The Passion of the Beardless Christs

Easter always reminds me of the year the Seagrass Clan insisted I come with them to see their eldest son perform in something called a Passion Play. I had no idea what a Passion Play was but their eldest daughter Connie and I had just become friends and she really, really wanted to introduce me to her brother.

One year my grandparents came to visit for Easter and my little sister and I got Easter bonnets! Look at those lovely shoes though!

My parents had no strong religious beliefs. We went to church from time to time primarily for appearances and they joined the closest church to our house so that we could walk to Sunday school classes while they slept off their hangovers. Saturday nights there was always a party somewhere.

To this day, I cannot tell you what distinguishes a Methodist from a Baptist but the Methodists seemed like decent folk.

Photo courtesy of my friend Layton, who by the oddest of coincidences, attended the same seminary as Connie’s brother … probably about the same time. It’s been too long ago for a positive ID but the bearded fellow above does look like a Seagrass.

The Seagrass Clan, on the other hand, lived and breathed Jesus Christ, all of the Angels, all of the Saints, the current Pope and, oh yeah, the Virgin Mary. They were also all about food. The morning of the Passion Play, I arrived at their house to find them packing the back of their station wagon with baskets of food: frosted brownies, cheesy lasagna, chocolate chip cookies and freshly baked rolls they called Yeast Bunnies. All homemade and all smelling divine. They been up all night cooking, Connie told me.

Courtesy of Layton Damiano

I’d assumed this seminary would be somewhere in Reno Nevada where we lived. But after climbing into the car next to Connie, her eight year old brother and six year old sister, Mother Seagrass (the driver) announced that it was snowing over the pass and we needed to recite several Hail Marys and invoke the mercy of some saint whose statuette she affixed to the dashboard. We were going to California. We would be back that night but possibly quite late. Lord have mercy.

Bing Images

We said a lot of Hail Marys going over the summit. The snow blew sideways and the bridges were covered over with black ice but once we began to descend into the Sacramento Valley the sun came out and ignited a dizzying sea of vivid greens on the foothills. The further into the Sacramento Valley we drove, the greener it got. However, Mother Seagrass wasn’t used to driving on freeways the size of those in California and so slammed on the brakes when unsure which exit to take. “Lord, which exit should we take?” she would pray as the rest of us peed our pants.

Again courtesy of Layton

A passion play, Connie finally explained to me, depicts the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. To this day, I don’t understand what’s so passionate about such a grim subject and I don’t really want to know. Over the many, many years since then, I’ve seen that … such intense devotion and strict adherence to religion has a dark side. But I do remember that day well, all those bright young men, dressed in robes and sandals and sporting ill-fitting beards, their joy at greeting loved ones and their joy at seeing the feast awaiting them after the play. And the green of Spring all around.

22 thoughts on “The Passion of the Beardless Christs

  1. Hi Jan,

    Nice way to end it, “And the green of Spring all around.” A thought that sort of makes up for the other stuff. I guess. Anyway, your post reminds me of Robert who was an actor in Dr. Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral Passion Play. For years Robert played Judas and then one Easter season, they gave him the role of Jesus. He was happy, cause the pay was higher for Jesus. And it went on like that for a few years, and then one Passion Play, he woke up in a nearby hotel and went into the bathroom and didn’t recognize who he saw in the mirror. So, he walked down to the desk and asked them who he was and they said, “Your Jesus!” Robert died a few months later from a brain tumor and I have great memories of him blasting down the Hollywood Freeway, long hair flowing into my face, bike weaving all over the road, with me thinking this can’t end well. He never wore a helmet, but he got a good role in Terminator II. Too bad about Easter. Love. Duke

    1. Carol never wore a helmet either! Connie’s brother played either Herod or Judas which drove his mother nuts – she sat in the audience and wailed! I thought she going to climb on stage. That day is literally the only Easter related thing I remember which shows how religious my folks were !

