Crime of Living Cautiously: Hearing God's Call to Adventure


Unexpectedly, the moment of opportunity comes to us--the prospect of entering a reality larger than we'd guess. A spacious option opens up before us, an urgent demand that seems to call for special enterprise, life-threatening perils or summons to action. Suddenly we realize that such a chance might never come again.

What do you do when faced with such a moment? Do you sometimes get frozen into a state of inaction? Do you wonder if you are wasting the talents God has given you? ...

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Unexpectedly, the moment of opportunity comes to us--the prospect of entering a reality larger than we'd guess. A spacious option opens up before us, an urgent demand that seems to call for special enterprise, life-threatening perils or summons to action. Suddenly we realize that such a chance might never come again.

What do you do when faced with such a moment? Do you sometimes get frozen into a state of inaction? Do you wonder if you are wasting the talents God has given you? Or if you enjoy adventure, do you struggle over whether a risk is just a reckless attempt to feed your own needs or a true calling from God?

Luci Shaw has learned to act with discernment in regard to motivation and calling. She has discovered a path of deep joy and fulfillment by risking the unknown in partnership with God. In this book you will find the way to break through the fear barrier and follow God to new levels.

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Editorial Reviews

David McFadzean
"I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've been a fan of her poetry for many years; now she challenges me to live life on the edge. Bungee jumping at her age? I can feel the collective eyebrows rising. . . .

"I, for one, needed the reminder that the Holy Spirit is often a cultural nonconformist, and the Christian life is meant to be innovative and exhilarating, a breathtaking journey; those opposed to risk need not apply."

Gregory Wolfe
"Strap in and launch yourself into wild blue yonder with Luci Shaw. Like all good poets she revels in paradox, which is why she understands the spiritual life as both stillness and movement, contemplation and adventure. As a spiritual test pilot, Luci Shaw has the right stuff."
Maxine Hancock
"I have known Luci Shaw first as a poet whose poetry invited attentiveness to specific moments, particular textures--in nature and in domestic spaces I recognized and loved; then I came to know her as a friend with a bracing, exuberant embrace of life which constantly challenged me to press on. Now, in these pages, she dashes on ahead and calls back over her shoulder, 'Dare! Double dare!' Here is an answer to pallid Christianity: as Luci richly demonstrates, living incautiously opens up all kinds of opportunities. Go ahead--read this book, be changed and challenged as l always am by reading Luci Shaw. I dare you."
John G. Stackhouse Jr.
"Whirling in midair, Luci Shaw cries to us to stop clinging to our perches and leap out into wind-borne flight. This widow/poet/grandmother/gardener/bungee-jumper hammers on our fear-shackles and sings of a joyful, faith-full adventure beyond."
Eugene Peterson
"Luci Shaw does not live cautiously--her life is an exuberant romp in the things of creation. Nor does she write cautiously--her poetry is a dive into a pool of spirited (Spirit!) language. This witness, a fusion of personal stories and revealing poems, welcomes us into the fullness into which Christ calls us."
Publishers Weekly
Poet, writer and septuagenarian Shaw begins this slim book with an account of her recent bungee jumping in New Zealand. While her book covers such topics as fear, loss, conflict and relationships, the most interesting subject Shaw explores is her own life. In her chapter on conflict, for example, she writes candidly about what it's like to straddle the literary and evangelical worlds: "A common assumption... is that a Christian must write sanctimonious hymns or sentimental verses.... If my work is clearly `literary'... I may be accused of watering down the gospel." These insights, along with a brief remembrance of her friendship with Madeleine L'Engle, give some vitality to this otherwise conventional, somewhat underwhelming book. Ironically, while Shaw's content focuses on the risks God calls Christians to take, the book itself never strays from safe, well-traveled evangelical territory. Her biblical examples, such as Moses' attempt to convince his people to take the promised land, may support her argument that we must obey God even if it feels risky, but her observations about these passages are not particularly original. Yet Shaw writes beautifully, includes generous helpings of poetry (both her own and others') and, in her own gentle way, injects a subtly feminist, pluralist sensibility into this orthodox book. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780830832804
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2005
  • Pages: 142
  • Sales rank: 821,225
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Luci Shaw is a poet, essayist, lecturer and writer-in-residence at Regent College, Vancouver. Widely anthologized, her writing has appeared in numerous literary and religious journals. She coauthored three books with Madeleine L'Engle. In 2013 she received the Denise Levertov Award for Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University and Image, and she is a founding member of the Chrysostom Society of Christian Writers. In addition to Adventure of Ascent (IVP), her recent publications include Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination & Spirit, Harvesting Fog, and a collection of her poems, Scape. Her papers are preserved in the Luci Shaw Collection at Wheaton College's Buswell Library. She lives in Bellingham, Washington.
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Read an Excerpt

