I was recently given the opportunity to speak to Crescent City Christian school at their Junior ring ceremony. Below is my speech on courage.
I want to thank the junior class for allowing me the tremendous privilege of speaking to you on such an important occasion. I feel so blessed to be a part of your lives as a teacher, a mentor, a youth pastor, and even, a friend. When I pondered what to speak about, my mind quickly realized the need of our generation. If our generation lacks anything, it is courage. Yes, courage. What is courage? Courage is doing the right thing in every circumstance no matter the personal cost. Courage is that indelible quality known as moral fortitude. It is the willingness to take a stand on what is good, true, and beautiful in every place at every time and for every victim even when you’re afraid. It is the digging of your heels into the ground of justice, the stiffening of your spine, and the speaking the truth even if your voice shakes. It is all of that and more and it is almost entirely gone in our day.
Why the absence? First, courage is a communal virtue. It is something that exists within a society, a fellowship, or community. Sadly, the death of authentic, true relationships means there’s simply no opportunity to showcase and learn courage. We’ve created social media communities to replace true and lasting friendships and wonder why we find it hard to speak directly, clearly, and whimsically with our peers. We’ve replaced acts of courage with social activism and wonder why the problems of the world persist. Evil won’t be solved through a retweet, a changing of a facebook profile pic, or a snapchat. Second, courage requires the recognition that some things are right and some things are wrong. This is quite unpopular in our day. It seems that the only objective wrong today in our generation is that there is such a thing as right and wrong to begin with. Don’t you see. If there’s no real right and wrong, then there’s no offense to be had when right and wrong are denied. But, this is nonsense and we all know it. Third, courage requires you reject being a people-pleaser. Courage necessitates that you stand alone and go against the crowd. We all know that the worst thing that could ever happen in elementary, middle, and high school is to stand alone, right? The worst thing that could literally ever happen to us is to omg you know totally to like stand alone and have everyone like you know be salty to us. What if we don’t get those likes on instagram? What if people think we keep it less than 100? We would like literally die, except of course when we don’t. Being courageous won’t kill you; it may even cause you to truly live.
You may be thinking, “Mr. Austin, what are you talking about? Other people are cowards but I’m courageous…sometimes.” But that’s just it. Courage is not one of those virtues that exist sometimes. As Winston Churchill said once, “What good is it being chaste, or merciful or honest only when it’s easy? It’s when you are afraid that it is hardest, as they say, to choose the harder right over the easier wrong.” Even Pontus Pilate was merciful until it became risky. I like to do thought experiments in my class to make a point. Think about this scenario. Say you lived during the Civil War period in the South. Would you be an abolitionist and work to free the slaves or would you have gone with the prevailing culture of the day? Would you have worked tirelessly for justice, human dignity, and what is truly good or simply gone with the crowd? [Raise your hands]. But beloved where is the evidence for such an idea? In leading your lives today, have you embraced causes that are unpopular among your peers? What decisions in your life today have you made knowing that you would be loathed and ridiculed by wealthy, powerful, and influential individuals and institutions in our society? What decisions have you made that cost you friendships and caused you to be abandoned and even denounced by many people you once admired? Where have you fought for the dignity and humanity of people today? I surmise many of us would have gone with the crowd then because we’ve gone with the crowd during our time.
So what should we do? How do we become courageous? First, and of course, you must come to God as the source and fountain of all true courage. My senior quote when I graduated high school was this simple line, “He who kneels before God can stand before any man.” I chose it because it is true. Many things will be difficult in life and even downright scary. But courageous people rely on the Lord and move forward in the path of obedience. Jesus was afraid but he was also courageous. In the garden of Gethsemane he prayed, “Father, it be your will, let this cup pass from me; however not my will, but yours be done.” Despite the fear and the coming public shame of the cross, Jesus showcased courage. If we are to be courageous, we must come to Him and allow him to work it in us. Second, we must learn to love what is good, true, and beautiful. You’ll never be a man or women of courage if you do not love what God loves and hate what God hates. You’ll instead be a pawn of your culture and politician for the prevailing heresy of the day until the world is done with you. Third, you must act. You learn courage by doing, acting, and willing. Courage is a virtue of action. How will you know if you’ll have the courage to do the right thing in the big moments that require such nobility? Because you’ve made a conscious, deliberate choice to do the right thing in the thousands if not millions of everyday situations that seemed insignificant. Through the habit of doing the right thing, your heart, mind, and will have been so transformed and molded around the good, the true, and beautiful that when the time for choosing comes, the choice will be second nature. Juniors, student body, faculty, staff, and parents, if our times require anything of us today, it is courage. May God grant us this cause!