Fifty shades of . . .

February 25, 2015 | Viewpoints | Volume 19 Issue 5

I mostly managed to ignore it the first time it came around. But now when I go to the movies, there are huge, impossible-to-miss posters blaring the news that a film has been made based on the book I tried to ignore. My entertainment dollars usually go toward activities that inspire and elevate humanity. Stories of Martin Luther King, for example, and his brave battle for equal rights, or Cheryl Strayed, who clawed her way out of a self-destructive pit. Stories of degradation have no appeal for me.

The movies about King (Selma) and Strayed (Wild) both have their tough scenes. I find it hard to watch brutal beatings and fire-hosings, as depicted in the civil rights struggles that King led. And Strayed’s pre-redeemed life was marred by soulless promiscuity and drug addiction, also difficult to watch. At the same time, it was clear where the stories were heading—towards more justice or rightness or healing or wholeness.

Of course, given that I have ignored the book and the movie, perhaps the story does have redeeming qualities, of which I am unaware. Perhaps you, Gentle Reader, may have found them, and will share them with me! The critics, whom I read and count on to give me enough information so I can make appropriate choices, have panned the quality and story-line of both book and movie.

And I keep circling back to the basic premise: Why would I invest time and energy and money on a story about sexual practices based on dominance and subjugation? How does that make me a better person? How does the promotion of such practices make the world a better place? How does that fit my Christian ethics? Isn’t the Jesus-way one of non-domination and empowerment of others?

Similarly, when a radio celebrity was recently fired for what he defiantly described as consensual “rough sex,” I found myself puzzled at first: “You want to hurt women when you have sex with them?” After he was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, the puzzlement gave way to revulsion. In our confused, sex-saturated society, it is challenging to find good stories and hard to ignore bad ones.

Likely these factors led me to pick up a copy of Fifty Shades of Feminism (edited by Appignanesi, Holmes & Orbach). This book, a compilation of 50 essays, each by a different author, reflects on women’s rights, equality and empowerment. Of uneven quality, it was still worth the read, even though, ironically, some essayists referenced the very book I was trying to avoid! Fifty Shades of Feminism redeemed the phrase “fifty shades” for me, and reset my moral compass, oriented to values of dignity, mutuality and respect.

Fifty Shades of Grace: Stories of Inspiration and Promise (Herald Press, 2013) adds another holy note to the experience. This book also has fifty authors, each one giving witness to God’s grace in his or her life. Through stories of struggle, loss and redemption, the writers point us to God’s saving activity today. Mercy, wonder, hope, gratitude and new life: such gifts permeate the pages. These are qualities to aim towards and to nourish.

“The eye is the lamp of the body,” Jesus says. “If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22). Let’s turn our eyes toward what is good and holy and full of light.

Melissa Miller has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.

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