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Lessons on worthiness from Ted Lasso
On being a work in "prog-mess"
I admit I am late to the party when it comes to watching the Apple TV show Ted Lasso. Beth and I have been so successful in our recent binging that we are already up to the most current episode – forcing us to find another binge-worthy show – or just stick to our favorite – baking shows – while we wait for new episodes.
For those of you who haven't seen the show, it's about a US football coach – Ted Lasso – who is hired to coach a British soccer team. He knows nothing about the sport, and it's revealed that the owner of the team hired him specifically for that reason. She wants him to tank the team, because she won it in a divorce and believes killing to team is the best way to hurt her ex-husband.
I have read many articles analyzing Ted Lasso's character. Everything from how he's a paragon of servant leadership to how he serves as a so-called "holy fool" – which in the Orthodox Christian tradition is someone who "feigns insanity, pretends to be silly, or who provokes shock or outrage by his deliberate unruliness."
I like this characterization of Lasso, because, if you watch the show, Ted's ability to both delight and anger people through his "deliberate unruliness," is what makes him such a great role model if we, too, aspire to become a "holy fool."
As Tish Harrison Warren writes in a recent New York Times article: "… the holy fool is a person who flouts social conventions to demonstrate allegiance to God. Holy fools dwell in ordinary, secular life, but they approach it with completely different values. Rejecting respectability and embracing humility and love, holy fools are so profoundly out of step with the broader world that they appear to be ridiculous or even insane and often invite ridicule. And yet, they teach the rest of us how to live."
This is exactly what A Course in Miracles calls us to be in this world – holy fools whose only allegiance is to God.
That is guaranteed to put us out of step with the broader world. Those of us who are determined to lead with God's love – shining that Divine light within us out into the world – appear to be ridiculous or even insane. We are often ridiculed as "pollyannish" or practicing some form of "toxic positivity."
For those of us who may aspire to the Ted Lasso brand of holy foolishness though … we know better. We know that the truly foolish life is the one lived in the egoic world of competition, comparison, division, tribalism and well … egotism.
Living the foolish Lasso Way …
What does it look like to be a Lasso-style Holy fool? In chapter 7, A Course lays it out clearly: We become holy fools when we listen to the One Teacher who wants us to learn this one thing: the inestimable worth of every Child of God. Who is a Child of God? Everyone you see, including that person in mirror. It also includes everyone you don't see, everyone you think about, everyone you don't think about. Everyone you love, everyone you disregard and maybe especially, everyone you hate.
We can clearly see how this works if we take a moment to study what's called The Lasso Way. Simply put, Ted sees the inestimable worth in everyone, from his boss – for whom he bakes biscuits (what the British call cookies) every morning for "Biscuits with the Boss" – down to the locker room attendant – or kitman – who is widely ignored by everyone.
Initially, people aren't sure how to take Ted's chipper attitude and loving disregard of anyone who finds his nature off-putting. His first press conference was pretty brutal as the press grilled him about his ignorance of the game. Over time, though, Ted begins to win over pretty much everyone by simply persisting in seeing everyone as being of inestimable worth.
In that persistence he helped star team members tamp down their own egos, he forgave his boss for the manipulative reason she hired him and helped her actually begin to care about the team more than sticking it to her ex-husband. In addition, he eventually discovered a strategy that helped the team begin to win again after being relegated to a lower division during his first season.
This is the effectiveness of the Holy fool.
Embracing our inner Ted
As we go against the conventions of the egoic world, eschewing competition, comparison, and division, we hold space for others to touch their own inner Holy fool. When they do, they will also be able to tune in to the voice of that One Divine Teacher that wants to show us how to practice the resurrection of worthiness by only seeing the inestimable worth of everyone we encounter.
No matter who Ted Lasso meets, whether they are mean, manipulative, meek, malicious, or merry, he treats them all the same. They always have his full attention. He's always present to them and their needs at that moment. Even when Ted is being personally attacked, he still refuses to attack back, even if his feelings are hurt.
