Brief Funny

So we sang a song at church yesterday and one of the lines goes, "You are the potter. I am the clay." As I was driving my kids home I was singing this little bit of it. Much to my surprise, my 4-year-old in the backseat exclaims, "I am the Play-Doh!" Too funny (and smart)!


Be Careful What You Pray For

Some time back, after chatting with a friend, I decided to stop wearing my headphones when I ran. I had enjoyed being able to check out mentally for awhile but realized that this was valuable time to pray, think and be open to “God opportunities.” I’m something of a watchman at heart, as well, and this would allow me to keep my ears open for things going on around the neighborhood. I told God I was open to however He wanted to use me (a dangerous prayer).

So, a couple of weeks back, my decision bore fruit. I was out running, enjoying the chilly weather, when I decided to change my route a bit; I often mix it up for variety and to see new parts of my neighborhood. As I crossed a major street through the area, I saw a woman halfway up the block being noisy about something. For a moment I considered hanging a hard left and avoiding the situation, but I said a quick prayer and proceeded.

“Do you live around here?” she asked.

“Uh...yeah, a few blocks up that way,” I pointed. “What’s the problem?”

She was quite distraught, talking with a friend on the phone from out of state and smelled faintly of alcohol. She tells me she’s not crazy and that she’s not been drinking, though she is going through alcohol withdrawals and likely smells of it. Her name’s Becky (name changed for anonymity), and she’s not from Chicago but Idaho (place changed, too). She lives with her boyfriend. Her demeanor is pretty manic...probably a bit like when I went off alcohol. She said her boyfriend had pushed her down the stairs and repeatedly lifted up the back of her shirt, asking if I saw bruises. “Just a couple small ones, but I’m sure it hurts if you fell down the stairs.” She was very clingy, continually grabbing me and holding my hands and rubbing my arms, partly because it was 50, very windy and I was sweaty and wearing only shorts and a mesh tee while she wore jeans and a jacket.

While she was on the phone, she kept pulling my head to hers so I could hear her conversation. I repeatedly insisted this wasn’t necessary. The whole scene would’ve looked mighty suspicious to a cop rolling by. At this point her boyfriend calls. She tries to share the phone, but I decline. Then she tells her boyfriend that she hadn’t heard anything he’d said and that he should repeat it, holding the phone up to my ear at that point so I can hear the whole thing. The guy sounds calm, patient...I didn’t really get a bad vibe from him. He was just encouraging her to come home.

She gets off the phone and brings my attention to her finger. She has a knuckle that’s a bit swollen and asks me if I can help her change the bandage. So here we are, standing in the middle of the sidewalk pouring hydrogen peroxide over her hand and replacing her bandages (both of which she had in her tote bag) and I'm trying to pry more of her story out of her.

I really can’t tell if she’s been hurt by someone or not. It’s all a bit sketchy, so I tell her that her options as I saw them were to: a) go to the hospital and get checked out, b) flag down a cop or go to the station, or c) go home. “I just want to make sure you have a safe place to stay tonight.”

I don't feel like I can really make the decision for her and she’s very indecisive, so I ask her if I can pray for her. She laughs but agrees. As I pray for her, she starts to cry and calms down a little. “OK, OK,” she interrupts, still crying. “I was going to go out drinking, but now I’m not going to. I want to go home. But you have to go in with me.” I agree and we start walking with her hanging on my arm, rubbing my hands despite my best efforts to keep a little personal space. “Are you affiliated with a church?” she asks. “Well, I work for a church, but I’m not a pastor. I’m just a neighbor who wants to make sure you’re OK tonight.” “I’m Jewish. It’s OK that you prayed for me, right?” “Yeah, it’s OK.” “Arnie’s Catholic. You and he can do the church talk, OK?” I laugh.

So we get to her place and I suggest that she probably shouldn’t be holding my hand when we walk in. “Right, right.” She says the front of the building is locked up, so we have to go around back. We walk down this narrow walkway alongside the building and for a fleeting moment I think, I wonder if I’m about to get rolled, if this is a setup. Well, you got me into this, Lord. She unlocks the door and invites me in. “No, you invite him to the door. I don’t need to come in.” So she does.

Arnie comes into the kitchen--big Chicago guy with a shirt unbuttoned exposing lots of chest hair. I size him up. Yeah, I can take him if I have to, but we’re both gonna’ get really hurt in the process. He’s friendly enough. Again, I don’t really get any bad vibes. He tells me she’s in recovery and thanks me for bringing her home. Becky is standing there nearby with eyes wide and her jaw dropped, “Why aren’t you yelling at him? You yell at everybody that comes in here. Do you guys know each other?” “No,” I assure her.

Not sure why exactly, but I felt like I should pray for them. So, I asked if I could, they said yes and I began praying for them right there in their kitchen. Becky asked again if it was OK, given that she was Jewish. Then she interrupted and asked how I knew Arnie’s name. “We were just introduced,” I said. After a couple more interruptions by her, he got frustrated and said, “We need to let him go. It’s cold out and I’m sure he has things to do.”

Becky grabs me and says, “Pray for me before you go. Say a prayer for me to get a job that I love.”

“Becky, I get the sense that God has something else for you before a great job. You have some healing to do. One thing at a time, OK?”

“OK, then say a magic prayer for me. Say a magic prayer.”

“There are no magic prayers. The prayers that mean the most are the ones that come from your own mouth. Would you pray with me?”

“OK, say a magic prayer.”

So I began praying and having her repeat after me. I prayed for God’s peace, for clarity of mind, for the courage to take the difficult steps she needed to take and to be able to surrender her life to God. “Amen.” She looked at me, tears running down her cheeks. “Surrender...like the AA prayer, right?” she whispered, sobriety settling over her a bit. “Yeah, like that.”

And off I ran into the chilly night, amused and grateful to be used in a totally unexpected God appointment. May there be more (he prays nervously).


Get Out of the Water

So, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were both elected to second terms; Jimmy Carter and Al Gore both won Nobel prizes; and Paris Hilton remains a celebrity. It is a most curious world we live in. I wonder at times if we’ve lost our ever-lovin’ minds.

Considering this state of affairs—the losing of our collective minds, that is—I thought I’d weigh in with a voice of reason. Who knows, maybe I’ll win a Nobel Prize, be begged to run for elected office or catch the eye of some modeling agency. “Yeah, the kid can’t write,” they’ll say, “and he’s about as graceful as Frankenstein’s monster, but that left side of his face. Hmm, there’s something there...”

So let’s talk Global Warming. Al Gore got a Nobel Prize this past week because he thinks that Global Warming is going to cause the world to be swallowed up by water even though God assured us that it wouldn’t thousands of years ago. Global Warming, or the lack thereof, seems like an issue that is nearly impossible to get unvarnished truth about. The oil companies have a vested interest in making sure their products appear safe as milk and more vital than water, while the Gaia crowd believes that humans, with their love of fossil fuels, have no redeeming qualities and should be wiped off the face of the earth and replaced by evolutionarily superior life forms like cockroaches in order to stop Global Warming and make our Mother Earth happy.

