Of all the TV shows that are out in the stratosphere, Parks and Recreation is one of my all-time favorites. This has everything to do with the main character, Leslie Knope. If I’ve had a crummy day and need something to lift my spirits, all I have to do is watch an episode of Parks and Rec. By watching Leslie fight for what she believes is right, I come away feeling uplifted. I’m inspired to be like her and based on the fact that there are many “Be the Leslie Knope of whatever you do” memes all over the web, I know that many others feel the same. What’s makes this even easier is that Leslie Knope actually lives out many Biblical and Christian ideals — and she does this with passion and zeal. Here are ten ways that Leslie’s example has inspired me to be a better Catholic.
1. Encourage one another and build each other up. 1 Thess 5:11
One of the most endearing things about Leslie is the way she compliments people. The internet is full of gifs and memes of all the hilarious things she has said about her best friend Ann Perkins: “Ann, you beautiful, tropical fish,” and “Ann, you beautiful, naive, newborn baby,” and, “you rainbow-infused space unicorn.” Then there are also those loving things she says to her husband, Ben. Things like, “…I should listen to you always, because you are a man-genius with a taut, narrow frame…,” and “You’re like a ninja crossed with a Jedi or something,” as well as “he’s like a brilliant, sexy little hummingbird.”
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, St Paul reminds the community of the importance of affirmation. Affirming words from people that we love and trust are nourishing, and instill confidence. Leslie’s affirmations do exactly this for all those around her. If I’m called to help strengthen people within my own community, I might as well have some fun with the way I do it!
2. No greater love is there than this, than to lay down one’s life for a friend. John 15:13
Leslie never fails to put her own wants and needs on hold when it comes to the greater good. Isn’t this the definition of love? Putting the good of another before yourself? Leslie is constantly doing this. She runs out in the middle of her perm to make sure that those kids are able to pass their bill extending summer pool hours. Another time she missed a big presentation at the Indianapolis courthouse; Ann was too mortified to drive home after learning that Chris had dumped her the week before and she hadn’t realized it until just then. Leslie skipped the meeting and took her friend home, sharing embarrassing stories about herself along the way. Lastly, she was willing to support Ben in his dream job, even though it meant their relationship would have to continue long distance. As much as she wanted to be in the same city as Ben, she also wanted him to achieve his dreams. In these little ways, Leslie was laying down her life for her loved ones. As Catholics, this is how we are called to live. Not all of us will have to physically die for the sake of someone else, but everyday we do experience “white deaths”; death of our own wants and needs for the sake of others. Leslie makes doing so look fun.
3. Shine your light- don’t hide it. Mt 5:15
Just as this verse encourages, Leslie allows her light to shine for everyone to see. She is never anything but her passionate, driven self. Her dream is to make the world a better place and this is obvious in all her efforts. In fact, in one episode, the chief of police is willing to do a huge favor for the Parks Department because of Leslie’s goodness. When Ben asks the chief why, he replies, “Knope gets as many favors as she wants. She’s the kind of person who uses favors to help people.” The Chief knows this because Leslie doesn’t “hide” her light.
This same light that Leslie shows to her co-workers changes them. Ron, who hates big government, as well as most people, learns to love and care about others. His friendship with Leslie softens his heart. We see something similar happen with April. April begins her career in the Parks Department as an intern. She’s apathetic and unmotivated. Over time, her attitude changes too.
April begins to care more about her job… not because she enjoys the work, but because she feels a strong bond towards her coworkers. Her heart also softens because of the “light” of Leslie Knope. She starts to care, and demonstrates a lot passion – especially when it comes to Andy.
4. Anger and Apologizing. Eph 4:26
Just like the rest of us, Leslie makes her fair share of mistakes. She gets in fights (verbal and physical), sometimes she’s blindly stubborn to her own wants (which is usually something good for those around her), and she has a tendency to “steamroll” situations. No matter what her failure, in the end, Leslie always comes to her senses. She admits her faults and failings. She apologizes for the wrong she has done. She forgives people even when they don’t deserve it. Leslie always does the right thing.
5. Persistent Prayer
There are two stories in Scripture about persevering in prayer. One is The Persistent Friend, the other The Persistent Widow. In both circumstances, the person is granted their request only because of their persistence. The lesson Jesus taught through these parables was one of consistent prayer.Jesus makes it very clear that we are to approach God in prayer with an attitude of endurance. The ways in which Leslie pesters Ron, the City Councilmen, and Congress reminds me of the persistence we should all have in our prayer lives. Leslie certainly has this virtue perfected.
