Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Morry Never Fully Understood

Just this past week I finished reading an interesting book, entitled Tuesdays with Morrie, written by Mitch Albom. The book developed from a series of conversations Albom had with his old college professor Morrie Schwartz, near the end of the man’s life. Schwartz suffered from ALS, a debilitating disease more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It leaves the mind intact, but progressively destroys the muscles, bringing paralysis, then death. The conversations were held over a period of fourteen weeks, with the author visiting his former teacher each Tuesday until his death.

The book begins in this way:

“The last class of my old professor’s life took place once a week in his house, by a window in the study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink leaves. The class met on Tuesdays. It began after breakfast. The subject was the Meaning of Life. It was taught from experience.”

Albom held his old teacher in high regard, and the respect and tenderness he feels for the man is obvious throughout the book. Morrie Schwartz is in many respects an amazing man, and showed tremendous dignity and grace while dealing with his terminal illness.

Schwartz taught sociology at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. He was an engaging man, emphasizing love and kindness to his students and friends. He had a sweet smile, a gentle manner and was well respected.

There is much wisdom to be found in the book. Aphorisms (a concise statement of a principle) came naturally to Schwartz, and many pearls of wisdom are found in the book, including:

“Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do.”
“Accept the past as past, without denying it or discarding it.”
“Learn to forgive yourself and to forgive others.”
“Don’t assume it is too late to get involved.”
“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”

Albom wrote a list of things he wanted to talk about with his old teacher, which constituted the curriculum of their last “class.” The list contained the following topics: Death, Fear, Aging, Greed, Marriage, Family, Society, Forgiveness, and a meaningful Life.

While the book was very interesting, and no doubt has given comfort and pleasure to many who have read it, I could not help but be saddened at what the book did not contain. There was at no time a discussion of what would come after life. The extent of the discussion dealt with our existence on earth, with no thought to preparation for the life to come.

Of course, the reason for this is obvious. These individuals came from a secular background. Though Schwartz was Jewish, it is obvious from the book that he had little interest in religious matters. The writer, too, had a secular background that indicated a humanistic rather than a spiritual focus.

The book reminded me of the writer of Ecclesiastes, who wrote of the end of lives lived only in respect to the present, with no thought of eternity. “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind” (1:14). While there is much wisdom to be found in Morrie’s philosophy of life, ultimately it is lacking in the most important area, a man’s standing with his Maker.

Late in the book, there is finally a reference to God. Less than a month before his death, the disease having ravaged his body, he gave a short television interview with Ted Koppel. After the interview, Albom notes a short exchange between the two:

Koppel was near tears. “You done good.”

“You think so?” Morrie rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. “I’m bargaining with Him up there now. I’m asking Him, ‘Do I get to be one of the angels?'”

It was the first time Morrie admitted to talking to God.

A final aphorism summed up the “Meaning of Life” according to Morrie Schwartz. In that last TV interview, when asked if he would like to say anything to the millions of watchers who he had touched, he said, “Be compassionate, and take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be a better place. ” Then the aphorism, “Love each other or die.”

While there is much wisdom to be found in those words, they ring hollow without the final consideration of eternity. The writer of Ecclesiastes understood it well, stating a principle that is inclusive of Morrie’s final words, but encompassing so much more. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

I wish that I could say that Tuesdays with Morrie was a comforting read, but it was not. Because Morrie and his student never discussed the most important thing, the book left me feeling only sad.