Lasso on Leadership

It’s been a busy few weeks of fixing people’s retic and a lot of time spent in the car driving between jobs. I have a range of podcasts I listen to spasmodically and this week I tuned in to Brene Brown to see what was going on there.

Curiously she had Jason Sudeikis on the show because of his part in the Apple TV, Ted Lasso comedy series. I had watched an episode and found it rather banal and a little silly. So I only listened to 10 minutes of the podcast before flipping to another one. But it got me curious. She was fawning over him like he was some kind of God figure! What did Brown see in Lasso? What on earth had this show to offer that I missed? I decided to give it another shot and I was so glad I did.

The storyline is quite simple. The husband and wife owners of a British football team divorce and she keeps the club, but she hates her ex husband so much that she makes it her goal to destroy the club, in part by hiring an American with no previous experience in soccer to be the new replacement coach.

Its a somewhat silly premise – which was why I stopped watching – but when I went back I found some great laughs, but also some valuable lessons on leadership.

Everyone hates Ted Lasso, the new coach. Chats of ‘wanker’ go round the stadium each day when the team plays. He is verbally assaulted with the same term as he walks the streets or goes out to dinner. But he cops it on the chin, doesn’t retaliate and chooses to see past the insults. He looks for ways to connect with the players who brutally dismiss him as a waste of space, but the only ally he finds is Nate, the awkward bag boy who gets continually bullied and harassed by the team. He recruits one lame loser and starts his work there.

Each day he brings his steely boss biscuits – and kindness – both gifts she is unsure how to respond to. But his relentless kindness wins her over. He refuses to be fased by her initial coldness and just keeps loving her. She buckles under the sheer weight of grace.

Lasso gets Nate to create a suggestion box. 90% of the suggestions involve telling him to go and do something unpleasant, but one states that the shower pressure is very bad and could be improved. He allows the insults to go thru to the keeper while the one genuine suggestion gets his attention and he fixes the problem. He puts love into action.

But Ted arrives in England carrying his own load – his marriage is all but over and he is devastated – a broken man himself. He presents almost like Ned Flanders, but his genuineness and love actually win over those who despised him and he begins to turn the team around.

I never did finish the podcast, but I guess Brown would have loved the rawness of the conversations Ted engaged in and gave permission for. He connected with both the powerful icy boss and the weak vulnerable bagboy and treated both with the same love and kindness, winning them over. He fostered a culture of honesty, vulnerability and optimism – Ted is incurably optimistic!

You could critique it for being a little bit lacking in depth and complexity, or you could tune in to the interactions between characters – the powerful and the insignificant and see how Lasso builds a community out of a disparate bunch of individuals. The man who loves to coach, but knows nothing of the sport, does such a wonderful job of team building that the end results are almost insignificant. Lasso began by stating that wining wasn’t his goal, much to the consternation of his co-corkers and the team’s supporters, but I guess his message would be that if you focus on team unity then winning will flow from that. Take that away and its an unlikely hope.

I loved Ted Lasso’s boundless optimism, resilience and occasional rants. I loved seeing his team form and old enemies put down their weapons as they learnt new ways of relating. Ted helped them become better human beings – not just better football players.

Lasso was a leader but not recognised as one by those who only had one lens to look thru. He chose humility and serving and although his method was considered weak he ended up getting the results while also developing the people.

Its on Apple TV and well worth a binge watch 🙂

Christians Like Us?

If you are an SBS fan as I am then you will have seen the recent doco / reality TV series Christians Like Us, where 10 Christians from diverse backgrounds are thrown together in a house for one week, while being peppered with hot potato contemporary issues and having to grapple with one another’s theology, biases and prejudices.

