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Monday, May 10, 2010

"Are you on the sidelines or in the fight?" Baccalaureate Speaker asks Class of 2010

May 7, 2010

Rev. Dr. Brian Blount, the President of Union Theological Seminary and the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, delivered the 2010 baccalaureate address in Belk Auditorium on Friday, May 7.

Blount asked the Class of 2010 where they stood in today’s world full of political upheaval, social problems, and people in need.

“Are you on the sidelines or in the fight?” Blount asked.

“When you walk off this campus, are you heading straight for the sidelines or straight into the fights that need fighting?

“In this moment, in precious future moments, with your decision, with your witness to a life lived with, for, and in support of the people who cannot fight for themselves, you will have your chances to stand on the sidelines and watch or get into the fights and dirty your clothes in the dazzling work of the Lamb who was slain.

“What do you want? Do you want to be safe and clean on the sidelines of life? Or do you want to dazzle?”

A Book of Revelation scholar, Blount related the “mad compendium filled with dragons, multi-headed beasts, apocalyptic wars, a city dropping down out of the heavens, cherubim, archangels, a slaughtered Lamb, and seven churches crowded with first-century crazy Christians” to PC’s graduating class.

While some have said he is obsessed with the book, Blount said he is intrigued by the book’s author, John of Patmos, instead.

“I am intrigued because John is a man condemned to the religious and political sidelines by the greatest power on earth, and he refused to stay there,” Blount said. “Even though he was sentenced to be a bystander to the rest of history, he kept writing about the divine dreams that had gotten him exiled in the first place.

“The man sentenced to prison for his writing had the nerve to keep writing even while he was in prison. That kind of courage, determination, stubbornness, and resolve, I must admit, mesmerizes me. I wonder what it was in him that made him so courageous. And I wonder if that something special is in me.”

Further, Blount spoke about John’s Christians in the Book of Revelation.

“He wanted them to step off the sidelines where they were trying to protect themselves by hiding their faith,” Blount said, “and fight the faith fight that John and others were waging on behalf of the Lamb.

“Those who refused to (witness for the Lamb’s way) stood out because their clothes were bleached with fear, Chloroxed with cowardice, soiled by their refusal to live the faith that had formed them.

“He is redefining the concepts of dirt and dir-ti-ness. Being dirty and being soiled are two very different things for John. John actually wants his people to get dirty.”

Blount went on to tell the story of playing junior varsity football. He said that, although he always sat on the bench, he felt proud to wear his football jersey on game days.

“Over each ensuing week, though, the sparkling clean of my jersey became somewhat of an embarrassment. The lack of dirt embedded stubbornly in the fabric was a clear sign to all who saw me that I never got off the sidelines and into the game.

“I was as much a bystander as any spectator. And that dubious distinction was immediately apparent because of my clean, white jersey. I wanted a dirty jersey. I wanted a jersey that demonstrated that I had been caught up in the muck and the mire of playing the game.”

Blount said that people too often do nothing because of a social phenomenon called the Bystander Effect: “the larger the number of people involved in a situation, the less that will get done.”

Blount said John wants fighters, not people who will stand around doing nothing. John’s Christians in the Book of Revelation, says Blount, are ones whose “clothing was not soiled by inactivity, soiled by fear, soiled by cowardice, or soiled by the refusal to live the faith they professed.”

“Their clothing was instead,” Blount said, “dirtied up in the messy blood of the Lamb’s great witness. In John’s crazy clothing configuration, such bloodied, dirtied, messed up clothing dazzles.”

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