Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
July 21, 2008
Faith is cornerstone of life and death
One of the most popular non-fiction books this year is The Last Lecture, a cheerful book of reflections by Randy Pausch, a computer science professor who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Pausch, now 47, gave "the last lecture" at Carnegie Mellon last September reflecting on those experiences and values that have been most valuable in his life. The lecture has been expanded into a book that now sits at the top of the bestseller list. Pausch was given three to six months to live last August. He is still alive and mobile, but his condition is worsening.
His story is unfortunate, even tragic. Married at age 38, he and his wife Jai have three young children who he will never see grow to maturity. Randy gave the lecture (which was videotaped) and wrote the book to, at least in part, leave something of himself to guide his children.
Pausch is a remarkable man with an exuberant spirit, a spirit that the book reflects. Readers will, no doubt, find The Last Lecture a spur to reflection on their own experiences and values.
Pausch tells stories.
In his bachelor days, he regularly took his niece and nephew on outings. One day when he arrived in a brand new convertible, his sister told her kids to keep Randy's car clean and not to create a mess. Randy, knowing messes were inevitable, took a soft drink and poured it over the backseat while his sister talked. The kids would no longer worry about being the first to mess up the car.
Pausch also provides and unpacks his maxims for life:
Pausch, however, says nothing about what comes after death. It's hard to believe that a person can stare death in the face and have nothing to say about these "last things." Indeed, how one views the last things will inevitably colour how one views the present moment.
Even more puzzling is that Pausch is a Christian, apparently a regular churchgoer. He says he didn't discuss religion because he wanted "to talk about universal principles that apply to all faiths." Yet, he often discusses those universal principles as if they were personality traits.
If this were only a matter of Pausch's particular outlook, that would be one thing. But the attitude that regards faith as "something very personal" and not a matter for public discussion is too widespread and too wrong-headed to be passed over in silence.
St. Paul expresses it succinctly: "If the dead are not raised, . . . your faith is futile" (1 Corinthians 15:16, 17). If they are raised, then faith is everything.
Either God is the Source of All Being and the cornerstone of all life or he is nothing worthy of note. If God is the Source of All Being, he cannot be regarded as an optional extra - good for me, but maybe not for you.
Faith is personal. It is the most personal thing there is. But that does not relegate it to the realm of the private, the undiscussable. When we discuss our faith, we become vulnerable. We also offer the world something it needs much more than maxims about dreaming big and working harder.
The root of many of the world's problems is the separation between faith and life. Bringing faith out of the closet and into public view invites opposition and controversy. It also offers the world the opportunity for healing and fullness of life.
Pausch's book would perhaps not have been a runaway bestseller if he had discussed ultimate issues from the perspective of Christian faith. But if we want to offer our children something of everlasting value, faith is the cornerstone.
- Glen Argan
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