Martin Niemoller was a leader in the German Confessing Church as Adolf Hitler transformed Europe. While Niemoller's friend, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, met secretly in worship of Jesus while Hitler rewired Germany's heart, Niemoller made friends with Nazi sympathizers. As the Nazi grip tightened on the Christian church, Niemoller ventured underground to join seasoned veterans in covert church. Niemoller's oft cited quote below sheds light on the need to develop courage early. "First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I wasn't a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then, they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me."
Niemoller's lack of action speaks to a need to develop courage in thinking people. There are essentially three definitive steps students at Hillcrest take in their development of courage. They are simple. They are natural in education. They are wholly essential in building a virtuous people.
The glow of the shaded lamp nearly put me to sleep. The house was quiet. My only companion was the furnace, making an introduction every hour. I turned pages in my book like a weight lifter at the end of the work out. I often read with coffee in hand. Coffee at 9pm is held more than supped.
The laborious work digging into Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All was paused to reminisce to classes I visited earlier that day. With leaves falling in a reticent wave to autumn, students at Hillcrest started to turn the corner on their studies. The dog days of summer were packed in boxes next to jean shorts and baseball caps. Students pulled out fleece blankets as companions to hours of studying. They were forming foundational habits.
Habits are formed in the classroom. But foundational habits are formed in the heart. Sitting through Worldview, European History, or AP English is a discipline in forming foundational habits. When a question flies from the podium, students scramble to pull together a thought-out response. Assumptions aren't answers at Hillcrest.
In most classes there is a move to explain a thought. Students are encouraged to hold beliefs tightly. For some that means honoring a parent's perspective. Others are stretching their view of the world. The most asked question at Hillcrest is why.
Students build an understanding of the world using logic and evidence in HIllcrest's halls. In Bible class, students are pushed to ask if the Bible is consistent with reality, coherent in presentation, and complete in explanation. Reading history and literary classics, students begin to see the uniqueness of Scripture. They see a foundation for the world. The heart formed habits begin to inform Biblical study. There is a foundation for their courage that rises beyond themselves. Foundation is key to courage.
Confusion reigns in first days at Hillcrest. "English is the most important class," is a phrase heard echoing down the hall to the History classroom, where the teacher proclaims, "History is going to be the most important class for you at Hillcrest." Students scratch their heads and begin asking questions to clarify. The hubris falls off the second week with greater explanation.
Each instructor at Hillcrest feels their class is the most important. Math teachers speak to their subject being God's building block. Nothing exists without mathematics, and the study of math is an exercise in discipline that leads to a deepened relationship with Jesus. History propels the past to inform the future. English is the study of words and communication. God spoke words in creating the universe. Science is an exploration into discovery. Without discovery mankind is stagnant. God's character doesn't include stagnation. Even the Marketing teacher boasts the importance of his subject. Without well crafted stories, America and Britain would still have slavery, and would likely be speaking German. School presents an outlined origin.
At Hillcrest, students are taught that value is predetermined. Everyone hears in the first weeks that their image comes from God. Their image is so central to their existence that Jesus died to preserve it. But something students may not have heard before is that everyone is worth rising for. Students receive a foundation at Hillcrest revealing a world that Jesus rose to. God's work on the cross was the payment for sin. Jesus' work after the cross formed a foundation for hope. It outlined origin.
With this outline, students engage in academics to move beyond the garden. Their studies not only explain the way God intended the world to operate, but show how God continues to bring hope, peace, and freedom to a world reeling from the serpent's lie. The world cannot remain a place yearning for hope and change. God is changing the world through explained and defined hope. Christians have an opportunity to understand hope better than anyone. Jesus needs to be in school books, and He is the originator of the outline to living a courageous life.
Practice Makes Preference
With a formed foundation, and an outlined origin, Jackie Robinson stood motionless in the elevator rubbing his shoulder. His arm wasn't sore. The renowned baseball player was stinging in thought, and his shoulder rubbing was instinctive when he was nervous. Robinson was soaring up a New York skyscraper to meet the most influential man in baseball, Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson was a man with black skin facing a sport, baseball, that hadn't broken the color barrier.
Jackie had a practice of doing difficult new things. It started in his first years of life when his mom took five children on a 9 day cross-country trip away from a cheap labor share-cropping existence to Pasadena. Jim Crow laws were faintly printed on newspapers in California. Foreign to Robinson who saw the same laws as tattooed orders in the American South.
Robinson's family built a new future in California. It gave Robinson a silver medal in Berlin behind Jesse Owens, and the 1938 MVP in his junior college baseball league. Joining success, Robinson found beatings, restricted opportunities, and petty arrests. In all this, Robinson forged a faith that stabilized his emotions.
A methodist preacher, Karl Downs, impressed on Robinson that Jesus was not submissive, but heroic. As Jackie continued to face hardships, and a glass ceiling of opportunity, he disciplined himself to act, and react, as Jesus did in the Bible. After a court martial attempt failed to convict Robinson during his service in World War II, Robinson found definition in a character he was trained to practice. The racial clash involved a bus seat, a law suit from a white skinned nurse, and poor judgement from an enlisted officer. Author Eric Metaxas, in his book 7 Men notes that Robinson was practicing a preference in his reactions to injustice. "They were, in effect, spiritual spring training for the even more difficult episodes that Jackie would face in the not-too-distant future."
Jackie's presence before Branch Rickey, a committed Christian who refused to attend baseball games on Sunday, makes sense, now. Rickey wanted to break the color barrier. According to author Eric Metaxas, Rickey's faith drove his commitment to introduce players with black skin into major league baseball. Rickey saw in Robinson a man whose faith practice forged a preference. Courage was developed because of Jackie's foundational faith in Jesus. His resolve to stand was centered on an understanding of Jesus heroic work before, during, and after the cross. Jackie's response was practicing what he saw.
At HIllcrest, students practice their faith daily. Prayers in classes, consistent searching for ultimate meaning in Scripture, and simple conversations on faith after class are practices that forge preference. It is normal to talk about faith at HIllcrest.
This consistent practice for students breaks something that the Nazi's called the spiral of silence. Their work, noted by Nazi propaganda specialist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, was to make the majority feel like the minority to cause the majority to stop speaking. Their work was to challenge the sociological reasons for faith, that faith was preferred because it was popular. At HIllcrest faith is forged on the basis of truth. Students are challenged by their teachers to explain the basis for belief in Jesus. This practice creates a preference for students to explain their faith. The practice for reasoned explanation creates a preference for courageous students to stand with confidence and resolve.
This is the first of a seven part series outlining simple ways Hillcrest Academy forges virtuous students. Hillcrest's students are not perfect. That is not the goal. The goal is to have a virtuous student who knows grace, and gives it freely. Our culture at Hillcrest is an offering to parents to propel student to a future that honors God and loves man. What students do with their training is out of our control. But it is easy to see that the first building block in virtue, cultivating courage, is an exercise that benefits students and enhances the community.