Dr. Warren Newberry is the head of my PhD Program in Intercultural Studies at the Assembly of God Theological Seminary. He has the Latin phrase Esse Quam Videri on his office wall. It means “To be rather than to seem.”
The phrase is first found in Cicero’s essay On Friendship. Aeschylus used a similar phrase in Seven Against Thebes, at which the scout says of the priest, “His resolve is not to seem the best but in fact to be the best.” Plato quoted this line in Republic (361b). It is also the State motto of North Carolina.
Coming back to America for the summer (studies and some meetings) has reinforced this precept. America on the surface seems whole and healthy. As a family, we have enjoyed McDonald’s, Lake Michigan, vibrant worship services, and incredible public libraries, among many other wonderful things. Last week however I took a trip on a Greyhound bus. Every American should be so lucky.
Greyhound bus stations in Middle America are fascinating places “to be.” There was a nervous young Amish couple. There was an African American street preaching pair: The woman had her Bible out, loudly laughing, scolding, and reading Scripture to all who did or did not want to listen. Her companion was a monster of a man, tattoo-covered, gold tooth glinting in the neon light. He did not speak often, but when he did you were afraid to not pay attention. Hippies, druggies, bums, out-of-work mechanics and returning U.S. Marines. Thin and fat. Old and young. Black, brown, yellow, and white. It was a living mosaic reminding me of what America is, not just what America seems.
It makes me reflect on the dichotomy between who I am and who I seem to be. In God’s mysterious grace, opportunities for higher profile ministry and service are coming our way. In front of pulpits, cameras, microphones, interviewers, and even in front of you through newsletters and emails we can seem to be a certain way.
In The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli twists this phrase to Videri Quam Esse (to seem rather than to be) with respect to how a ruler ought to act. This is such a danger for missionaries… for me… for you.
I write to ask for prayer and for accountability. I want to ask you to pray for the judgment of God on my life. I want to ask that all falsehood and pretension is exposed and removed. I want to ask that there is no hypocrisy or pride left in me. I ask this fearfully, but it is my desire to walk humbly before God, before you, and before Muslims in Sudan. I long to be—not just seem to be—a lowly follower of Christ.
Dick Brogden and his family have served as missionaries in numerous Arabic nations for over 20 years.