I have no religious education or upbringing (a reflection of the fact that my parents did, and as adults, they wanted none of it). Yet, as a child of the seventies, Christian traditions were an unquestioned part of the school curriculum, and as a result, we had a nativity play to finish the primary school year. In Prep, I was chosen to be Mary. I had one line; the kid playing Joseph said it, and furious, I stole his lines after that. From memory, it kind of changed the tone of things.
I refer to this story because Monica Dux opens Lapsed, her memoir about growing up Catholic, with her recollections of being given the part of Jesus in her school’s Easter play.
My selection was an honour made even greater by the fact that in the past, the coveted role of JC had always gone to a Grade Sixer, while I was in Grade Five. As a child with a strong sense of her own manifest destiny, this seemed quite unremarkable to me.
The play was performed largely in interpretive dance, which posed problems because some cast members were prone to ‘…lewder dance steps picked up while watching Hot Gossip on the Kenny Everett Video Show…‘. Dux, along with a teacher, choreographed a routine of liturgically appropriate moves –
…the airborne dove involved holding your hands together above your head, then fluttering them like bird wings. There you have it: the Holy Spirit, captured in dance.
Dux uses the opportunity to its fullest, culminating in the Last Supper –
Those at the Last Supper table stood in mute awe as I exhorted them to eat of my body and drink of my blood – all in dance…. After a short dance-free reprieve in front of Pontius Pilate, another role gifted to a smarting Grade Sixer, I was led away to be crucified.
Dux said that although people never applauded in church, her mother assured her that her performance had been a triumph.
And this is one of many vignettes that tell of Dux’s move from ‘devout’ to ‘lapsed’. She reflects on the broader impact the Catholic institution has had on her life, and that of others (she reveals particular circumstances in her immediate and extended family that make for hard reading). Amongst the stories about key moments (First Communion, nuns teaching sex-ed at school, stealing a hymnbook), Dux tells of her turmoil when her five-year-old daughter, Meg, announced that she wanted to become Catholic.
Humour carries much of this book and Dux is very funny but she’s also not afraid to examine the overwhelming failings of the institution.
…there’s a darker side to…Jesus positivity: our tendency to use Him as an excuse. A justification that allows us lapsed Catholics to go easy on the Church.
She goes on to state that Jesus is a distraction, and lends ‘…personal goodness to the corrupt institutions associated‘ with Him.
Dux might be horrified (or thrilled) to know that Lapsed is the probably the most religious education I’ve had. It was informative – so much about Jesus that I didn’t know and hadn’t ever thought about (e.g. the likely inaccuracy of his whiteness) – but presented within the context of her experiences, making it a thought-provoking and entertaining read.
Dux is upfront about the fact that her thoughts on the Church will never be ‘value neutral’, but also acknowledges that in taking religion out of her life, there was a space left to be filled. She has found meaningful ways to fill that space, and has actively pursued those, but acknowledges the desolation felt by those who have been wronged by the institution that occupied such a large part of their lives, and carry trauma that is now inescapable.
4/5 Lots to think about.
If much of what we understand as fundamental Christian ideology originated with Paul, then what kind of person was Jesus? How would He do if I invited Him to sit down at Casa Del Dux and partake of my famous slow-cooked lamb shoulder?
“I don’t think Jesus would be very enjoyable company,” Aslan said, after pondering this for a moment. “The problem with true believers is that they don’t have an off switch.”