“You probably don’t remember me—I was one of the “roadies”—the “stoned canyon road” bunch —-referring to a group who hung out on a road south of the high school to smoke cigarettes, and I suspect other things.
Shortly before I retired from teaching I received an unexpected letter from a woman who had been a student in my southern California high school U.S. History class over 20 years earlier. She wrote that she wanted me to know that she had married, raised a family, and then had gone back to college and was completing her degree to become a teacher. And she wrote to tell me that I was the teacher who had influenced her to go into teaching as a profession because she had never forgotten what I did and how I helped her and she wanted to do the same for others!
We often never know who are actions and words have influenced for good or for evil. In her case I am grateful for her letting me know but at a loss as to what I said or did that influenced her.
Human beings are imitators. Despite all of our insistence on our uniqueness and individualism at the present time—-we are imitators. That’s how we learn to talk–-we imitate our parents and others who take care of us and learn from them—-if they speak Spanish our language becomes Spanish, if Russian then our language is Russian. for most of us our language is English—that’s what our parents spoke and we imitated them! That is how we learned to talk! That is how we learned to walk––if for some strange reason our parents had walked around on both their hands and feet that’s the way we would walk!
We pattern our lives after those around us. We reflect them, their values, their ideas, their personal characteristics, etc. We are a reflection—an imitation—-of the significant people in our lives, unless we take intentional steps to be otherwise.
As we pattern our lives after those around us, it is rather scary to realize that those around us pattern their lives after us. Dad-–your children are watching and listening to you to find out what it means to be a Dad. What are your actions and words teaching your children. Mom–-your children are watching and listening to you to find out what it means to be a Mom. They will pattern their lives after you. What you say and do will be an indelible part of their life pattern. What are you teaching them?
- When we explode in anger at a motorist and give them the middle finger as you dangerous cut in front of them—-they are watching. They are learning how to drive.
- When we take time to take a homeless man and get him a meal at the local McDonalds—-they are watching. They are learning how to care.
- When we use “gutter language” your children are listening. They will pattern their language after us.
- When we tell our wife how much we love and care for her, our children are listening. They are learning about love and the language of love.
- When we share your feelings of hurt and cry over an injustice to someone, they are learning it is o.k. to cry if we or someone else is hurting.
There is a story that may or may not have happened, but it illustrates my point perfectly and I’m sure it could have happened: A police officer made a traffic stop of lady in a nice new car. He demanded to see her driver’s license and registration. When he returned to her car and handed them back, the lady said indignantly: “Why did you stop me? I wasn’t speeding. I didn’t go through any red lights! The officer replied: “No you didn’t do any of those things, but I saw you yelling obscenities at the man in the car in front of you at the traffic light because he didn’t move quickly enough when the light turned green. I also saw you pass someone and honk your horn and give them the middle finger because they were going to slow for you and then rudely cut in on them.. Then I saw your bumper sticker that says: ‘JESUS LOVES YOU’, and I figured that the person driving this car must be driving a stolen car!”
Not only our children, but others are watching us all the time. They may be looking for someone to pattern their life after. What patterns are we showing them?
After whom are we patterning our lives? Who are we imitating? Are we trying to be imitators of Jesus the Christ? What would happen if we really imitated Jesus? Remember that the historical Jesus was a radical! If we were to follow Jesus we would find ourselves in difficult places.
We would be:
- Championing the underdogs of the world and what are considered lost causes.
- Identifying with some of the “worst” people in society whose behavior raises the eyebrows of pious churchgoers and the communities we live in.
- Following Jesus into prisons and halfway houses, into night clubs and dance halls, into AA meetings and AIDS hospices.
- Trying to reclaim lives for God’s love and acceptance that have been rejected by the “nicer sort” of the populace.
- Constantly praying and listening to the Spirit of God to know what is right and just in this world—even when it flies in the face of the usual standards and practices
- Loving the unlovely and the unloving because they are God’s children.
A. Alves, the South American theologian, once said that “we could draw a map of any city that would show where Jesus would be if he were living in our time in that city. There would be two areas of the city where we might find him. ONE would be the parks and wooded areas where he would go to pray. THE OTHER would be the sections of the city with the greatest pain and humiliation––the hospitals and bars and prisons and tenements and crack houses, and maybe some of the high schools . Jesus would be in one of these two areas making the world more whole and more compassionate.
Let us be imitators of Jesus!