It was always going to be a tough gig. Amongst the participants were Steve – abused repeatedly by the church he grew up in, Chris, the ex-Baptist who is the gay Christian on board. He shares his experiences of ‘gay conversion therapy’ and eventually coming to the conclusion that he is gay and Christian. Jo, the Catholic may have been given a raw deal by the editors, but she comes across as endlessly pompous and dismissive of the conservatives in the room. A surprise starter for many of us would have been Hannah, the Mormon, who in her words feels like she ‘just wants to follow Jesus, so why can’t people see me as much a Christian as them?’ Tiffany the ‘progressive Anglican’ priest on board finishes the show by declaring her belief that Hannah is actually a Christian and apologises for her harsh judgment of her.

There is also Assumpta, the Hindu converted to Christ and now a conservative (Sydney) Anglican, Daniel the young Coptic Orthodox, Steve the youthful Asian pentecostal pastor, Marty the charismatic pastor and charity worker and Carol, the Uniting Church elder and gynaecologist who ‘comes out’ in Episode two as a doctor responsible for performing abortions – generating another tough conversation.

Spoilers ahead – don’t read on if you want to watch it…

If there was a focus to the content of the show then it would have centred around the contemporary hot buttons of sexuality, abortion and child abuse. A large swathe of time was given to showing the participants engaging and debating (generally quite graciously) on these topics.

Of course any time there is a still raw and fragile abuse victim in the room that subject is always going to be tense. Steve appeared as honest, broken and struggling to find his way. A cameo by the motorcycle group ‘Longriders’ seemed to be the closest he would come to finding his way back into Christian community, however as the show ends, he has given this away and put his hope back into ‘family’. Steve’s story is beyond tragic and the damage done all too visible. What can you say to that? It must have taken some courage to step into the show, but whether it was good or bad for him, only time will tell.

The sexuality question was raised by having Chris present – another person for whom the struggle is still very real. The conversations were careful and cautious and it was clear he was on guard and in fight/flight mode in the early days of being there. As expected the house was divided on where homosexuality fitted in biblical Christianity. With card carrying ‘progressives’ and conservatives in the room there was never going to be agreement and at best there was a re-voicing of the positions we already knew. I didn’t think it was the most productive use of the time there.

I guess my ‘mob’ were the protestant conservatives, but I didn’t find myself feeling represented by any of them quite as I would have liked. Probably the closest to me would have been Assumpta – yeah a Sydney Anglican – who would hold similar theology, and who actually did a very good job of expressing it, but I also felt an affinity for Tiffany – the ‘progressive’ Anglican who was more open and easier going. The pentecostal guys represented their mob well, but they just aren’t my tribe – more culturally than theologically.

At the end of the day there was a lot of discussion around contentious, topical issues and less around Jesus and the shape our discipleship takes in the world as it is. Perhaps a large slab of our discipleship revolves around these social issues whether we like it or not, but I would have liked to hear more discussion between the participants around their take on Jesus and how he has shaped their lives.

And to be honest the Mormon girl got me thinking again. I understand that Mormon theology deviates from Orthodoxy in many ways, but if she is following Jesus as best she knows how, then where does that put her?

Ride Upon The Storm – Watch It!

Growing up in a pastor’s home brings with it all sorts of challenges and often our children are faced with expectations that are beyond those of any other kid their age. But imagine it was expected that (as a son anyway) you would not only choose to embrace your parents’ faith as your own, but that you would follow in their vocation.

That is the premise of a simply brilliant SBS series I have just finished watching. Ride Upon the Storm is a Danish series based around the life of the Krogh family. Johannes Krogh, a mid 50’s priest in the state church in Denmark is the central figure in the show and over the course of two seasons we are given an insight into the life of their family.

Johannes is a passionate man who seems to ‘believe’ the tenets of faith even if he struggles to put them into practice. His greatest flaw is his incendiary anger, flaring at the slightest issue and fighting dirty when he doesn’t get his way. He is a bully and a thug, but it isn’t who he wants to be. Add to this an element of philandering and a problem with alcohol and he becomes a very strong, but also very broken man – who in his own brokenness proceeds to destroy others.

