The Gospel According to Leslie Knope: Local Love

One of my favorite television shows is Parks and Recreation. Filmed in "mockumentary" style, the show follows the local government of fictional Pawnee, Indiana. Amy Poehler plays Leslie Knope, an employee in the Parks and Recreation department with big political dreams. She has framed photos of Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, and other female leaders in her office for inspiration. She has an undeniable crush on Vice President Joe Biden. She drives everyone mad with her enthusiasm, yet her co-workers can't help but love her.

If there were one sentence to summarize Leslie Knope, it would be the following:

She LOVES Pawnee, Indiana.

It's insufficient to write, "She loves Pawnee, Indiana," or "She LOVES Pawnee, Indiana," or "She loves Pawnee, Indiana." Leslie's love for Pawnee requires all caps, bold, and italics. In fact, an increase in font size is necessary, too.

Leslie Knope LOVES Pawnee, Indiana.

In the season 5 premiere, Leslie has achieved one of her lifelong dreams of election to city office. She is now a councilwoman with a list of ideas to improve her town. The first is to clean up the Pawnee River. On a trip to  Washington, D.C., she attempts to apply for grants for the project but quickly learns that DC's federal government is a different ballgame from Pawnee's local government. Discouraged, she returns home. She wonders how a project as big as cleaning the local river will ever get done. Her friend, Andy, who shines shoes at city hall, gives her a pep talk. Leslie perks up again, and the reason is obvious. She loves her town, and she wants to make it better. Leslie Knope says "nope" to discouragement and finds another way to clean the river.

At the end of the episode, she stands with Andy beside the Pawnee River for a "press conference:" a dozen people, two with cameras, and one with a tape recorder. Leslie announces that things move slowly in Washington, and she won't wait around. Every Saturday from 8AM until 10AM, she will clean the Pawnee River herself. She invites anyone and everyone to join her. Clad in knee-high mud boots and her spirit of determination, Leslie shows her town in her actions how much she cares. The dozen onlookers applaud and follow her into the river.

So which one is greater, the one who is seated at the table or the one who serves at the table? Isn’t it the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
— Luke 22:27 (Common English Bible)

I love the way Jesus talks about leadership: beginning not with power but with service. Change began on the Pawnee River not because Leslie met with a powerhouse in Washington, D.C. Progress started when she stepped into the mud and invited everyone else to join her. She was not putting on a show. She acted out of love for her community.

As we near Holy Week, many of us will attend worship services that recount Jesus' taking the form of a suffering servant. We'll remember how he washed smelly feet. We'll remember that a heavenly king chooses a crown of thorns over gold. We'll remember that he serves a holy meal to a community that turns its back on him. As he teaches the disciples at that meal many years ago, he teaches us today: love one another. View one another in an attitude of humble service. Look for the rivers that need cleaning--and then go clean them.

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian