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.