The series opens with Johannes’ son, August wandering thru the family home and finding his grandfather praying passionately in tongues – not a Lutheran staple. He is confused and somewhat disturbed by this. Johann sees him peering into the room, grabs him and insists he ‘never speak of this’. It’s a family trait to never speak of hard things – which is why Johannes is so lost and why his family is in tatters around him. Early in episode 1 Johannes puts himself forward for the bishop’s role in his local area, only to be beaten by Monica. He is utterly devastated but again he will not speak of how he feels – he expresses it in other ways. As the series progresses and Johannes relationship with his sons implodes even further he even goes to the gym and pays a sparring partner to hit him ‘really hard – but not in the head’. He gets himself beaten up as a way of dealing with his anger and pain.

Spoiler alert – some of this may open the storyline up a little…

Johannes has two sons – August who decides to be an Army chaplain and Christian who cheats on his final university thesis and ends up quite lost. In a trip overseas Christian meets a Buddhist and he pursues Buddhism for a time much to Joannes disgust. August has the devastating experience of shooting an innocent woman in the heat of battle while overseas and he suffers dreadful PTSD (but he doesn’t speak of it or the killing). With all that baggage August finishes up pursuing a priesthood in one of the local churches where he finds himself questioning much of his faith, while Christian turns his Buddhist convictions into a profitable self help program – an irony he becomes aware of eventually.

The women in the show are victims of the inherited brokenness and their lives are destroyed by men who are unable to articulate their struggles and their darkness.

Alongside the family drama is the theme of how secularism is impacting on religion. The church Johannes serves is shrinking and those working in the church view their ‘jobs’ as just that – jobs. Johannes comments with disgust that ‘belief in God is no longer a prerequisite for entering ministry training. One of the disused church buildings in the area is put up for sale and despite strong and (very politically incorrect) protests from Johannes it is bought by Muslims. Although they too have their struggles with some of the Muslim characters clearly not buying into their faith as strongly as they may have previously. Christian’s homecoming after his ‘awakening’ thru Buddhism quickly translates into writing a book that sells well, that precipitates a company that specialises in self help and achieving your dreams. His Buddhist mentor observes and says words to the effect of ‘how very western of you – to take Buddhism and make it a commodity’.

Of course it is SBS so expect a lesbian affair between Johannes wife Elisabeth and another woman, as well as the question of how to manage gay marriage in a church context.

I loved this show for its gritty, realistic portrayal of a family destroyed by inherited expectations and generational demons. I appreciated the insight into how a ‘state’ run church functions and the shape of faith in the Scandanavian area. It wanes a little in the final few episodes but gets there in the end. If you don’t mind reading a TV show then give it a shot!

The Absence of Grace

Recently I was running out of stuff to watch on Netflix (serious first world problem…) so I decided to give Sons of Anarchy a go. I’d tried before but never got past the first episode. This time I did.

It began with curiosity and after a few episodes it started to lure me in as I got to know the characters and their relationships. After a couple of seasons I was intrigued to see where it would go, but not long after I found myself in ‘car wreck mode’. I knew I shouldn’t look any more but I couldn’t help myself. I had one season to go and I watched it to the bitter end – one of the longest, most drawn out and dissatisfying seasons of any show I have watched… and the final episode left me shaking my head in despair.

Only read on if you never plan to watch it – because I will spoil it for you.

Sons of Anarchy is at surface level about a fictional biker gang in a small town in the USA and how they live, interact with other gangs and do their thing – mostly gun running, prostitution and porn studios. Its a brutal world and the body count mounts with every episode.

But its also an intriguing depiction of the complexity and contradictions in the outlaw scene – a commitment to family and brotherhood, but an adherence to a ‘biker law’ that sees them even kill ‘family’ members who do the wrong thing. We see men frequently tell one another that they love each other, they kiss one another as acts of affection, but in a heartbeat they can turn and shoot that same person in the head.

One thing ‘Sons’ lacks is any portrayal of grace – forgiveness or redemption. Its a hard culture where ‘law’ rules, but eventually crushes those who seek to live by it. Sound familiar?

