Paul L. Caron

Sunday, May 7, 2023

NY Times Op-Ed: Ted Lasso, Holy Fool

New York Times Op-Ed:  Ted Lasso, Holy Fool, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

Ted Lasso (2021)Each Wednesday night my husband and I tune in to watch “Ted Lasso,” the Emmy award-winning Apple TV+ comedy series. The show’s protagonist and title character, played by Jason Sudeikis, is ebullient, kind and, though smart, persistently silly. ... We discover throughout the series that it is in this very silliness that his power is found.

There is no shortage of religious archetypes in literature and in popular entertainment. There are famous “Christ figures” like Gandalf in “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-day holy fool.

The holy fool, or yurodivy (also spelled iurodivyi), is a well-known, though controversial, character in Russian Orthodox spirituality. In his book “Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond,” the historian Sergey A. Ivanov writes that in the Orthodox tradition the term designates “a person who feigns insanity, pretends to be silly, or who provokes shock or outrage by his deliberate unruliness.” In other words, 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. ...

From a religious perspective, a rejection of the trappings of success, of whatever the mainstream culture values most deeply, can be a prophetic act — one that, as Lasso shows, rarely gets applause. The so-called foolishness of holy fools is tethered to their spiritual insight. They offer a change in perspective. What appears “normal” and “successful” in the world is revealed by the fool to be hollow, vain and pointless. What appears foolish, it turns out, is the true path of flourishing. Above all, a holy fool is an icon for radical humility. And this is where Lasso most clearly embodies this persona. ...

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

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. 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. This is the gift of Ted Lasso. He shows us what’s possible when we give up winning — soccer games, power grabs, professional success, culture wars or online fights — and, however foolish it may be, choose to root for the people all around us.

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Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

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