The be-riide of Ke-riist

I wrote this post a few months ago, but I decided not to post it until now. For one, I went a little crazy with all the John Updike at first. I don’t need to expose you to my obsessions–wink wink. Also, I just finished the fourth and final Rabbit book, Rabbit at Rest, which made me cry and cry. So now seems as good of a time as any to post this, in Rabbit’s honor I guess.

My boyfriend Nate, the skeptic, kept hounding me to come up with a better definition for this site. “What do you mean by theology?” and “How can fiction really influence your theology?”

He knows all about my independent study on the Barthian theology in Updike’s Roger’s Version. But because of how overtly theological Roger’s Version is, Nate couldn’t see how I would let more secular books inform my theology.

So I turned to another Updike book, Rabbit Is Rich (the third in the Rabbit Tetralogy). The book cites, in my opinion, one of Updike’s most crass comments on the Christian faith. I’m a pretty irreverent lady, but I was squirming when I read this.

The Bride of Christ

Rabbit’s twenty-something son Nelson and his bride-to-be come home from a pre-marital counseling session with “Soupy” the “queer” Catholic priest when Nelson explodes:

“He keeps talking about the church being the be-riide of Ke-riist. I kept wanting to ask him, Whose little bride are you? […] I mean, it’s obscene,” Nelson insisted. “What does He do, fuck the church up the ass?” (pp. 191-192)

So what can we learn about theology from this?

A whole lot, I told Nate. Believe it or not.

Let’s deconstruct this. What is Nelson getting at? He’s commenting on Soupy’s presumed homosexuality–got that. But he’s also commenting on this language, “The Bride of Christ.” What does that mean to us anymore?

It’s all over Scripture. Isaiah cites God’s calling Jerusalem “The Bride of God,” no longer the “Forsaken Land” (Is. 62:4, NLT). Paul makes reference to the church as God’s “pure” bride (II Cor. 11:2, NLT). The language is throughout Revelation as well.

But what has the church done with the language?

For me, as a woman, I’ve been told that I need to be that pure bride for both Christ and for my future husband. As a teenager, sermon after sermon after sermon was addressed to me and other young women about being modest and for “saving myself for marriage.”

This language of being “The Bride of Christ” was so hammered into me as a young adult that I felt guilty for doing anything that resembled impurity. Back in high school, I felt sick with guilty after watching a movie in the dark with my boyfriend. We held hands but didn’t even kiss.

Nelson’s reminding us that language matters. Often in our Christian communities we use language without realizing the damage it causes others. Get a group of former fundamentalists in a room and talk to them about “evangelism” or “saving souls” or “the sinner’s prayer” and see if they don’t cringe.

So back to Nate’s question, How does fiction inform or influence my theology? It challenges me to look at phrases so well-established in my vernacular and hear them through another person’s ears.


Similar Post:

Whenever theology touches science, it gets burned” (thoughts on Updike’s Roger’s Version)

About Lauren Sawyer

I am an assistant instructor at a graduate school in Seattle, Washington, and I hold a master of the arts in theology and culture. I love coffee, rainy days, and John Updike. Learn more about me at laurendeidra.com.

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