While they both have well-funded and cleverly-biased research to back their positions, my instinct is that they’re both right to an extent and both missing the boat completely. I think they’re overlooking a major factor contributing to rising sea levels, something that Speedo Inc. and others are no doubt trying to keep under wraps—swimming.

Have you ever filled your bathtub up too high? What happened when you climbed in? You displaced a large amount of water causing your tub to overflow and your bathmat to get wet and become mildewy after a few days, right? With the world’s population at over 6 billion and more and more people living and vacationing in coastal areas, it is no wonder we have more people getting in the water. Now, when one or two people get into the ocean, it’s no big deal. But when hundreds of millions of people wade into the Big Blue, it should come as no surprise that the seas are gonna’ rise. You do the math.

So what are we to do about it? Get out of the water. I repeat, like the lifeguard at the local pool, Get out of the water. It may sound simple, and I assure you it is. Simple solutions don’t get big grants, though. Sure, boats are part of the problem. As I said, both sides have missed them, but good luck getting Big Oil to pull their tankers out of the ocean. Not going to happen. And anyway, do you really want millions of gallons of gas being flown over your neighborhood in jumbo jets? I don’t think so. No, it is up to us to hike up our soggy trunks, readjust our slimming swimsuits and make for the sand. If we can pull together and collectively decide that we love the water, but we love seeing all of the Statue of Liberty even more, we can turn the tide on this very serious problem and Save the Planet. I believe we can do it. Are you willing to stand with me (making sure to secure your trunks first)?

Good. Now go out and nominate me for something.

Paddles!!! And...CLEAR!!!

OK, there we go. The blog is revived.

While things have been a little slow here, I have been doing a bit over on Facebook.com. It's become a bit of a socializing spot and is kind of fun.

I'd initially given Facebook the thumbs-down, thinking it was another MySpace spinoff and a bunch of shallow garbage. And, while it doesn't really lend itself to the lengthy entries I like to post on here, it does allow a bit of networking, connecting with old and new friends and stays more current than the typical blog if folks are willing to put time into it. Of course, as with anything, you will get nothing out of it if you put nothing in. So, if you're so inclined, start a profile on Facebook, invite me to be your friend and at least do the Interview. You'll likely find it's a bit addictive.



In June, I posted about my return to running. Well, it’s September, and I’m still at it. No, don’t applaud. I’m still slow. And I’m still wrestling with “shin splints” and having to take it much easier than I’d like. But I’m enjoying it. A couple weeks ago, I went out for a walk and just found myself breaking into a run (no, the police didn’t pull up next to me). It’s good to be addicted to something good.

Running has given me a unique window on my neighborhood. I generally run after dark after the kids, and sometimes my wife, are in bed. As I meander through the neighborhood on my various routes, I get glimpses into the homes I pass, slices of life. I initially listened to music while I ran, and I still do on occasion, but I typically leave the player at home. A friend said she skipped the music and took her running time to think and pray; I’ve decided to do the same (though I'll crank a bit of "Achtung Baby" if I'm needing to do a bit of speedwork). Running earbudless has the added benefit of making me a better neighborhood watchman.

Running also has been just plain fun. I recently went for a run to Wrigley Field and back. About five minutes into my run, it began pouring down rain. Everyone was racing for cover, but I just kept plugging along. It felt so good. I can’t remember the last time I deliberately let myself get soaked like that (except for the time last year I climbed into my daughter’s bath completely dressed in my work clothes—it’s fun to keep your kids guessing! ;). It made for a truly invigorating run.

Well, it’s been good and will continue to be, I have no doubt. Thanks to those who’ve helped me stay hooked. Thanks to my wife who encourages me and puts up with my running clothes ("They're special 'wicking' fabrics, hon...") drip drying in the shower and late night excursions. Thanks to those who’ve asked how it’s going and offered advice and motivation. And thanks, too, to those whose examples inspire me to stay with it, like the friend who overcame huge obstacles to race again (and did well!) and the one who’d never run before but took it on for a good cause. [Thanks to you, too, general reader for indulging this self-motivational post ;)]


Look, Up in the Sky!!!

My apologies for the long lapse in posting. No, my blog wasn’t frozen by the NSA for my previous post, though my wife is convinced I’m on a number of “lists." Kinda’ makes me proud.

Let’s go “tabloid” for a post, shall we? The topic? Aliens and UFOs.

I have always been entertained by the idea of aliens from outer space visiting our planet or making contact with us in some way. You have been, too. Admit it. Even if you’re fairly certain, as I am, that it can’t and won’t happen, it still gets the imagination going.

Interestingly, sightings of unidentified flying objects have been on the rise, or so it seems with increased media attention over the past few years. While you can find dubious footage on YouTube and other user-fed sites, more compelling stories, such as last year’s UFO sighting at O’Hare airport and the recent video of UFOs taken by the Mexican Air Force, have also been making the news.

Roswell UFO crash stories have become embedded in popular culture, but stories of people seeing strange flying objects they couldn’t explain have gone back centuries. Chances are fairly good that someone you know has seen a UFO. So what’s the truth about these phenomena?

Technically speaking, we’ve probably all seen an Unidentified Flying Object. Ever been hit by a piece of candy or who-knows-what at a movie theatre? That was a UFO. The vast majority of UFOs are later classified as Identified Flying Objects (i.e. experimental planes, weather balloons, ball lightning, JuJu Fruits, etc.), but what about those that are never identified?

Hugh Ross, an astronomer and evangelical Christian, has published a book called Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men: A Rational Christian Look at UFOs and Extraterrestrials (if you know me, I've probably recommended this book before). In it, he looks at the research available on UFOs and is able to explain away the vast majority of them as objects that were later identified, hoaxes or the product of mental illness in the witness. There is, however, a remaining small percentage, roughly 5% if I recall correctly, which appear to be credible accounts with no earthly explanation. He refers to these as Residual UFOs (RUFOs).

I won't get into all the science, but Ross looks at the likelihood of life existing elsewhere in the universe (very unlikely, according to him) and the possibility of that life getting to Earth (extremely unlikely/impossible). From this, he hypothesizes that the RUFOs are actually extra-dimensional, or demonic, in nature with the goal of inciting fear, confusion, false beliefs, etc. in the witnesses. Very interesting...

So what are your thoughts? Ever seen a UFO? Do you believe life exists elsewhere in the universe? Would the existence or non-existence of extraterrestrials have any impact on your faith? Inquiring minds want to know.


Safe or Sorry?

According to a recent survey, 71% of Americans favor the increased use of surveillance cameras. Frankly, this surprised me. This is the trend, though. Large cities are increasing using networks of surveillance cameras to replace or supplement police patrols. London is covered in them. New York City and DC are getting there and Chicago has ambitions to be like London within the next few years. And few people are complaining.

What do you think about this? On the one hand, there is the argument that if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about and increased surveillance will only make the world safer. On the other hand (the one tattooed "Remember 1984"), are concerns that giving any government that kind of omnipresence is only opening us up for abuse and totalitarianism.

