Thursday, August 25, 2011

True Imitation

probably not comparing the
same versions of the $5 bill
but you get the gist.
I work at a place where quite a bit of money changes hands on a daily basis. 
They call me the “money-mama.”  I’m the one responsible for making sure the employees can make change for a $100 bill on a $6 transaction first thing in the morning.  I’m the one who makes sure all the big bucks are accounted for at the end of the day, and I’m the one who gives those same big bucks a send-off to the bank vault on a daily basis.  If there is one thing I’ve learned from handling so many Benjamins, Grants, Jacksons, Hamiltons, Lincolns, and Washingtons, it’s this:

I can usually spot a counterfeit at first glance.
The authentic bills all have identical characteristics, such as color, feel, and size.  Yet they are all different.  Bills that have been in circulation for a while are more worn, some may be a bit faded, and some may have a birthday greeting or short grocery list written on them.  The brand new ones are very crisp, almost to the point of giving you a paper cut, like the brand new $5’s from the bank that no one in my office likes to count.  All the bills of the same denomination have the same value, whether they are old or new.  Side by side the bills appear the same, yet they are each unique in that they have their own distinct serial number. 
Unless you have a counterfeit.  (Why someone would go to the time and trouble just for a counterfeit $5 is hard for me to comprehend.  But I’ve seen them …) If you are not aware the $5 is a fake, you might flip when you find out it’s a phony and its value has vanished.  The bill is nothing more than an imitation.
But imitation is not always a bad thing.  Jesus told his disciples on several occasions to do what He did – make more disciples by teaching others what Jesus had taught them.  He even had a heart-to-heart with eleven of the twelve men that were with him at the Last Supper.  He made it clear to them how others would know that they were having an encounter with his disciples. 
“You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:34-35, CEV)

Keep in mind that John, James, Peter, and the other eight just spent three years following Jesus.  They had a pretty solid understanding of what brand of love Jesus was talking about.  But discipleship does not stop with the first bunch of followers somebody has.  These men had a job to do – they had to teach others, and teach them to teach others, and so on and so on.  The next generation did not necessarily see Jesus in action.  So Paul took the time to make it clear to the next group of up-and-coming disciples:
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Another follower of Jesus who lived centuries later, John Wesley, helps his generation, and future ones, by explaining it this way: 

“Be ye therefore followers - Imitators. Of God - In forgiving and loving. O how much more honourable and more happy, to be an imitator of God, than of Homer, Virgil, or Alexander the Great!” – (John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes)

John Wesley is not talking about Homer Simpson here.  He’s talking about great thinkers, philosophers, political leaders and military conquerors.  To put it in today’s terminology, God wants us to imitate the way He (and Jesus) loves and forgives others.  Imitating God is honorable – more honorable than imitating world leaders, or athletes, or celebrities, or even other church leaders. 
Of course, you don’t want to be called out as a phony follower.  That’s where the practice of discipleship comes in.  Find a mentor – someone who is a living imitation of Christ, who learned from a mentor who himself/herself is an imitation of Christ – and learn how to imitate them.  But don’t let it stop there.  Teach someone else how to imitate the One you are striving to imitate. 

I’ll close with this story.  It goes with what I’ve been talking about, sort of.  At least I think it is amusing …
When I was in my early 20's I was invited to my best friend’s house for a small dinner party. It was her first apartment, and she was excited about cooking for company, and all that. She decided to cook Roast Beef for her guests. As I was helping her prepare the meal, something about the way she prepared the roast caught my attention. I asked her, “Aren’t you supposed to cut the ends off?”

“What?” she asked.

I repeated the question. “Aren’t you supposed to cut the ends off the roast beef?  My mom always does.”

“Why would she do that?” She looked at me as though I was a crazy person, more so than the usual "Mary, you're crazy" look. Since I've never really been a kitchen person I did not have an answer to that, and just let her continue what she was doing.

The next time my mom cooked a roast, I asked her why she cuts the ends off when she prepares it. “Well, that’s the way your Nana did it. I learned it from her.”
The next time I was at my grandmother's place I decided to get the answer once and for all to this deepest ponder of my life.  “Nana, when you used to cook roast beef, why did you always cut the ends off?  Was it to make it more tender, or to cook more evenly?”

Nana put her hand on top of mine and smiled at me. “Honey, it’s because the pan wasn’t big enough!” 

And such is the Coble School of Cooking.  The best, being imitated by the best of what's left.

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