Chaplain Blackmon Interview

The Wheaton Record: We know this has been a big transition, so we were just wondering how you and your family are doing?
Timothy Blackmon: You know, it’s been really remarkably smooth for a huge move, from Europe and leaving family, and leaving my brother behind, leaving my mother behind, leaving the church we love behind — it’s been remarkably smooth. And I think the welcome on this side of the pond has made a huge difference. I think my kids know they’ve been cared for and welcomed warmly.
WR: Are they going to school near here?
TB: Yes, the oldest two are at Wheaton North and the younger two are at Wheaton Grammar.
WR: What place would you consider to be the most “home” to you?
TB: I would say, if you had asked me seven years ago it would have been more of a question mark, partly because I had not lived as an adult in my home country. I left the Netherlands when I was 18. But after having lived there seven years as an adult, I would say that’s home. But as a TCK, I guess asking “where is home” is always a bit of a trick question. The benefit, I think, of being a TCK is that you feel at home quickly somewhere, so it’s already started to feel like home.
WR: What are you looking forward to most about being here at Wheaton?
TB: I think in some ways, what’s amazing about it is that I feel that what matters at Wheaton is something that’s mattered to me a great deal of my whole life, and what we get to do at Wheaton are things that I have enjoyed all my life. So it’s a combination of spiritual life, life of the mind, sports, music, thinking about Christians in the world, and that’s what I’ve spent my whole life doing, so to be at a place where that’s the business we’re in, that gets me up in the morning.
WR: What about challenges? Do you foresee any big challenges over this time?
TB: Yeah, I think it’s a unique time to be a Christian in 2015. There are so many challenges; I think there’s the challenge of secularism, the world we are living in and the world where we are sending students out to don’t necessarily share our assumptions, that there is a God who has revealed himself in his word and through his son Jesus Christ and that we are invited to live in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. That, and I think in a secular world, seems absurd and irrelevant and I think that’s a huge challenge. I think there are challenges in the church in America, there are theological and moral challenges, and all of those show up at Wheaton. And, you know Wheaton is not immune from it and we are definitely planted right in the middle of the real world, so I think any challenge we notice in the news shows up here and we then have to wrestle with how to integrate what we are seeing and hearing from a Christian perspective.
WR: So just briefly, how did you personally become a Christian?
TB: You know, that is an interesting story . . . When I was in my early teens, I had become a bit of a thief and I loved nice things and I started stealing just about anything I could get my hands on. And it scared me to the point where I would try to quit and I couldn’t, so I would go into a store and it was almost physically impossible for me not to take something physically out of the store whether I needed it or not. So at one point one of the things that I saw was this little Bible in our church bookstore, and I just had to have it so I stole it. And then, because I liked it so much I started reading it. At night in bed, [I would be] just sensing God speaking to me and ministering to me through the word. So here I was with Exhibit A of my sinful life, which was scaring me because it almost felt like the theft part of it had something addictive, something supernaturally dark to it. And then anytime I would read this, [I] started with the Psalms, and slowly but surely I sensed a focus or a freedom, I think, from sin and forgiveness and asked Jesus Christ to save me and rescue me from everything. So that’s kind of how it happened. I was just barely 16.
WR: We were both in chapel when you were being inducted, and when President Ryken was reading the verse out loud we noticed you were mouthing the verse at the same time. Have you committed a lot of the Bible to memory? Do you have a favorite verse or book from the Bible?
TB: Yeah, you know when I was in college I had several Wheaton College professors who were Wheaton College alumni who were my professors in France — as you can imagine, one of the things they encouraged me to do was memorize Scripture. And so, I kind of made that a lifelong practice. So usually what I try to do, is I try to have whatever passage I’m preaching on committed to memory before I begin preaching on it. In the last nine years or so, I’ve been driving my kids to school, and we had a long commute in Holland, and on the way to school we memorized Scripture passages so together with them we know hundreds of scripture passages from the last 10 years now. So it’s definitely a regular part of my life and he happened to quote a very good one.