We see this dynamic between Ted and the locker room attendant in the first season. Nate Shelley is the kitman, which means he tends to the locker room and washes all the uniforms and towels and keeps the teams' shoes and other equipment in top shape. It's a lowly job and one that's barely recognized by anyone, especially those in leadership.
Nate was shocked on his first meeting with Ted that Ted wanted to know his name. Through their relationship, Nate developed a sense of confidence and self-worth. It turns out that Nate is a strategic genius in soccer. Ted nurtures this talent and eventually Nate is made an assistant coach.
This is where ego rears its ugly head. Nate lets his success, and his new-found confidence go to his head. After one of his strategies resulted in a spectacular win for the team, he was lauded in the press as the "Wonder Kid," and his ego is off to the races. In one episode, he accuses Ted of not appreciating him enough and says some very hurtful things to him. You can see that Ted is injured by this, but he does not argue back or retaliate.
Eventually, Nate is named as the head coach of a rival team owned by the ex-husband of Ted's boss. Nate's ego has gotten him here, but it becomes obvious that he misses the nurturing leadership style of Ted, and even tries to replicate some of it with his own staff, with calamitous results.
Nate takes open potshots against Ted in the press, but Ted understands one of the main principles from A Course in Miracles that says: "In my defenselessness my safety lies." Ted refuses to attack Nate or say a bad word about him, either publicly or in private. Instead, in one press conference, Ted made self-deprecating jokes instead of returning attack for Nate's attacks on him. All Ted wants for Nate is for him to be happy and at peace with his life. It's all he wants for everyone.
As A Course tells us, this is the key to seeing everyone as being of inestimable worth: "It will be given you to see your Holy Sibling's worth when all you want for him is peace. And what you want for him you will receive."
A work in “prog-mess”
Peace is truly what Ted Lasso wants – not just for everyone, but for himself. This, I believe, is the true genius of this show. Out in the world, Ted is the Holy fool. When he's alone with himself, though, he acts like most of us do – he doubts his own worth, mainly because he's going through a divorce and is living halfway around the world from his young son. In those moments alone, Ted wrestles with his own demons that try to keep him in his egoic littleness, calling himself "a work in prog-mess."
Even in his own pain, he still seeks to act in the most loving ways to those around him, though he struggles to love himself just as much. This, I think, is the deepest lesson that Ted Lasso can teach us on worth. We tend to look out onto the world and see some people as good and others as recalcitrant. When we see those recalcitrant people, we do what our society and religions have taught us to do: we see ourselves in them. We think that everyone has a recalcitrant streak in them, including ourselves.
This is the product of believing in original sin – in the original unworthiness of all of us. We think, like Ted, the only way to overcome this is to act outwardly good and peaceful to mask that unworthiness we feel inside. When we get alone, though, our own doubts arise.
We think the way out is to try to convince ourselves that we're good, that we're the light of the world, and then we can be that in the world. A Course though, says we have it backwards. If we truly want to see the good within ourselves, to experience our own inherent worthiness, we must first see it in everyone around us. The overall principle holds that what we perceive in others is true about ourselves, but we're called to shift our perception from seeing others as recalcitrant, to seeing them as Originally Blessed, as innocent, beloved Children of God.
When we see only that blessing and innocence in the people we see around us, or think about, or hear about, then and only then, will we begin to believe that we too are of inestimable worth.
What does this look like in practice? Ted Lasso knows. It means meeting people where they are, not where you wish they were, and treating them as worthy of your deepest love and reverence. Walmart can be your cathedral if you choose. It's a great place to go and practice seeing the inestimable worth of everyone by seeing them through the eyes of the Holy. Through those eyes, all you will see are Holy Siblings buying toilet paper, bananas, and other items. They're walking around disguised as regular human beings with all their shortcomings, doubts, fears, and worldviews. Each one is just trying to figure out why they're here and how best to find what we all want – love, joy, peace, security, and a sense of purpose for it all.
