By Michael E. Brooks
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Khulna Bible College has a beautiful Myna bird named Tutu who has a pretty good vocabulary of Bengali words and common sounds. He can mimic the telephone on the wall above him, or any of several mobile phone ring tones that he hears frequently. He answers the phone (“Hello”), calls for rice (“Bhat”), and says he wants to eat (“Kabbo”). He even makes the sound of an ambulance’s siren. But there is one thing Tutu cannot do. He cannot tell when it is appropriate to say a particular word or make a certain sound. He does not understand what he is saying. He is merely imitating.
Unfortunately some people are like Tutu. They copy the behavior of others, whether they really understand what they are doing or not. An old story is told of a young housewife, baking her first Christmas ham. She prepared it for the oven, cutting the shank bone as she did so. Her husband seeing this asked, “why did you cut the ham into two pieces? ” “I don’t know” was her reply. “This is the way my mother always cooks a ham.” Her husband suggested calling her mother and asking why it was done. The mother answered the same way her daughter had; “That is the way my mother always cooks a ham”. So the young husband said, “Let’s call Grandma.” They did and finally got the answer; “My pan was too small for the whole ham, so I had to cut it in two.”
Frequently there are good practical reasons underlying a custom or practice. Things are done because it makes sense to do it that way, or because it is the only feasible course of action. But circumstances and conditions change. There is no intrinsic value in cutting a ham in two sections to bake it, but if one’s pan is small, it is fine to do it that way. But imitating Grandma without knowledge of why a thing was done leads to unnecessary effort at best.
Some imitation is far worse. I have long observed that in developing countries the most copied and desired features of Western technology and culture are often the least desirable. Immoral entertainment, indecent dress, greed and materialism are rapidly increasing, whereas other more beneficial features are ignored. Imitation of good examples is to be desired. Imitation of corruption and wickedness is destructive.
A bird can copy what he sees and hears, but he cannot distinguish between the useful and the harmful. Our mimicry must be more selective. Paul teaches us to imitate him, as and only as, he imitates Christ. Observe what is good and useful (Philipians 4:8) and do those things. Our actions should reflect conscious decisions based on understanding of why a thing is good, and appropriation of the good conduct witnessed in others.
Imitation is good, when we know what we’re doing.