Christianity on the Small Screen: Parks and Recreation

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/24/Parks_and_recreation_season_1_cast.jpgMy favorite comedy of all time is without a doubt NBC’s The Office. I have watched the series multiple times and have offered my own reflections on the show (see here). The Office is unique in television comedy. It is filmed in a documentary-style mocking modern reality television. Its writing is rich, its characters are fantastic, its casting is perfect, and its humor is unique. Repeatedly, friends recommended another NBC show, Parks and Recreation, starring Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones (from The Office), Aziz Ansari, Paul Schneider, Rob Lowe, Adam Scott, and Chris Pratt as a show similar to The Office.

Like The Office, the show is filmed like a documentary. Though Parks and Rec take less advantage of this than its predesessor, the characters frequently speak directly to the camera and utilize the traditional “interviews.” The Office is a show centered on a private company, Dunder Mifflin (a paper company) whereas Parks and Rec (as the name suggests) centers itself in the realm of government. It is here we find the unifying story of the show. Where The Office was a story about acceptance, Parks and Rec is a story about the utility (or better futility) of the state.

Without knowing the writers personally, one could assume a show written in Hollywood about local government is likely produced by progressives who favor government involvement. Yet what NBC offers viewers is largely the opposite: a show about the incompetence of the state.

To begin, every character, apart from its main character Leslie Knope, see their government work as a means to an end. Ron Swanson, the best character on the show, only works for the government as a sort of libertarian mole. His ultimately goal is to gut the beast from the inside. By the final season, we find him working in the private sector still waging his personal war against bloated government.

Tom Haverford, whose job at the parks department remained a real mystery to me for the first five seasons, sees government as a means to business success. In one episode, Tom openly confesses that the motivating factor of entering public work was for the business connections. For several seasons the viewer is inundated with his business ideas most of which are for comedic relief. At one point, Haverford opens his own business only to see it predictably flop which proves to be a turning point for his character. Eventually he matures and becomes a successful (though arrogant) business man. Even then, his restaurant business is launched off the back of the Pawnee Unity Concert. Again, if it were not for his connections with government (the means), Haverford would never have found entrepreneur success (the ends).

Ann Perkins, a nurse by trade also sees government work as a means to an ends. We are introduced to her at the beginning of the series. She wants to turn the land behind her house into a park and works closely with the parks department to accomplish just that. By the sixth season she moves away pregnant. As a final act of friendship, Leslie Knope officially breaks ground (five years later!) on the park (the ends) behind her old house. More than that, government was a means to friendship. Thus for Perkins, the state is the means by which both a park she wants and a friend (and later her future husband Chris Traeger) she needs.

April Ludgate, the young cynical millenial who outwardly hates everything and everyone, is no different than the other characters. We discover she began working at the parks department as an intern and eventually was hired full time. Ron Swanson appreciates her pessimistic attitude about work in general, which he interprets to be government work in particular. Of all the characters, hers has one of the more interesting arcs. Slowly she comes out of her shell and reveals her guarded self. Yet what we discover is that government work is the means to bringing her to that maturity. Though she began as a bored intern, she slowly works her way up (to her great regret). When she becomes the Deputy Director of Animal Control, her character really begins to reform. Thus it is in government she finds her true calling and her true love (Andy Dwyer).

Finally, we come to the main character, Leslie Knope. She alone does not see government as a means to an end but as the ends itself. She is a true believer in state work and her idealism makes for great writing between her and Swanson’s libertarianism. Only Leslie believes in everything she does in the government and thus she is portrayed as a genuine fool. Even though Larry/Gary/Terry is loathed by the other employees as clueless and accident prone and Andy as a bumbling ignoramus, it is Leslie who does not realize she is the butt of her own joke. Her faith in government makes her foolish.

The evidence of her foolishness is overwhelming. First, it takes six seasons to break ground on a project introduced in the pilot episode. I recall at one point realizing that I had forgotten about that park. Apparently both the writers and the Pawnee government had too. Even when they “broke ground” it was in the middle of the night and in secret. Knope was eventually elected city councilwoman only to be recalled. Of the other members, she’s clearly the most qualified and the only one who takes it seriously. Yet it is her that is kicked out of office. She is passionate, yet alone in her passion. She is pushy to a fault and outside of her co-workers and friends, virtually everyone rejects her. Leslie Knope is the Michael Scott of Parks and Recreation. The difference is that Michael Scott knows he’s Michael Scott.

