Imitation: The sincerest form of flattery

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Oscar Wilde is credited with the quote “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

Without parsing the entirety of that line, it has come to tell us that when someone imitates or copies us (perhaps even in parody) we should take it as a form of endearment. I’ve always been under the impression that you can tell when someone has a clever invention when you find everyone under the sun trying to copy that invention with their own subtle take on the concept, often to the chagrin of the originator who sees it less as a compliment and more as a loss of profit.

But for the most part (some of the lampooning of “Saturday Night Live” aside), when someone tries to imitate, they do so because they esteem. And that concept has some resonance with me given my own experience, especially last weekend.

At my church, we held a mini version of a comic book convention. And indeed, we copied the format right down to the idea of guests and panel discussions (in fact, if you missed our “God in Comics” panel, you can listen to the podcast at faithandfandom.podbean.com). There were the artists, writers and vendors also, but most germane were the cosplayers. Now, for those not in the know, cosplay is the activity of dressing up and acting like one’s favorite character from comics, gaming or movies.

We had cosplayers over the weekend from Spider-Man to Harley Quinn to some characters, that to be perfectly honest, I am still unsure who they were or where they came from. But the key to the activity is that once someone puts on the clothes, it actually seems hard for them not to start acting like the character!

Spider-Man was rarely seen not crouching or in spinning-web poses, even with pictures of him heroically saving a baby! In fact, this dynamic even worked its way into the sermon for the weekend.

We used a lesson from Galatians 3 in which Paul says: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  It is actually the verse right before the one I have quoted multiple times where he takes away all the ways we might want to divide each other by race, status or gender.

And in the service, we just pulled a line from the very end of the new Spiderverse movie that tells us: “Everyone can wear the mask.”

Everyone can clothe themselves with Christ and when they do, it’s sort of like everyone is cosplaying Jesus: we are all looking the part and acting the part of graciousness, love and hope. St. Paul elsewhere even encourages us to imitate him! And in doing so, it’s not stealing his thunder, but generating more of that Jesus image in the world. All together, looking like and acting like Jesus is pretty much what discipleship is all about!

And in a final meta-moment from last weekend, several other churches saw what we did at Ascension and now have it in mind to do the same thing. From Lumberton, North Carolina to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and places in between, I have heard from pastors and congregations inspired to reach the Geeks!

On the one hand, that experience could raise feelings of jealousy at our idea being snatched away. But in reality, my hope is that others will discover how to do this same thing better, and then in turn teach us something we can imitate!

After all, a good idea is too great a thing to keep secret. In fact, one might even get the impression that God intends for us to share with one another. And if the idea is faith, inspiration and love that gets shared by all the craziness that went on last weekend, isn’t that what being the church is supposed to be about anyway?

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 27 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” appears weekly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.