Thru all this the lead character Jax Teller is portrayed at times as some kind of Christ figure / saviour – leading the club out of gun running and crime and into legit business (porn… and prostitution).

The final episode sees Jax ‘give his life’ for the club as he drives in front of a truck after killing the last of his enemies and being tailed by 20 police cars. Before setting off on his ‘passion’ Jax is met by a curious homeless woman who pops up at various moments in the show. We don’t know exactly who she is, but she seems to be some sort of spiritual guide to him. When he leaves her the camera spends a long time paused on an image of what she was eating, stale bread and cheap red wine, arranged to look as much like a communion meal as possible – a last supper?

When Jax rides headlong into a truck the final image of the show is one of bread stained with wine on the road, as if to suggest he was the sacrifice and the saviour. Unfortunately it was a completely unbelievable scenario as the Jax of the previous 6 seasons was a brutal, vengeful tyrant – even if he did occasionally seem to wrestle with his demons. If he was intended to be a Christ figure then it was by someone who had little grasp of the real Jesus.

I don’t get affected much by brutality in TV, but you need a strong stomach for this show. I was more affected by the absence of hope and grace in a community that so desperately was trying to make things work. If nothing else Sons of Anarchy is a graphic depiction of where revenge takes you and its a very dark place…


Bright Lights and Bullshit

txf_logoI don’t know Ezereve, the woman who wrote this post, but I enjoyed reading her down to earth, open handed assessment of her experience with X Factor.

If you wonder what happens on these ‘talent’ shows then this report gives a good insight. Goodonya Ezereve for writing your real experience.


Confounded by Kindness

derek I began watching ‘Derek’ a few weeks back and wasn’t sure what to make of it as a show. To be fair it was late at night, I was tired and it looked a bit like Ricky Gervais was using his acidic humour to ridicule the disabled. But having watched a couple more episodes since I’ve seen how wrong I was.

There’s no question Gervais is a genius and can often use that ability to mock, but this series revealed a whole different side to his storytelling ability. The series is set in a nursing home for the elderly and ‘Derek’ is a simple 49 year old carer whose central quality is kindness. Derek cares, loves and enjoys people. He is innocent and naive and often the humour in the show is at his expense, but the redemptive aspect of this story is in the love that people have for Derek – because he doesn’t have a nasty side.

The final episode has the other characters saying they wish they had Derek’s life – because he is kind and isn’t encumbered by the cynicism and anger that the world breeds in us. I think the final episode caught many off guard with its moving portrayal of a death in the nursing home, as well as the reflective exploration of life’s bigger existential questions.

Its shot in “Office’ mockumentary style but is unusual both for the setting (an aged care facility) and for the use of someone like Derek as a central character.

I know I’m going to go back and download some more ‘Derek’ because I’m pretty sure there is much there to both laugh at, but also be inspired by.

If you’re offended by R rated humour and naughty words then Derek isn’t going to work for you, but if you can see past the surface and get a handle on what Gervais is doing then I imagine you will be pleasantly surprised.

Time of Our Lives

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This Sunday will be a bit sad in our household as there are no more episodes of Time of Our Lives, an Aussie drama that has been running for the last 13 weeks on the ABC and has become a weekly event for Danelle and I.

I watched the first episode and was underwhelmed – or maybe there was just too much going on for me to digest. But from week two we started to get to know the characters and their stories.

Time of Our Lives is essentially a drama based around the lives of predominantly middle aged suburbanites as they try to make sense of their relationships, vocations and families. What ends up happening for the most part is that they make a mess of their relationships and families and have some success in their vocations.

At times the story is a little clichéd, but for the most part it picks up on many of the issues we face in contemporary Oz society and tells the story around them.

