Bluey character toys on a store shelf.
Photo by Curtis Ramsey-Lucas
The Gospel according to Bluey
September 28, 2023
I’m on vacation, but not really.
Vacations are a romantic state of existence currently out of my reach. My spouse and I don’t get vacations. We travel and visit places while doing the same things we do at home in new and unfamiliar places; we work to ensure our two small children do the least amount of damage they can, physically and existentially, while awake.
Referees at a McEnroe vs. Connors tennis match had easier assignments.
Yet, I’ve managed to steal away. The sun is barely up, and so am I. With one cup of coffee in my system and eyes still having issues focusing, I climb into our SUV, drop the large tote bag in the passenger seat, and set out.
One of life’s great pleasures is strolling the tents and tables of a farmers market. The Roman playwright Terence is said to have given the world Audentes Fortuna Iuvat—Fortune Favors the Bold. I’d like to believe he first spoke those words while picking out fruit at a market in Ostia Antica.
This morning, I watch a couple selling artisan cheeses prepare to open their booth while their kids ride scooters on the walkway a few feet away. Beside them, a man sits on a bucket playing a harmonica. I drop a few singles in the small pail inches from his knees and thank him for the personal hymn.
The eclectic barrage continues, ranging from a kombucha stand to an Amish family selling blueberries and duck eggs to a customized van hawking the most fragrant of fresh flowers. All proof the work of angels is happening before me. It’s a taste of the world and a community’s universe at my fingertips. It’s Epcot without the annoying mouse.
This may be what Eden looked like.
I’m taking it all in. Sucking this scene down like delectable bone marrow, I bounce around until I finally stop in front of a woman wrapping tamales. I order a dozen, and while waiting, I hear a string of words coming from a child’s voice—comments I’ve captured at least two dozen times in the last year or so.
“Hey, mom! He’s got Bluey on his arm!”
“It’s actually Bluey’s dad, Bandit,” I say while rolling up my shirt sleeve just a bit so the onlookers can see the whole piece. “We love Bluey in our house.”
Over the next few minutes, there’s an exchange of appreciation for a cartoon show, coming more from the adults than the youngsters.
Bluey brings to life characters who appeal to parents and children alike, and even to folks who don’t have kids but watch the show for its meaningful message. A message, I believe, possessing pieces of gospely good news.
For the uninitiated, Bluey is a six-year-old (in human, not dog years) animated canine. She, her parents, and younger sister Bingo make up a family of Australian Blue Heelers. Their mum and dad, Chili and Bandit, navigate the kiddos’ expanding world, which often includes imaginative games and profound life lessons. If this sounds like your run-of-the-mill children’s program, it’s not. When my spouse and I discovered Bluey on the Disney+ streaming service during the pandemic, we caught ourselves watching episodes late at night after our oldest had gone to sleep. The creative force behind Bluey, Joe Brumm, has threaded the needle, bringing to life characters who appeal just as much to parents as to their children. And yet, the adoration and connection of Bluey doesn’t stop there. I’ve read numerous social media posts from folks who don’t have kids who watch the show for its meaningful message.
A message, I believe, possessing pieces of gospely good news. Here are a few observations of what Bluey invites us to consider about our faith and a few episode recommendations to get you there.
Creativity and the Power of Imagination
I have Bandit Heeler wearing a set of antlers, a striking pink boa scarf, and large purple glasses inked on my arm because of his willingness to become completely submerged in the creative worlds of his two daughters. In “The Magic Xylophone,” Bluey and Bingo discover the instrument at the bottom of a toy bin. Upon seeing it, Bandit recoils and tries to get away. This is a game they’ve played before; the possessor of the xylophone can freeze others in place. Shenanigans ensue, with Bandit usually coming up on the receiving end. The episode deals with the importance of sharing and taking turns, but the nugget this adult took away was the gift of being fully present with my children to co-create moments and memories with them. The power of play and the invitation extended to me by my daughters to immerse myself in their imaginations while bringing along my own is something I believe all creation has the opportunity to do with each other and with God. In play, my kids and I create worlds together. If this doesn’t ring of Genesis and other creation myths, I’m not sure what does.
Fully Seeing Others
Fair warning: Bluey will make you cry. “Baby Race” is a testimony to this fact. Here, Chili recounts to her children how Bluey learned to walk. She captivates them by sharing how Bluey could sit up on her own very early and how proud she and Bandit were of this unusual feat. Bluey does this at a local “mum group” that Chili is part of, but her flash of flaunty-ness is cut short when another baby, Judo, begins to crawl in front of everyone. The imposed pressure and the race of expectations build for Chili, resulting in her decision to stop attending the mum meetings. Another mum from the group, Bella, joins Chili at home, and shares with her that she’s the mother of nine pups. Chili is shocked and remarks Bella must know something about raising kids. I don’t want to ruin the following dialogue between the two mums, but a moment is shared: Chili is seen and empowered to run her own race as a parent instead of trying to keep up with anyone else. The ability to meet people where they are, extend empathy, and assure them they aren’t alone is paramount. How we choose to do the same, being supportive and recognizing the Imago Dei in others, is a practice of how to love our neighbor.
Evolution and Faith: Part of the Same Story
In the episode “Flat Pack,” Bandit and Chili have purchased an outdoor rocking swing. As they unpack the box, discarded trash becomes an item to play with for Bluey and Bingo. Plastic wrap becomes a small body of water, and the sisters decide to be fish, Bluey being the mommy fish and Bingo the baby fish. This relationship dynamic continues as more pieces become available. A large slice of cardboard turns into land, and the girls change into frogs. More items show up, and viewers see an evolution-type pattern forming. When the swing nears completion, Bluey and Bingo have become dinosaurs, birds, monkeys, “cave-dogs” who write on walls, and finally, builders who, with the help of a small shiny tool, construct what resembles an impressive city out of box scraps and Styrofoam. Bingo then informs Bluey that she’s no longer a baby or even a teenager but an adult, and she’s built a spaceship to go and explore outer space. They hug, and Bingo soars off into her make-believe cosmos. Bluey sits down and wonders aloud what she’s supposed to do now. Bandit and Chili get her attention and invite her up on the new swing. As she makes her way up the stairs, Chili reaches for her, the scene playing homage to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. Swinging and watching Bingo zip around the backyard, Bandit pronounces, “Ah, this is heaven.” The coupling of evolutionary imagery and the recognition of the simple joy of backyard family time as a celestial state proves there is room for science and faith to function together. For me, it’s a reminder of how accessible God’s kin-dom is to us. The sacred is seen in the personal as much as in the wonders of the millennia.
Later, after leaving the farmers market, I’m back with my family. I tell my spouse the story about being stopped yet again for the tattoo, and she tells me it’s about time she gets herself one. The rest of the day is full of ups and downs every parent experiences. Near evening, my two daughters want one more stint outside. My spouse and I oblige. The oldest moves quickly and assuredly. The youngest, not so much. Her bare feet traverse the backyard, and she appears shaky, trying to go down the sloping hill. She reaches for my hand, and I take it into mine. Warm and fleshy, her touch is like her hand, unblemished. We stroll together, watching her sister run ahead and pull an unripe apple from a nearby tree and sink her teeth into it. Glancing back, I see their mother. The breeze of Lake Michigan nudges her closer to us. And there, amid such beauty, a cartoon dog just might have it right.
Ah, this is heaven.
Justin Cox is senior pastor, Second Baptist Church in Suffield, Connecticut. He received his theological education from Campbell University and Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is an ordained minister affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program at McAfee School of Theology.