What is significant about all of this is what it says about government. One should assume that the writers, producers, and actors are largely progressives who believe in government intrusion, yet Parks and Recreation unfolds in comedic form why only fools would believe that. That is the irony of the show. The viewer finds themselves in agreement with Ron Swanson, not because they’re libertarians, but because governments like Pawnee (and your local, state, and federal government is far worse than Pawnee) are overgrown and wasteful.

The series finale did its best to turn thes hip around portraying everyone as having found success in and through government. We discover Larry/Gary/Terry remained mayor of Pawnee for life. Leslie and her husband served as high as President (which one do you think?) Even Mr. Swanson gets to enjoy the great outdoors by means of a federal job. Yet after seven seasons of government incompetance, the finale ended on a happy note, but we’re not buying what we’re selling.

In the end, I largely agree with the premise of the show which promotes the idea, to quote Reagan, that government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem. One wonders if the Leslie Knopes in DC or in your hometown will ever get the message? I doubt it, which is itself its own comedy, if it weren’t a real life tragedy.

 

Image Credit
For more:
Christianity on the Small Screen: LOST, Seasons 1-3
Christianity on the Small Screen: Prison Break – Part 1
Christianity on the Small Screen: Prison Break – Part 2
Christianity and the Small Screen: The West Wing
Christianity on the Small Screen: The Office (Updated)
Christianity on the Small Screen: The Office
Christianity and the Small Screen: “Smallville”
Christianity and the Small Screen: Fox’s “House, M. D.”
Christianity and the Small Screen: NBC’s “Crisis”
Christianity and the Small Screen: FBI Files
Christianity on the Small Screen: Parks and Recreation
Saying Shibboleth

Speeches That Launched American Presidencies

I was recently listening to a fascinating conversation between Bill Kristol and Steven Hayward on Ronald Reagan and the conservative movement (you can watch that conversation here). In the middle of that conversation, Hayward suggests there were 4 great political speeches that launched a candidate to the White House (one failed to win the White House). Those candidates were Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Ronald Reagain, and Barack Obama. I found the idea a fascinating one and want to pass along the four speeches that launched these four men to the executive branch.

Abraham Lincoln – Cooper Union (February 27, 1860)

William Jennings Bryan – Cross of God (July 9, 1896)

Ronald Reagan – A Time for Choosing (October 27, 1964)

Barack Obama – 2004 Democratic National Convention (
July 27, 2004)

"Crippled America" by Donald Trump: A Review

My religious values were instilled in me by my mother. The first church I belonged to was the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens. I went there every Sunday for Bible class. The church had a strong influence on me. later I went to Reverend Norman Vincent Peale’s Marble Collegiate Church when I was in New York, and joined Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida.

Reverend Peale was the type of minister that I liked, and I liked him personally as well. I especially loved his sermons. He would instill a very positive feeling about God that also made me feel positive about myself. I would literally leave that church feeling like I could listen to another three sermons.

I learned a lot from Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the classic The Power Of Positive Thinking.

I think people are shocked when they find out that I am a Christian, that I am a religious person. They see me with all the surroundings of wealth so they sometimes don’t associate that with being religious. That’s not accurate. I go to church, I love God, and I love having a relationship with Him.

I’ve said it before – I think the Bible is the most important book ever written- not even close. (130)

Donald Trump is officially the President of the United States of America. That is still odd to me. I did not support him or his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, he is our President and thus as I have done with his predecessors, I have invested in his writings to better understand his worldview and politics. Therefore, I picked up his campaign book Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again.

The book seeks to lay out for voters where Trump stands on the pressing issues of the campaign. He tackles issues like immigration, the economy, health care, education, law and order, energy, taxes, and the media. It is this last topic that, unsurprising to those who followed the campaign and the transition, that receives the most ink. Of the seventeen chapters, Trump dedicates two to the subject of media bias and unfairness. Although I am sympathetic to his complaints, Trump does go overboard on the issue. I do not believe the Right should continue to accept unfairness from the press, yet Trump’s approach of pettiness and whininess is unbecoming of the office of the President. Of all the pressing issues of our days, media bias does not rank at the top.

