If Ted Lasso, the Apple TV show, is an award winning comedy, then why do I find myself choked up with tears almost every episode? There are as many answers to this question as episodes, but I am reminded repeatedly how hints of grace keep showing up in surprising places.
In Season 2, Episode 8, the coaches are about to take to the pitch for a semi-final match at Wembley Park when Coach Lasso musters the courage to offer a confession about why he left suddenly during an earlier match. It wasn't food poisoning, as the press reported, but a panic attack. Then one-by-one each of the other coaches and the Director of Football Operations responds by admitting a fault, embarrassment, or misjudgment of his own. Each person in the circle nods and acknowledges the transgressor to be okay.
Colin Hutton / Apple TV+
The scene offers a hint of grace, foreshadowing the profound embrace that shows up later in the same episode. But rather than playing the spoiler by revealing the Big Grace that follows, it's enough to ponder this small circle of coaching trust.
Ted Lasso is not religious television, and there are various reasons to find it offensive, but as the Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren aptly notes in her New York Times piece, pointers toward faith keep showing up. Warren writes, "Lasso’s great humility, again and again, makes him a wellspring of transformation and redemption."
Lasso's humility seems contagious in this scene, moving around the circle from one coach to another, culminating in nods of understanding and mercy. True, it's not a perfect picture of grace--we find out later that Judas is part of the circle, and the disclosures are more frailties than moral failings--but still, this rhythm of acknowledging imperfection and being accepted in kindness is the essence of what I imagine faith to be.
The Christian tradition begins with confessing our shortcomings, and ends with an unflinching acceptance offered by the One who has already forgiven us. A Forward Movement morning prayer begins:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.
Without confession, is grace even possible?
Jesus told a story, recorded in Luke 18, of two people praying in the Temple, with one being more Lasso-like than the other. The arrogant Pharisee introduced in Jesus' parable shows up again and again throughout religious history. "Thank God I'm not like that other person over there," we say. We reject the other because they hold different political views or have failed to live up to standards we deem essential. This is anti-confession, leading to anti-grace, and it shows up in the religious left just as surely as it does on the right.
A ways away, the paragon of the story, eyes downcast, carries the heavy burden of failure. He drums his chest in sorrow while confessing how he has lost his way, pleading for mercy. This man is a tax collector in the story Jesus tells, but like the Pharisee this person has a way of showing up with different names and job titles in every time and culture and place. If we look carefully, humility can be found everywhere around us--in confessional booths, in church basements and recovery centers where people meet to explore 12-steps toward healing, in psychotherapy rooms, in solitude, in religious rituals and ceremonies, and sometimes even in Emmy winning television shows.
I am drawn toward the raw humanity, the vulnerability, the humility of one who is bold enough to admit fault. It points toward the possibility of grace, and without grace about all I can feel is panic.