Supergirl, Batgirl, Mystique: Initiating Imitation
In the world of superheroes, there are some that are completely original characters like nothing we've ever seen before, and some that find their identities in the imitation of others. Sometimes, that imitation is based on a mantle being handed down in a position of honor, some out of respect for a hero that has come before, some out of the desire to feel like they are connected to something bigger than themselves, and at other times simply because they don't know who they are in their own identity. We see it over and over again. That's why we've seen more than half a dozen "Robins," a couple "Questions," and why we now have a new female "Wolverine." It's not that imitation is a negative, and in all honestly, if done in the right way and for the right purposes, is a great thing.
Super Girl: Kara Zor El
Super Girl (aka Kara Zor El, and in modern depictions, Kara) is Superman's biological cousin who and is actually older than him. When Krypton was exploding and young Kal El (Superman) was being shot away from the planet, Kara was also being shot out in a separate vehicle. The plan was that she would effectively be his babysitter/nanny/surviving family to help not only take care of Kal E, but also so she would have family herself. In the course of her journey, her ship is caught up in a big fat chunk of kryptonite meteorite and it keeps her in suspended animation, so that when she finally crashes to earth, Kal El is a full-blown adult and has already become Superman. So now the roles have been reversed, and Superman takes the position of being the mentor to his older cousin as she adjusts to life on earth and her amazing powers she now possesses. He showed her what it meant to be human, a Kryptonian, and eventually a hero. In turn, she took what she learned and donned the colors and symbol of her younger cousin and became Super Girl. Representing the House of El and showing the world that she was living up to the ideals, standards, and character of the big, blue, boy scout.
This is the type of imitation that the apostle Paul sets for us. He teaches believers that they can follow his example because he is following Christ. Now sometimes you may wonder, "why should I trust Paul?" There really is no reason to trust Paul on his own. He was extremely intelligent, had good standing in the Jewish community, but when it comes to walking with Jesus, none of that actually mattered. When we see the fruit in his life though and the dramatic change that his experience with Jesus brought about, we see some serious ground for imitation. Not to mention, the fact that Paul wrote the majority of the New Testament gives him a pretty sturdy place of credibility. So like how Superman had a credible position to have Kara Zor El imitate him, Paul had a credible position to make statements like this: "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). This is a pretty bold thing to do, but outside of the original 12, no one else had the potential to say something like this and it be valid. He didn’t just make that statement once though; it became a recurring theme in his writings. Check it out — "
"Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” (Philippians 3:17)
"Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16)
"The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9)
"For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:7)
It’s one thing for Superman to tell Supergirl to imitate him, but could you imagine what it was like for Paul telling people to imitate him? Better question — would you feel comfortable having people imitate you? If someone wanted to know Jesus better, could you be someone worth following?
Even if you aren’t someone who wants people following their example, someone is always following you. While we may not have Superman or Paul among us, it’s important we have people we can follow as examples in our faith as well. Check out what we see in Hebrews. “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
We need these physical examples in our life to imitate, so I strongly encourage you to find someone in your walk with God who is worthy of imitation, and even more so, be someone worthy of imitation.
Batgirl: Barbara Gordon
Barbara Gordon is the daughter of Batman’s longtime ally, Commissioner Gordon. While she has a physical role model right in front of her (her dad), she chose a different route. She chose to imitate the City’s urban legend of a guardian, the Bat. She didn’t have a personal relationship with him, and in most versions of the story, she had never even met him before she donned the costume. She simply saw that there was this person or creature out there in the darkness fighting evil, keeping her father safe, and making Gotham a safer place. Because of this, she sought after it. She made her own costume and went out and fought crime by imitating the Batman. She began to become a representation of the same thing the Batman did, and eventually became part of his team and his family. When she began imitating him, he was this distant figure and concept, and then he became one of the closest people in her life. Her experience led her to not only train other members of the Bat family like newer Robins, but when she eventually became the hero “Oracle,” she was key to the activity and success of the Justice League and most of the heroes in the DC Universe. It all started by imitating someone she couldn’t see or touch. This is the same concept we see when we are called to be imitators of God.
Paul may have been quick to tell others to imitate him, but it was all to the purpose of getting people to imitate God.
"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” - Ephesians 5:1
Paul may be a good candidate to tell people to imitate God, but Moses actually shows us that God Himself calls us to imitate Him. "You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Leviticus 20:26). The creator of the universe, the all powerful God, wants us to imitate Him by living in holiness the way He is holy. We can’t see God as a physical being on a day to day basis, but we can still learn his ways and imitate Him. While Jesus was a physical manifestation of God when he walked with His disciples, we as the modern church have only known Him through the Spirit and The Word, but still He gives us the guideline to imitate Him.
"For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” John 13:15
It is our responsibility to imitate our Father and our Savior, even though we don’t see them in a physical way. In order to do this we have to act similar to how Barbara Gordon acted when she became Batgirl. She observed the effects Batman had on the city. She studied his methods, she read police reports, and she made her actions and the way she presented herself fit in with the image of Batman. In our life, we have to study His Word and be involved in the community of believers so that we can see how He is working, and make sure that we are a solid imitation of our God’s character.
Where Super Girl imitated a close relationship that was physically present with her and Batgirl imitated a distant being she wasn’t close to at all, Mystique (the blue hued shapeshifting Xman) pretty much imitates everyone. In the newest XMen film, she has basically become the hero, but for much of our knowledge of her in the last 20+ years, she’s been a ruthless cold-hearted villain who, only at times it benefits her most, shows even a glimmer of compassion. She didn’t imitate people to actually learn from them, to grow, or to serve; she imitated to benefit herself. Sometimes it was for the benefit of a mission, and other times it was just simply to benefit her personally. She would fluidly imitate whatever served her the most. Her imitation was her mutant ability, but it was also a way she hid from who she really was and how she had deceived and wounded others and caused destruction all around.
We are instructed to be very careful when, who, and how we imitate people in this world. While Mystique could and often imitated anyone, God strongly warns us that we could face serious consequences if we follow the pattern of others in this way.
We see John share this with us in 3 John, verse 1. "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” If we imitate what is evil in this world, it shows that we really don’t know God as well as we thought, and that we may be fooling ourselves as much as others.
The scary part is that when we imitate the wrong people, ideas, or character, we can actually bring destruction on the people in our lives. In the book of 1st Kings, we see that while Baasha was king, "He did evil in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel sin” (1 Kings 15:34). Because Baasha imitated Jeroboam, he made an entire nation and people of God sin. There are people who pay attention to your actions and your words, and in some cases people are imitating you, too.
Paul hits it hard when talking to the Ephesians church. He writes:
"Therefore, I say this and testify in the Lord: You should no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their thoughts. They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts” (Ephesians 4:17-18).
He tells the Ephesians clearly to not imitate the Gentiles in the way they think, understand, and relate to God. Who we don’t imitate is just as important as who we do.
As we learn from these heroes and villains, we realize that we need people in our lives we can imitate. We need to look beyond just imitating people and imitate God as well, and we need to be very careful that we don’t imitate the wrong people.