The Gospel According to Ted Lasso: I Forgive You
So put away your lies and speak the truth to one another because we are all part of one another. When you are angry, don’t let it carry you into sin. Don’t let the sun set with anger in your heart or give the devil room to work. If you have been stealing, stop. Thieves must go to work like everyone else and work honestly with their hands so that they can share with anyone who has a need. Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them. It’s time to stop bringing grief to God’s Holy Spirit; you have been sealed with the Spirit, marked as His own for the day of rescue. Banish bitterness, rage and anger, shouting and slander, and any and all malicious thoughts — these are poison. Instead, be kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you through the Anointed, our Liberating King. So imitate God. Follow Him like adored children…. ~Ephesians 4:25–5:1 The Voice
One thing that I find intriguing about Ted Lasso is that it would have been really easy for the show to be terrible. You see, the character Ted Lasso was created for commercials, not for a television series with an on-going plot. When NBC started broadcasting Premiere League soccer matches back in 2013, they hoped to expand their American audience for the sport.
What better way to do that than to create a series of funny spots about an American football coach attempting to coach this different kind of football? Ted yells at a referee, “How’s that offside?” Then he runs up to him and says, “No, I’m serious. How’s that offside? I don’t understand it yet.” Ted’s gets confused that soccer is played in halves instead of quarters, that matches can end in a tie, and that kicking the ball over the goal doesn’t result in an extra point. The character was created to help Americans not worry so much about not understanding all of the intricacies of the sport.
Characters like that tend to be flat. They just need to make you laugh for a few minutes. In order for people to keep watching a show week after week, though, the characters need to have some depth. In order for that to happen, Ted had to become more than just a buffoon coaching the wrong sport.
Somehow the writers accomplished this brilliantly. Ted is simple and sincere and, for the life of him, can’t remember that a soccer field is a pitch, but there’s more to him than that. When it comes to conflict, we might expect Ted to go no deeper than his line, “Even Woody and Buzz got under each other’s plastic.” However, in the episode entitled “All Apologies”, we see the complexities of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. In fact, I think Ted Lasso may explore these themes better than many churches do.
As we’ve mentioned earlier in this sermon series, Rebecca, who acquires a football team in her divorce, hires Ted to coach the team because she wants him to fail miserably. Her ex loves the team more than anything in the world except for maybe himself, so Rebecca wants to burn the franchise to the ground like he did their marriage.
Throughout the season, Rebecca makes Ted’s hard job even harder by secretly sabotaging him along the way. Eventually, Keeley, a groupie who becomes friends with Rebecca and part of the team staff, discovers that Rebecca hired paparazzi to take photos of Keeley and Ted together. Of course, the photos make it look like Ted and Keeley are a compromising position when, in actuality, their encounter is purely innocent. Keeley confronts Rebecca. When she realizes Rebecca’s motives, she demands that her boss tell Ted the truth.
After stumbling and wimping out several times, Rebecca finally confesses to Ted all that she has done. She tells him everything. Though she acknowledges that she did it all to hurt her ex, Rebecca never makes excuses for her actions. Her remorse is evident, but she owns her behavior. Rebecca knows that her actions have hurt people, people she now cares about. In her apology, she goes as far as to acknowledge that saying “I’m sorry” does not guarantee reconciliation. In fact, she tells Ted that she’ll support him if he chooses to resign or call a press conference about the matter.
It’s clear that Ted is hurt. You can see it on his face and hear it in his silence. Then Ted gets up from his desk, walks over to Rebecca, and says these words to her: I forgive you.
You see, while their circumstances are quite different, Ted is going through a painful divorce just like Rebecca is. Their common experience allows him to see her humanity and to empathize with her. Ted doesn’t diminish his hurt or her actions by saying something like “That’s okay.” Instead, he tells Rebecca that they will work through it together.
Rebecca is so moved by Ted’s forgiveness that, despite the fact that she’s made it clear that she hates hugs, she throws her arms around him and engulfs him in a big bear hug.
The scene is tender and moving. It makes me tear up every time I watch it. I think what makes the scene so powerful is that, in it, we see both how hard and how beautiful it is to be in relationship with others. We hurt each other, even people we love. It’s hard to apologize well because doing so is humbling, maybe even a little humiliating.
It can also be hard to choose to forgive, though. That, too, is humbling. While being in relationship with others can be hard, it’s also where we’re most likely to experience grace and mercy. In this one scene in Ted Lasso, we see what it looks like to take personal responsibility and to apologize well, and we also see what forgiveness and reconciliation look like.
You know, Paul’s letters were efforts to help churches live in community well. The apostle apparently knew that life together is hard work but that that’s also where we are most likely to encounter God’s love. Paul guided churches in working through conflict and hurt well so that they could build durable relationships and resilient communities.
In Ephesians, Paul described how being “in Christ” means more than what we believe or profess. Being “in Christ” means actually trying to live and love like Jesus did. It means following and imitating Christ’s ways. According to Paul, Jesus should serve as our model for how we live in community with others.
