I knew that my oldest daughter was going to be an educator when she came home from school one afternoon and announced that she wanted a pair of red canvas tennis shoes “like Mrs. Hall’s.” Mrs. Hall was her fourth grade teacher. She idolized Mrs. Hall. When we asked her how her day at school went she would begin by telling us something that Mrs. Hall said or did. Often we would hear “teaching” her dolls when she thought no one was listening or noticing. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Mrs. Hall should have been quite flattered.
Imitation is defined as copying the actions, mannerisms, appearance or speech of another, to mimic. At some point in our lives, we all imitate someone or even several “someones.” Often this is done unconsciously. Sometimes it is done consciously. It is through imitation that we “try on” different personas. We learn how to act and even think. Boys often imitate their father, older brother or uncle in the early years and perhaps a coach as they grow older. Girls mimic their mother or sister or aunt, teacher or coach. If the person being imitated realizes what is going on, they may become an intentional mentor, showing their young protege “the ropes.”
We learn through imitation. Imitation is how we figure out who we are or who we are not. Slowly we find ourselves being changed, transformed, shaped into the individual we are today. This is true of each and every one of us. Charles Barkley’s protests aside, Johnathan Vilma hit the nail on the head when he said that whether we like it or not, “we are role models.” Someone is always watching us, studying us, judging how we measure up. It may be that we do not measure up. In that case, let’s hope that if we can’t be a good example then we’ll be a good warning!
In his first letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul encouraged the community to “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” 11:1) Paul was not being arrogant, though many read his comment as such. He simply knew that following Jesus was not easy. Jesus cut a “new path”, a difficult path.Jesus said things like, “Whoever would be my disciple must pick up the cross and follow me” and “Whoever wishes to save their life, will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake and the Gospel’s will find it.” The Corinthian community had to learn how to follow Christ and to see the world differently. They had to learn not only what Godly love was but to live that love with each other as well as their enemies.
If we could all be a “Mrs. Hall” in our Christian discipleship the world would be more like the peaceable kingdom that the prophet Isaiah saw centuries ago. And each one of us would be a living glimpse of grace.