I'm inclined to agree with the latter. I think what the majority of people may not be considering is the fact that extreme measures put in place today are likely to still be there tomorrow. Governments rarely pull back their power once it has been expanded. You may feel that your government is benevolent today and has your best interests at heart, so you put your faith in them and allow them to watch and record all of your comings and goings. Bomb plots are foiled. Gang problems are reduced. It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood. But what about tomorrow?


Dead Theologians are Back!

OK, the Dead Theologians Society is back in action, but doesn't "Dead Theologians are Back" grab your attention?

After a month off, this New Life small group is beginning a new study. We are tackling Dorothy Sayers' The Mind of the Maker. Last night was the first night, but it was simply an introduction, so you haven't missed much. Next week we dive into the text, Chapters 1 & 2.

In this study we'll be discussing a range of things, from the doctrine of the Trinity, what it means to be "made in the image of God," the nature of creativity and even how this applies to such things as creative writing. It should prove to be fascinating. Once again, a good group has been brought together and more are welcome.

If you're in Chicago and free on Thursday nights, check us out. For more info, see the Dead Theologians Society, Lakeview Edition blog or email me.


Perrier for President!

If you don’t like political rants, here’s a spoiler: This is one.

I am sorely disappointed with the current field of presidential candidates. Third party candidates are hardly worth considering, and neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have any viable candidates I'd be excited about voting for. It’s almost like watching “Last Comic Standing” early in the season, though I fear that once the “lame” ones are weeded out, there will be no one left standing. Do I need to run? Do you?

There will always be those fringe candidates in every election who've got it right, or at least have something interesting to say. But, sadly, we are stuck these days choosing between Coke and Pepsi. What if I don't want a doggone political cola?! What if I want...sparkling mineral water? How about that? Yes, I want Perrier for President! Someone to cleanse my political palate. Someone who won't cause weight or deficit gain. Someone who won't leave a funny aftertaste!

Now, don’t give me the Barack Obama Solution. For a time, there seemed to be a sense that Sen. Obama was the Messiah Returned, but that seems to be fading as he gets more exposure and is forced to take stands on more issues. Don’t get me wrong. He is an appealing candidate in ways, but his roots are in Illinois politics, specifically Chicago politics. And, although I am both an Illinoisan and a Chicagoan, I ask you to please NOT embrace any political exports from here. The one-party political system in Chicago is not known for turning out people of integrity.

Besides his roots in rotten soil, Obama recently came out in favor of expanded government funding of abortion. That’s a deal-breaker for me right there. Alan Keyes, Obama’s opponent in the last senatorial election did not speak the truth in love and was rightly derided for it. He did, though, take Obama to task on that issue and a number of others. Did Obama engage him in an intelligent debate on these issues? No, he brushed Keyes aside and tried to characterize him as a “nut.” To me this was cowardice and “politics as usual.” Let’s see the “audacity of courage” for a change.

The sad thing is that all candidates like to say that they’re not going to do “politics as usual.” Ever heard that one before? If you’re not in Illinois, you may not be familiar with Governor Rod “Santa Claus” Blagojevich. He made that same promise while campaigning and has turned out to not only do politics as usual but is likely to exceed convicted Governor George Ryan on the corruption scale. Believe what they do, not what they say. And for Pete’s sake, please join me in ignoring anyone who says they support “common sense” anything.

OK, back to the election. Dick Morris, former advisor to President Clinton, has made a very interesting prediction. He believes that Hillary Clinton will be the next president. She will be the worst president we’ve had in some time giving the following election to the Republicans. But, due to demographic shifts in the U.S., that will be the last Republican president we see. Chew on that one for a bit. Regardless of your political persuasion, what would it be like to live in a one-party country? It’s not produced good things in Chicago.

Let me know your thoughts.


"Once" Stars Performing in Chicago This Weekend

Yes, it's true. The stars of the movie Once, which I recommended very highly last month, are going to be performing here in Chicago at the Old Town School of Folk Music this weekend.

Details here:

Who: Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova performing as The Swell Season
What: Concert, $16-20 tickets, 773-728-6000
When: 8p.m. Saturday, July 28
Where: 4544 N. Lincoln Ave. (near Lincoln & Wilson)
Why: Because they make beautiful music & someone needs to go so they can tell me all about it

Sorry out-of-towners.


I'm Giving You $4, 1 hour and 50 minutes

Yep, that's the money and time you'll save by not seeing Premonition. Please don't see this movie. Even if you like Sandra Bullock. Even if you like gripping, psychological thrillers (which are supposed to have a payoff). Even if it's free on a flight cross-country.

I have recommended some great movies on this blog before and will do so again in the future. I usually don't waste my time warning against the bad, but I must warn you against seeing this one. People will think, "Oh, kind of like Sixth Sense..." or "Sandra Bullock's such a charming actress, and I don't want to watch Saw IX again..." Resist!

Perhaps these quotes from RottenTomatoes.com sum it up best: "At least all this uncertainty is leading up to a spectacular twist ending -- oh, wait. No, it's not." And, "breathtakingly stupid movie."

Battlefield Earth, you have company.

As you were.


What are You Reading?

I've always been curious to know what people are reading, what their presets are on the car radio, what's on their iPod, etc. It says a lot about a person--sometimes a surprising lot.

So what are you reading these days?

I tend to read several books at a time, usually in different genres and picked up depending on my mood. My current books are:
  • The Bible. I'm in this book daily. It challenges me, encourages me and, yes, even confuses me at times. Worth wrestling with.
  • No Need for Speed: A Beginner's Guide to the Joy of Running by John Bingham. A gift from my wife and a great, enjoyable read on getting into running. Or, as is my case, getting back into running. I'm addicted again...but in a good way.
  • The Politics of Disaster: Katrina, Big Government, and A New Strategy for Future Crises by Marvin Olasky. The title kind of says it all, but it's basically a look at the truth about the Katrina disaster (surprising how many myths are still believed about that), what went right, what went wrong and how to plan for such things in the future. He's looking on the national level, though, not the individual level I'm more familiar with. Light reading ;)
  • Green Shadows, White Whale by Ray Bradbury. I'd never heard of this book, though I enjoy Bradbury greatly. My wife found it at a book fair recently and got it for me. Hilarious! It's a partly fictional account (exaggerations of actual events) of Bradbury's time in Ireland with director John Huston working on the screenplay for Moby Dick.
  • Next up is a recent purchase from Pastor Kevin's recommended list, Church History In Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley.


Building Tangible Margin—Outfitting Your Car

It’s been awhile since I did a Building Tangible Margin (BTM) post. A couple people have requested info on outfitting their cars, so here is the long overdue response.

We’re going to look today at some basic gear you should keep in your car for emergencies. Before we get into the recommendations, let me first say that there is a good chance you won’t ever need all this gear for yourself. But, if you are attentive to situations around you and keep a servant attitude, you may likely find yourself using it to help others. Don’t let chivalry die on your watch.

