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 even tells me about their camping trip. But, while I don’t enjoy the outdoors, I do love the popular NBC comedy 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 equals desserts. Chicken parmesan equals chicky-chicky-parm-parm,” I find myself laughing and falling in love with a tight-knit community living in a nowhere town.
Parks and Rec, which airs its final episode next week, 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 town they live in. In the process, they grow to love each other. This show has convinced me that the fictional location of Pawnee, Ind., is a town where I can belong. It celebrates the simple, and I’ve been absolutely hooked.
While Parks and Rec is worth watching purely because it is a delightful work of art and entertainment, I’ve been reminded of three things while watching the show: that places, longevity and community matter. As you finish the show or decide to watch it down the road, I encourage you to think about these takeaways.
Leslie Knope, the main female character, is radically committed to improving Pawnee. She is a proud citizen of her town and wants it to flourish and succeed. She will go to extreme 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 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.”
How can you 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 calls 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.
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 moved away, there is a barbecue place across the street that would have to find 10 new customers to make up for the loss of business.
We often talk about “gospel-goodbyes” at The Village. These treasured moments are opportunities to send people from our church to sink their roots in the soil of another place. But, for those who stay behind, Parks and Rec demonstrates that in order to truly be a citizen of a city, we must be committed to working, playing and partaking in 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.
James Davison Hunter, in his book To Change the World, argues that the way for Christian’s 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.
The parks department employees become a family. And it is a complete mess. But therein lies part of the beautiful reality that 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 breakfast 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 and 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. Christian’s are citizens of the kingdom, living as citizens in our cities. We are united to other believers in our church and in the world by the lordship of Christ and are united to our non-Christian neighbors by virtue of the love of Christ and in mutual concern for the welfare of our city.
So I 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.”