I would say probably the last few years a verse I seem to be coming back to is from Luke chapter 12, where Jesus says to his disciples, “Fear not, little flock, for it is the father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And I love that there are so many components to it: He says not to be afraid, which seems to be our basic human disposition — we’re afraid about life, about the future, about dying, about all these things; it’s a little flock which means they’re vulnerable to all kinds of outside and inside pressures and temptations and challenges; and he says it’s the father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom. I think often we think of the kingdom as something we build or we do, and then here you find out to our great surprise that it’s actually something that’s given to you. I think that’s amazing, it blows my mind, the kingdom is a gift. So when we talk about Christ and his kingdom it is first of all a gift that Christ is giving to us, to his little flock who are freaked out. So it’s a gift more than anything.
WR: I’m just curious because I noticed the painting behind you, did you personally choose that? Is that the prodigal son?
TB: Yes, now there’s a cool story. And this you can write about . . . I walked into a store in Folsom California with a $20 poster. And I say to the guy, “Can you frame this for me?” And the guy in the poster store is like, “Wow.” He says, “I don’t understand this story.” I go, “What do you mean?” And he says, “I’ve seen this picture before but I don’t understand the biblical story behind it.” And so I call my wife and I said, “Betsy, I’m not going to be home for dinner.” For the next two hours, using Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son picture I explain the gospel to him and he gives his life to Jesus. So then a couple weeks later, after his baptism, he made this for me, and wrote a little story about it. Because this is Caravaggio’s “Inspiration of Saint Matthew” and so he [Jerry] said to me, “You were to me the way the angel is to Saint Matthew because he’s giving him the words of the gospel.” So anyways, every time I think of this [Caravaggio] I think of that [Rembrandt] one, because God has used that one to usher someone into the kingdom of God. We used to have it hanging in my house, this is the first time it’s in my office.
WR: We also noticed — I’m on the tennis team — we saw you playing next to us; you’re really good at tennis!
TB: I got to practice last night with the team! I was walking on my way to get a workout in, and I saw the men’s team doing their captains’ practice, and they were like, “Hey, you want to hit?” and I was like, “Yeah,” and so I went and got my racquets and I played with them last night. It was really fun; they’re really good.
WR: So we’ve seen you play tennis, we also noticed that you coached basketball for a while. How did you get into these sports and how long have you been playing?
TB: So tennis was something that I played when I was a kid, my dad taught me. And I played from eight to 14 and then I picked up basketball. And I didn’t really play tennis until three years ago again, when I was kind of done with basketball and wanted to do something different, and had such fond memories of playing as a kid. And so I started taking some lessons again and started playing competitively and slowly began getting the hang of it again and I’m pretty crazy about it. You can pretty much call me any time and I’ll be in the mood to go play. So this is something that my dad did for a long time, in fact he died on the tennis court. So he was 81 years old and he had this group of friends that had played tennis three times a week for 25 years and they were all 15 years younger. He hadn’t won in years, you know, he was 80, and that day, May 6, 2007, he beat them for the first time in 10 years. He sat down on the side of the court, had a massive heart attack and that was it . . . That’s the way to go.
So yeah, I mean tennis is near and dear to my heart, and in the last few years my son and my nephew started growing, I thought it might be fun to coach basketball. So the last five years or so I’ve coached a U-16 team in the Netherlands and the last couple years my son was in it. I love coaching. I think if I wasn’t a chaplain I’d probably be a coach I think. I think there’s nothing better.
WR: Are you more of a player or fan of sports? Do you follow any specific teams?
TB: If I have to choose between playing and watching a sport, always playing. Always. But I do enjoy watching basketball. If I have time to watch TV, that’s usually what I’ll see.
WR: Are you rooting for someone in the US Open?
TB: Ooh, always [Roger] Federer. I mean, I think Federer plays tennis the way tennis is supposed to be played. And I just want him to win at least another one. On the women’s side, Serena [Williams] is so completely dominant. I mean, it’s unbelievable what she’s been able to pull out. So certainly this year it’d be great to see her win.
