often like to focus on all the nice things Jesus said and did. It’s easier that way. A cuddly Jesus with a warm, benevolent smile, perhaps a small child on his knee telling nice stories to an adoring crowd. And that part of Jesus is definitely real, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the whole story.

In Matthew 23, Jesus takes the Pharisees to task. The Pharisees were the religious elite, the establishment power. They were venerated because of their apparent holiness.

But Jesus saw through all of it. In Matthew 23, he describes them as “whitewashed tombs”! What an insult! It cuts right to the core of their hypocrisy! On the outside, they look completely clean, but on the inside is still a dead, decaying corpse.

This seems really harsh, and it is. But crucially, Jesus wasn’t saying these things to be mean or to try and hurt feelings. Jesus was rebuking out of love, wanting the Pharisees to change their ways and realise their faults.

The chink in the armour

Armour is useful but is also flawed. The more armour you put on, the more you can protect yourself, yes, but it also renders you unable to distinguish between personal attacks and genuine criticism. Imagine a medieval knights helmet, one that covers your whole face. I’ve no idea how they could fight anyone, you can barely see out of them! And that’s a problem because your perspective becomes blinkered. You cannot recognise when someone is criticising you from a place of love.

I was and still am really bad at this. As I said earlier, I am quite a sensitive person, so any attack causes my walls to go up and for me to go on the defensive. But this also means that I fail to tell the difference when someone is telling me something that I do actually need to work on. I get too locked in to a mindset of defence I cannot improve.

I have slowly been trying to work on this. The past year has taught me that this reflexive defensiveness is a serious flaw, one that prevents me from growing. A lot of the time, my friends aren’t saying things to hurt my feelings; they are merely being honest with me about things I need to work on. It’s hard to change an instinctual response, but I hope I can keep doing it.

Having friends willing to rebuke you to make you become a better person is a gift. Don’t squander it.

The Road to Bad Faith 3: Isolate Yourself

The road to Bad Faith is a road best travelled alone. Isolating yourself from friends and family will mean you will lack support when your faith hits crises.

Imagine for a moment you are on a small boat sailing across the sea. You are alone in your little boat, and the sky is a beautiful blue and the sea is flat as glass. Despite this, you begin to worry about the journey ahead. You know that you may encounter storms where the waves, so much larger than your tiny boat, may capsize you into the unforgiving deep.

You turn and see something large approaching your small vessel. It’s a large ship full of people. It dwarfs your minuscule boat, with its lifeboats being even bigger than your current vessel. It has multiple sails, rigging and any other paraphernalia one might need on an ocean voyage. There are people hard at work on different tasks; repairing sails, mending holes, scrubbing the decks, navigating and cooking the food. They are all working together as a team, working with the sole purpose of reaching their destination. One of the people tosses you a rope and beckons you aboard. They want you to leave your boat and come and join theirs.

Our faith journey often feels like sailing across a wide sea. We know what we want our destination to be, even though we cannot see land on the horizon. We technically have all the tools we need; Gods word as food, and the Bible to act as navigation. But we need others to help us get there. Being part of a larger crew grants you access to skills and support you may need; there may be a better navigator, rigger, cook, helmsman who can help you on your way.

But you want to take the road to bad faith. And the best way to do that is to do that alone. Friends with the same goal may motivate you to continue the journey with them. They may be able to fish you out if you fall overboard. Nope. You want to forge this journey alone. You don’t need anyone else’s help or guidance. Friends are merely a distraction on the road to bad faith.

Loneliness and Folly

Fools are headstrong and do what they like; wise people take advice.
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭12:15‬ ‭MSG‬‬

The book of proverbs is all about wisdom. Wisdom is defined by Timothy Keller as the ability to navigate the complex realities of life. There is no single solution for every problem, and wisdom is knowing what the best solution to use is and what’s the best way to use it.

Having friends allows you to broaden your perspective and therefore make you wiser. If you only had your own prior experiences from which to build your responses, you would have a very limited pool from which to build responses to situations. Friends can provide alternative perspectives which would help you navigate your world.

Which is why, traveller, you must journey alone. Foolishness, not wisdom, is a goal upon which you must set your sights. Making foolish decisions will help you to slowly destroy your life, and friends will merely get in the way; they may try and stop you doing something stupid or encourage you to do something meaningful and useful with your time. They will only be a hindrance.

