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Tag Archives: occasional series

The Gospel of Pawnee: Theology of Parks and Recreation

This past week, my favorite television concluded its run.  “Parks and Recreation” has survived for seven seasons on network television–a staggering feat in an increasingly cookie-cutter landscape of multi-camera sitcoms, crime procedurals, and shows about doctors being very bad at medicine.

In the midst of all these things, Parks and Rec managed to stake out ground all by itself–optimistic, but not delusional; romantic, but not twee; quirky, but not so meta that you felt it should have a beard and hipster glasses.  And most of all, genuinely funny.

There’s nothing overtly religious about the show.  (Well, that’s not entirely true–there is a cult called the Reasonablists, who believe the world will end when a giant lizard god named Zorp comes to eat the planet.  As you do.)  But the world and point of view of the show is incredibly strong, which is a gift when pop culture so influential on how and what we think.

I discovered the show about halfway through the second season.  I knew I was sold during the hunting trip episode, when Leslie takes the blame for accidentally shooting her boss, Ron Swanson, in the head.  She’s questioned by the local ranger, who has decided that this accident was inevitable, because of course, women are so easily distracted that they’re prone to shooting people. Leslie sort of frowns, and goes off on a spiel of sarcastic reasons why she shot Ron, all based on sexist stereotypes.  “I just get emotional when I don’t have a boyfriend and I feel like shooting something!  I think I saw some chocolate? I’m bad at math, good at tolerating pain, and bad at concentrating.”

It was hilarious, but most of all, it introduced Leslie as someone who was passionate about lots of things most people on TV aren’t passionate about:  women’s rights, the positive role of government, public policy, the minute details of pretty much everything.  And while Leslie’s passion and intensity was frequently presented as intimidating to others, it was never presented as a psychosis or something she needed to lessen.  It was the source of her strength.  In Leslie, we had a role model for how to be passionate and effective, in the middle of a system that was confused by your presence.

Meanwhile, while Leslie sees the glories of government, one of her dearest friends is an avowed libertarian, who works for the city expressly to stop its functioning.  Eventually, her team comes to include a failed teen mayor, a misanthropic intern, a possibly-brain-damaged guy who lived in a pit, and a man who’s life’s ambition is to live inside a rap video.  These people are wildly different, with little in common.  Mostly, they’re a dysfunctional hodge-podge of Fail.  But when they unite around a common goal, each finds their own way to be effective.  Turns out, the libertarian boss was also a strong feminist.  The pit-living guy performed in a half-way decent rock band.  Over the course of the series, these odd people form a tight-knit community, based on their love and support of one another.

Which is probably the biggest thing I loved about Parks and Recreation.  The show presented a world in which the characters were motivated by love.  Despite its plethora of weird inhabitants, odd customs, atrocious history, etc, Leslie loves Pawnee like she would love a child.  Her passion for the town drives her decisions–even when the citizens are yelling at her (The frequent town hall meetings are a delight, just for the problems of the townspeople.  “I found a sandwich in one of your parks and I want to know why it didn’t have mayonnaise on it.” ) even when they make incredibly dumb choices, even when they eventually turn on her entirely.  All the characters do.  The show itself treats the characters with deep affection–even the wackiest of them.  Everyone has their quirks, but Pawnee is a place where odd ducks and weirdos are celebrated.  It was such a warm and affectionate world that gloried in the weirdness of its people.

I’m sorry to say goodbye.




Please please please let me tweet what I want

In my (extremely) occasional series on Preaching With Milliennials, I came across an article on ENS the other day. The writer speaks of going to a conference on the use of new technology to communicate in the business world, in which the conference leader undertook the Herculean task of explaining Twitter.

(I find this impressive. I recall once in seminary, when a colleague at the Church Center sat down at lunch and asked me to explain YouTube, and then, once I explained the concept, what one would do with such a thing. It’s a bit like explaining a screwdriver. It only works if you first have a concept of screws and their infinite uses.)

Anyway, the writer commented that this ‘following’ on Twitter, by which a user clicks a button, and signs up to read all the messages another user sends out, seems extremely shallow to her. By contrast, Jesus demands from us a more dedicated, engaged sense of following. The article is here, for your reading pleasure.

It’s not a bad article. Her point is well taken. Following Jesus should be more than skin deep, requires commitment, etc. Yes, good, fine, okay.

But it hits me sideways that she made that point by the Twitter-is-shallow-and-who-possibly-understands-it? route. The minute I found her on that particular road, I myself signaled for the nearest exit, and departed the caravan, however valid her eventual point.

Please, please, PLEASE do not bad-mouth technology. Just please don’t do it. I understand it can be off-putting, I understand it can be alienating, but you need to understand that for many of us, technology, and its rapid development has been a constant in our lives. Learning to use it is a constant curve.
Further, it makes about as much sense to me and most people I talk to, to disparage the Internet, or Twitter, in their entirety as it does to disparage wheels. Or levers. Or mechanized printing. (“Know what I can’t stand, Phineas? Damned interchangeable parts!” “Won’t someone think of the children!”) These things are tools, to be used in helpful or non-helpful ways. If you want to blame something, blame operator error.

For example: Twitter!
Some facts: Twitter users tend to be younger, less wealthy, and much more ethnically diverse (within the US). For over half of Twitter users surveyed, they access the service via cell phone.  And, globally, only 33% of Twitter account holders live in the US. (Twitter’s short-burst form of communication, since it is harder to pinpoint by government censors, has been credited with facilitating the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, etc.  During the Iranian Green Uprising in the spring of 2009, the US State Dept asked Twitter to delay server maintenance so that the protestors could continue to communicate.)  Turns out, there is actually a lot going on here that is far from shallow.

For my money, Jesus would be having a blast on Twitter. (Though, to be fair, @JesusOfNaz316 already is.) Jesus didn’t hole up in a cave, waiting for people to come to him. Jesus wandered around, from town to town, preaching, teaching, and healing, as did every other traveling famous rabbi of the day. He did what he had to to get his message out there: commented on current events, used rudimentary amplification, you name it. The method of transmission wasn’t a concern, because if the story you’re telling is that important, then you’ll do whatever you have to so people can listen.


Oh.  And I’m on Twitter.  Right here.