TIMELINE OF MAJOR EVENTS IN LIFE: You know, in your life you always have a few moments that seem to encapsulate almost everything, where in that moment everything is different.
1959: My father performs St. Matthew’s passion at a church in the Netherlands, where my mom, who is celebrating her 16th birthday, is in the audience. There’s 20 years difference between the two. I would say that’s a pivotal moment because that’s the first time she ever heard of him, the first time she ever saw a black man, which is interesting.
Born: May 7, 1970
Conversion: 1986 — Soon after my conversion, my youth pastor asked me if I would preach on Sunday. And once a year our church would have a youth Sunday where kids in the church would sing a song or whatever. And he asked me that, and I don’t think any kid had ever preached at church for youth Sunday, and then the kids would do everything else. And so he asked me, and I didn’t even think about it. I was like well sure. And I remember soon after my 16th birthday and baptism, that I preached in church and I knew walking out that it wasn’t great, but I also knew this was what I was going to be doing the rest of my life. So I had this immediate sense of call. I think that was huge.
Summer of 1989: I was introduced to Chaplain Stephen Kellough, a foretaste of things to come, although I had no idea until a couple years ago that that would be a significant moment. But I think that’s how the thing often works.
Summer of 1990: I met somebody who told me about Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids. I was living in Netherlands, he was visiting; a couple months later he sent me a plane ticket to visit. He used to teach at Calvin, I was in Paris at the time, he sent me a free plan ticket and said you need to go see this school. That changed the trajectory of my life, if that hadn’t happened . . .
Met wife at Calvin, she was fifth year undergrad senior from Grand Rapids. Met on fourth floor of library. I was starting seminary and she was finishing up college.
First 18 years in Holland, bachelors in France, Michigan for seminary, church planter in Folsom, Calif. for 15 years where all kids were born, seven years back in Netherlands,
2015: Became chaplain of Wheaton College.
WR: Do you have any questions coming into Wheaton?
TB: Are you kidding me? I have so many questions! Certainly, it’s been fun getting to know the community and its idiosyncrasies, and there are so many acronyms and at some point it seems like I need to refer to a guide for the acronyms and the abbreviations all the time. And I’m curious what students will decide my nickname’s going to be. Apparently I have no say in the matter, and I had no idea this was going to be a big thing, but everyone seems to ask me, “What should we call you?” It’s fun. So far, I could not be more thrilled to be here. It’s a huge honor. The office of the chaplain has this long amazing legacy of gospel ministry. If I can help the college in some ways maintain its commitment to keeping Christ at core of everything, that’s something I get up for in the morning.
WR: Do you have something you consider the best or most memorable thing someone has done for you?
TB: That is a great question. You know, I would say this past weekend, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, there were 30 folks sitting on the left hand side of chapel who were all there to kind of be here for the installation. And a lot of them have traveled thousands of miles, including from the Netherlands, just to be here for the weekend. And I think probably the most amazing thing that people have done for me is — I have friends, who know me and who still love me. And that is an amazing thing. I think so often our deep fear is that we are loved as long as people don’t really know us. You have this creepy sense that if they really got to know me, then they wouldn’t be here. They would just walk away. So these are guys, mainly guys, who know all of my idiosyncrasies and faults and sins and shortcomings and stupidities — they know it all, they’ve seen it all. I’ve been with them for a long time and somehow they still love me. And that is unbelievable to me. To me, that is an instance of the grace of God in my life, and hopefully I can reciprocate it and give them the same kind of care and affection, even though I know all of their junk too. But I think in life, there are only a few things more precious than that, to be known and still loved. I think it’s miraculous almost. So for me, seeing them all there and knowing how far they have come, and half of them have jet lag and they spent literally thousands to be here for the weekend, is very recently a very powerful instance of the grace of God for me.
Chaplain History
ew Evan Welsh ’27, D.D. ’55: 1955-70
jh Dr. James Hutchens ’60: 1970-72
hl Rev. H. Leroy (Pat) Patterson ’40: 1972-83
vc Dr. Vic Gordon: 1983-88
sk Dr. Stephen Kellough ’70: 1989-2014

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