New York Times Op-Ed: Ted Lasso, holy foolby tish harrison warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer at night: for those who work, watch or cry (2021) (Christianity Today’s Book of the year 2022)):

Every Wednesday night my husband and I tune in to watch “ted lasso”, the Emmy Award-winning Apple TV+ comedy series. The show’s leading man and title character, played by Jason Sudeikis, is enthusiastic, kind, and, though intelligent, persistently ditzy. … We discover throughout the series that it is in this very nonsense that his power lies.

There is no shortage of religious archetypes in literature and popular entertainment. there are celebrities “Figures of Christ” like Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings”, Dumbledore in the Harry Potter stories and Anna in “Frozen”. Seen through this lens, Ted Lasso is another kind of religious archetype: a modern holy fool.

The holy fool, or yurodivy (also spelled iurodivyi), is a well-known, if controversial, character in Russian Orthodox spirituality. In his book”Holy fools in Byzantium and beyond”, historian Sergey A. Ivanov writes that in the orthodox tradition the term designates “a person who feigns madness, pretends to be foolish, or who causes shock or indignation by deliberate rebellion.” In other words, the holy fool is a person who flouts social conventions to show loyalty to God.

Holy fools dwell in ordinary, secular life, but approach it with completely different values. Rejecting respectability and embracing humility and love, holy fools are so deeply out of step with the larger world that they appear ridiculous or even insane and often invite ridicule. And yet they teach the rest of us how to live. …

From a religious perspective, rejecting the pitfalls of success—anything that is most deeply valued by the mainstream culture—can be a prophetic act that, as Lasso shows, rarely receives applause. The so-called foolishness of the holy fools is tied to their spiritual insight. They offer a change of perspective. What seems “normal” and “successful” in the world, the fool reveals to be hollow, vain, and meaningless. It turns out that what seems like nonsense is the true path of flowering. Above all, a holy fool is an icon of radical humility. And this is where Lasso most clearly embodies this person. …

Lasso’s great humility, time and time again, makes him a source of transformation and redemption. He disarms people. …

At a time when our culture is marked by outrage, division, and cynicism, Ted Lasso calls us to be humble. He asks us to lighten up a bit, not take ourselves too seriously. In doing so, he reminds everyone he meets, including us watching at home, of our shared humanity. 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. This is Ted Lasso’s gift. He shows us what’s possible when we give up winning—soccer games, power grabs, career success, culture wars, or online fights—and, silly as it is, we choose to uplift the people around us.

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Other New York Times Op-Eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

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