The Gospel of Ted Lasso
“Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty, reflected in all the peoples of the earth, so that we may discover anew that all are important and all are necessary, different faces of the one humanity that God so loves. Amen.”(Pope Francis, Closing Prayer, Fratelli Tutti)
The readings for the first two weeks of Advent have some contrasts built into them that are worth sorting out. Last week, we opened Advent being told to stay awake, to watch out and to keep working. It’s hard to watch out while you’re working, and it’s hard to work while you’re watching out, but here we are. This week, we start with Isaiah 40’s “Comfort, give comfort to my people,” and ends with Mark telling us about John the Baptist, out in the wilderness, uncomfortingly telling people to convert their hearts and change their lives. It seems contradictory.
But of all years, maybe this is the one to realize that the way to comfort is to change everything.
So I don’t watch (non-sports) TV much at all; I’m almost caught up on The Mandalorian, but that’s really been about it, until last week, when I posted a feature from ESPN’s College Gameday about Indiana football coach Tom Allen and his motto, “Love. Each. Other.” I liked the story so much that I tweeted about it (in part because, like Coach Allen, I am recruiting).
My friend Tina saw that and said “Have you watched Ted Lasso? Seems like it might be your speed.” And now I am 5 episodes in and completely hooked.
For the uninitiated, Apple TV’s series Ted Lasso revolves around an American football coach who is hired to manage an English Premier League soccer team despite having no experience in the sport. It’s premise is a cliched mashup of Major League with every ugly-American-abroad joke. It is riotously written and acted and not suitable at all for family audiences (due to language, so far). But the reason I am still watching it is that, despite the thin setup, the characters quite clearly are not the caricatures you would identify at first glance. The vengeful owner and her toadie, the stereotype-laden mix of players, the sidekick assistant coach and beleaguered water boy, and especially the eponymous protagonist: all of them have the thumbnail description that we’ve seen a dozen times, but they all show glimpses, even in the pilot, of depth and complexity. And while it may all go to pieces in episode 6, for all I know, through 5, each of them has taken small but delightful steps out of the shadows cast by their caricatures into a semblance of broken and complicated real lives.
But here’s my point: Ted Lasso has had a bit of a moment in the culture since the series release as a champion for optimism. But I don’t think that is essentially who the character is, nor is it what we need. Ted Lasso is an example of what it would look like for us, all of us normal people, to live like Pope Francis charges us to live in Fratelli Tutti.
Lasso’s life, like those of the other characters, is imperfect, painful and broken. He is not in any way blindly optimistic. But he is irrepressibly joyful and kind, and deeply committed to the dignity of every person around him. Though there isn’t any indication of explicit faith in the show so far, he describes his purpose as a coach in a deeply Catholic way: to help the people in his charge become better versions of themselves. And from his first moment, he lives out that essential respect for the dignity of every human being in concrete, tangible ways.
The first person he meets in England is the limo driver sent by the club to fetch him and his assistant; not only does Ted insist on carrying his own bags, he takes an esteemed companion to dinner at the restaurant run by the driver’s family because he invited Ted. The second person he meets, the “kit man”, has never been asked his name by anyone associated with the team until Ted asks. By the third episode, “Nate the Great,” as Ted dubs him, has become part of the inner circle. He notices the schoolgirl who schools the boys with a soccer ball, and the pub owner, and the street musician who later comes to the rescue. He tells a snobbish reporter sent to lampoon him that he is delighted to spend the day with him and actually means it.
That is the magic of Ted Lasso, the character. He treats every single person in his world as if they were worthy of dignity and love and actually means it.
The magic of the show is that this simple, straightforward, heart-warming character isn’t played off as a buffoon. He’s sneered at, but only until those who sneer at him realize that he actually means it. All of it. And then even they start rooting for him.
Chapter 8 of Fratelli Tutti is about the value of religions to inspire the best in each other, and count me as being on board with that idea. But many are not. And if we were really serious about comforting God’s people, maybe the conversion of heart and change of life that we who claim religious affiliation could start living is to truly “discover anew that all are important and all are necessary, different faces of the one humanity that God so loves.” And do it so consistently that, after a while, people catch on that we actually mean it.
That’s what Ted Lasso would do. Amen.
Leave a Reply