“Glee” has done it again. The FOX series uses comedy to explore the adolescent world of high school. The school’s small show choir has a diverse representation of jocks, cheerleaders, misfits, African-Americans, Asians, Jews, handicapped and gays. The show tackles social issues with tongue-in-cheek.
Several weeks ago, Finn, the male lead singer and football quarterback, made a grilled cheese sandwich. When he took it off the grill he saw “the face of God;” thus, the show’s title, “Grilled Cheesus.” He preserves the sandwich and embarks on a spiritual experiment by praying to the image in the sandwich.
He asks that they would win their first football game with the newest member of their team. The paraplegic and fellow glee-clubber, Artie, has joined the team. After handing the ball to him, Finn pushes him down the field in his wheelchair. They somehow win the game.
Finn announces to the choir that he wants to devote the week’s music to songs about Jesus. This creates a divide between the members who share divergent religious opinions. Will Schuester, the director, suggests they sing about spirituality.
The conflict of beliefs intensifies when Kurt’s father suffers a heart attack. Kurt, a homosexual, has a strong emotional bond with his widowed father. While his father lies in a coma, the other students circle around Kurt in compassionate support. Those with a religious background try to offer Kurt the strength and hope of their beliefs.
Kurt rejects their offer, saying that “God is kind of a jerk.” He has arrived at his unbelief because it is illogical for a God to make him gay and then “have his followers go around telling me it’s something that I chose, as if someone would choose to be mocked every single day of their life.”
The cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester, protests Will’s probe into spiritual issues on the basis of the constitutional separation of church and state. Sue grew up with an older sister whom she worshipped. As she grew older, she noticed that something was wrong with her that invited the mistreatment of others (she has Down Syndrome). She prayed for her to get better, but when nothing changed, she concluded that God must not exist. She thinks it is a cruel joke to tell people to believe in something they cannot believe in, no matter how much they try, and then be told they are going to hell because they don’t believe.
The show arrives at common ground when Mercedes, an African-American glee-clubber, persuades Kurt to attend her church on the Sunday they dedicate the service to his father. She tells him that everyone needs to believe in something because life is too hard to go through alone.
In a surprising twist, Sue confesses to her sister why she doesn’t believe in God. Jean says that she believes God doesn’t make mistakes and then asks Sue if she can pray for her. With deep sadness, Sue says, “That would be nice.” When she catches the choir singing “If God Was One Of Us,” Will asks if she is going to turn him in and she simply says, “No.”
The show leaves the question of spirituality ambiguous. Dogmatism and arrogance are disarmed by the perplexing questions of life. One thing is certain: life is hard and humans do not have the strength to survive it alone.
“What if God was one of us / just a slob like one of us / just a stranger on the bus / trying to make his way home?” Joan Osborne’s lyrics ask. What if God did become a man? What would it mean?
It would mean that God did not sit outside the human struggle in detached judgment. It would mean God is humble, divesting himself of his glory and power so that he could live among his creatures as one of them. It would mean that God loves his broken creation beyond description.
The New Testament authors believed without doubt that God had visited his creation as a man. Their faith was steeled when that man died, but rose from the grave. The Bible presents the resurrection of Jesus as a fact – not a religious construct, not a myth, but history. Paul said the entire Christian system of belief hinges on reality of the resurrection. The first followers of Jesus were willingly martyred because they were certain they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They had talked with him, touched him, heard him.
“Glee” did a respectable job of retaining balance and not discounting belief in a spiritual facet to life. It encouraged people to continue to explore spiritual questions. It did not kneel before Enlightenment rationalism or scientific materialism. It reserved space for mystery.
But those who follow Jesus do not do so because they need something or someone to help them endure a painful existence. They have had an encounter with the living Son of God that forever changed them. They believe, not in faith itself, but in the reality of a God who became one of us.