The Crime of Living Cautiously

By Luci Shaw

InterVarsity Press

Copyright © 2005 Luci Shaw
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8308-3280-7

Chapter One

Living the Adventure

* * *

Unexpectedly, the moment of opportunity comes to us-a wakeup call, the prospect of entering a reality larger than we'd guessed. Spacious options open up before us, urgent demands that seem to call for special enterprise, life-threatening perils or summons to action. Suddenly we realize that such a moment may never come again, that it's now or never. One of those moments happened to me a few years ago in Queenstown, New Zealand, when I went out on a limb, or more literally a small, square bungee takeoff platform.

We had gathered for an extended family reunion in New Zealand and were driving a convoy of cars down the backbone of the South Island on a brilliantly sunny day. Turning a corner, we saw a large blue and white banner-BUNGEE-by the roadside. Curious, enticed, we pulled over, parked, walked out to a viewpoint over a deep chasm and watched.

The first thing we noticed was that this was clearly a successful commercial enterprise. A long line of tourists were waiting at a ticket office. Crowds of onlookers were leaning over the viewpoint railings and gasping as intrepid individuals launched themselves, one by one, tiny human bodies in space,from a bridge high above the void of the rocky gorge. Several young men were lined up on the bridge, awaiting for their chance to be heroic. Each of the jumpers looked as small as an ant against the vast rock walls. A violent thread of water rushed along the valley far below.

I have a hard time resisting such an opportunity. At the ticket office I picked up a brochure listing dates, fees and precautions. Even then I asked myself, What is it in me that cries out to be tested, to rise to a new challenge, to succeed at something new?

I learned I could get a senior citizen discount for signing up and propelling myself off into space ... The rest is history, or as one of my sons would say, "The rest is mystery."

After completing the bungee jump twice, I realized I'd been living out a parable of belief. (This was a relief to me: given my strict upbringing in a Christian work ethic, I always feel reassured when something I've done for pure fun or pleasure can also be seen as useful.) Bungee jumping, being considered a rather incautious thing to do, was for me a test of faith. Though I had checked into the safety record of the A. J. Hackett Company-entrepreneurs who have found the highest jumping-off spots around the world and who make big money enticing extreme sports enthusiasts to spend their hard-earned dollars verifying that the force of gravity still works-I still had to believe the claims. I still had to take the chance.

To experience the tingle of risk, I had to trust the cool dudes who'd set up the system 250 feet high on the span of a suspension bridge over Skipper's Gorge and the Shotover River. I had to believe that their scales were accurate, that my weight in kilos (written, embarrassingly, in indelible ink on the back of my hand) corresponded to the test weight of the fat rubber band they call a bungee cord. I had to feel some confidence that the bungee cord itself was the right length so that at the far end of the fall I wouldn't dash my brains out on the river rocks below. I had to believe that when the attendants wrapped a thick towel around my ankles, over which they strapped tight blue nylon belts clipped to the rubber cord, my feet wouldn't slip out of their grip. I had to obey the jump master when he told me to inch forward, shuffling on my closely tethered feet until my toes jutted four inches over the platform's edge into space.

Now, I didn't jump naked or exchange marriage vows with another jumper on the way down (as has been done several times, followed by blaring headlines), but I had to smile broadly at the video camera aimed toward me, then respond without hesitation, diving for the horizon, at the final word of the shouted count, "One, two, three-jump!" And finally I had to trust that after the exhilarating free fall and the rebounds were over-when gravity had prevailed, when I had stopped the exhilarating, circling swings and had come to rest, helplessly hanging upside down like a piece of meat, quite literally at the end of my rope-someone would rescue me, bringing a jet boat underneath me in the swift current so that I could be lowered into it and ferried to the safe, solid riverbank.

