Reckless is one of those words where the opposite form has fallen into disuse – we don’t talk about having more reck, or more ruth, or more feck. ‘Reck’ is an archaic word meaning care, and care is something that’s generally to be recommended. But when you’re playing online free poker, it’s the end of the night and you don’t much care whether you win or lose, playing recklessly is amazingly fun. And so far it’s a strategy that has ‘paid’ off, and I ended up with an imaginary pile of 11,000 imaginary credits, having beaten both the rest of the regular players and the ‘zombie’ players who we’d already beaten earlier in the game but who our generous host (plagued by heinous luck all night, he’d have us know) had allowed to re-enter the game with another 1000 imaginary credits.
When it happened the first time two weeks ago I felt like it could provoke a blog, and it wouldn’t be the first time a game of poker inspired me. Generally I’m known as quite a responsible person and that’s a helpful trait for a church trustee and safeguarding officer. Having a mind of the potential consequences is very important part of those roles, and it’s something I know I can handle with some competence. However, unlike some, I don’t actually think I thrive on being responsible. It does not bring me joy. My personality tendency is more towards spontaneity and open possibilities than routine and settled decisions. In Myers Briggs terminology, my preference is towards P rather than J, although I generally avoid talking about my p-ness for more than the obvious reason.
I can plan a good lecture, but I have felt more alive the times when I’ve had to wing it because someone else has called in sick or when we’ve completely changed the lecture style. I can write thoughtful emails but I’d rather have an unexpected conversation where I have to respond to someone in the moment with compassion and clear answers to questions I hadn’t anticipated. The extreme Myers Briggs P-type is easily bored and flits from thing to thing, and while we’re socialised away from this being acceptable, I can see these traits in my enthusiasms for things which come and go, and my resistance to making five year plans or monitoring my own finances with the care I have applied to church accounts.
Quitting my job without a new job to go to or any other fixed plan would seem pretty reckless to most people, and I know I am privileged to have the financial freedom to do this. There is also a freedom in not having dependents which means that I’m making the decision for myself rather than needing to consider a partner and children. I was due to leave my job the day before yesterday, and to fly on Thursday next week although the Covid-19 situation meant that my flights were cancelled and my marking has come in more slowly than expected. I decided not to end my employment with my paid annual leave but am working to the end of the month instead, having more time to finish my marking and taking payment for the annual leave instead. So far, so responsible. I don’t want to risk catching or spreading the virus and I’m not about to travel against Foreign Office advice. So far, so responsible.
I do want the freedom to take opportunities which come up, and to do some different things. I loved interrailing back in 1999 – being in Madrid and wondering whether to go south to Seville or west to Caceres was an amazing feeling, and I didn’t regret my choice even though I’d love to go to Seville one day. I can plan a good holiday, but in the event, it’s been easier to cancel a few things than a whole detailed itinerary. My blank diary for July onwards isn’t too scary – or maybe just a good kind of scary. I’m still pleased to be getting out of higher education for now.
There’s a song that’s been popular in the church for the last few years called Reckless Love. Cory Asbury from Bethel released it in 2017 and I wasn’t too sure of it to start with. The chorus goes:
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Calling God irresponsible seems a bit daft, and yet, the whole biblical story alluded to here when the shepherd leaves 99 sheep to search for the one who has gone astray could be called reckless. This parable told by Jesus in Luke 15 talks about the Father’s joy and rejoicing in heaven when he finds the one who had gone astray, which Isaiah said was all of us (Isaiah 53 v 6). Perhaps it could be argued that God sent Jesus to earth in a way that didn’t protect him from all the consequences of suffering and death. It’s hard to say that a God who knows everything, is all-powerful and is outside of time can truly be irresponsible, and yet he does give agency to human beings. CS Lewis discusses the dignity of causality from the ideas of Pascal; how God allows our prayers and actions to affect and effect things, which could be seen as a certain release of control (OK, I got this from Pete Greig’s Prayer Course really). There’s perhaps an occasion when a good parent allowing a child some responsibility for a choice could be described as irresponsible. Either you keep all the responsibility for yourself and allow the less mature party no responsibility, or you release some responsibility (even while retaining the overall responsibility for a child’s wellbeing which comes with being a parent).
I’m not fully sure about this one, and others have made a strong case that the Reckless Love song is unbiblical, see Georgi Boorman. I think there are times for extravagance, like the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’s feet who could have been described as reckless and was certainly blamed by more responsible church finance types who calculated what could have been done with the money. Avoiding all risks isn’t healthy, as I argued in a previous blog. I’m not about to argue for a total disregard for consequences during a pandemic, even as some of my neighbours display behaviour I might call reckless. But always going for the choice that seems responsible and safe doesn’t sound quite like the Jesus who turned over tables in the Temple and said things that angered the Pharisees so much that they plotted to kill him. Maybe if we’re obeying God, then the consequences are his responsibility and we can have a bit less regard for them. I’m not arguing against making prudent choices based on the wisdom he gives us, but I don’t think life following Jesus was or should be boring or predictable.
Some of the protesters challenging Police brutality and racism since the murder of George Floyd are being called reckless, but if they’re being non-violent and observing social distancing then I think that’s legitimate and important demonstration and solidarity. People serving God around the world have made choices that others would call reckless. Hopefully they do it in a way that is close to God’s will and where they will see his blessing and protection, but that’s not always the case and some of them will know the truth of Jesus’s words:
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matt 16 v 25)
I’m not wanting to be irresponsible with my life as I travel or explore new possibilities, but I do want more of the feeling of doing something exciting and vibrant and challenging, both to me and to the injustices of the world that I encounter. Those zombie poker players look like they are competition, but actually they are already finished. They can’t win. The enemy is defeated and Jesus already has the victory.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16 v 33)