I asked, “Who did you imitate when you were young?” Some of the responses I received: Evil Knievel and Buddy Rich; Incredible Hulk; Batman, the Beach Boys, and Indiana Jones; my dad and grandfather, and Indiana Jones. You can probably guess that all the replies came from guys.
Who did I imitate? Well, I remember reading a grade-school version of the novel, Ivanhoe, and for weeks I ran around with a wooden sword and shield looking for a battle to fight. I also tried to talk my friends into jousting on bicycles but none of them read the same books as I did.
Also, I had a friend who built the coolest model airplanes, well-constructed, detailed, perfectly painted with an air brush. I wanted to build model airplanes just like him.
Cyndi and I were both first-born children, and we were the oldest of all our cousins, so we didn’t have any siblings to imitate. However, Cyndi remembers trying to get her hair to flip up like Patty Duke. If you know Cyndi, you know her hair wasn’t like that. When I was young I had my hair cut in a burr (as we called it in the 1960s) and I don’t know if it flipped.
I did try to imitate my Dad’s sense of humor when I was young. Well, he and I actually have quite different taste in humor, and we tell different types of jokes and laugh at different things, but what I learned from him was how it can be funnier to be the target of a joke, how it was often better to get caught in the middle of a prank than get clean away with it, and that sometimes it is best to sit down and keep your mouth shut.
Now, as a grown-up, one person I try to imitate is writer Natalie Goldberg. I like the way she weaves her spirituality (in her case, Zen Buddhism) among her stories so it all flows together and is very contagious. I want to write like her. I want to weave my spirituality (Jesus Christ) through my stories so that it feels natural and contagious.
What got me started on this question was reading Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (NIV). I liked the deliberate nature of imitating. It seemed more purposeful than, say, absorbing or inheriting the ways of God. The Message translation says it like this: “Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents”
One of our family markers is hooting. Cyndi and I hoot to get each other’s attention, and we used to do it to call the kids back from the playground. It started on the ski slopes when we needed to call to each other across a noisy place and none of us could whistle very well. And we still use it without even thinking about it to get each other’s attention. Those of you who’ve been with us at Taco Tuesday have seen how my head or Cyndi’s head snaps around searching the room whenever one of us hoots, even among that noisy crush of people.
Our niece Mier used to spend weekends with us when she was a pre-schooler, and she would walk down the hallway of our house searching for Cyndi, saying, “Hoot, hoot, Aunt Cyndi; hoot, hoot, Aunt Cyndi.” And now Kevin, our eight-year-old nephew who lives with us, has picked it up as well.
When our own kids were young they hooted to get our attention, but as they turned into teenagers it became an embarrassment and they decided they didn’t like it so much and tried to leave it behind. We’ll see what happens when they call their own kids. They may not hoot intentionally, but I’ll bet it will come out when they’re not thinking. It’ll come out of their subconscious.
Sometimes we deliberately imitate God as a conscious choice. Other times, imitation comes more from our subconscious. If we spend time with God reading His words, studying His ways, and learning His stories, we may absorb His character and behavior and end up imitating Him in our speech and actions. We live in grace and love instead of judgment and condemnation.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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