Cutting your lifelines

Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.
‭‭Acts‬ ‭2:43-45‬ ‭MSG‬‬

In Acts 2, we read about the first churches set up by the disciples in the wake of Jesus’ ascension to heaven. We can see in these verses that the early church members provided a support network for one another, so that if any of them needed something, they could be provided for by others. In other places as well, people reached out to one another, especially to Jesus, and received help for their needs.

You’re support network should be as minimal as possible, perhaps even non-existent. You don’t need anyone else to help you! You’re an independent sort who isn’t pathetic enough to need assistance from someone else! If the sea you’re sailing on is flat, assume it will always remain so. When life is good you need less support. So assume that your life will remain on a smooth trajectory and that you will never need help from anyone else.

Cutting your lifelines like this also has the benefit of not having the inconvenience of having to help others. If they don’t help you, you don’t have to help them. Simple. But once the storms hit, and you’re in danger of capsizing, you will be so far along your path away from friendship, you won’t feel comfortable sending up a flare for rescue. It would be too awkward. You drown, not because others refuse to act, but because you refuse to call for help.

You look up into the face of all the people on the boat. They are smiling, holding out their hands for you to take and climb aboard. Your face hardens, and you cut the line mooring your boat to theirs. They’re expressions sadden as you drift away, but you don’t care. You don’t need anyone else. Your life is good just the way it is. Just try to ignore the black clouds rolling over the horizon.

Love and Vulnerability: Masks

“…We refuse to wear masks and play games…”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:1-2‬ ‭MSG‬‬

As discussed in the previous post, being able to love sometimes requires us to be spiritually naked with one another, to reveal ourselves to one another so we can be loved for who we truly are. But that’s not what we always do.

What’s your mask

I don’t know about you, but I wear a lot of different masks.

Not real masks mind you. But masks that allow me to hide who I really am from others. They allow me to present an image to the world that paints me favourable light. Whether it’s a smile when I feel sad, confidence when I feel anxious, or righteousness when I do wrong, I have at various times worn all these masks.

Billy Joel called them the faces of the stranger. It’s a song all about wearing different faces and how they make us feel good. We all do it. Masks are convenient because they allow us to hide inconvenient truths from others. I know this drum has been beaten to death, but anyone who has social media does this. They cultivate their lives to project a certain image to others. It’s the imagined self, the way we would most like to be seen by others. But it’s not just how others see you. The mask can sometimes change how you see yourself.


In Matthew 23 Jesus really takes the Pharisees to task. They were the religious establishment, the people who were venerated above all others for their holiness. But Jesus saw that for a lot of them it was a mask; they had the veneer of being righteous, but it was all for show. The Pharisees hated him for it, because they couldn’t not separate themselves from the mask and see themselves for who they truly were.

Our masks can make us like that a little bit. We can wear them for so long we can trick ourselves into believing everything is ok, when in reality it’s not. They make us hypocritical which in the Greek means ‘play-acting’. It’s a performance of whatever the mask is meant to convey, whether success, love or happiness. And in some ways, that might be necessary, a sort of fake-it-til-you-make-it approach to love and happiness.

The problem with this is where love enters the mix. If you wear masks, people may fall in love with the mask and not the real you. Think of all the Instagram celebrities that people love. They are loving an approximation of a person who is by definition not real. This is a problem for both sides of the relationship/friendship; the bond is based on nothing concrete so might fall apart if exposed. An in some sense we may realise this and tie the mask even tighter to our face so it never slips. But this means that people will never be able to love the real you because they have never met them.

The façade cracks

I got really good at wearing masks.

A lot of this was for basic survival. If I looked like I was ok, then people wouldn’t probe. We are all good at assuming people are ok even when they’re not. And that is part of the problem with masks is that hey become toxic the more they are used. We get so used to wearing them, that we cannot see when we might actually need help.

This has been my situation for a while. Protecting others from my reality as much as protecting myself from the same became second nature. But once I allowed the façade to crack I was able to actually get help from others and let them see the real me. This is why I think my previous post is so connected to this one; being spiritually naked and vulnerable with each other relies on us taking off the mask.

And this has to be an active choice on your part. Because sooner or later, the mask will slip from your face, and like it or not, people will see the real you. It happened to me once; my mask slipped and a friend saw the real ugly truth and it changed our friendship. Because I hadn’t really opened that part of myself, it was a nasty shock for them.

So, choose to take of the mask. It will be painful, but I promise it will be worth it, as the friends that stick around will love you for the real you, and not some fake version.