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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

 

John Updike, a Shillington (Pennsylvania) Lutheran

Much has been written these past days about author John Updike following his death of lung cancer on January 27th. Mention has often been made that he was born and grew up in and around Shillington, Pennsylvania. Mention has sometimes been made that he grew up a member of a Lutheran congregation. (Actually, I believe he was first a member of Grace Lutheran Church in Shillington and then spent most of his formative years as a member of Robeson Lutheran Church in nearby Plowville. He was an active Episcopalian at the time of his death).

My Wyomissing (Pennsylvania) Area High School Latin teacher, Mrs. Florence Schrack, a lifelong Luheran, taught me Latin but even more about English and history. Before teaching at Wyomissing, Mrs. Schrack taught at what is now Governor Mifflin High School (I believe it was the old Shillington High). One of her students was John Updike. Mrs. Schrack was very proud to say that she had encouraged young John in his writing. (Updike's retired teacher father was also a substitute teacher during my years at Wyomissing Area High School. He was as colorful as Updike had already described him in "The Centaur.")

I liked the January 30 "Rabbit at rest" posting on Updike on the website www.getreligion.org and this quote from a fine piece on him by the PBS television program, "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly:"

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"But for the best discussion of Updike’s religious views, head over to PBS’ Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. They provide an intimate look at Updike’s religious life, based on his public lectures and writing:

"While much of his earlier work contains traces of Updike’s furious immersion in Christian theology, he said he looked more to the congregation of his hometown Massachusetts church as the rock of his faith today.

"“When I haven’t been to church in a couple of Sundays I begin to hunger for it and need to be there,” he said, standing at a podium in front of the altar, against a backdrop of Byzantine-style mosaics and dressed in a gray suit befitting one of America’s elder statesmen of letters. “It’s not just the words, the sacraments. It’s the company of other people, who show up and pledge themselves to an invisible entity.”

"As a young man studying at Oxford in the mid-1950s, Updike said he devoured new translations of Soren Kierkegaard at Blackwell’s bookstore, discovering him “so positive and fierce and strikingly intelligent, like finding an older brother I didn’t know I had.” He pointed to his classic character Harry Angstrom, of the Rabbit tetralogy, as an example of the Danish philosopher’s influence. The Swiss neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth informed another character in the first book of the series, the Lutheran minister Fritz Kruppenbach, who faces off with an Episcopal priest in a scene Updike chose to read. Upon going to Kruppenbach’s house to discuss Rabbit’s desertion of his family, Rev. Eccles is treated to a diatribe against meddling in others’ affairs. Kruppenbach sounds like a stand-in for Barth himself.

"“When on Sunday morning then, when we go before their faces, we must walk up not worn out with misery but full of Christ,” he tells a disconcerted Eccles. “Make no mistake. There is nothing but Christ for us. All the rest, all this decency and busyness, is nothing.....”

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There is nothing but Christ for us. Amen.

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