"If we lack the courage to defend our religious freedom, then we will lose all other freedoms as well," noted Chuck Colson just hours before a brain aneurysm knocked him down and started his path to glory.
Up to his final days on earth, Colson valiantly spoke of the need for virtue. One of his strongest messages surrounding virtue is on courage, the fourth cardinal virtue, and the fourth topic covered in our look at how Hillcrest infuses virtue training into its classrooms.
In his book, You Will Be Made To Care, author Erick Erickson paints a realistic picture. He documents the faith challenges that are facing many Christians around the United States. Many have been forced to pay fines or bake cakes for weddings they don't support. The freedom of religion and free-exercise is being trumped by a call to sexual equality. The first freedom is noted as the freedom of religion. It is under attack in the United States.
Erickson's book takes a noted turn half-way through, where he begins speaking courage to a trapped generation. It appears to many that no matter what Christians do, they will face disappointment. The world has a difficult time with Christian morality. And those seeking to reach the world have to engage in conversation framed by mass media that says Christians are haters, bigots, and an unnecessary evil. Students joining Hillcrest's halls have felt this.
A few weeks ago I wrote about a student who sat in my classroom and told me that in her former school they could talk about any religion, except Christianity. In another conversation days later a group of students told me similar experiences and how freeing it was to be in a place like Hillcrest, where God tends to be the center of conversation rather than a topic.
Erickson gave a series of helps in his book, helping followers of Jesus build a courageous faith. One of the chief things Erickson spoke to was centering reality on Jesus Christ. A true understanding of the world addresses the need for God. It is clear, logically, that the universe could not snap into existence without some type of guiding force and intelligent design pulling the strings. Centering reality on a god-concept is a natural part of education. At Hillcrest, it is easy to see this training in action.
A conversation exploded in my office when a staff member joined a story pitch from a student. In journalism we hash-out the stories with students working through a pitch. Often the pitch takes a philosophical turn, and when the staff member entered he began asking probing questions.
"How do you incorporate a Biblical worldview into Mathematics?" the staffer asked, winking to me as he took the student down a path of thought.
"Easy, Math shows the necessity of God, or at least some type of organization. You need God to have math. Galileo said that mathematics is the language of God."
"What about English?" the staffer continued, working to keep his smile hidden.
"Are you serious?" The student responded, "God created with words. The Bible says Jesus is the Word. And, God communicates to us in words." The student trailed on for a few minutes as he explained that words are essential for people to live, communicate, and defend. He showed how the Christian perspective gives purpose and meaning to words.
"Do you see what I'm doing here?" The staff member closed. "You can teach this stuff."
I've noticed at Hillcrest that students not only see the world from God's perspective, but they are pushed to communicate in their own words what difference a Biblical view makes. Staff members, teachers, and fellow students don't let each other get by with simple answers. It's a frustrating part of Hillcrest, but Erickson believes this jousting is important in building courage.
The magnum opus for Erickson's courage building section speaks to the need to live in community. Erickson says there is something about community, living in a need for grace and gathering together in spite of differences, that forges a central heart in the people.
At Hillcrest, everyone is a Comet. Being a Comet is built on a simple fact that every student hear from Principal Isaac in the opening weeks. "You are important, because you made in the image of God. You are an image-bearer. That's what makes you valuable."
With each student's central identity developed, living in close quarters with other cultures begins to frame what grace looks like. Seeing people as image bearers chisels challenging personalities and purifies difficult situations to reveal ultimate purpose in relationships. Relationships are valuable because they are a participatory act in godliness. God made man from his relationship in the Trinity. And Eve was created for man because man bore God's image, and in order to bear God's image wholly, man needs relationship.
Erickson goes on to say that in continued building of relationships people begin to see the necessity to defend and support each other. When people gather together there is an unspeakable sense of camaraderie that forges in the heart of the individual that it is not good to be alone. From this, the group of people resolve to defend each other and the unifying things that enable them to have community. At Hillcrest, community is built around Jesus Christ.
Community is forged in Chapel services, times of prayer for friends and relatives during classroom devotions, waking for church and walking to services together, joining together for evening worship times, and simple Bible study and turning to scripture to answer big questions. The community at Hillcrest is unique because all people belong to it. Everyone has been crafted with the image of God as their core-concept in being human. So, gathering together in Christian faith practices is reinforcing the central idea that all people are made in the image of God.
Because the community is forged and students find support in it, there is a strong desire to build a sense of protecting it. Students are called to defend their faith and practice their reasoning and love to stand for the community, the concept of bearing the image of God. In this, courage is exercised on a daily basis. The first concern for teachers isn't college preparation, it's giving students the tools, confidence, and courage necessary to stand as a defined 28 year old who is seeking the Lord and serving Him daily. Academic preparation come in studying the organization of God's world. But studying that organization is a smaller cog in the life of the student. That cog churns to turn a larger wheel that runs an engine of faith and identity. Students need these things if they are to build courage.