Nevertheless, the reader is given an important insight into how Trump uses the media for his advantage. For those who have observed the dance between Trump and the press, one will discover that the press seem oblivious as to how to cover him and Trump seems to enjoy playing them for fools. That is precisely Trump’s game. Early on in the book, Trump writes:

I don’t mind being attacked. I use the media the way the media uses me – to attract attention. Once I have that attention, it’s up to me to use it to my advantage. I learned a long time ago that if you’re not afraid to be outspoken, the media will write about you or beg you to come on their shows. If you do things a little differently, if you say outrageous things and fight back, they love you. So sometimes I make outrageous comments and give them what they want — viewers and readers — in order to make a point. I’m a businessman with a brand to sell. . . . But now I am sing those talents, honed through years of tremendous success, to inspire people to think that our country can get better and be great again and that we can turn things around. (10-11)

That, in a nutshell, is why Trump refuses to surrender his Twitter account. Within 140 characters, Trump is able to take the media on a wild ride that he controls. What is most fascinating is Trump’s openness about this and the media’s ignorance of it. Over and over again they treat Trump like he is just another politician, but he is not. He does things differently and will treat them differently.

Beyond this, however, the book articulates Trump’s view on the state of the world, politics, the country, and why he is running for President. The same bravado we’ve come to love or hate (depending on your position) is found throughout each page. No one has ever claimed Trump lacked confidence. However, even if one disagrees with Trump’s policies or personality, one must admit there is a clear vision for America here. Trump may not be a details man (he practically says as much in the book when he explains how he has always hired the best and let them do their jobs with supervision), but he has a clear idea of what the country should do and believes he is the man to do it. During the campaign, Trump was distracted with insults and the rest, yet here, we return to teleprompter Trump who manages to finish a sentence without completely tearing someone down (though he does do that).

One of Trump’s strategies here is to defend his conservative bonefides. Though I am not convinced Trump is a conservative or even thinks like one, no doubt his conclusions on many issues are conservative-esque. He writes:

Let’s review the conservative scorecard and check my grades:

Affordable health care? Here’s my word – and I never go back on my word: Obamacare needs to be repealed ASAP – and replaced with something far better.

Immigration reform? Has anybody been more of a leader on this issue than me? my plan is simple: We build a wall and take back control of our country. massive law enforcement on the borders. Legal immigrants should speak or learn English; without it they can never assimilate.

Anchor babies? They’re here for one day and the child is entitled to a lifetime of benefits when others have spent a lifetime, or their lives, earning them. This needs to end!

The Iran deal? Iran cannot be allowed to build a nuclear weapon. That’s not a threat. It’s a statement of fact. Our allies and foes alike should take heed.

The Second Amendment? I believe the rights of law-abiding gun owners must be fully protected.

Defense of religious freedom? I believe religious freedom is the most fundamental constitutional right we have and must be protected.

Fix our broken tax system? There is no politician who understands our tax system like I do. It has to be changed to make it fair for all Americans—and simplified.

I am a strong, proud conservative. The biggest difference between me and all the do-nothing politicians who are all talk, no action? Those people constantly claiming they are more conservative than anyone else? I don’t talk about things, I get things done.

I am standing up for this country because our so-called leaders haven’t been able to. So the next time someone questions my conservative credentials, show them this list! (99-100)

And with this, Trump was able to win the hearts of conservatives without having to honestly deal with his womanizing and assassination of character.

On a whole, the book is Trump. It reads like a Trump speech. Of all the campaign books I have read, this is one that is likely less edited by campaign staff and publishers. Yet that is part of Trump’s appeal: authenticity. We shall see how far it gets him in the executive branch. In the end though, he has told us who he is, at least politically, in this book. Nothing so far has been a surprise.

Living As a Christian in a Trump Administration

Donald Trump is officially the President of the United States. Typing that still seems unreal and unbelievable. As we explore the early days of his administration let us explore how a Christian ought to approach the Trump administration.

1. Preach the Gospel

The most important work we can be engage in advancing the Kingdom of God by preaching the gospel of Christ. This is our highest calling and all that follows flows from this.

We serve our community and nation best when we love our God the most. Faithful to the gospel is, I believe, the only hope for our great nation. President Trump, like all his predecessors, is a poor savior. He will fail to deliver on all of his campaign promises. Christ, however, is forever faithful and calls on us to walk in the light as he is the Light.

