Celebrating the Simple with Parks and Rec
I have a confession to make. I don’t love the great outdoors. I don’t get excited about traveling to a national park and hiking. I start sweating and itching when someone begins talking to me about their camping trip. But, while I don’t enjoy the outdoors, I do love Parks and Recreation.
Whether Ron Swanson is doing off the grid food reviews (“Dear frozen yogurt, you are the celery of desserts. Be ice cream, or be nothing…zero stars!”) or Tom Haverford is coining a new buzzword (“Zerts” = desserts or Chicken Parmesan = “chicky-chicky-parm-parm”), I find myself laughing and falling in love with a tight-knit community living in a nowhere town.
Why are we enamored with this show?
Parks and Recreation is a show about a group of co-workers that are united to one another by their desire to make something great out of the place they live. In the process, they grow to love one another. The show has convinced me that the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana — where the show takes place — is a place where I can belong. Parks and Rec celebrates the simple, and I am hooked.
If I never learned anything from Parks and Rec, it would be worth the watching, purely because it is delightful. But as I watch the show, I find that I am being reminded that places, longevity and community matter.
1. Places matter
Leslie Knope is radically committed to improving Pawnee for everyone. She is proud to be a citizen of her city and wants the city to flourish and succeed. She will go to radical lengths to use her small role in the parks department to take care of the community.
As Christians, we are called to make much of Jesus Christ by seeking the good of the place we inhabit. When we read Jeremiah 29:7 we hear God call his exiled people to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
Have you made time to imagine the way you could use the gifts God has given you to make your city a better place? Sink your roots down into the soil (dare I say, “soul”) of your city. Pray that if God ever called you to leave your community, that you would feel the loss.
If it doesn’t hurt when you leave, you never lived there at all.
2. Longevity matters
Do you plan to stay where you’re living long enough to be a “regular?” Ron, Tom, Leslie and the rest of the crew are always dropping in, heading out or running away to JJ’s Diner for some of JJ’s world-famous waffles.
Do you have a JJ’s? If you moved out of your city tomorrow, who would notice? Would your neighbors? Would the barista down the road? I know that if I left tomorrow there is a barbecue place across the street that would have to find ten customers to make up for the loss of business.
We often talk about “gospel goodbyes” here. These treasured moments are opportunities to send people from our church off to sink their roots in the soils of other places. But for those who stay behind, Parks and Rec demonstrates that to truly be a citizen of a city means to be committed to working, playing and partaking of the best of that city. At the same time, while we enjoy the best parts of our city, we work to see change in the worst parts of our city.
In his book To Change the World, James Davison Hunter argues that the way for Christians to change the world is to exercise “faithful presence.” Maybe the gospel is calling you to stay and be present. Maybe God wants to send you into the local HOA, PTA, arts community, book club, or community theatre.
3. Community matters
The parks department employees become a family. And it is a complete mess. But therein lies part of the beautiful reality, community is absolutely vital and completely messy. Who is Tom Haverford without his friend Ben Wyatt? Who is April Ludgate without the motherly care of Leslie Knope? Andy Dwyer without the mentoring of Ron Swanson would be like a meal without bacon.
In the Four Loves, C.S. Lewis helps us see that friendship actually “opens up” parts of a person that would never be brought to the surface apart from those relationships. From our lives, community pulls out strengths to be celebrated and weaknesses to be challenged. We love seeing character development in TV shows but often avoid pursuing what will develop us in real life.
While the gospel may call you to stay in one place for a long time, it certainly does not call you to stay there alone. Christians are citizens of the kingdom, living as citizens in their cities. They are united to other believers in their church and in the world by the Lordship of Christ and are united to their non-Christian neighbors by virtue of the love of Christ and in mutual concern for the welfare of their city.
So let me invite you to stay awhile. Enjoy the best of your city and work to change the worst. As Perd Hapley might say, “The story of this article is that place matters. And by place, I mean, wherever you live.”