Risk and Trust

Yes. Risk must be firmly grounded in trust. And trust, by definition, always includes risk, the risk of the unknown or the dangerous known. Reaching the riverbank and the safety of solid ground felt a bit like reaching heaven after an earthly life of belief in the midst of often perilous and uncertain circumstances.

Last spring, my husband and I signed up for a whitewater rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. Included in the registration forms was a paper that we had to sign: "Acceptance of Risk Factors." It's a pretty standard release form for exploits that include danger, but it reminds me of the fact that just about any adventure that is off the beaten track may involve risk.

Going to the hospital for some kind of surgical or medical procedure? You'll be asked to sign a waiver of physician or institutional responsibility in case something goes wrong. Which it often does. Medical personnel are human, and technologies fail. But the hospitals are full. People are not staying away in droves because of the risks. Need overcomes fear when life or health is threatened.

A Compelling Example

I think I must have come honestly by the desire to live life as an adventure. Perhaps it's a kind of genetic anomaly passed down to me from my father, a missionary surgeon in the Solomon Islands early in the last century. Besides being a minister of the gospel and of tropical medicine, he was an explorer and photographer of several until-then-uncharted Pacific Islands. His exploits were several times chronicled in the British Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, which organization he was invited to join as a result of his explorations. He was also the first Westerner to cross the mountainous volcanic island of Guadalcanal, where many U.S. soldiers later fought and died in World War II. (Many of these marines and infantry soldiers entered eternal life there too, converted to faith in Jesus by the witness of native islanders who had themselves become believers through the witness of fearless missionaries like my dad.)

In those days, early in the twentieth century, cannibalism still flourished in those islands off the beaten track of trade. Three of my father's missionary colleagues were killed and eaten for the sake of the iron nails they had used to build a primitive shelter before beginning their work of learning the language and building relationships with the islanders. My father told me of a feast to which he was once invited as an honored guest on the island of Guadalcanal. Handed a choice piece of meat from the fire pit, he recognized, surgeon that he was, that it was a woman's thigh bone.

The powers of evil and darkness were strong. The islanders were animists, worshiping the spirits of their ancestors, whose skulls were revered and preserved on elevated platforms in the forests. Dad often felt the dark oppression of evil spirits as well as the threat of getting caught in prolonged battles between feuding Solomon Islanders.

In spite of the danger, he never carried a weapon. His practice was to disarm the natives with humor, dancing up and down, standing on his head and grimacing grotesquely. His comical faces and gestures convulsed them with laughter and rendered them helpless-and friendly. It's hard to kill someone after they've supplied you with that kind of comic relief. I surmise that this little burlesque itself took some nerve to pull off. But it didn't daunt my dad.

Later, having had to retire after twenty years of medical and evangelistic ministry in the Solomons because of my mother's severe bouts of malaria-and having begun a worldwide conference ministry, moving between England, Australia and Canada-he took the risk of begetting children in his sixties (my mother was fourteen years younger), an age when most men are looking forward to grandfatherhood and restful retirement. But Dad never retreated into old age. When we were youngsters he taught us to skate and encouraged my young brother and me by joining us in climbing steep cliffs, camping, canoeing, sailing in stormy weather, and swimming miles across northern lakes in Canada. When we lived in Sydney, Australia, for a time, in winter he joined us in "the polar bear club" as we all dashed into the cold breakers to prove that we weren't "soft."

Doctor that he was, he nevertheless pooh-poohed our minor childhood cuts and scratches, believing in the body's healing powers. "Let it stew in its own juice," he would say dismissively about a scraped knee or a cut finger. He wanted us to stretch ourselves to the limits, physically and mentally, often to the dismay of my much more timid and protective mother. Later, he was the one who taught me to drive, a task from which many a father might retreat with fear and trembling. The car was an old secondhand Studebaker, and I stripped its gears before I learned the use of a clutch. But we got the car fixed, Dad persisted, and I learned to drive-one of my favorite occupations from then on.

At eighty-three Dad was still traveling and preaching at conferences and churches around North America and abroad. He had just preached fifteen times in two weeks when we got the news that he had been hospitalized in Toronto with an atypical form of leukemia requiring frequent blood transfusions. The prognosis was not good; he had been given only a few months to live.

