I am a Christian and I read it. I am a Bible professor, I am a minister to women in sex trade, I am a wife, a mother, an aunt, a friend and a feminist and that's exactly why I read Fifty Shades of Grey.
I read it for much the same reason I read the Davinci Code, because I am always curious about pieces of art and literature that are deemed "off limits" by the church. As a result of any given smear campaign or all-out assault of a novel from well-intentioned sisters and brothers in the faith; I am convinced I must read the book to form my own opinion as I am sure many, who are speaking out against it, have not.
In the case of the Davinci Code, I wanted to learn exactly what historical claims and MSS evidence was so air tight that it had alluded biblical scholars and been revealed to novelist Dan Brown to the point of threatening our faith. Regarding Fifty, I wanted to know why Christian women were purchasing this book in secret while pastors and church leaders were warning us from it for fear it would erode our marriages and feed our porn addicted proclivities-since we are aware that statistics for divorce and porn addiction are the same inside the church as outside.
My marriage some 15 years intact, and since I don’t struggle with addiction to pornography-- rather a whole host of other sins like worry, overeating and an unhealthy lust for perfection-- I thought it was something I could read and present an informed position not based in fear or rage.
So I read it. Afterwards I felt much like I did after reading the Twilight novels, (another cultural marvel born out of young adult fiction) wondering why in the world this literature was some sort of phenomena.
First of all, I am generally turned off by any and all 30 year old billionaires since I have been in school since Moses and Miriam walked the earth and have been working hard towards tenure, writing and researching my fingers to the bone all the while carrying a full load of classes. I hate to even think about some fantasy world where some young punk who didn't earn it owns his own plane and corporate firm.
The dialogue between Mr. Grey and Ms. Steele was as cheeky (forgive the pun) and cliched as Saturday morning "Saved by the Bell" in the eighties. Though one might accept their sexual appeal towards each other, I was left unconvinced of their love since none of the fires of life had tested it yet. In EL James' defense, this book was meant to be fan fiction as a take-off of Edward and Bella, the same couple who left me asking, "Are you serious??" throughout the Twilight novels. Edward's cool gallantry and Bella's emotionless response to his already dead folk affection was—to turn a phrase-- a waste of vampire blood.
I am vehemently against the forced submission, oppression and abuse of women in any form. I also must caution here and inform readers that there are S&M rings that exist in which women are trapped, coerced and forced to remain and perform. This is a form of trafficking and is the plight of our times.
Though I didn't find this to be the case with characters in Fifty, I read Ana to be consenting albeit foolish and Christian to be wounded and damaged beyond repair such that his only connection with women must be through a mutually agreed upon arrangement providing for his own dominance. It seemed to me that sex was what bound them to one another and they had trouble relating through much else.
It turns out, this is not what my fantasies are made of. Instead, my heart beats for the man who has stood steadfastly beside me through all the twists and turns of life, through all the loss and grief of the past decade and a half, who has helped to steady me on the rocky path of broken dreams and shattered relationships of best laid plans that fell utterly apart. I am not “drunk in love” with a man in a mask, rather a man with a heart revealed through time and tragedy and the occasional burned sweet potato fries.
I wonder if this is the antidote then to all our fear of a movie set to air on the day of St. Valentine, that we quiet our hearts and ease our troubled minds by looking to what we have and who we are, by trusting in the person we chose to do life with and knowing in his arms we are safe and good. Maybe instead of picketing a movie premier or forbidding parishioners to view it, we should take care to make sure the wounded people in our lives know they are loved.
Maybe this cultural phenomena shows us again how important it is that we begin to have real and needed discussions about sex, sexual ethics and relationships in the church, about roles and respect for the presence of the divine in us all. Maybe we see here the critical work before us and we press in to flesh out a theology of women that doesn’t render us silent and less than rather empowered and free. Maybe we should be informed rather than afraid, more Jesus-y and a lot less preach-y and more warm and welcoming to people in pain so they are invited out of the shades and shadows of grey.
She was always there in her red velvet robe, coffee brewing, steam swirling red fine point pen in hand, my mother bent over the scriptures which lay open on our kitchen table in the blue pink pre morning dawn.
In the field beside our home, the farmer would get the cows up while my mother would scour the worn well paper thin pages of her bible for words of hope and peace. I grew up in a home where the bible was revered and read but not always understood. My earliest memories are my mother imparting the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Miriam and Moses, Jesus and Mary to me so that these narratives imprinted themselves upon my heart until I deep loved and knew them as well as my own.
Though we read the bible faithfully, tried to own the stories, tried to live according to God’s plan our humanness often broke in and we were rude and short tempered, we were disrespectful and lazy, there were lies and adultery, compassion and jealousy, there was competition and betrayal-- we were nothing like the heroes whose stories we regaled—or so we thought.
As I grew and studied the stories of my childhood, the felt board characters and bedtime tales became my life’s work, my academic and spiritual focus and I learned we were perhaps a lot more like the folks in the ancient text than I had previously thought. It turns out we had skipped lots of the most important parts in Sunday School, hadn’t heard a lot of sermons about the failures, the imperfections, the neuroses.
We never spoke of Abraham trading his wife for favor with the king, not once but twice while he ever remaining the “friend of God.” We said nothing of God’s own attempt to kill Moses on the way down to Egypt after sending him. I missed the story where Lot’s daughters got him drunk so that they could seduce him or of Tamar’s desperation and her scheme to become pregnant so that she dressed like a prostitute to have sex with her father in law which resulted in the blessing of twins. I’m certain I didn’t really know what transpired between Ruth and Boaz or how or why Jesus said, “if you don’t hate your family you cannot be my disciple.”
It seems like today in a world torn by war and violence, where discrimination runs rampant in and outside of the church, where children are killed in the streets and marriages are torn asunder where we fight obesity and starvation on the across the same globe, it might be important to be honest about what the bible does and does not say. To confess what is true, that in some cases we have decided certain parts don’t apply any more but other parts do. We’ve made peace with eating shellfish but battles still rage over the definitions of marriage and the status of women in ministry.
It feels like holding space for a real conversation about the tattered pages of scripture, the stories of our fore parents who tell us how they understood themselves and how they knew God is a sacred undertaking. It seems true that a discussion about how texts have been interpreted across the ages and in different cultures and communities might help us find our way.
Perhaps a confession that the Bible is an artifact of the divine human relationship, illumined by Spirit work and fraught with human struggle is a refreshing and needed proclamation. Maybe though we agree everything necessary for salvation is right there, sewn into the pages, so is a lot of confusion as well as help for our broken, bruised, needy selves if we will trust the work of the Spirit in community to walk with us. Join me on the blog to get honest, gritty and real about what the text says, what it doesn't say and what it meant to the community out of which it was formed and how it has been used across the centuries—here we will be honest about the Bible.