“Whatever he tells you, do it,” says Mary the mother of Jesus to the servants at a wedding in Cana. “Whatever I tell you, do it,” says Christian Grey to Anastasia Steele, the heroine of Fifty Shades of Grey.
True confession: I read – well, skimmed – Fifty Shades of Grey this week. If you’re living under a rock, the book, dubbed “Mommy porn” by some, is a sado-masochistic romance (not my words) that has been selling really really well, mostly as an ebook. I had studiously (and snootily) avoided it until a life coach I respect and admire, a rape survivor, shared her excitement about the just-released movie trailer. She also said she was reading her way through other “soft erotica” after finishing the Fifty Shades series. Huh. Perhaps I have prejudged wrongly, so I got it from the library. (Thank you, Jackson County taxpayers!) Fifty Shades of Grey was slightly better written than I expected, and for sure it’s erotic. I was also highly troubled by its content.
Yesterday’s daily lectionary reading from John’s gospel has Jesus at the wedding in Cana telling his mom to butt out. He’s not ready yet for the consequences of being Jesus. He’s not ready to turn water to wine. Just a little more time, he asks. But no, it’s not to be. Mary marches to the servants and tells them “Whatever he tells you, do it.” And Jesus steps up. Water becomes wine.
I’ve often felt completely fed up with the trappings of religion, the rules and rituals and – I’m just gonna say it here – crap that cover Jesus up. These trappings include patriarchal language and imagery, the liturgy’s emphasis on sin, and some church folks’ preoccupation with sexuality and genital morality rather than poverty and violence and inhumanity. I’ve occasionally taken breaks from church attendance because I felt that my presence implied consent. Here’s the thing, though — Jesus is totally fine with me not going to church. He wants me to think and act freely. And I have always known that underneath the trappings that piss me off is the pure, entirely trustworthy heart of Jesus, completely peaceful and loving.
I trust Jesus. I will continue to practice disciplines that help me hear what he’s telling me to do. I do not trust Christian Grey, and I think Ana’s crazy to cede control of her body to a man who enjoys inflicting pain. Underneath Christian’s trappings – his wealth and physical beauty and manly smell and sexual acumen – is rottenness. I believe no amount of ecstasy, no fantasy of rescue by a good woman, is worth choosing to cede freedom to such a man. So I will not be reading the sequels. But I won’t judge you if you do!