Our religious heritage, both Unitarian and Universalist, was and is enriched by the life and thought of James Luther Adams, minister, professor, lecturer and amazing friend. He taught at our theological schools and was our neighbor when he was teaching at Harvard Divinity School. His home was always open to theological students, especially at lunchtime when he offered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, along with conversation coming from the students’ questions and comments. There was a time limit, however, since Jim was a faithful listener of the soap opera, “All in the Family.” How else, he would say, could one learn about the recent theological problems and issues?
On several occasions, I would give him a ride to our ministerial gatherings, where he was our beloved guru and often the major speaker for the group. Jim would always greet me with a “thank you, darling”…my only other colleague who would dare to use such familiar words! This greeting was a special honor for me. Jim’s theological ideas ranged in many fields of religious issues. His collection of essays in the book “On Being Human Religiously” illustrates this so clearly. As Professor Stackhouse wrote in his introduction to the book, these essays “have a pertinence to current redefinitions of liberalism and liberal religion, to contemporary human self-understanding, and to the scholarly debates that are carried on today about the relation to person to community, God to humanity and history to Social Ethics.” This book is a treasure to us and to our understanding of our religious heritage.
In addition, Jim had a love of music, and he loved to discuss this love with Howard and me sitting in our condo on Concord Street in Cambridge. His essay on music remains a key inspiration for this love and for our appreciation of his words regarding “music as a means of grace.” His words and his amazing commitment to his religious heritage are a benediction for us. “With a special sense of immediacy and inwardness, authentic music redefines, illumines, refreshes, orders our experience. It is not escape from reality; it is rather the rediscovery of a center of meaning and power, of a center that is a symptom and sign of faith—ultimately not a human achievement but a gift of grace.” This gift of grace was Jim’s heritage that he gave to us and is now a special and important part of our religious heritage.
Doris and Howard Hunter
Reference: “On Being Human Religiously” by James Luther Adams
Beacon Press 1976