My kids and I saw quite a sight at the library the other day. It was an impressive display of mimicry and showboating by a rather cocky young fellow on the rooftop patio. He strutted around with his chest puffed out, trying to impress a girl. He was unabashed in his affection for her. She was playing hard-to-get. Undeterred, he preened and posed and rattled off every pick-up line he had ever heard in rapid succession.
He was a mockingbird.
I could tell he was a city bird because his song was a masterful blend of police siren and multi-tone car alarm. He was just doing what he was born to do: imitating a song that had already been sung, adding his own voice, and making the song his own.
Mockingbirds aren’t the only mimickers out there. Here’s a video of an Australian lyrebird imitating everything from magpies to power tools.
Such masterful mimicry can sometimes be troubling. Some folks found a similar lyrebird in the wild – the wild! – doing a perfect rendition of a chainsaw. It turns out he had learned the sound from a group of foresters whose work was approaching his home. So this remarkable creature, capable of mimicking any number of sounds, was singing the song of its own habitat’s destruction.
People are mimickers too, of course. Babies learn to talk by imitating sounds. Children learn social behavior by copying their siblings or peers. Every act of creation we do – whether it’s making a meal, or decorating a nursery, or writing a poem, or saying a prayer, or constructing a Lego castle – at some level everything we do builds on what we learned from someone else.
Our contribution, then, is not so much to write new songs as it is to add our voice to old ones.
And hanging on our every word are little people who don’t know how not to go astray. By what they hear from us, they are finding the notes and rhythms for their own song. And the song they will hear most clearly from us is the one we sing with our everyday lives.
What do my kids learn about love from the way I talk to their Daddy? The way I do their laundry and cook their meals? What do they learn about God from how I discipline or comfort or enjoy them? What story am I telling with the things I don’t say?
These are the songs that will sink down deep in them and frame their very souls. And soon they will add their own voices, repeating the themes we have written in their hearts.
“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.” – Eph. 5:1-2
Must we be perfect, then? Not perfect, but truthful. That means telling the truth even about our mistakes. It means singing of forgiveness even in our failure. It means declaring restoration and not destruction.
Because Truth tells us that we were made for more than the song of the chainsaw.