How James Luther Adams Became Important to Me and Why He Still Is
by Judith Deutsch
I first met JLA in 1975 in the home of Max Stackhouse (a theologian and social ethicist who was then a professor at Andover Newton Theological School) when Max invited some of his students to meet and talk with Jim. Other than Jim, I was the only Unitarian Universalist present. Max was my adviser and professor and, when he found that he needed to be abroad and thus could not speak at Jim’s birthday celebration on May 23, 1976 at the Arlington Street Church, arranged for me to speak in his place.
My face to face encounters with Jim had been very few, and although I had already begun to be inspired by Jim’s knowledge and his graciousness and concern for people, I did not know enough about him to give the address. And so, I went to what was then the vertical file about Jim in the Andover Harvard Library, and read everything in it. While reading, I found that many others had been inspired by him, and that I was getting even more inspired. I learned that Jim had extended his love to so many in ways that enabled him to help them “do their things,” and I was extremely impressed with Jim’s concept of power—his belief in power with, not power over, and that the truly powerful are those who work for large purposes and accomplish them.
I learned about and admired many of the large purposes for which Jim had devoted his life, and that he valued reason, intellect and scholarship, but found them insufficient in themselves; that he was opposed to “whatlessness” and was for commitment, and believed, “The human person …is not one greater than the ends with which he identifies himself.”
Margaret (Jim’s wife) and Jim were so favorably impressed with my address, “James Luther Adams: An Inspiration to An Uncounted Many,” that they invited me to their home and did so many times thereafter. Soon, I was asked to, and did write, the study guide to Max’s On Human Being Religiously (edited versions of Jim’s essays on religion and society). Afterwards, I was Jim’s frequent companion and often chauffeur to meetings of the Democratic Socialists of America ’s Religion and Socialism Commission and to Collegium, an association of liberal religious scholars. Jim arranged for me to give the response to the speaker (a Congressperson) on God at the UUA General Assembly at Cornell, and told me that my response was better than what the Congressperson had said. For a while in the 80’s and 90’s, I attended sessions at which Jim’s experiences in Nazi Germany were recorded and he was filmed recounting them. I also was videotaped interviewing Jim at the UUA, and I was asked to and did arrange the celebration of Jim’s 85th birthday at the Arlington Street Church, and edited “Honoring JLA On His 85th Birthday,” a compilation of the talks, including Jim’s and mine, given on that occasion.
Each of my encounters with Jim told me more about a wonderful person, one who enriched my life greatly in the about thirty years I was fortunate enough to associate with him.