THE CRIME OF LIVING CAUTIOUSLY:
Hearing God's Call to Adventure
It says something about our culture's full-bloomed fascination with extreme sports to say that hurling oneself off a tall structure into the void below to be saved from certain death by an elastic chord is passé, but indeed, bungee jumping is a bit outmoded (now base jumping, that's another story…). And so, when in the first few pages of her latest book encouraging an adventurous outlook on the Christian life, Luci Shaw sets out to prove that she practices what she preaches by recounting the story of her bungee jumping escapade in New Zealand, it falls a bit flat.
I admit it's a bit of a happy jolt to imagine the 70-something Shaw standing excitedly on the edge of that bridge and stepping boldly off. But the scene prompted in my mind broader questions about such pursuits: namely, are we so disconnected from the risks --- emotional, physical, and spiritual --- that naturally imbue life that we must hurl ourselves off bridges to feel brave?
Having just scribbled that query in the margin, I was pleased to find Shaw ask similar questions a few pages later: "Though I have always been more than likely to respond enthusiastically to a dare, I feel ambivalent about encouraging anyone else to take a life-threatening risk merely for the sake of thrill, the adrenaline rush, or the satisfaction of personal accomplishment. Risk should not reflect a celebration of foolishness but a freedom from fear. 'Extreme sports,' with increasing levels of difficulty or danger, make for sensational TV programs and stories in sports magazines. But are they simply the result of the impetuosity of youth, a lack of mature judgment, an explosion of hormones or a desperate need for attention?
"Was I overly impetuous and foolhardy to jump from that small platform into the hugeness of space? I wondered later which of my friends would congratulate me and which would shake their heads, muttering something under their breath about this woman's 'crazy irresponsibility.' I'd have felt a whole lot more satisfaction if my risk had saved someone's life, or if it had been in the service of God and his kingdom."
It's this ability to question her own ideas and choices that makes Shaw's literary voice (showcased in multiple volumes of poetry and prose) stand out in a crowd. And in THE CRIME OF LIVING CAUTIOUSLY, her voice, more so than the philosophical substance of the writing, is what's fresh and thought-provoking. I wanted to linger on phrases like "the Adventure of resurrection," and the poetry sprinkled liberally throughout the book, but I was less enamored with the familiar exhortations to embrace the fearless faithfulness of folks like Abraham, Moses, and Mary. In the parlance of extreme sports aficionados, "Been there. Heard that."
Shaw's stated purpose in writing THE CRIME OF LIVING CAUTIOUSLY is to examine the distinctions between fear, faith, and fanaticism. She does this in a meandering fashion that touches on everything from the emptiness of upward mobility for its own sake to the relative merits of flowers versus weeds to the blessedness of goodly dissent. The accompanying stories provide glimpses into Shaw's full and creative life. Fans of her work, and of her regular cohort Madeleine L'Engle, will especially enjoy this aspect of the book.
Bungee jumping might not be as cutting edge as it used to be, but walking through life in faith is just as risky and exhilarating as ever. Those who need to learn that will do well to spend some time with THE CRIME OF LIVING CAUTIOUSLY.
--- Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel
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