Well the opening weekend for 50 Shades of Grey was massively successful, grossing more than $81 million. That speaks for itself, the state in which we find ourselves in the modern world. I wonder what future generations will look back and think about us. They’ll probably just scratch their heads in dismay and give up on the prospect of making sense of the early 2nd millennium.
I think we’ve hit a milestone; we’re bored, and we’re showing it. This movie, and the $81 million it made, makes that clear. I just spent about an hour trying to get worked up enough to research all the bad reviews and painfully awkward co-star interviews and think of all the smart insults like “drivel” and “insipid” to make a profound statement against the banalization of evil. Instead, I leaned back in my chair to rub the sleep from my eyes and the back of it broke. I did a few crunches on the broken chair, then I realized… I’M BORED.
I find myself in the peculiar place of wanting to sign a contract with 13 dwarves and a wizard to go recover lost gold from a fire-breathing dragon. Like Bilbo Baggins, I basically feel like running towards almost certain death with a guarantee of pain in the process.
If there’s anything, anything at all that this movie speaks to, it’s our culture’s growing desire for self-destruction. We have been sedated with so many warm and fuzzies; we’ve sated our minds and our bodies with so many drugs, be they narcotics, pain killers, food, healing herbal teas, ideologies, pleasure, casual sex, or what-have-you; we’ve been told to flee from pain and suffering; we’ve been told and accepted the message that we deserve, nay, have the right to everything we think we want. And what we’re finding is that we’re bored of it all.
We’re hungering for cold, hard reality, to be like a granite mountain that stands and weathers every force that beats against it. We’re bored of being closed in on ourselves, isolated in our existence, going nowhere and doing nothing. We want to lose our ‘self’, just drop it all together, and be so totally taken over by something, or someone, outside of ourselves to finally touch reality. We want to go on an adventure!
So, naturally, we’ve turned towards more sex. It’s all we millennials have been given to do. But it’s become a bit boring, hasn’t it? The usual sex scenes don’t cut it anymore. Maybe if we make a whole movie about sex and add a little pain and bondage to it, that’ll make it interesting again. Right? Then we’ll be able to feel something. Maybe then we’ll wake up to reality as we come out of our isolated, lonely existence and give ourselves over to another.
In all of this, I’m reminded of another story:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19)
What is the difference? There’s love. There’s loss of free will. There’s bondage. There’s pain. There’s even death.
It is the object of our love and desire. The object in 50 Shades is the desperate grasping at an awakening from our isolated existence, to touch upon some feeling of reality, only to be further sedated into isolation by our desire to please ourselves.
The object for Peter, for any Christian, is to die to ourselves to live in Jesus, and in Him, to love others. “Feed my sheep.” Your life is not about you. You are no longer the owner of your body, your soul, your self. You are no longer free to do as you will. We balk at that. It sounds so dangerously close to 50 Shades, doesn’t it? Because 50 Shades exists and has been put in our minds, we immediately think of disgusting images and link them with Jesus and squirm at the thought. But 50 Shades is the perversion of that great truth. In 50 Shades, the object is pleasure and the end is pain, suffering, and death. In the Christian life, the object is to pass through the suffering, pain, and death of our life here on earth, laying ourselves down for the sake of others, experiencing the true, cold, hard reality of losing our ‘self’ in the other, and being brought out on the other side of death to fullness of life lived in the God who is completely and gloriously Other to us, in order that we might continually fall in love with Him for eternity.
St. Paul says it this way, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”