Last week, I spoke at two Activate Your Life events. The talks involved all sorts of topics but on both occasions, I was heard to say,
“The Bible is very matter of fact about sexuality but in polite Christian circles we mostly avoid talking about it. It’s a subject people are very interested in yet as Christians we often have so little to say about it that the world assumes our views are negative. When we consider how explicit Song of Solomon is, are we in danger of burying our heads in the sand over sex?”
It appears now is my time to practice what I preach. There was a time when “shades of grey” was just the stuff on my head that I was trying to hide with a variety of hair dyes. But these last couple of weeks, my Facebook friends have brought to my attention “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a series of books by E L James that are amazingly popular among my peers at the moment. The blurb on the back of the first book describes it as,
“Romantic, liberating and totally addictive, this is a novel that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.”
It seems some of my friends would agree as they appear to be devouring this book and ignoring household chores (easily done I’d say!) to devote time to reading these stories. And it’s not just my friends who are getting into them. This week, ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ became the first novel to sell more than one million copies for Kindles. The paperback version is achieving the UK’s highest weekly sale with more than 200,000 copies sold. The print versions of the books take the top three places in Amazon’s bestseller lists and the film rights have already been snapped up.
So what’s the fuss all about? The books are all about the relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and controlling billionaire Christian Grey. As Ana gets to know Christian, she discovers that his sexual tastes involve bondage and domination. She finds out later that he is deeply scarred from abuse in his childhood. With a deep need to control, in order to be his partner, Christian asks Ana to sign an agreement that she will experiment with his preferred sexual behaviours and will allow him to control other aspects of her life too. Throughout the story, Ana finds it hard to reconcile who she really is with the submissive partner that Christian wants her to be.
The question has been asked of me, “Can I read this book or do I need to make a stand and say I won’t because I’m a Christian?” Now, you need to be aware before you dive into reading it, that this book contains some explicit adult erotica themes that may well offend. These themes have provoked some understandable concerns about the impact of the book on society. As someone involved in a variety of church organisations, it would be really easy to speak negative views over this book and in doing that imply judgement over all the women who are reading it. A book that brings erotic fiction and the topics of bondage and domination into the mainstream public view so widely is an easy target. ‘Fifty Shades’ could easily become another book/film to blacklist and condemn along with everyone who reads it.
But I wonder what would happen if we saw ‘Fifty Shades’ as an opening instead of a hazard? Just mentioning the book (even without reading it) could open up conversations about sexuality, abuse or the pain of the past. ‘Fifty Shades’ could give us the opportunity to discuss God’s ideas about the best context for sexual pleasure. Proverbs 5: 18-19 says,
“Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love”
God is not embarrassed by our sexuality. Maybe this book gives us the chance to talk about being made in God’s image and how all that we do, including our love-making is best when we reflect what God is like. Maybe we could talk about the Bible’s view on honouring each other’s bodies. Maybe we could end up discussing Adam and Eve and God’s original plan for mutual rule and companionship that was marred by their sin.
Whatever the topic, whatever the conversations, I am passionate about the people reading this series. What is it we are looking for that makes us so compelled to read on? What is it that holds our attention so strongly? Near to the end of the first book I was brought up short by a profound paragraph that may hold the answer.
“What does Christian know of love? Seems he didn’t get the unconditional love he was entitled to during his very early years. My heart twists, and my mother’s words waft like a zephyr through my mind: Yes, Ana. Hell, what do you need? A neon sign flashing on his forehead? She thinks Christian loves me, but then she’s my mother, of course she’d think that. She thinks I deserve the best of everything. I frown. It’s true, and in a moment of startling clarity, I see it. It’s very simple: I want his love. I need Christian Grey to love me. This is why I am so reticent about our relationship –because on some fundamental level, I recognise within me a deep-seated compulsion to be loved and cherished. And because of his fifty shades, I am holding myself back. The BDSM is a distraction from the real issue. The sex is amazing, he’s wealthy, he’s beautiful, but this is all meaningless without his love, and the real heart-fail is that I don’t know if he’s capable of love.”
I think we read on hoping that he’ll love her unconditionally in the end. I wonder if these books are quietly awakening a personal, deep-seated thirst for love and healing in the 200, 000 people and more that are reading it? Many of the people I know who have read them refer to their reading as “spending time with Mr Grey” and have felt a sense of loss when they’ve finished the books. Some have immediately started reading them again from the start. The extract above speaks into all our hearts doesn’t it? The search to know and be known is so dominant in our lives. We get busy and sometimes our activity distracts us but the longing still lurks beneath it all. We all want to know and be known by someone who loves us.
So if you’re reading these books and feeling this need – I know just who you’re looking for! There is someone pursuing us and loving us unconditionally. His name is Jesus. He loves you. He longs to be in relationship with you. And he’s not embarrassed to talk to you and listen to you about every aspect of your life including your sexuality.
I love a good romance. I have loved watching the stories that have played out in mine and my friends lives as we have searched for that special someone. But like Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman, I also want to point my friends to, and find myself relying on, the lasting hope, the lasting satisfaction and the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
Some people are reading this book as part of their book club at the moment. What are you reading in your book club at the moment? What themes are you bringing a gentle Christian viewpoint to with that group of friends? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you.