You are here to help them find all of that, and as you help your Holy Sibling see the light that shines within them, you will begin to clearly see, feel, and know your own holy light. A Course says what we want for others we will also. We cannot find ourselves by ourselves. We need the help of our Holy Siblings.
Ted begins to learn this when his boss brings in a psychologist for the team and he begins therapy sessions to understand his own demons – which are causing panic attacks – and how they can be healed. The therapist, herself, is a bit standoffish to Ted and chalks up his chipper attitude as something he uses to hide his own pain. In part, that's true, but even she eventually falls under Ted's charms, while helping him heal his own patterns of unworthiness.
A koan for holy fools
This is the beauty of this show – it is all about how we all heal when we seek to be and embody that healing, foolish love in the world. Ted Lasso invites us to step out of our penchant for viewing "self-help" as a solitary pursuit and instead realize that it's only by helping others that we ever learn how to help ourselves. It's only by seeing the inestimable worth of others that we will ever realize our own inestimable worth.
Author and counselor Henri Nouwen offers us a practice – a koan of sorts – to contemplate when we get stuck staring down our own demons. He writes: "Take this as a koan: ‘I am the glory of God.’ Make that thought the center of your meditation so that it slowly becomes not only a thought but a living reality. You are the place where God chose to dwell … and the spiritual life is nothing more or less than to allow that space to exist where God can dwell, to create the space where his glory can manifest itself. In your meditation you can ask yourself, ‘Where is the glory of God? If the glory of God is not there where I am, where else can it be?’"
I would modify this just a little bit and make the koan this: "You are the glory of God, which means that I am, too."
Or, if you want an earworm for it, just sing this Keb’ Mo song: "I'm amazing, incredible. I'm a miracle, a dream come true. I'm marvelous. I'm beautiful. Guess what, so are you!"
This doesn't mean we're better than anyone, though. As Keb' Mo reminds us, it just means that we have a responsibility – to be amazing, to step into our grandeur as God's Holy, worthy, and innocent Children. We've seen the grandiosity of the ego at work in our own lives. It convinces us that we're the "wonder kid" who can do no wrong. It convinces us to compete, to strive for some fleeting glory in this world, when what we truly are is God's glory personified.
How would it change the way you lived if you saw the glory of God walking around in every single person you meet, think about, or hear about? How would it change the way you lived if, in seeing that glory of God all around you, you finally realized that it's within you, as well? You are the place God has chosen to dwell – and God also dwells within everyone else, no matter what your ego wants you to think about them.
As Harrison Warren concludes in her New York Times column: "This is the gift of Ted Lasso. In a time when our culture is marked by outrage, division and cynicism, Ted Lasso calls us back to humility. He asks us to lighten up a little, to not take ourselves too seriously. In doing so, he reminds everyone he encounters — including us watching at home — of our shared humanity (and I would say our shared divinity). We are all, in the end, not winners or losers, successes or failures, pure heroes or villains, but people who long to be known, loved and delighted in."
And when we can embrace our own inner Ted Lasso and seek to know, love, and delight in everyone we meet or think of, then the whole world will get to say: "Oh, Yeah!
What have you learned from Ted Lasso? Share in the comments!
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About the Motley Mystic:
The Motley Mystic is an online community for people who have realized that the truth speaks with many voices. There is no one religion, philosophy, institution or dogma that captures the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. No one needs to swear allegiance to one line of thought or belief to discern Truth, because Love is the only thing that’s real. That’s what we explore at the Motley Mystic - all the tools and strategies we need to remove our barriers to Love and live fully as our true, Divine Self.
Candace Chellew is the founder of Motley Mystic as well as Jubilee! Circle, an interfaith spiritual community in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians published in 2008 by Jossey-Bass and the founder and senior editor emeritus of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for LGBTQ People of Faith. She is also a musician and avid animal lover.
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