As such let us continue the work of the gospel. Who occupies the nation’s highest office has no effect on the mission of the church as the history of the church and present spread of Christianity even in hostile nations proves. In order to do so we must learn to not confuse the gospel with Republicanism, Trumpism, or Americanism. Let the gospel be saturated with Jesus and Jesus alone. He alone saves.

2. Pray for Our Elected Leaders

Regardless of who our leaders are, we are commanded to pray for them. Scripture is clear to this regard. Both Peter and Paul encourage their Christian audience to make supplication for Caesar even though he was one of the most godless, vile, and violent men of his day. Furthermore, it was this Caesar, Nero, who (according to tradition) had both apostles executed and other Christians tortured and killed on false pretenses. Regardless of what you may judge about President Trump, he is no Nero and Scripture demands we pray for him.

One of the best models I have come across in this regard comes from the pen of Martin Luther. In his book A Simple Way to Pray, he models a prayer by which we pray (1) for the salvation of the lost, (2) the protection of the innocent, and (3) the judgment of the wicked. Such a prayer reminds us of the role the church plays in society and the important role the state plays. God does use the state to protect the innocent and to judge the wicked and thus let us pray that God will grant our elected officials the wisdom necessary to fulfill their office.

One helpful ministry in this regard is pray1tim2.org which allows you to pray for state and national leaders. You can search by your state.
 

3. Promote Gospel Justice

It remains too common for many Christians to presume they can take a break from advancing the gospel and gospel causes while “their candidate” is in office. From my perspective, Donald Trump is no representative of orthodox Christianity. Nevertheless, I fear that many will think we will have to work less in the broader culture because “our guy(s)” is in power. That is not the case.

It is not the responsibility of a politician to promote Christianity and its message but the church. No administration will be able to pull back the depravity of the culture of death or the confusion of our oversexualized culture or increasing darkness. The church must advance regardless of who sits behind the Resolute Desk.

The church must continue to promote a robust pro-life message that encompasses every stage of life from conception to burial. We must continue to model and promote gospel marriages. We must continue to defend and promote religious liberty for all and not just for us. We must continue to articulate our belief that everyone is made in the image of God including our neighbors, our enemies, the unborn, the immigrant, the prisoner, the poor, and the rest.

This work will require speaking prophetically to both the culture and to elected officials including the President. Trump is bombastic and lacks moral character. As such we must speak against any verbal or political abuse of others for our loyalty is with Christ not Republicanism.

4. Prepare For the End

Scripture exhorts believes to pray “Come Lord Jesus quickly!” Such a prayer, first, reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven. Certainly the command to love our neighbor compels us into the culture and the public square (see the previous point), ultimately we must remember that our hope does not lie here but in Christ.

Secondly, preparing for the imminent return of Christ draws us to greater holiness today. Faith that Christ is coming, and coming soon, is a hope with present realities. Let our lives reflect it.

Finally, being heavenly minded makes us earthly good contrary to what others may say. CS Lewis made this point brilliantly when he wrote in Mere Christianity:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in:” aim at earth and you will get neither.

So let us look to heaven so we can get earth thrown in.

Conclusion

Though I have made some initial predictions of what a Trump presidency will look like, our hope should never be in princes or presidents. Let our hope rest solely in Christ who reigns from the right hand of God the Father.

4 Predictions for the Trump Presidency

Not since incumbent President Harry S. Truman upset Thomas Dewey in the 1948 Presidential election has the American people, let alone the American press and pundits, been shocked by an election’s results. Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton is nothing short of astounding. From the beginning, the former Secretary of State was expected to waltz into the White House especially after the GOP chose a loose canon for their candidate. Yet it was not to be.

Donald J. Trump is the President-elect.

I have already offered a few initial thoughts on the election (you can read those here). I now want to consider a few predictions regarding the Trump administration. I confess I am not a prophet nor a son of a prophet, but I am confident some of these will come true.

1. The First 100 Days Could Be an Exciting Time for Conservatives Thanks to Obama

I have little confidence in politicians or elected officials – even outsiders like Donald Trump. The reason is rather simple. First, politics is a swamp (to use the term Trump used widely during the campaign). Secondly, the system is built to prevent change. Our founders developed a political system of checks and balances where one branch, theoretically at least, does not have more power than other, as a means to delay the increase of government. The problem with this is that it works against downsizing government. It has taken progressives a century to lead us where we are today, conservatives are foolish to believe Trump can clean out the swamp in 100 days. Thirdly, politicians and those in power are corrupt and there is, frankly, nothing in Trump’s character or past that suggests to me he is a man of integrity or humility.

