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The Essential James Luther Adams

The Essential James Luther Adams

Selected Essays and Addresses

Seminal essays that span Adams's entire career

Editor: George Kimmich Beach

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Seminal essays that span Adams's entire career.
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Introduction

Faith and Freedom

A Faith for the Free

Neither Mere Morality Nor Mere God

The Changing Reputation of Human Nature

Music As a Means of Grace

Time and History

Taking Time Seriously

The Prophethood of All Believers

The Evolution of My Social Concern

By Their Roots Shall You Know Them

Association and Action

Our Responsibility in Society

The Indispensable Discipline of Social Reponsibility: Voluntary Associations

Theological Bases of Social Action

The Prophetic Covenant and Social Concern

What manner of man was James Luther Adams? His story of taking up the violin in middle-age provides several clues. He was an over-achiever, conscious of the fact and able to smile at himself for it, and confident that self-discipline is the engine of an enlarged humanity.

At the time this story occurred, Adams was a professor of religious social ethics at Meadville Theological School, the Unitarian seminary in Chicago. He was also a social activist engaged in issues of racism, civil liberties, and politics throughout the city. Somehow, he still found time to practice the violin. Yes, but two hours a day? Hyperbole is a raconteur's best friend, and as one might guess from this story, Adams was an incurable storyteller.

He was also an incurable self-improver. Practicing the violin served to "enrich the memory and ultimately to achieve self-identity." The importance of personal discipline in developing a well-focused sense of self is a recurrent theme in Adams's reflections. He saw his life story as the quest to fulfill his vocation, in the fundamental sense a calling to the tasks of one's true humanity. No wonder John Milton's epithet for God, "the Great Taskmaster," often sprang to his mind.

The story of his taking up the violin in adulthood also reflects his love for music. Adams speaks of music as "a means of grace," a creative reality that transcends reason and enables new understandings of life to emerge. In his mid-life autobiographical essay, "Taking Time Seriously," he describes how singing Bach's Mass in B minor with a large chorus became a pivotal experience in his spiritual life and vocation. The experience moved him to ask: What will I contribute to the living tradition of faith so richly augmented by Bach? God, for Adams, is experienced at those points where our creative energies are evoked and our lives are given impetus and direction.

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