The most important keys to traveling safely by car are to keep your car well-maintained and to be a defensive driver. Some problems cannot be avoided, however, and for those, the following gear is recommended. I would also add that an AAA membership or other reliable roadside service is a wise investment, particularly if loved ones are going to be driving your car who may not feel confident handling emergencies themselves.

Must haves:

Spare tire—Full-size is far preferable to the “donut” if you can manage it.
Jack—Most cars come with a scissor jack. If yours doesn’t have one, get a hydraulic jack—generally stronger and faster than the factory-issues jacks.
Tire iron—This usually comes stored with the jack. If yours is missing, replace it with a 4-way tire iron/lug wrench. They are faster and more versatile.
Jumper cables—4 to 8 gauge, 10 to 12 feet. Often “emergency kits” will include cables that are thinner (10 gauge or worse). Avoid those.
Spare fuses—Find your fuse box. It’s usually under the dash. Take a look at the fuses used and pick up a few spares. They’re inexpensive and especially important if your gauges (speedometer, fuel, etc.) are electronic, which many are these days.
Gas can—It doesn’t need to be huge. One to two gallons will suffice.
Tire gauge
Flashlight & spare batteries—A headlamp is preferable for keeping your hands free.

Recommended additions:

Work gloves
--I prefer the calfskin type you can get at most any hardware stores.
Gallon of antifreeze/coolant—This generally requires mixing half and half with water, but you can find pre-mixed ones or simply include a jug of water with which to mix. Double-check your owner’s manual to see if your car requires one of the special, long-life solutions.
Quart of oil—Most varieties will do in a pinch, but many cars, like my Honda, require a particular grade. Double-check your owner’s manual. If you know that your car goes through oil, keep more than a quart on hand.
Fix-a-Flat—Canned tire sealant and inflator. Works well on small punctures.
Bars Leaks or similar—A bottle of this can be extremely handy if you find that you have a small coolant leak. It’s actually been a permanent fix for me in the past and works quite well at fixing small radiator leaks.
Duct tape
Electrical tape
Multi-tool or assortment of screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers.
The latter may be more comfortable to use, though the former can ride with you everywhere and be handy in other situations.
Compact fire extinguisher
Reflector triangles
—Flares are great and can be seen from a great distance, but they only last about 20 minutes and shouldn’t be used anywhere you think you may have a fuel leak.
Crowbar—Preferably within reach of the driver, this is a valuable tool for extricating yourself from a vehicle or getting someone else out of a burning vehicle quickly.
Seatbelt cutter or compact knife—For the same reasons as previous.
Jumpstarter/air compressor—These are extremely handy tools. It is basically a portable battery with jumper cables, so you can jump yourself or others without having to bother with a second vehicle. Mine came with an air compressor, as well, which is extremely handy for topping off soft tires.
Recovery strap—This is a long, slightly elastic strap with loops on the ends. These are helpful for pulling others out of ditches or getting yourself pulled out. Note that these are different from the tow straps with steel hooks on the ends. Recovery straps are safer (no heavy hooks to come flying loose and break a windshield) and actually do some of the work for you.
Contractor bags—These are large, heavy garbage bags with endless uses. Include a few.
Compass & maps
Spare parts—These can be handy IF you know how to install them or run into someone who does. It may be worthwhile to do a little research and see if there are parts on your make/model that are more likely to fail, then carry a spare, say, water pump or whatever the case may be.
Water and the means to collect it—You might simply consider getting a case of 12 or 20 ounce water bottles and keep them in your car. Be sure to check them for leaks, but I’ve found that they stand up quite well to bumps if you leave them in the case and don’t have any problems standing up to freeze/thaw cycles.
Cell phone w/ car charger
First Aid Kit
—Granola bars or something like Mainstay bars that will keep awhile and give you a boost in an emergency.

I’m sure I’m leaving one or five things out, but this is a good start. Always be sure to tailor your gear to the season and your area. Spare hats, blankets and hand warmers are invaluable in the winter and Rain-X or similar is extremely helpful in inclement weather. Let me know if you have additions or end up putting together a kit of your own.


Putting Down Roots

With the help of an atlas and my daughter, I recently counted up the number of addresses I’ve had in my life. Nineteen in six states plus the District of Columbia (“Taxation without Representation”). Whew!

No, I am not a military brat. Nor am I in the witness protection program or a fugitive from justice (as far as you know). My parents simply followed God’s leading career-wise, and I did some moving myself as I got older. The nomad way was just a fact of life, and I liked it. U-Haul meant adventure!

Over the years I’ve asked many people what their lives have been like, whether they’ve been nomads or deep-rooters, and how they viewed that experience. Not surprisingly, there are far more deep-rooters than nomads. Also not surprisingly, many have the “grass is greener on the other side” mentality. Typically it’s the deep-rooters who believe that they’ve missed out because they’ve lived in the same place all their lives, particularly if that place is a rural area or small town.

The upsides of nomadism are many:
1) You learn about all sorts of people and places and end up with a much bigger view of the world. 2) You often end up without an accent, because the various influences kind of cancel each other out. OK, a limited benefit but much sought after in broadcasting. 3) You become expert at moving; it’s like Tetris in 3-D! 4) You get to re-make yourself every few years. Whatever knuckleheaded, embarrassing things you did at the last place get wiped clean. Of course, you always end up turning into the same person, but it’s fun to experiment. 5) You learn how to adapt, navigate new schools, neighborhoods and churches, and fight (more on that in a moment).

Several downsides include:
1) The loss of memories. Simply living in one place a long time allows your memories to be etched more deeply and reinforced over the years. Nomads miss out on this. 2) You start to view all relationships, except those with family, as terminal. You make the most of them while they last, but you just assume that they won’t be around in a couple years. 3) The new kid always gets beat up. But you eventually become good at fighting (hopefully), so it’s really a mixed bag. 4) No two school districts are ever on the same schedule. That must be why I never had to memorize the presidents or the state capitals. Hmm…maybe that’s a good thing.

That said, I get restless. Every two or three years, I get the itch to pull the Winnebago off the blocks and hit the highway (figuratively speaking…we are not RV owners). But I’d like to put down some roots. I have no complaints about God’s plan for my life, but I’d like to see what rooted-ness is all about. Now, God may pull us up and move us to Colorado. If so, I won’t fuss a bit and my wife and kids will start learning a different way of life. But, I sense that God has us here in Chicago for awhile and I’m finally OK with that. Sure, there are days when I get fed up with city life and am tempted to become “part of the problem” rather than “part of the solution,” but this dirty, corrupt, congested town has grown on me. So you’re just going to have to put up with me. I just hope I don’t get the accent.


Bottom of the Barrel

[If you subscribe to this blog, you may have received an unedited version of this a few weeks back and wondered why it disappeared from the blog. Well, it appears here again, cleaned up a bit for public consumption.]

It’s all down there -
the sludge, s***,
blood, spit.
of a
k en
Broken bottles.
the children!)

Trust lies torn
in beer-soaked porn.
Dreams spent like
Pampers money on
losing lotto.
But we keep it hidden
in the back alley.
No one sees.
And no one
smells its fetid stench.
Keep the lid on
and no one
will ever be the wiser.
Except . . .
except for the
Garbage Man.
He knows.


