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Edwards Church, United Church of Christ (UCC), Framingham, MA
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“A Mirror, Dimly”–A sermon by Rick Seaholm, August 20, 2017

Rick Seaholm
Commissioned Minister of Music
Edwards Church
August 20, 2017

Romans 12:1-8 (NRSV)
1 Corinthians 12 (NRSV)
Matthew 6:25-34 (NRSV)

One of the benefits of working and teaching at a business school is that I encounter and develop friendships with interesting faculty and theorists. One such organizational behavior professor teaches that (perhaps contrary to what you might think) the best “teams” are not comprised of a number of well-rounded geniuses, any of whom could complete the project single-handedly if all others failed to show up. That would only lead to a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario. On the other hand, a group of people who appreciate and respect the gifts and talents in each other is a group bound to be a successful team.

Likewise, one of the benefits of studying the Bible and walking with Christ is that I often see that new “theories” such as this one have been in place for thousands of years, finding their way into our sacred canon in the early days of Christianity. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12 that there are a “variety of gifts, but the same spirit.” Paul goes on to say that one may have great wisdom, and another, faith, and one may excel at miracles, and another with skills at prophecy or languages, but (and this is the key point), “All these are activated by one and the same spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the spirit chooses.”

Isn’t that marvelous? Our creator allows us to be who we are, recognizes we are meant to be that way, and teaches us to treasure our gifts, our skills, our talents, our diversity! Paul goes on to chastise anyone with a self-effacing attitude. “If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” Even the least of our talents, he continues, we must treasure as most important, a suggestion that we work steadily to improve those parts of us which are not inherently as strong. Go outside your comfort zone.

I’ve had a number of experiences in the past year which have guided me through processes designed to give me a better picture of myself. As part of my commissioning, I was required last November to participate in a one-on-one two-day psychological examination that was preceded by a number of self-paced tests to determine my fitness for service and to show who I’m meant to be in ministry. The most recognizable of these was the Myers-Briggs test, which I happened to take for Boston University just a few months later. For those of you less familiar, it uses a simple system of four “dichotomies” each with two polar opposites toward placing everyone into one of sixteen different personality types. Many of us might be extroverts, for example, but only a handful are extroverts who place feeling above thinking. An even smaller subset also use perception over judgment. The test admits to each of the eight camps have less than perfect names, but the results can be stunning. When administered in a group, this test can tell me exactly how I should interact with any one of you for us to achieve our best goals together. And that’s just it. I received the test results of my 400 question test and told my psychologist “Yep, that’s me, but I’ve been studying myself for a long time already. What I really need is the test results for my wife, or my boss!”

Imagine now, an office team comprised entirely of introverts or of people with great memories, but no sense of sticking to a schedule. Think of a basketball team of the five best free-throw shooters, none of whom can dribble the ball in a live play situation. Chaos.

But if I can shoot those free-throws, and am part of a balanced team with other skills accounted for, we’d be getting somewhere. Remember a few years ago when the Boston Celtics were continually praised not for a Kobe or a Lebron, but rather as a well-disciplined team each of whom worked well with the others?

So, how do you learn who you are? There are many tests that can tell you your Myers-Brigg personality type or your aptitude for a particular profession. And, of course, there are ridiculous tests on Facebook that will answer such important questions as “Which Disney Princess are you?” or “Are you a sociopath?” But to truly get to these answers, I think you need to enter into a period of self-reflection. This is one of my strengths and leads us toward this conversation on True Self.

A few years back, the new Peanuts Movie was coming out, and there was a tool online to allow you to create a Peanuts version of yourself. There were mouths, eyes, accessories to choose from. I was proud enough of the result that I added the image to a folder on my desktop from which my daily wallpaper is cycled through. Some weeks later, I logged in to Windows and saw this creation. I was haunted by what I saw. My Peanuts avatar was sad, forlorn, yet totally represented the way I felt about myself so many weeks earlier. So I set out to fix my self-image.

I’ve been called dark, moody, brooding, and a chronic worrier for most of my life. When I was in pre-school my favorite Sesame Street character was Telly, the monster known for panic and worry.

There’s a great bit of Seaholm family folklore. I’m cowering in a corner somewhere, a parent comes up to me, “Ricky, what’s wrong?” And I scream at the top of my voice “I don’t know who I’m going to marry!” There you have it, 35 years of documented proof that I’m a worrier. But, I recognize it as a chance to grow, and I continually– worry about stopping worrying!

So, in this past year of reflection I tried something new, which I heartily hand over to you as a recommendation. Soon after my earnest start toward less worry a particular passage in the Sermon on the Mount spoke to me more strongly than usual (I read and reread Matthew’s account, a life’s teaching in three chapters). In chapter 6, Jesus talks to us about the “birds of the air” who don’t make any preparations for themselves, yet they have all they need. He goes on, speaking similarly about flowers. You could take it further to describe mountains, rivers, trees, and so on. The point being “Do not worry about tomorrow!” Once I read the passage in this new light, I started a new practice. Every time I see a bird fly through the air, I make note of this passage, at first by quoting some of it in my head. But over time, this has simply become a trigger which turns up my hopeful, happy dial, and turns down my worry dial. Is there anything for which you need such a tangible reminder?