We should tell each other the truth and work honestly so that we can help take care of each other. While we will, at times, get angry, we should not let our anger overtake us. When anger gets the best of us, Paul says, it “gives the devil room to work.” That’s when we’re likely to do and say things that hurt other people or ourselves. Instead, we should listen to and work through our anger so that we learn from it and then let it go.
According to Paul, we should build each other up and speak grace to one another. We should be kind, compassionate, and forgive each other as God has forgiven us.
In Ted Lasso, Rebecca shows us what happens when we hold on to anger and allow it to fester within us. She’s not a villain. She’s a good, likable person who’s been hurt. Holding on to her hurt and anger instead of working through it causes her to hurt other people, including people she cares about.
In the scene that I described, Ted models beautifully what it means to follow in the ways of Jesus. He’s able to put himself in Rebecca’s shoes. That doesn’t excuse her behavior, but it enables him to see her humanity and to empathize with her. Ted doesn’t repress his hurt over Rebecca’s actions, but he is able to forgive her, and he’s willing to figure out how they move forward together. That’s reconciliation. Ted tells Rebecca, “If you care about someone and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.”
Sometimes things aren’t quite that simple, though, are they? Sometimes hurt runs deep enough that we have to work through it before we can forgive. Sometimes reconciliation takes time. Sometimes reconciliation isn’t healthy or possible.
Too often, I think we Christians assume that forgiveness and reconciliation are the same and that, for good Christians, they happen immediately and easily. Whether we mean to or not, we sometimes communicate that either people get angry and hurt others, or we forgive in the moment and move on, that we are either Rebecca or Ted and that there’s nothing in-between. We tend to like binaries, don’t we?
I saw this quite a bit a couple of months ago when I told you about the “Prayer of a Weary Black Woman”, the prayer written by Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes that upset some white folks. When Dr. Walker-Barnes’ and her supporters stated that the prayer is an imprecatory psalm modeled closely after psalms in Scripture, some Christians didn’t know and couldn’t accept that there are angry prayers in the Bible.
On social media, Christians suggested that anger and forgiveness can’t co-exist, that anger and hatred are the same thing, that taking our anger to God so that we don’t unleash it onto other people is sin. One man even tweeted to me that he would rather be Christian than human. When I read that, I ached for him. Imagine the inner turmoil and constant sense of failure that he must live with. God created us human. That’s what we’re supposed to be!
In her book The Language of Emotions, social science researcher and educator Karla McLaren says that anger and forgiveness are not opposing forces. Instead, they are often partners that work together. She describes anger as the emotion that alerts us that our boundaries have been violated. She says that anger leads us to our pain and that forgiveness releases us from the bondage of our pain once we have worked through it. Not only does anger alert us that our boundaries have been crossed, but it also prompts us to reassert our boundaries. If all of this is true, then anger can play an important role in both forgiveness and reconciliation, and forgiveness is what helps us let go of anger so that it doesn’t linger and cause us to hurt others or ourselves.
So we don’t want to let anger overtake us and lead us to hurt people like Rebecca does, but we can’t always move to forgiveness as quickly as Ted does. That’s why I’m grateful that there’s Keeley.
When she discovers that Rebecca hired the photographer who took the misleading photographs, she gets mad. As we southerners say, she gets hot! Instead of spouting off to other people, though, Keeley goes directly to Rebecca. She tells Rebecca exactly how she feels, and then she sets a clear boundary for reconciliation: Rebecca has to tell Ted the truth. When Keeley later realizes that Rebecca has not yet confessed to Ted, she pulls her aside and presses her to do it. When Rebecca asks, “Why does it matter? It won’t change anything” Keeley responds, “It will change the way I feel about you.”
Keeley can hold the friend who hurt her accountable because Keeley practices what she preaches. In an early episode, it’s Keeley who hurts someone because her anger and jealously get the best of her. When the person she hurt sets a clear boundary and says, “Don’t ever do that to me again”, Keeley apologizes. When someone else chides her asking why she would bother to apologize, Keeley responds, “Being accountable matters.”
In The Book of Forgiving, Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “In our own ways, we are all broken. Out of that brokenness, we hurt others. Forgiveness is the journey we take toward healing the broken parts. It is how we become whole again.” Sometimes that process is quicker or smoother than it is at other times. But the processes of seeking forgiveness and extending forgiveness are what keep us whole both as individuals and as communities.
None of us are flat characters. We are complex and have depth. We are not good or bad, sinner or saint, confessor or forgiver. We’re all of that. As Christians, we are humans seeking to imitate Christ. Yes, we hurt people, and we are hurt by people. We’re human. Seeking forgiveness when we cause hurt, doing the work to forgive when we are hurt, and working toward reconciliation when it is healthy and possible- that is to follow in the path of Jesus. It’s not always easy, but it is the path to wholeness.