Back in the Habit

After a too-long hiatus, I recently purchased new running shoes (Brooks Adrenaline GTS7s--for fit not style) and committed to getting back in the running habit. I've had three good runs this week and had only minor pain which I was able to push through. Pretty exciting!

There was a time many moons ago when I'd get antsy if I couldn't run for a day or two. I hope to get back to that place. To that end and to you, faithful and sporadic reader both, I give permission to hold me accountable. If you run into me and think of it, ask me when I ran last. Truly.


In Memoriam: Ralph J. Coleson

My grandpa was 96 years old when he died. He and my grandma had been married for 68 of those years. These two stats alone are extraordinary, and I could almost leave it at that. But I won’t. (You know me too well).

“Four large peanut butter milkshakes, please. No, it’s not a joke,” I said to the young girl at the local DQ the evening before my grandpa’s funeral, after his visitation. It was liquid nostalgia.

It is usual for those left behind to speak well of the dead. It’s our nature to put the best face on the departed, almost in a superstitious way—as though somehow we’ll ensure that people speak well of us when we’re gone if we do the same for others. My grandpa was one of those rare people for whom no exaggeration is needed. The truth, in fact, may well sound like exaggeration to those who didn’t know him. My grandpas and my dad all share this trait.

“I am Nathan, son of Richard, son of Ralph.”

My grandpa never asked my grandma to marry him. He asked her if she’d go to Africa with him. That was what his devotion to God looked like. He knew he liked Olive, but he was called to foreign missions and if she wasn’t as well, then she wasn’t the one for him. They ended up serving in India first, then in Sierra Leone. Because of an injury and complications, they weren’t able to stay on the mission field as they intended. But, as my dad tells it, he never really skipped a beat. He knew God was in control and just continued to follow Him. Wherever they lived was their mission field. Stories of people being touched by God through his life were heard up until the end. He never retired into leisure as many do. His was not a wasted life.

The old porch swing was the favorite spot at grandpa and grandma’s. We would swing and laugh and swing and sing… During the warmer months there were dozens and dozens of potted plants and flowers all along the front porch, along the path of the swing. In the gravel drive there was, for many years, a simple Ford Fairmount. The only thing flashy at all about it was that it was red. On the dash was a big compass, very much like the one I have on my dash now. Early GPS.

From the tribute I read at the funeral, part of a book my dad is writing:

It was in Sierra Leone that my Father’s protector role shown brightest in my memory. We lived on a mission compound—with three missionary homes, a medical dispensary, a print shop, and a school—at the edge of a village named Gbendembu. Behind our bungalow lay the West African jungle, filled with leopards, scorpions, and deadly snakes that slithered into human habitations. In our kerosene refrigerator there was a bottle of anti-venom with a syringe for Dad to use if we were bitten. That prospect was about as frightening as a snakebite. My sister, Dorothy, was bitten by a cobra, but she was fortunate to be at the mission station with a hospital. So she got seven doctor-dispensed shots and did not die of the venom as a local child had a week before. Often someone would come running to our home to ask Dad to come slay a deadly serpent (a service he had also provided while serving in India, where I was born, for five years). Once Dad killed a pair of highly-poisonous mambas, a green and a black, that together measured thirteen feet long. He shot them in a tree that I sometimes climbed, in our own front yard where grass was cut low by machete to discourage snakes from coming there. Another time he shot up a nest of so many writhing black snakes in the fork of a tree that they were hard to count. That time he let me help.

There where jungle met civilization, my Father fulfilled the archetypal knightly role, battling both the physical serpent and what the book of Revelation calls the “great dragon [who] was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray." (Revelation 12:9 NIV)

So many memories. Such an amazing life. He was a humble man of modest means in this life...and never complained about it. He waited a long time for his glorious reward. I am grateful to know that, though we ache from the severing, we are assured of his joy and his peace and can hope towards joining him again one day.

I want to close with special thanks, both to those who’ve blessed our family with kind words and deeds and to those who’ve extended grace to me personally. It is times like this when I am reminded not only of the blessed and unusual heritage I have but also of my wonderful friends and family. Your prayers, encouragement and acts of love are greatly appreciated.


Go See This Movie

I was planning to go shooting last night. Instead, I went out with my wife for an evening of French food (crêpes & escargot!) and an Irish movie. What a woman--appeals to the poet and the warrior in me.

The movie we saw is Once. It's Irish and being called a musical, but don't let that frighten you off. They're not bursting into song without any provocation. The leads are a man and woman who are musicians in their free time and they literally make beautiful music together. It's seamlessly integrated into the storyline. Don't let the "R" rating keep you away either. It's for language and really not warranted. The F-word is used several times but doesn't carry the weight that it does in American English.

This movie is wonderful. The last movie I saw that delighted me this much was Amelie. (Read the first line of this post again before you give me a hard time... ;) Once isn't quite as comical, though it is funny, but it has a much bigger heart. The story is simple but engrossing. The actors are real people not polished celebrities. The music is moving and catchy in turn; I downloaded the soundtrack when we got home. In short, it's a gem.

I don't want to give too much of the story away. You should enjoy it for yourself. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 97% Freshness rating and you can find numerous in-depth reviews there.

If you're in Chicago, it's playing at Landmark Century Centre Cinema, one of my favorite theatres around here. La Creperie is just north of there and a charming but casual place for snails and other yummy French food.


Answers to Questions You Never Knew You Wanted to Ask

A. Your muscles go stiff and there’s a peculiar vibration you feel and hear as the alternating current (AC, as opposed to DC in batteries) flows through you. Not recommended.
Q. What does it feel like to stick your thumb in a live light socket?

A. Hypnic jerks. I have pretty good ones--unrelated to the previous question, as far as I know. How about you?
Q. You know how sometimes, when you’re right on the edge between wakefulness and sleep, you’ll have the sensation that you’re falling and your whole body will twitch? What is that?

A. Yes, they’re surprisingly delicious. And very manly.
Q. Chocolate-covered gummy bears seem like an odd combination. Are they any good? If so, is it the sort of thing that, you know, a guy should be caught eating?

A. It’s tough to say. The intense burning sensation and hour’s worth of sneezing that follows make it difficult to ascertain the benefits.
Q. Many illicit drug users snort a powdered form of their preferred drug, getting it quickly and easily into the bloodstream as it’s absorbed through the mucous membranes. If I had a really bad headache, could I crush up a couple Advil and snort them to get rid of it quickly?

A. Both ears pierced. Zero tattoos. I’ll rent space, though, for the right price and a really great design. (Just not on my forehead, please.)
Q. Do you have any tattoos or piercings?

A. There are too many to count, and it’d be hard to rank them. One classic, though, was when I got my practice word wrong in an all-school spelling bee in fifth or sixth grade. I spelled cake “cake-a-k-e.” The proctor looked like she could’ve died; I’m sure I was glowing like Rudolph’s nose. There was also the time my French teacher stage whispered to me, in front of the whole class, "Do you have a drug problem?" What are some of yours?
Q. What is your most embarrassing memory?


