The crime of living cautiously

Pastoral Messages | November 30, 2023

Editors who are good at titling articles and books look for attention-grabbing headlines. They want to persuade readers to read on. A favorite book title on my bookshelf comes from poet and friend Luci Shaw: The Crime of Living Cautiously. You don’t even have to open her book before instantly finding yourself examining your own aversion to risk.

Might I be cultivating an insignificant life? Is there too much caution in the way I operate, such that I’m missing out on relationships and experiences? Questions like these spring to mind from a mere five-word book title.

Poet C.G. Hanzlicek writes in one of his poems: “Just once I’d like to be a danger / To something in this world . . . but I’ve lived so long a quiet life / In a world I’ve made small / That even my own mind changes slowly / I’m a danger only to myself.”

We can’t afford to be a danger only to ourselves, which is what may happen if we make the world (and our mind) too small. We need to muster the nerve to explore the wilderness of risk and intuition more easily. I think Eleanor Roosevelt has it about right with her admonition: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

A Florida ninth-grader by the name of Dev Shah won the Scripps National Spelling Bee earlier this summer. This week, while reflecting on what it takes to win a high-profile spelling bee, he noted the risk factor. “Competitive spelling teaches you to be unafraid to take risks. No matter how well we may think we know something, eventually, we all have to take a guess.” Shah leaned into the importance of intuition. “It is impossible to memorize everything. Once I realized that, I changed the way I trained and started focusing on sharpening my intuition. The skill of guessing is everything.”

To guess at anything is a risk, of course; be it the spelling of a word or the exploring of a relationship. Sometimes we win; other times we lose. Dev Shah says that champion spellers are adept at decoding language, making guesses, and managing their emotions on stage. “[But] they also must know how to lose with grace.” Ah, he’s been there before, obviously. So have you and I. Such is the bargain that goes with being open to living incautiously.

-Peter W. Marty, senior pastor

3 Comments on “The crime of living cautiously”

  • Mark Walther

    December 18, 2023 at 8:25 pm

    Pastor Peter,
    As always, you have touched me in a manner for which I am grateful.
    Sincere thanks for making such a positive difference in my life and in that of my family!

  • Rachel Griggs-Hall

    November 30, 2023 at 5:34 pm

    Excellent message! AND, to take it further I’d like to call brothers and sisters in Christ to action. What does living incautiously truly means for us as we live life as children of god. When we choose to live incautiously, where is Jesus? What a wonderful thing to translate to opening a bigger world to loving all our neighbors in all communities. I think a huge part of that is this message as well. During this Pentecostal season I think it important to remember this very important question over and over, and I think THAT is living incautiously. Constantly assessing, questioning and affirming our faith even when it is most difficult. Doing something that scares us. It is scary to ask those questions in our communities, however now more than ever essential to live incautiously more than just at a spelling bee. We all avert risks, but let’s not miss the mark. When we fail at living incautiously we are failing to feed our
    brothers and sister who were hungry, provide water to the thirsty, and clothe the naked. In living incautiously I personally wish to compel a reader to think deeper than the parables you provide. What of the risk of following those who don’t stand for our neighbors even in Davenport IA. Where we have a crisis of homelessness where the area lacks MORE THAN 6,600 affordable units for our community members. We must ask ourselves to speak up! To live incautiously to have a call to action a living stream of justice in our communities where we can help those in our community who need it most, even when it terrifies us the most. Surely that justice in our communities is worth the risk. Surely people can see the risk reward importance in these issues. Thanks for the thought provoking parable Pastor Marty.

  • Jerry Linn

    November 30, 2023 at 3:35 pm

    Excellent message, Peter.

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