At that point I was living in the Chicago area, married with two babies, but I was able to get away to Toronto and be with him for two weeks. While at home with him and my mother it was my task to type his goodbye letters to many of the close friends he had made around the world and for whom he prayed consistently, starting every day at about four a.m.

There were no computers then. I made do with Dad's ancient typewriter and carbon copies and managed to print out scores of the letters to be mailed. Though I was filled with conflicting emotions-eager to help but dreading the reality to which the letters were pointing-Dad's infectious enthusiasm spurred me on. He told his friends how excited he was at the prospect of seeing Jesus. "I'm feeling like a boy expecting a new bicycle!" he grinned as he dictated the words to me. "I can hardly wait."

If bungee jumping had existed while my father was still alive, I'm convinced he would have hugged me and shouted, "Go for it!"

Here's a poem I wrote in memory of my daring, devoted father:


Sailed among the coral reefs at night, feeling his way in the humid dusk. Clowned for cannibals in Melanesia. Scorned safety-the first white man to cross one tropic island un-armed, and survive. Preached, baptized, doctored, explored, loved for twenty years. Moved back to what was called the larger world. In his sixties sired the two of us, to our mother's joy and terror.

Woke every day at four and prayed his way around the globe, his face glowing to God in the dark.

Taught us to sail, skate, swim, to devour poems, to climb cliffs.

In the northern hemisphere, into his eighties, chose the harsh baptism of cold, spurning overcoats, hot baths, thrashing dolphin-like in icy tubs; through the doors we could almost feel the tidal waves.

In a characteristic excess of energy, always bounded up stairs two at a time.

Spent six weeks crawling on all fours after a fall across a boat thwart, before walking upright again. Only later, on the X-rays, acknowledged his fractured, mended spine.

Grew into his life for 83 years, until leukemia. Even his final disease was energetic, launching him in two months into the new adventure.

A week before he took off, wrote a goodbye letter to all his friends: "Excited. Feel like a boy expecting a birthday bicycle; can hardly wait. Wonder-what's heaven like?"

Then bounded up the steps of air two at a time.

(in The Angles of Light)

The Missionary Legacy

I am almost sure that my father had received the genetic legacy of fearlessness from the generation before him. His aunt, my greataunt Florence Young, was a single woman living on her family's property, one of many sugar cane plantations in Queensland, Australia. In the late 1800s Australia imported South Sea islanders from the Pacific as "black labor" to work on the plantations and ranches. Florence felt compelled by divine compassion to visit all the workers on the vast family plantation, Fairymead, near Bundaberg, learn their names, and begin to teach them about Jesus and his love for them. She conscripted others to visit and teach the workers in surrounding plantations.

The islanders spoke only pidgin English, so their instruction in the faith must have been simple indeed. But it was remarkably effective. Hundreds became Christians before the Australian government, due to a depressed job market and pressure to give the jobs to white Australians, reversed its policy and the native workers were shipped back to their homes in the Solomon Islands.

After their return, and after a stint as a missionary to China, Florence began to receive messages relayed back to her from the "baby Christians" in the islands, most of them illiterate and with only a fairly rudimentary knowledge of the gospel. They pled for her to come and help them. New in the faith, they needed teaching and support in the midst of the prevailing animist culture. So this intrepid woman set out to help them.

There were demonic forces and cannibalism to be dealt with. Health in the tropics was precarious; malaria was a prevalent affliction. Communications, housing and travel were exceedingly primitive. Yet without much financial backing or any denominational organization behind her, Florence began a mission that flourishes to this day, and in which at least seven of my uncles and aunts, and my own father, became involved.

By comparison, bungee jumping seems utterly trivial. Sure it was a physical risk. Sure it was a test of nerve. But the motive? That was another thing altogether. Motivation is primary, and further along in this book we'll take a long hard look at our human motivations for action.

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.


Excerpted from The Crime of Living Cautiously by Luci Shaw Copyright © 2005 by Luci Shaw. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Living the Adventure
2 God's Call or My Impulse?
3 Breaking the Fear Barrier
4 The Risk of Relinquishment
5 The Risk of Dissent
6 The Risk of Relationship
7 The Risky Adventure of the Unknown
8 Risk-Takers for God: Our Human Heroes
9 Choosing to Live on the Edge
Poems Quoted
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