In Memoriam: Dr. Robert Webber

I recently learned that one of my favorite professors from Wheaton College died at the end of April--Dr. Bob Webber. You can read a bit about him here and here.

Dr. Webber was all about worship. I can't imagine anyone agreed with everything he taught or believed (the notion of Protestants and Catholics reuniting is scandalous to some), but no one could deny his passion for true worship and his fascination with the many facets of Christianity. He was genuinely interested in people and how they came to Christ and experienced their faith day-to-day. He was a joyful man, too, delighting in seeing people opened up to a new part of the universal church that they may not have known. He was great at pushing protestant evangelicals (Wheaton's bread and butter) out of their comfort zones. I attended my first Orthodox service with Dr. Webber, in fact.

It is hard to be sad at Dr. Webber's passing. I only have a small idea of what he's experiencing right now, but my heart sings to imagine him finally seeing the Big Picture and being able to worship with all of his being. He will be missed and his contributions in this life were many, but he didn't belong here any more than you or I.

Incidentally, I should add a note of gratitude. For whatever reason, Dr. Webber saw fit to include me in one of his books, The Younger Evangelicals. A true honor.


Bumper Stickers

I enjoy bumper stickers. I used to have a few on my car, but I keep it clean now. Traffic's bad enough in Chicago without giving fellow drivers a reason to hate you. Nonetheless, I enjoy reading others. Here are a couple of spinoffs of the same bumper sticker that made me chuckle (and even think a bit):

Jesus Loves You
And I'm Trying Really Hard

Jesus Loves You
Everyone Else Thinks You're an @$%#&

Much funnier than the hokey Darwin fish and variations, if you ask me.


Bad but True Haiku

Conviction jars like
Rumble strips on the shoulder
Of the interstate

Care to share yours?


"One Summer" by Steve Turner

One summer you
aeroplaned away,
too much money
away for me, and
stayed there for
quite a few
missed embraces.

Before leaving,
you smiled me that
you'd return all of
a mystery moment and
would airletter me
every few breakfasts
in the meantime.

This you did, and I thank
you most kissingly.
I wish however, that I
could hijackerplane
to the Ignited States
of Neon where I'd
crash land perfectly
in the deserted
airport of your heart.


Someone gave me this poem years ago but not the name of the poet. I've always loved the playfulness of it. Years later, someone else read a poem in class at Wheaton that had such a familiar sound to it. I asked who it was. Steve Turner. Immediately I went to the library and looked him up. Sure enough..."One Summer" was by Steve Turner. I later discovered that he was a man of many talents. If you're a Christian in the arts or interested in them, I highly recommend his book Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts.


Happy St. George's Day!

Now go out there and slay some dragons!


What's in a Name?

Don't you love etymology? No, not the study of bugs. Etymology--the study of word origins.

My first name, Nathan, is a biblical name and comes from the Hebrew "he has given" or "gift." Kind of nice, eh? He was a prophet, too. Can't beat that.

But wait...what about Nate, my nickname? Turns out that that's a whole other story.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the term nates is a Latin plural noun meaning..."buttocks." I kid you not. So, while the singular is actually natis and not Nate, we are in America speaking English, and I simply have to face the fact that my nickname is "buttock."

Well, no wonder I feel like one on such a regular basis!


What does your name or nickname mean?


Body Worlds 2

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:14

Today I had the long-anticipated pleasure of seeing "Body Worlds 2" at the Museum of Science and Industry. Fantastic!
I've always been intrigued by anatomy and physiology. I loved biology and a&p in high school and began college as a pre-med/psychology double major. The way God "knit us together" has never ceased to amaze me.
This may sound like an almost heretical analogy, but this exhibit did for my book studies in school what the recent "Gospel of John" drama did for my understanding of the written biblical text. Though the people were dead, the grandeur of God's design was really brought to life for me. Forget DaVinci...God is the ultimate artist and engineer. The human form...aesthetically beautiful and masterfully engineered.
I highly recommend this exhibit. It only runs through the end of the month, so get your tickets now.


Good Friday

There I stood at Golgotha.

It was warm, windy and dry. Dust kicked up and blew against my face. A small crowd of men--soldiers--talked loudly nearby. Protruding from their midst was a wooden cross laid on the ground. A man was lying on it, but I could only see his legs. One soldier called to another and a shabbily dressed prisoner was brought to the cross and given a heavy mallet. The upper arm of the man on the cross had been tied to the crossbeam. A soldier forced the forearm flat against the wood and and pinned the hand down with the heel of his sandal boot. The muscles tensed in the bound man's arm and the prisoner began palpating the wrist, determining the easiest path through. He then put the tip of the spike to a groove in the wrist and gave several swift blows with the mallet, securing the arm to the wood. As the final blow faded, I heard a voice clearly...

"That's how much I love you."


Addy/Daddy Dates

I don't get to date my daughter as often as I'd like, but I cherish these times when I get them. We had a couple little dates this past week, though, and they warmed my heart.

One evening, Addy and I had candlelight dinner at home then worked with a sign language book for a bit. She ate it up--kept wanting more and more signs and thought it was pretty funny that girls are a thumb along the jawline while boys are a pinch of the brim of an invisible cap. We're going to have our own "secret" language before long.

A couple days later we went out to lunch. Two highchairs, please--one for dolly and one for Addy. Funny the things that don't embarrass you as a dad. We had a great lunch--getting some great laughs when Daddy set a place for the doll and "fed" her. Then we went grocery shopping. She got to drive the "pink car" grocery cart. If you've never tried one, they're very unwieldy and pretty cheesy looking, but high adventure for Addy. [Incidentally, I don't know what it is about a dad with a little girl. I could hang out all day in the grocery store and not get a single glance, but have a cute kid in tow and you start getting "ring checks." What's up with that?!]

Anyway, here's a song by The Choir that always reminds of my little girl with the copper-tinted "curlies."

Cherry Bomb (linked in case you want to buy it--great album)
Words by S. Hindalong, Music by D. Daugherty

She makes a lot of trouble, yeah
When things don't go the way she plans
Discusses strange theology
Nobody understands
She makes noise
She breaks toys
She fills my heart with joy
Cherry bomb, cherry bomb
With a face just like a cherub
She’s a bomb, yeah
She makes her presence known
Cherry bomb, cherry bomb
With a face just like a cherub
She’s sweet as anything I know
She never takes things lightly, no
Her little heart explodes sometimes
I hold her tightly in my arms
She really blows her Daddy’s mind
She thrills me
She kills me
She spills grape juice on me
Cherry bomb...
She thrills me
She kills me
She makes noise
She breaks toys
She fills my heart with joy
Cherry bomb…


Death Comes to North Hermitage

My daughter's first pet died a few weeks ago. It was a Betta, or Siamese Fighting, fish. His name was Freddy.

It's the sort of thing that comes up in sitcoms now and then. I'm sure you've seen it. The pet dies. The family's not sure how to talk about death with their child and are tempted to avoid the difficult conversation by replacing the critter with a look-alike. I had the same temptation myself; fish have many doppelgängers. (You can quote me on that.)