Maybe you worry too. There are a number of reasons that we progressive thinking Christians might be inclined to worry at this point in history. There are multiple ways in which you might worry. Two are fear and anxiety, and they’re often confused for each other. Firstly, let’s say a tiger came in the sanctuary right now. You’d have good reason to worry(!) and that would be based in fear because there would be an immediate, real threat. If, on the other hand, you’ve ever wondered, here in suburban Boston, what you would do if a tiger came into our sanctuary, that would be a worry rooted in anxiety, because there really is no solid reason to think a tiger would show up here. For me, my worries are more of this anxious type.

Facebook encourages its employees with a series of inspirational quotes which I understand adorn the walls, among them “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” What if you knew you couldn’t fail? I can think of a number of things I could be doing right now if only I could see the world as Matthew’s “birds of the air” do.

But enough about me. This digression was intended only to illustrate for you the roundabout ways in which you might begin to discover your true self. But, why this idea of “true self” anyway?

It’s simple, really. True self sounds like a very positive thing. A quest to discover your bravery or your intellect. But, just as often, as I found, true self may reveal to you something that causes you to stumble, something like chronic worry that may just be holding you back. Once more from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s Jesus: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5, NRSV)

Remember, Paul reminds us that these logs in our own eyes should not cause shame, we simply are called to work with them, massage them, be aware of them. Further in 1 Corinthians 12 we learn that “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable… If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Cor. 12:22,26, NRSV)

How then, could you be true to yourself if you don’t honestly face the real you? How can you authentically serve and love your neighbor, and by extension your God, if you do not present a true manifestation of yourself at all times? We are directed, in fact, to continually work toward knowing ourselves as fully as God knows us. Paul goes on in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians (yes, that thirteenth chapter): “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12, NRSV) Elsewhere from scripture, we know that we have been wonderfully made in God’s image. Does this mean that on that glorious morning we will finally see ourselves truthfully? Just a thought.

Last April, I was delighted to see a half-dozen of my BU colleagues walking up the street toward my commissioning service. Just a few years ago it would have caused me great distress to have those two worlds collide. I’ve changed. I now look forward to telling people about all the differing sides of my life. It’s recommended in professional circles that you hone two aspects of your personality in order to distinguish yourself on the job market. A physician in a hospital full of physicians won’t be remembered as much as the one who’s juggling for his young patients. A lawyer who fights for the arts is more notable than a generic lawyer. Or a choir director with a passion for technology.

What’s more, when you are in tune with your true self, you don’t need to worry about who you might bump into, there’s no reason to fear that two people who know you separately might meet up. “Rick? Oh yeah, he’s so nice, and hilarious! What do you mean, he’s mean and angry?” Now you might be thinking, wouldn’t this present a diluted version of the true self? Some places require different behavior and personality! Well, that could be true, I suppose, and can be a part of your journey, as you make your way. For me, I’d rather err on the side of kindness at work, and occasionally risk offending someone with a little bit of “secular” language in a church meeting or on Facebook, than put up walls in which I’m constantly filtering myself in one direction or another.

I challenge you, therefore, to make an effort to truly know yourself for starters. If you’re stuck, here’s a little activity for you to try later on. Think of a fictional universe with many characters. You might try the Muppets, the Peanuts gang, or Harry Potter. Who’s your favorite character? Now think of another such universe. You might try Sesame Street, the Mickey Mouse gang, or Lord of the Rings. Who’s your favorite character? Now, you might have selected the ones whose voice you like, or the cutest ones, but I would venture to bet that your favorite characters are the ones that you relate to most closely. For example, I have found that in all these groups, I gravitate toward the dumb one and the one who thinks he’s funny. It’s no surprise then, that my favorite Muppet is Fozzie Bear: slow-witted and forever hopeless at comedy. But this project was also instrumental in showing me my less glowing attributes. I learned that if the character group includes one who worries, I will instantly connect to him, we become lifelong friends.

In preparing for this message, I reconnected with my old friend Telly. Turns out in the decades since I stopped watching Sesame Street he’s become quite a changed monster! He’s in a band now, he plays bassoon and tuba. He took a lead role in Oscar’s Grouchketeers, lives on his own, and most importantly, he’s developed a close network of cherished friends and pets. Telly’s performer Martin P. Robinson sums up all that Telly is and all I aspire to be: “His main thing now is that he believes totally in whatever he’s into, and he can turn on a dime and that doesn’t belie what he was feeling before. He can go from great joy to great sorrow and it’s all totally genuine.”

If this pathetic, pink sack puppet can discover his true self, I know there’s hope for you. I pray there’s hope for me.