Monday, May 01, 2006

Marva Dawn and the Powers part 1

This scene, and the one that immediately follows it (where the bone the ape tosses turns into a


, from the film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” was running through my head at breakfast this morning.

“What were you smoking for breakast?,” You might reasonably ask.

To which I might unapologetically answer,
“Some strong, good stuff…I recommend you buy some!”

It’s called:

Marva Dawn.

She did not directly allude to the movie scene I mentioned (a prehistoric ape throws a bone into the air; a bone he had just learned to use as a tool to kill; and the bone shapeshifts into a spaceship in the year 2001); she did in effect throw out the same bone (technology as tool and/or weapon for our consideration that
director Stanley Kubrick threw not only in that particular scene, but all over his multiplex and manic “2001”

It landed hard on our breakfast plates full of pancake crumbs.

But that’s what we expect from Dawn, the theologian-provocateur(ess? ) that our local seminary featured as speaker for a pastor’s breakfast today. Author of twenty books, and some holy and prophetic mischief as troubler of the church (a la jeremiads of Jeremiah), she is indeed engaging, both theologically and personally.

For example, She has no cell phone; she owns no TV, she does not do email.

No, she’s not Amish (Though she may look it…but it’s only a hair thing). In fact she’s basically Lutheran, so according to a strictly historically perspective, she couldn’t be Amish if she tried! And with book titles like “A Royal Waste of Time,” “The Unnecessary Pastor,” (co-authored with Eugene Peterson, whom she was clear chose the title), “The Hilarity of Community,” “Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down,” and ahem…(no, it’s not a sex manual…not exactly) “Sexual Character: Beyond Technique to Intimacy”..she likely won’t be accused of being Amish by surfers of

A place where all her books are for sale; a “place” she may well have never been.

But we all know is not a place.

Which is precisely her point.

Her presentation responded to the question "How do Christian leaders face the powers?"
She defines “the powers” as human institutions…technology and money were two examples….that because they have fallen, default toward “overstepping their vocation.” Thus if we are not prayerful and careful, we then default into honoring too much something that was created for good, and our good, by worshipping them, giving them first place in priority and perspective.

Tuned-in trainspotters will recognize that Dawn sounds heavily influenced by Jacques Ellul (and indeed is; one of her dissertations revolved around the concept of “the powers” in Ellul’s thought) .

So it is no surprise that like her mentor, she is often accused of implying that all technology is inherently evil and should not be touched.

I already she’s not Amish.
And she’s quick to offer context and corrective. I have learned (from Reggie Neal) that any of us who speak whole truth…especially truth that hasn’t been underemphasized, it is hugely helpful to preface sweeping statements with “
“Here’s what I’m not saying ..”

So when she says Frank Peretti’s books are “awful” in one sense, she is only predicating
that (literally) on an earlier assertion that the books are also “wonderful” in another sense. (Here the “wonderful” applies to the fact that the books remind us “it’s all accomplished in
prayer.” The “awful” has to do with an overly simplistic worldview/reductionist cosmology of angels vs. demons; apparently without much room for broader categories of “principalities
and powers” that are perhaps even more insidious; even more
pervasive in our Western culture.

An example of a more systemic fallen institution that is literally demonic? When I was grabbing the web address of the Amazon page for Dawn’s sexuality book; I noticed on that page a feature that is on most Amazon book-pages; one that asks “What do customers ultimately buy after viewing items like this?”
In other words, most shoppers who have viewed this book’s ad on Amazon may niot have purchased it, but clicked onto another book that was similar, but more what they were looking for.

Right there, under Marva Dawn’s wonderful Christian book “Sexual Character: Beyond Technique to Intimacy” was the hilarious and telling betrayal of what bookshoppers….likely even Christian bookshoppers are “ultimately after.”:

“What do customers ultimately buy after viewing items like this?”
76% buy Sex: A Lover's Guide : The Ultimate Guide to Physical Attraction, Love-making Techniques and Sexual Relationships with over 1000 photographs

What we’re really after is sex photos, not a Christian theology of sexuality. The Powers that be, in fact the literal “powers,” can convince us and co-opt us into adultery…and idolatry. That is not just a lone demon tempting us into a lone act of sin; that is a powerful principality; a fallen system which is seeking our fullblown allegiance and citizenship. That’s what we wrestle with. False gods and governments.

Dawn asks: How can Paul say in 1 Corinthians 8 that “there is no such thing as gods and lords,” yet a few verses later declare straight-faced that there are. He means, she suggests, “they (powers) don’t exist as gods and lords unless we give them power.” By doing something foolish like clicking on a link to sex pictures.

Or worshipping God and Mammon. “Money,” she offers, “is not neutral. It is fallen.” As such, it has inevitably “become a god for all of us.’ Dawn argues convincingly: Whether we have too much money and succumb to greed; or we have too little and covet….or even if we have just the right amount and are inappropriately content…it all adds up to worship of a false god. So we must be radically intentional about divesting the potential god of its power; she quotes Ellul in the helpful reminder that “we cannot de-divinize alone,” but must
fight in the context and corporate armor of community.

So ..genital gratification, money…these are classic examples of powers/systems we inadvertently worship and thus empower as gods. Sometimes it is more subtle; like adopting the dominant ethos of our culture.

Until Marva Dawn comes along and exposes it:

“Nothing in the Kingdom is efficient.”

Efficiency; sound alike a virtue easy enough to baptize…until it is unmasked as a power after our soul. “Bible study is not efficient; prayer is not efficient,” she offered as a litany. “But they do form us to fully accomplish the purposes of God.”

Or on another topic:

“God would not want that,” she said point-blank.

I have already dropped that she does not have a cell phone (Again, not because she thinks they are inherently evil; nor has a problem with you having one).

She continued, “God would not want or will us to answer our cell phones while we are in deep conversation with the person we are (physically) present with.”

“Physically present with” should be a redundancy; a tautology…but in our day and age we have turned it into an oxymoron; and thus twisted the phone (and/or the person calling us on it while we are in deep conversation with another ) into a god. We empower the powers when we dare to suggest that the person pouring out their hear before us should wait for us to take a call that will forever cost us the momentum and presence of the person literally before us.

Since this was the first point (of several) in the lecture where one could hear a pin drop, (not even a quick quiet shamed rush to turn cell phone ringers off)…..and because I am out of time to write (some people in my life need my physical presence)… I’ll take a break here; write more later (I’ll add the link),and make you guess what other bones she threw out…

Part II is up here

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