The Steps of a Faithful Man - Mr. Robert Craig

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11 – The steps of a good man…

Though I mainly became acquainted with him through Concord Christian Academy, my first encounter with Robert Craig, or “Bob” as he was colloquially nicknamed, was not through the school but through Concord Baptist Church as a Sunday School teacher.  A Sunday in the summer of 1995 my family sauntered into the church building for the first time. It was one of those unexpected life moments that a future self would retrospectively note as being landmark. This was not the first church my family visited that year, but it would be the final one. Something was different here – it was like family. For me, Bob Craig was one of the main reasons.
Sunday School with him was enjoyable. This skilled man not only taught junior high boys the Bible, he made it interesting and fun. He patiently answered our pressing and sometimes silly adolescent questions about life. We memorized Scripture. We played review games. We had a great time learning the Bible with him.
After that summer, my sisters and I were enrolled in Concord Christian Academy. The school had just enclosed and remodeled the balcony in the gymnasium into a Science classroom. On the first day of school, the principal of the school gathered all of us strapping young men (in our own eyes) to carry student desks and other furniture up to the classroom. The drywall was still curing- the room smelled like the grand opening of a local hardware store. First-day excitement abounded. And then – then the magic happened. Mr. Craig asked us to open our Earth Science textbooks and I began my first of many school lessons with him.
He taught for 37 years at the school, pouring his life into the students. He was a principal teacher, a master of thought and connectivity of a vast array of different fields. He had tremendous adeptness at taking something complex and breaking it down to simple and familiar terms for his students.  In Chemistry class, we would look dumbfounded at the board as he etched skeletal formulas with his iconic yellow chalk, until he would delineate to us that it was simply a common household cleaner we all had under our sinks in our homes. Then, it all made sense. A collective “Ohhh…” would usually follow. He loved his students and provided for them an approachable learning atmosphere. We were excited to share with him our personal experiences. For example, after a couple of days of instruction on dissecting a frog, we were given permission to “explore” on our own. I can still recall how excited I was to show him that I had cut open the stomach of some hapless frog and discovered the undigested exoskeletons of beetles; or another time, the joyful disgust my sister and I displayed when we told him our family had perch for dinner on the same day we dissected a yellow perch in Biology class. You could talk to him. He balanced a level of authority and relationality – just like Jesus.
He was flexibly fun. One November 16th a student brought cupcakes and birthday decorations with her to class. She said, “I brought these to celebrate your 35th birthday today.” To the enthusiasm of the class, he laughed and said, “Well, I guess we are not going to have class today.” He was not ignorant of the lengths a conniving student would travel to have a free day of class. It did not matter – he knew the right moments to relax and when the appropriate time was to press us to greater lengths.
In his Grammar and Literature classes, we learned that words had meaning to them and that they should not be used flippantly. And because moral influences are expressed in writing, he helped us students to understand the importance of knowing an author’s worldview before we read his works. But most of all, he taught us how we could creatively write poems and essays to reflect back to a creative God who has endowed mankind with the ability to write and ponder.
Later, as his educational colleague, we would often have discussions about our love for reading. We would talk about how incredulous it was that a movie would not be aligned with its parent book, or converse about some story we had recently read that had a surprise ending. Literature was meaningful to him and he saw life through its vibrant characters. “Something smells rotten in Denmark,” he would jocularly say when he was playfully suspicious of something, quoting from Shakespeare’s famous play Hamlet. Or sometimes he would jokingly align fictional characters to make an analogy to someone’s character, like “She reminds me of Miss Havisham,” alluding to the eccentric antagonist of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. We would both laugh. Our conversations delved deep into the literature world, encompassing generations and cultures of literary writers from Homer to Leo Tolstoy, to O. Henry to Oscar Wilde.

12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21– …are ordered by the Lord….

In the summer of 2022, he and his wife Donna received horrible news. A rare and aggressive form of cancer had spread through his body and was destroying him. He could barely breathe. He did not have much longer to live.
A week before his passing that summer, there was a small window of opportunity for me to come visit him in the hospital. As I sat in the hospital room, I was in disbelief. My educational hero was very sick. It did not seem fair. I told him just that, and also through tear-stained eyes that I did not know how I could continue without him. He was more than a colleague, he was a true friend. He patiently listened to my earthly complaints and through labored breathing told me that his favorite class memories were of his students. He enjoyed teaching them. He enjoyed taking trips with them, especially the Class of 1998 to Canada on their Senior Trip. We read a psalm about music together. As we read, in my mind I could hear him playing on the piano I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ for My Journey Now or singing in church He Is Jehovah and Indescribable. I held his hand, or rather he held mine, and I prayed for God’s grace. The nurses needed to attend to him and it was time for me to leave. I squeezed his hand and said, “Thank you for everything, I love you.” Before I got to the doorway, over my left shoulder I heard him gently but meaningfully say, “Jonathan, I love you too.”

22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32 - …and he delighteth in his way.- Psalms 37:23

Every day, Robert Craig would walk up four flights of stairs, 32 steps in total, to his classroom. Sometimes those steps were ascended with youthful energy. Sometimes they were not. Mr. Craig battled multiple diseases over his teaching career; yet, unwaveringly, he persevered by climbing the stairs each day to impact his students.
His steps were the steps of a good man. He loved the Lord. He delighted in Him. Everyone could observe it. We all could clearly see it. Figuratively, perhaps it was fitting then that his classroom was exclusively on the third floor.  His teaching was a level above everyone else. He was respected and revered. He was beloved.
There is a cavalier saying in the business world that ignorantly states, “Everyone is replaceable.” It is simply not true. Robert Craig is irreplaceable. Truly, his steps followed the Lord and his influence remains embedded on the hearts of his students and colleagues. I knew this wonderful man for 27 years. Some have known him longer. Some have known him a shorter amount of time. All of us have his fingerprints on our lives.

- Jonathan Bradford