One of the intriguing aspects of the show is that after 3 episodes there appear to be ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. Some characters – Matt, Caroline and even their spoilt little boy Carmody, seem to be easily dislikable, while others – Luce and Bernadette, never seem to miss a beat and are people I’d love to have round for dinner. However after 13 episodes I found myself liking all of them in different ways. Caroline is a broken woman – not a bad woman. Matt has failed in his marriage and is obsessed with work, but he wants to make things work. He isn’t the complete jerk he appeared to be early in the story.

It’s a reminder that most people are likable in some way if you get to know them and understand why they do what they do.

Justine Clark as Bernadette was my favourite – a beautiful, compassionate, but honest woman – reminded me a lot of my wife! Luce (Shane Jacobsen) was also totally likable – a down to earth, good bloke – and the episode that saw him reject the possibility of an affair with a younger woman was a good one. Steven Curry as Herb was a great character, an Aussie larrikin who finally gets the woman he wants, after having plenty of others throughout the show…

I’m hoping there will be a second series that will pick up on the next stage of each of the character’s lives and will give us more laughs and moments of going ‘hmmm…’





Last year I read The Slap while on holidays and found it both intriguing and gruelling. The makers of the series on ABC have done well to capture that same car crash sense of ‘This is terrible, but I want to keep watching’.

My friend Andrew Menzies posted this on his facebook wall – a comment he overheard:” ‘The Slap’ should be compulsory reading before refugees leave for Australia… It will certainly make them think twice as all the people are so awful!!”

There certainly isn’t much redemptive or hopeful in the story. There really is’t a single likable character and there are plenty of horribly dislikable ones. The secret of The Slap’s success, I would suggest, is that it is a very raw slice of reality and as we watch we see familiar people, feelings and responses. Tim Winton offers a slice of reality also in his novels but he writes in such a winsome way that the rawness has a beauty about it. In The Slap that rawness is ugly. Dog ugly. And I don’t think its a failure on the part of the author. I think he wants us to see how messed up some of our lives really are.

As Danelle and I watched it last week we saw the tragic story of Aisha and her screwed up life. A messy unhappy marriage held together by kids and convenience, a random affair as a result of pain, a husband (half) wanting to make amends for his infidelity and so it goes on. Maybe its just the world I observe, but it feels affrontingly real – very much like life in the suburbs of this city.

There are a few moments of hope and happiness amidst long periods of struggle and darkness, but they fade quickly and the dominant landscape is bleak, cold and conflict ridden. People have spoken of how harsh and vulgar the language is in the story, but as I observe the world we live in, its pretty much par for the course. Its just that we don’t hear that stuff regularly on TV.

To some degree The Slap evokes a deep sadness in me and on the other hand my response is to want to ‘slap’ the people for being such self centred morons. Perhaps at the core of this sad story is the inability of people to have relationships and resolve conflict in a healthy way, and maybe that is why it is so tragic. Take away relationships in this world and what do you have?

I’ve seen too much of ‘The Slap’ in the world around me to call it a caricature or an aberration. I’ve seen friends cut friends off in a heartbeat rather than resolve conflict. I’ve seen husbands play up, regret it but then do it again because they are miserable in their marriages and feel trapped. I’m sure you’ve seen it too.

The good news?…

There isn’t much in the story. But if you read this blog regularly you’d know there is good news and hope. You’d know there is someone who invites us to follow him and live in a different reality. I don’t think Jesus way is easy – not at all – but I find myself wanting to speak to the people in the story and ask ‘have you considered a different way?…’

And then again I just want to slap them back… And therein lies some of the struggle for us as missionaries in the west. To love those who don’t look very lovable is a challenge. If not for Jesus I don’t think we’d have a hope

Smashing Machine

Did anyone else stay up and watch the SBS doco entitled Smashing Machine, about the Ultimate fighting guys?

It was on last night and was quite a depiction of the lives of those involved in the sport. The bit that struck me most was how little these guys get paid.

The world championship bout in Japan netted the winner only $200000.00! If he were a boxer he’d be getting 50 million, but somehow these guys beat the crap out of each other for what I reckon is a pittance!!

I dunno Rev… Might stick to surfing…