The Art Of Imitation
October 12, 2004
All the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players. If Shakespeare is right, and the world is a stage, then I feel like I missed the dress rehearsal and I’m fumbling through my lines as the audience waits in awkward silence.
I don’t have it all figured out; I’m often in a struggle to find the role that God wants me to play, looking off-stage for cues, trying to make sense of the script. I want to be intentional and live out the character of Jesus in the details of life, but I have found that it is much harder than it looks; there is a great deal of training that goes on behind the scenes. In any dramatic production, whether it’s a play or a movie, there is so much that happens before the release; so many ordinary tasks that must be accomplished to give the story a certain quality and texture that makes it believable. The ordinary gives way to the extraordinary.
Rehearsing lines, creating a stimulating set and the ongoing adjustment of the script and its characters all make it possible for the show that the audience sees to appear effortless, beautiful and extraordinary. I love what Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1-2: “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 a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” I think this has profound connections to the world of theater and the concept of life being a stage and we the actors/actresses. This art of imitation that Paul speaks of only comes through continual adjustments in the ordinary routine of life. We are never told to define our lives by one performance; instead, we are called out to live our entire lives as understudies of the one we follow. This role can only be found as we gain insights into the steady pace and rhythm of the grace of Christ. Paul explains our role in more detail when he says that we are to live a life of love, a life that gives itself to others as Christ gave himself for us. The role of the character we play should be generous, giving and sacrificial. In other words: it should cost us something.
It is not unusual for an actor/actress to become completely consumed by the character he/she plays. They will study them, learn to speak with the subtle nuances of their character and even adjust their physical appearance to look more like them. The dream for the actor is to embody their character and deliver an authentic performance.
In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, every cast member went through intensive training in ancient languages, some in sword fighting and horsemanship and others had to learn Elvish. The cast immersed themselves in the roles they were given to play months before they even took the lens cap off of the camera. In the movie The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise went through a year of training to master the art of the Chinese sword. In many interviews Tom talked about the difficult training and the many shots in the film that looked easy but took incredible effort. The result was graceful but it took a year of costly training to deliver that portrait of grace. Even in the movie The Village, there was a boot camp for the cast in which they were thrown into the rustic setting of the 19th century ways. They did chores, prepared meals spun linen on wheels to make sweaters, all to give them an accurate portrait of the characters they would play. These experiences aided the cast in delivering an authentic performance.As a follower of Christ, I struggle with the ability to embody the heart of Jesus. There are so many adjustments I need to make everyday, just to get a glimpse of his character within me. I also know that the ability to give Jesus a unique expression in my own life, on my stage, comes through a steady commitment to train in the ordinary rhythms of life. I have a number of insecurities about my role; but I know that my character will evolve if I immerse myself in the ways of Christ. If I am willing to generously follow in his ways, the extraordinary will come.
[Brian is a pastor and writer in Dayton, Ohio with his wife, Jenna, and three boys, you can contact him at www.brianorme.com]