At one point, my wife and I start to explain to my daughter just why the fish wasn't swimming. I started to get a bit teary-eyed, manly fellow that I am, as we explained that Freddy was dead and wouldn’t be around anymore.

But my daughter didn’t cry. She just turned her head, thought for a moment and asked, “Can we get a new one?”

“Sure, sweetie, sure. We can get a new one.”

Whew! Off the (fish) hook for now, but I know that conversation will come around again before we know it and under more difficult circumstances. Time to start learning how to boil the answers to the big questions down into pre-schooler-size pieces.


Eight Years

March 23rd marks eight years of sobriety for me.

God asked me then, "Aren't I enough?"

He is. Be encouraged.


Beautiful Days

What is it about the beautiful weather that gets me itching for the open road? I drove home last Tuesday evening--windows and sunroof open, something ethereal on the radio--and just wanted to keep driving, to find open road and breathe in the rushing wind. Do you get that, too? Where you just want to keep driving until you find a coast, maybe, just savoring your blessings and resting your mind and heart?

On Thursday, after a day in a windowless office, I stepped outside and the golden sunlight kissed me by surprise. I closed my eyes for a moment and inhaled the sweet air. When I opened my eyes, I realized there were people in a car nearby just watching me. I didn’t care.

God is good.

Dead Theologians Society

A bit of cross-promotion here:

The Dead Theologians Society at New Life Lakeview has just wrapped up Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together. The next work we'll be tackling is C.S. Lewis' The Weight of Glory. We will begin this work on Thursday, April 12th at 7pm in the Cafe upstairs.
If you're not familiar with DTS, it is almost as straightforward as it sounds. We study and discuss the works (and lives) of dead theologians. Some we may agree with, others may step on our feet and still others will have us shaking our heads...or our fists.
We read a passage each week, then come together to discuss it. We often come away with more questions than answers, but we always enjoy a lively and interesting discussion. Contact me if you're interested in joining us or feel free to check out the DTS blog.


Just Funny

Some time back my wife and I went to a movie at Landmark Century Theatre on Clark. It was probably Master of the Flying Guillotine. (OK, that's pretty funny but not the point here.) We parked in the parking garage, then went to the ticket counter and bought our tickets. I pulled out my parking ticket and asked the young man, "Could you validate me, please?" Without skipping a beat, and totally deadpan, he looked at me and said, "Sure, you're a really good person." Priceless.


What Would You Do?

OK, I'm not going to ask you a question with every post, but how would you handle the following situation?

You come home from the grocery store at night. You're about to grab your groceries out of the car when you hear some commotion down the block. You notice a couple of people grappling with each other but can't tell if they're just kids having fun or what the story is. Then you hear a woman start to cry. "You hit me!" she yells. You realize the other person is a man.

What would you do?

Now, I suppose calling the police is an option, but good response times aren't guaranteed. I've had screamers in our apartment building before that I've just listened to and they've resolved things on their own. I've also had people scream all the way down the stairs and out into the courtyard. Those folks got the police called on them.

But in this situation, which happened just tonight, my protective instinct just kicked in. I left my groceries, grabbed a tool out of the car and followed the couple for three blocks as they walked, sometimes yelling at each other, other times just walking. My wife called in the middle of this. It's always fun to explain something like this. "Hi hon, I'm following a couple that seems to be having domestic problems. I may have to break up a fight." They eventually calmed down and also seemed to notice that they were being followed (I was wearing YakTrax--they're kinda' noisy on the concrete). I broke off my pursuit. After grabbing my groceries, I started to pray for them as I walked home.

Now, I was ready to physically intervene. Yes, I would've given the police a call, but I wasn't going to stand by and watch some guy beat up his girlfriend. Relieved as I was that it turned out OK, it got me thinking.

I am glad that my self-preservation instinct took a back seat to my desire for justice. This reversal of priorities has gotten me hurt before, but it's good that it remains. What I'd like, though, is for my first instinct to be prayer. I thought about that afterwards, but I should've sought guidance beforehand. Yes, it would've been chivalrous to protect the "damsel in distress," but what if God had wanted me to speak into both of their lives in some way? Hm. Still learning...


Where Do You Belong?

Isn't it interesting to see people's affiliations? To see which semi-secret orders, fraternities or special interest groups they give time, money and bumper space to? To see a blog that you thought was dead contain new content?

Where do you belong? And why? These are mine at the moment:

New Life Community Church I came to New Life in the fall of '99. Earlier that year, I'd begun commuting into Chicago from the suburbs to be involved in a New Life small group. Not long after that, I felt called to move into the city. When I did, I made New Life my church home and became a member. I appreciated the solid, biblical teaching and the passionate worship. Even more than that, though, I felt an immediate sense of family and had found a place where I could be used. This latter aspect--finding a place you can be used--is something that's often neglected in "church shoppping."

Feminists for Life I wish I could hear the questions popping into your mind. If you've never heard of FFL, you should look into them. They're one of the most innovative pro-life organizations I've run across, and I can't help but support them. Their tagline "Women Deserve Better" sums up their approach. They're active on college campuses and advocate for legislation and even school and employer policies that make keeping an unexpected child more doable. While I don't support every stance that they take, I think their overall approach is refreshing and effective. And, let's face it, it's amusing to be a male member of a women's organization. Don't worry, though, I'll leave Women's Workout World to the ladies.

National Rifle Association I love to shoot. I think the 2nd Amendment is important and still applicable, and the NRA is one of the few organization with the leverage to actually impact legislation. I don't wear their tacky promotional caps nor do I have an NRA bumper sticker on my car, but I am a member...somewhere between Ted Nugent and Michael Moore.

Mensa I'm not sure there's much to say about this one. It is what it is. Intelligence is only as valuable as the good done with it. I do knuckleheaded things daily for which I should have my membership revoked. For the record, Mensa's not as exclusive as it's made out to be. Statistically speaking, there are 120 million people alive today who should qualify.

I should also note a couple of important previous affiliations, namely the Quality Paperback Book Club, which I repeatedly joined and canceled for several years to take advantage of their introductory offer, and the Anti-Blue Angels Club, a protest group opposed to my younger sister's club, the Blue Angels. Most notable among ABAC's exploits was a covert op where I secured secret documents from my sister's room and fed them to the goat down the street. True story.

Wow, self-disclosure. It's...itchy.


New Year, New Job, New Look

This is technically not the first post of the year, but Happy New Year anyway!

This Friday, January 19th, I'll be leaving my job of 5 1/2 years and making a complete career change. This is a huge blessing and an exciting opportunity. As of January 22nd, I will be Media Outreach Specialist for New Life Community Church here in Chicago. I've been a part of this church since 1999 and have been involved in various ministries, but I'm really looking forward to coming on staff and being a part of this special team in an even greater capacity. Many are saying it, and I sense it too--God has some big things in store for this church and this city in 2007.

In the spirit of change, I've given the blog(s) a new look and will be doing some more creative things here this year. It should be fun and hopefully edifying.