Nevertheless, there is one major advantage Trump has on day 1. Much of Obama’s progressive agenda he implemented, especially after 2010 when Republicans won the House of Representatives, via executive order. Obama, one may remember, famously told Congress he didn’t need them because he had a pen in one hand and a phone in another. As a result, President Obama achieve very little legislatively. Beyond Obamacare, which will be extremely difficult to dismantle, what really passed? Thus on day 1 Trump can override a number of key Obama agenda items from immigration, to health care, to foreign policy, to national security, etc. This could make the first day exciting for conservatives.

Beyond that Trump may have some leeway during the first 100 days. Some, though not much. It is very likely he will appoint a new Supreme Court justice during that time. It is very possible he can take the first steps in initiating some of his key campaign promises. If he does these things, these first hundred days could be magical for conservatives much in the same way the first one hundred days of the Obama administration where wonderful for progressives eight years ago.

2. Trump Derangement Syndrome Will Be Far Worse Than Bush Derangement Syndrome

The eight years of the Bush administration were frustrating as a conservative American for the simple reason that the left, and their supporters in a liberal press, were on edge constantly. They loathed Bush and blamed him, literally for everything. Furthermore, they demonized Bush in unpatriotic ways. I will never forget how the left praised a movie about the assassination of the sitting president.

If the “fallout” of the 2016 election has shown us everything, from outlandish headlines to riots in the streets from snowflake college students, it is that Trump Derangement Syndrome will be far worse than it was during the Bush administration. The reaction has been so outlandish that many #NeverTrumpers, I are one mind you, are beginning to become more sympathetic to Trump and are more excited about the possibilities in a Trump presidency. Once again the left is overplaying its hand.

The difference between Bush and Trump in this regard should be obvious. Bush refuse to sully the office of the president – a position I continue to respect him for. Even his post-presidency is one that is admirable. Trump, however, is not wired that way. He is combative and values loyalty over everything. He will be constantly waging war against the American press and any detractors including those in his own party. Remember that Trump won, he believes, largely without the support of many in the Republican party. He also knows that the press did all that it could to stop him (after he got the nomination mind you).

I anticipate that the next four years will be an ugly four years on both sides and after a promising first few days and weeks, little will actually get accomplished domestically.

3. The Return of the Body Counts

Daily life during the Bush administration was the press’s daily updating of deaths in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I am not entirely against this though clearly it these reports had an agenda. However, once President Obama was elected, these reports, though still readily available, are not are prominent as they once were. When was the last time the press pressed the President on foreign policy in general and Afghanistan in particular? Iraq is a mess largely due to his decision to pull troops prematurely.

From my research Afghanistan was far bloodier for American troops during the Obama administration than the Bush administration. Between 2001 and 2008, 464 soldiers died with 2008 being the bloodiest with 153 American military lives lost (the least bloodiest was 2001 with 7 and 2007 with 11). During the Obama administration, from 2009-2014, 1,679 American military lives were lost. The bloodiest year was 2010 with 496 which is more than the entire Bush campaign and yet the American people were not inundated with these numbers the way they were during President George W. Bush’s administration.

Expect a return to the deluge of body counts the second President Trump decides to mobilize American troops overseas.

4. Trump Will Be Trump and this Will Hurt Republicans in the Midterms

Traditionally the party in power suffers in the midterm elections. Clinton suffered greatly in 2014 and Obama was “shellacked” (his word) in 2010. President Bush faired well in 2002 but was destroyed in 2006 when the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. Expect the same to happen to Republicans in 2018.

Even more than that though, Trump’s temperament will likely hurt him. If he spends more time warring against his own citizens and other politicians rather than moving the country forward, he will be decimated in the midterms and Republicans will blame him for it.

While now may be a glorious time to be a Republican, I believe it will quickly fade. That is the way of politics especially when you choose a man like Trump as your party’s standard bearer.

For more:
A Few Thoughts on the Election of Donald Trump

Doug Wilson on the Election Aftermath