  2. I like the bit about your parents’ hangovers. It wasn’t hangovers for us, but a similarly quirky approach to the sacraments. We rarely went to church as a family, but my grandma would drop us off and pick us up. When we asked why she didn’t come in, she said, “Because I’m good and you’re bad.” What made it funny is she was dead serious.

      1. Yeah, she was a little like the grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” if you’ve read that one 🙂

      2. The title sounds familiar but I can’t remember the story so I will have to check it out. Luckily I have a collection of her work somewhere.

  3. Your photo of you and your sister is priceless. The hats are tres chic but those shoes! Oh my I wanted some saddle shoes but my feet were too narrow for them, even when laced up tight. I grew up doing all the things during Holy Week but still can’t get behind the macabre imagery it’s based on. I feel no passion about it.

  4. Hi Jan, an interesting experience for you at such a young age. I was brought up Catholic and my Granny Joan sounds a bit like your Mother Seagrass. I also experienced a lot of passion and a lot of food. I tell my sons that they mustn’t be upset when people my age and from my background take time to adjust to the new ‘woke’ generation ideas. I explain that I was taught that moral sins and going against the teachings of the church resulted in Dante’s idea of hell from the Inferno. That is not the easiest mental conditioning to overcome. The picture of you and your sister is adorable.

  5. Wow, that’s a long drive from Reno! And the pass can surely be hairy. I have never seen a Passion play, and I definitely do not want to see one either. It sounds like a snuff film to me.

    I had to wear corrective shoes when I was a kid, and they ONLY came in black and white saddle shoes. I hated them with a passion. Years later I read that they do more harm than good, which makes it even worse. My mom paid a lot for those stupid things. Sigh.

    1. To this day I am very self conscious about my feet because of those awful shoes! The drive down from Reno always felt like an escape for me so it never seems that long!

  6. Hi Jt
    I like your light hearted humor and also serious side as you shred this memory
    And sigh! Religious talk can be so difficult because denominations vary so much and then the sub groups within the denominations vary a lot too!
    And I’ll help you out with one question – one difference between the Methodist and Buddhist- money! The Methodist, and Lutherans, are noted for their financial wealth – especially the Lutherans – they have their own investment group called “thrivent” and so that is my experience with them – the wealthiest in money but maybe not wealthy in other areas that faith is supposed to bring!

      1. That is sad how there can be so much prejudice in different areas
        And while I am not Catholic – I do think sometimes the Catholic religion does have a large group of people that are anti their beliefs

        And side note on Catholicism – a few things I do know about that branch of Christianity – is that 1) they put more emphasis on Mary as opposed to the power of Christ 2) they also tend to place too
        Much emphasis on the death of Christ – which is where so Mandy “passion of Christ” stories come from and relate to – but other denominations of Christianity place the emphasis on the empty tomb / or the fact that He rose again and gifted the Holy Spirit
        And so in 92, my friend gave me a catholic cross and chain and I realized it was catholic when folks told me – because the Catholic cross had Jesus still on the cross (crucifix)
        But the empty cross is what others use as a symbol of thei faith
        And last side note -/ I just found out that the anchor used to be the symbol of the Christian faith before the cross became the symbol .

      2. Also very interesting. I do remember Mother Seagrass telling me that if I didn’t believe Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Christ, I wouldn’t go to Heaven. No matter how saintly I’d been in life. And it was an absolute – utterly beyond any kind of debate.

      3. The silencing of debate is a huge red flag!
        And for a about a year – when my spouse and I were dating in the 1990s — we went to a “Christian apologetics” class in Thursday nights
        A lot was quite boring (ha) but few key things that stuff out is that faith and belief in God must have questioning and times of doubt, disbelief, questioning, etc

        And another thing (which is kind of trendy now) but is to remember that religion is human made and faith is individual and between you me God!
        And today – with a solid faith – I stil bare the wounds of the religious and the mean/spirited Christians – the ones who pounce or act the fool – and the ones who are down right meaan! Sigh

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