The Art Of Imitation
Imitation is fun.
At least, it is for my 3 and 6-year-old daughters who love to play Elsa and Anna from Disney’s Frozen. ‘Let it go, let it go...’ is the constant cry. ‘Well, if I must’, I think to myself as I imagine standing at the recycle bin with DVD in hand, but I digress.
Imitation is also normal. Not only what I do, but also how I do it has been shaped, in large part, by others.
Imitation, however, can be dangerous.
We live in a fallen world where value and status are often attached to things like education, wealth, glamour, and power. The pursuit of these things as ultimate invariably leads to a rejection of God, destruction of community and dominance over others. To imitate our first parents, Adam and Eve, is to reject God and destroy any possibility of real unity, fellowship and community.
Being a Christian - living in a manner worthy of the gospel - doesn’t mean giving up imitation, but adopting new models to imitate. Jesus is first and foremost our Lord and Saviour (Philippians 2: 11; 3: 20). Yet his riches to rags story of becoming a man and dying on a cross also provides us with an example of humility and obedience to follow. Though he enjoyed all the privileges and power that come from being equal with God, Jesus refused to use these privileges for selfish ends. Instead he chose to lay aside his rights, to serve rather than be served, and to give up his life so that we might have life to the full (Philippians 2: 6-8; Mark 10: 45; John 10: 10). The call to have the mind of Christ – to imitate his attitude - means nothing less than being humble, united, loving, and willing to put the interests of others ahead of our own (Philippians 2: 2-4).
What if we imitated Jesus with the kind of enthusiasm and simplicity a child imitates their favourite Disney character?
Not in the sense of imitating his saving work, we’re never called to do that, but in the Philippians 2 sense of adopting his attitude. I admit the idea might seem too childish for some. While others might wonder, ‘Isn’t pretending to be something you’re not pointless, if not outright dangerous?’ Well, possibly, but not necessarily.
C. S. Lewis once pointed out that…
‘there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.
That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grownups—playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest. Now, the moment you realise ‘Here I am, dressing up as Christ,’ it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretence could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality. You will find several things going on in your mind which would not be going there if you were really a son of God. Well, stop them. Or you may realise that, instead of saying your prayers, you ought to be downstairs writing a letter, or helping your wife to wash-up. Well, go and do it.’
Ironically, imitating Jesus with the enthusiasm and simplicity of a child just might help us grow up and live in a manner worthy of the gospel.