Building Tangible Margin: Heading Out

It’s hard to even think about having to evacuate from where I live. Sure, there are days I’d like to move, but taking my little family, kissing my home goodbye and heading out on an emergency basis does not appeal to me in the least. If I’d given that prospect no thought or preparation, however, I’d be immeasurably more uneasy about the possibility.

While staying put is preferable if it can be managed, there are some circumstances where heading out would be your best or only option. Here we’ll look at several aspects of evacuation to consider to make this a realistic option, starting with emergency bags.

BOB, GOOT OR GOOD BAGS—You need one of these. If there are multiple adults and school age children in your home, each of them should have one as well, unless they are physically unable to carry a load. What are they? BugOut Bags, Get Out Of Town bags, Get Out Of Dodge bags…everyone has their own name for them, but they all refer to that one bag you can grab when the sirens are wailing and the walls are shaking.

There are many things to consider when putting together a bag. Weight and type of bag are two of them. While you may be able to evacuate in your car, you may also end up on foot. A duffle bag with 60 pounds of supplies is fine for your trunk but will not be something you’ll want to carry for miles. A backpack or some type of wheeled bag is preferable. Load backpacks with only as much weight as the person carrying it can manage for an extended hike. Mine are roughly 15-20 pounds.

You may be able to lay out a few hundred dollars to have a very well-equipped bag, but you’ll likely be starting with the basics and adding items as you learn more and foresee different eventualities. There are pre-packaged BOBs available, but I’d recommend against them as they are often composed of cheaper quality components and aren’t tailored to your locale or experience. So, what are the basics?

SHELTER—Minimally, you should have a couple contractor bags per person. If you’re not familiar with contractor bags, look for them at Home Depot or Menard’s. They’re large, heavy-duty trash bags that can serve well as a poncho, sleeping bag or lean-to type shelter (good as waders, too). A box runs around $10. “Space Blanket”-type bags are another inexpensive option. They are compact when folded but are somewhat fragile, so don’t count on too many repeated uses. Include some duct tape in your bag. Not a whole roll but several feet folded flat upon itself. The uses are endless but include creating and repairing temporary shelter. There are also disposable ponchos that you can fit in a shirt pocket and nearly disposable tube tents that are a bit bulkier/weightier but offer more shelter. The ponchos are typically $2-3 while an emergency tube tent costs less than $10.

FIRE-STARTERS—Fire is your friend, providing you with heat, light, signaling, edible food, potable water, sterile tools, etc. While you should learn how to make fire without dedicated fire-starting implements, I’d recommend at least three tools/methods for starting fire easily: 1) a simple Bic-type butane lighter, 2) windproof/waterproof matches and 3) a sparking fire-starter, such a Sparklite (which usually comes with good tinder), magnesium fire-starter, Blast Match, etc. All three are relatively inexpensive and simple to use with a little practice. Some petroleum jelly-soaked cotton balls or other quick-lighting tinder is a good idea, as well.

FIXED-BLADE KNIFE—In my opinion, you should carry some type of knife daily, such as a small locking folder, a Swiss Army knife or a multi-tool with a blade. The fixed-blade knife would be in addition to that one. This type of knife is valuable for splitting wood, cutting shelter materials, starting fires, skinning game, etc. A knife with a blade no longer than 6 inches and a full tang (the blade material extends the entire length of the knife) is preferable. Non-serrated and partially-serrated are both fine with advantages both ways. A plain, non-serrated blade is much easier to sharpen but serration can be very helpful when cutting cloth, seatbelts and other heavier materials. Stainless steel is preferable due to its low maintenance with 440C, AUS-6 or AUS-8 all being good, fairly affordable steels. Figure anywhere from $25-50, including sheath. A simple sharpening stone or the easy-to-use Gerber Pocket Sharpener can be had for less than $5. Be aware of local laws regarding carrying knives.

WATER & TREATMENT—It’s a good idea to have some quantity of water with you. At 8 pounds per gallon, however, you’re not going to be carrying much on foot. Include 1-2 liters or quarts in durable bottles (Lexan/Nalgene or GI canteens are good) in your bag but be sure to have a means to get more along your way. While there are many ways to treat water, boiling and chemical treatment are probably the most cost-efficient. Good water filters can be a valuable addition but will run you $50 and up and don’t filter viruses (not a big deal most places). As with all things, redundancy is good; if you do get a filter, be sure to have a backup way to treat water. For chemical treatment, MicroPur MP1 ($13 for 30) is one of the better options out there. One tablet treats one liter, no funky taste and it kills viruses, bacteria and cysts. Iodine and plain chlorine bleach can also be used to treat water but have a shorter shelf-life and are less convenient to use. To boil water, be sure to include a metal cup or a few square feet of heavy duty aluminum foil to be fashioned into a pot. I like the Olicamp stainless steel cup that fits on the bottom of a Nalgene bottle. It runs about $6.

NAVIGATION—A compass and a map of your area and any anticipated retreat area are important. Even if you know your area well, disasters can easily alter the landscape and make your usual route impassable. It is wise to consider retreat locales in advance. Following the herd is not a great idea. The best possibilities are friends or families who are out of the immediate disaster area. Simply evacuating your area without a destination in mind is a recipe for a second disaster.

SIGNALING—A whistle is a cheap signal device and can be effective even when a person can’t yell or ambient noise is loud. As recommended in the “Every Day Carry” post, a Fox 40 or ACR whistle would both be good, pealess designs. A signal mirror is probably more valuable to someone in a rural area than someone in an urban environment full of reflective items but is useful and takes up little room. There are a number of fine signaling mirrors available.

FIRST AID KIT (FAK)—This doesn’t need to be anything fancy or expensive. A basic FAK can be found at any drugstore, Target, etc. One that is well-organized will help you find things quickly in an emergency. Look for a variety of items; some bargain kits are essentially a bunch of Band-Aids and some antibiotic cream. Look for shears, tweezers, suture strips/wound closures, latex gloves (nitrile if you’re allergic), trauma pads, cleansing wipes and instructions. There are other additions you can make, but this is a good foundation. Campmor sells a good variety of FAKs at different prices.

SPARE MEDS—If you’re on prescription medications, set aside some spares. If your doctor is understanding and you’re willing to pay out of pocket, you may be able to get him/her to write you a prescription for extras. Otherwise, get your prescription refilled a few days before you run out and stow the extras. Do this for a few months, and you’ll have a week or two in spare meds.

SURVIVAL MANUAL—This is often left out, but unless you’re ex-Special Forces or an Eagle Scout, it’s a good idea to have a small reference book. There are many good ones out there, a number of which are reviewed here. The SAS Survival Handbook and smaller Guide are solid picks. The US military SERE manual is available as a free PDF download here.

This should get you started. My bags have much more in them than this, and you have likely already thought of things you'd like to include (some cord, spare clothes, a good book, The Good Book, etc.). This should get you started. Let me know if you end up putting a bag together; I'm always curious to see what people do. As always, let me know if you have questions or need recommendations. I'm no expert, but I'll share what I know.