6. “Give the world the best you’ve got… anyway.” -Mother Teresa
There is a famous reflection entitled “Anyway” that is written on the walls of the children’s home that Mother Teresa founded in Calcutta. The premise is that, no matter what good you do, there are some people who will not like it, or you… but you should still do it anyway. One line from the poem make me think specifically of Leslie, “Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.” The version that hangs in my parents’ kitchen actually says, “Give the world the best you have and the world may kick you in the teeth. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.”
This seems to align very well with what happens to Leslie time and time again. Her community and constituents are often unaware and ungrateful of how much she does for them. They often complain about her, and sometimes this turns into harassment. She was even recalled as a City Councilwoman simply because many of the bills she presented (which all would have benefited the community) were unpopular.
7. When she knows what the right thing is to do, she never fails to do it. James 4:17
I hate confrontation. I hate having to be the only one to stand up and voice the truth. Leslie is really good at doing this. Now, in all fairness, I think that in this particular GIF, she’s actually referring to Ann’s decision to try and have a baby (Leslie wants her to wait for her soulmate). However, Leslie is always willing to take a stand for what she believes is right. A good example of this takes place during the recall election. The city council is considering barring the recently absorbed Eagletonians from voting in the recall election. Leslie embarks on a filibuster, trying to delay the Council’s vote on the matter long enough that it cannot take place. She starts the process thinking that these are potential votes for herself since she had a hand in saving their town from bankruptcy. However, halfway through the night, she learns that the Eagletonians plan on voting for someone else entirely, someone from their own hometown. Aware that this will probably negatively effect her own chances of keeping her seat on the city council, she continues the filibuster because she believes that every citizen should have a right to vote, regardless of who they intend to vote for.
The virtue of humility is very misunderstood. Most people tend to think that in order to be humble, you have to think less of yourself, or downplay your own gifts or talents, maybe even rebuke the compliments and affirmations of others. However, this is not the case. I think it was St Catherine of Sienna who said, “Humility is knowing who you are before God.” This means that we recognize the good things about ourselves, not in a prideful way, but with a grateful heart. Recognizing these gifts is part of letting our “light” shine. There is nothing wrong with admitting you are good at something, there is even virtue in it. Leslie is proud of herself and her accomplishments for all the right reasons.
9. Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you. Mt 5:44
Leslie’s number one enemy is the city of Eagleton. She thinks they are pompous and arrogant, and cant seem to forgive their poor treatment of her beloved Pawnee. She hates working with them, she hates going there, and she even was happy to hear that they were having money problems. Despite all of this, Leslie has a change of heart. Recognizing that they were in need of help, Leslie becomes instrumental in their rescue. As City Councilwoman, she works her magic through the system and absorbs Eagleton into the town of Pawnee. By adopting this city, they also take on a lot of their problems, but Pawnee is more financially stable and thus able to handle the difficulties. Leslie is kind of Christ-like in all this; she saves the very people who used to (and still kind of do) persecute her.
10. It is not good for man to be alone- valuing community. Gen 2:18
When God created human beings, he knew the importance of community. He made us in his image and likeness, and God himself is three persons. We need to belong. We need people to love, and people to be loved by. Leslie knows this. She is fiercely devoted to her friends. Any project on which she embarks, she has them working alongside her. And though her team would acknowledge that Leslie is the driving force, she is quick to acknowledge that she needs them. One such time occurs at the Gala the Parks Department was hosting to raise funds to build a park. Leslie had been called away for an emergency (something planned by her nemesis, Jeremy Jamm). It looked as though the gala wouldn’t be able to happen, but her team was able to do what seemed impossible. Leslie gives a heartfelt speech and says the following, “I’d like to thank my community, my friends. It’s a lesson I have learned over and over again, but it bears repeating. No one achieves anything alone.”
This is especially true when it comes to living a faithful life. We need the support and encouragement of our family, our friends and our community to support us through the difficulties of life. When their are others accompanying us on our journeys, our crosses seem lighter, our failures less painful, and our victories more glorious.
No matter what your life looks like right now, I think that Leslie is a great example of passion and perseverance, and we can all learn a little something from her. Just remember that you are the magnificent, opalescent muskox that you are. You have all the strengths. You can do anything.