So E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, said to be one of the most poorly written and yet best-selling books of all time, is going to pen a writing guide. The literary community is understandably shocked (and horrified) at the idea. I confess to not being shocked. My surprise at anything to do with Fifty Shades ended when I realized the notoriously “mommy porn”-ographic book hasn’t sold more than 70 million copies because of all those wicked heathens reading it. It’s done so because of all the nice Christian women reading it.
One of the perks of being me - of being someone who tries to write and speak rather openly about my past and present vices and indiscretions, of being someone rarely shocked or offended, of being someone who laughs like an 11-year-old boy at unintended dirty puns - is that I end up hearing lots of other people’s deep, dark secrets. They assume I’ll understand or even share them. Which is why, I suppose, so many of the nice, churchgoing Christian women I’ve met have openly shared that they’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey. They assume I’ve read it too.
But they are wrong. I haven’t. And I won’t.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not judging the women who’ve read it. For one, since I’ve not read it, I believe it really could be so terribly written that it’s funny (and hence, not erotic). Also, my log-laden eyes have taken in enough language and scenes that are far enough away from Paul’s admonition to stay focused on the pure, lovely and admirable to stop me from pointing out anyone else’s eye specks. Thirdly, my reasons for passing on the book have less to do with my own virtue and everything to do with my depravity. And that’s not exactly a place from which to pass judgment.
While I could say I won’t read Fifty Shades because it’s so poorly written or because it’s so evil and I’m so holy, that would be a lie. I am proudly what Karen Swallow Prior calls a “promiscuous reader.” I read classics and I read crap. I read children’s lit and stuff I’m worried my children will find. I read Christian and I read stuff the antichrist might’ve written. You might say I’ve been around the library a few times. Know what I mean?
So why not join the masses and read Fifty Shades? Truth is: I’m afraid of it. Afraid of liking it, maybe. Afraid of being damaged by it, definitely. Thus, I need to steer clear. Because, I know that books affect me deeply. Books have been known to break my heart, grow my heart, touch my heart and bless my heart. They’ve also been known to blacken it a bit. Which is what I suspect Fifty Shades would do. So guard my heart, I must.
In a post on guarding your heart, Sharon Hodde Miller writes that Proverbs 4:23 “exhorts us to guard our hearts because one's heart ‘is the wellspring of life’ (NIV); ‘from it flow the springs of life’ (ESV).” In other words, guarding my heart is not about sparing me pain in relationships, but tending to the health of my soul.
“Put another way,” Hodde writes, “an unguarded heart can lead to a poisoned spiritual wellspring, one that is tainted with bitterness or self-loathing.”
Though Hodde is writing about dating (and all interpersonal) relationships, I believe it applies further: to what and how we read (or watch or listen to), to how we engage in life. And I’d like to guard the “wellspring of my life” by keeping it vibrant and lush and in as few shades of gray as possible.