Glee and Jesus
(episode preview of Glee, series 2, episode 3: Grilled Cheesus)
They addressed sexuality, disability and teenage pregnancy in with a no-nonsense approach so bold it’d be easy to forget there ever was any taboo around the subjects so it was inevitable that eventually, Glee would ‘do Jesus’. The episode, titled Grilled Cheesus broadcast in America in October 2010 and in the UK last Monday, opened with Finn seeing an image of Jesus in his cheese toastie. Taking this as a sign from above, he prays to this cheese Jesus, seeing almost instant answers which spark an interesting conversation amongst the characters, fuelled all the more by Kurt’s struggle to come to terms with his father’s sudden heart attack and its implications.
Through conversation and their choice of repertoire, the Glee Club members address a variety of aspects of faith and spirituality in an evenly balanced and gentle debate. In an interview with an American TV Guide, series co-creator Ryan Murphy says that he was keen to “address religion in a responsible way” yet predicted that the episode could be their most controversial so far. Keen to ensure a fair representation, the show references several faith including Judaism and Christianity, Sikhism and even a mention for the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The script was checked by Murphy and his co-writers to make sure that every anti-religious sentiment was counter balanced by one of a pro-religious nature.
The show is a godsend for preachers, youth workers and RE teachers, providing a library of illustrative material to last at least the rest of the year. In one 40 minute episode, subjects covered include prayer and answered prayer, social stereotyping and perceptions of church, the existence of God, a range of perspectives on suffering, the place of faith in every day life, interfaith discussion and the acceptability of speaking up about your personal beliefs in a public context. On top of all this, the whole concept of a Glee Club – a group of people, diverse to a degree that would make United Colours of Benetton proud, united by their shared love for one thing and finding acceptance and belonging as a result – surely has a lot to offer for those of us considering what church could and/or should look like. Expect to see clips of this in churches and classrooms for a long time to come!
For the church today, this episode of Glee brings a host of challenges as well as opportunities.
The script presented an open discussion of personal faith and spirituality without it being sidelined by defensive aggression or preconceived judgements. The characters aired their views and reacted and responded to each other in the context of their love and mutual acceptance as a community, without the argument and conflict which so often follows these conversations in ‘real life’. So often it seems that we Christians pre-empt the attack, firing out our justifications for our faith like anti-missile shots, whilst so many non-believers switch off at the first mention of God, reverting to pre-prepared responses. Generalisations, I know, but the result is all too often an almost rehearsed performance of a familiar debate, rather than a considered responsive discussion of what we actually believe. A few minutes of a popular TV series reminds us that it doesn’t have to work this way, that it is possible to listen to each other, to engage in thoughtful conversation about beliefs without animosity. How many more of us would feel comfortable speaking publically about personal faith, just like Finn did after his encounter with Cheesus, if we knew that an accepting and considered conversation could follow without the need for there to be aggressive debate, or even a “winner.”
As for the opportunities, whether you like it or not, you’re surrounded by Gleeks. Those teenage and student population will openly admit it, but they’re not alone. The happenings at McKinley High School become the topics of discussion in the classroom and office the next morning. Which means that this week, 1.29 million viewers in the UK are now thinking about, and discussing, faith and spirituality in their classrooms and workspaces. If we, the Church, can engage and respond with the same grace and openness as the cast of Glee, the potential for both personal spiritual development, and the social acceptability of discussions of faith are huge.
If you’ve ever dismissed Glee as fluffy mindless entertainment, as I know I have, watch again and be challenged…