“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
It’s hard to find something to watch on television these days. No really, I mean it. It’s hard to find something to watch on TV. How can I say that? I mean, I know in terms of sheer volume there is more content being produced and released nowadays than anyone could watch even over the course of an entire lifetime, but that’s exactly the point. There is so much content available, it’s hard to choose one thing that’s really worth watching. How do you pick then? There’s always the approach of choosing something at random, watching for a few minutes to evaluate, and then sticking with it or moving on. You usually wind up sifting through a lot of junk by that method. A sometimes better approach is to listen to the hype. That doesn’t work for some things, but usually the best content gets the most hype. I recently went with that approach and was rewarded with a fantastic new show to watch that I can recommend heartily (with a caveat). This morning I want to tell you about Ted Lasso.
Ted Lasso is absolutely fantastic. The writing is smart. The acting is terrific. It’s set in England which is always fun for an American show. And the story is outstanding. The only two potential strikes against it are that it is only available on AppleTV which means picking up yet another streaming service bill, and the language is awful (albeit in a way that is almost certainly consistent with the culture it is portraying). If you can get past the second thing and if you happen to have a free one-year trial going with AppleTV, then you should go find it and watch it. Tonight.
The show is about an American football coach named Ted Lasso (wonderfully played by Jason Sudeikis) who has been hired by the newly divorced owner of AFC Richmond football club in Richmond, London, England. The owner, Rebecca Welton, hired Lasso ostensibly because of his leading the Wichita State Shockers Division II football team to win the NCAA championship in his first year with the team. The real reason she hired this Midwestern rube who knows nothing about American soccer at all is because she won the ownership of the team from her cheating husband as part of their divorce settlement, the team is the only thing he ever really loved, and she wants to run it into the ground as an act of revenge against him. It’s basically the plot of the 1989 baseball movie, Major League, with an updated setting. And it is fantastic.
At three episodes into the series, I can’t wait to find out what happens next and for the next season to arrive. This is for two reasons. Number one, if I haven’t made it clear enough yet, I think the show is absolutely fantastic. Good content is hard to find, and this is good content. The second reason is even more important to me as a pastor and follower of Jesus. The show unintentionally puts on brilliant display what it looks like for a committed follower of Jesus in a cultural context that is anything but supportive to get it profoundly right. If you want to know how to be a consistent follower of Jesus in the midst of culture that hates everything you stand for, I can’t think of many better places to look than Ted Lasso.
Lasso as a person is genuine, honest, joyful, gracious, kind, generous, humble, and just about any other virtue you can imagine. He loves people and treats them all with the respect he wants for himself no matter who they are. In one of the first scenes in the show he asks for the name of the team’s equipment manager who is absolutely befuddled that the new team manager would care what his name was at all. In the third episode he goes to the restaurant of the driver’s uncle who picked him up from the airport upon his arrival in town because he said he would. He goes on to eat the uncle’s incredibly spicy Indian food–two helpings!–so that he can make the driver look good in front of his family. Every morning he brings the team’s owner a box of cookies she absolutely loves (although she won’t dare admit it to Lasso even as she is desperately searching for the recipe to find out where he’s getting them) just to build a good relationship with her.
Over the course of just the first three episodes, Lasso offers a brilliant depiction of what this Hebrew Proverb that was later picked up by Peter as worth following for Christians living in the midst of a hostile culture looks like. Why this particular Proverb? Because everyone around him hates his guts, thinks he is absolutely ridiculous, and can’t wait for him to fail and be driven out of town. The owner is secretly searching for ways to make him fail. The team has no respect for him. The fans at his first game chant really ugly cheers at him. The press think he’s an absolute buffoon.
Yet one by one–and again, I’m only three episodes in–he is winning over even his most committed critics, because he’s just so likeable. He’s kind and almost naively optimistic no matter how hard the people around him punch. He takes ugly, below the belt criticism with a smile and absolutely refuses to respond in kind. And it drives his critics crazy. Oh, he knows how things look. He knows what they think. But he’s so convinced that his approach is going to work–and he loves people so much–that he just keeps plugging away with considerate kindness. And person by person, it’s working.
As followers of Jesus, this kind of thing is exactly what we should be doing. Lasso is a beautiful picture of the contagious holiness of Jesus. And there’s nothing at least explicitly Christian about the show at all! He gets right down in the muddiest messes going on around him; he swims straight into the middle of the soupiest swamp, but the muck won’t stick. Instead, his character is rubbing off on them, cleaning them up, and making them all better for it. Just like we’re supposed to be doing. Our aim is absolutely supposed to be Jesus, but if you want to start with Ted Lasso, you’ll be heading in the right direction.