Author and United Methodist Minister James R. Hallam is an extraordinary teacher who is eager to impart vital life lessons to us when it comes to human gifts.
Drawing on a lifetime of experience as a minister, teacher, administrator, counselor, and father, Hallam uses lessons from contemporary culture, the Bible, and his own personal history to illuminate the nature of gifts ranging from love and compassion to generosity and legacy.
His profound new book, Human Gifts: Giving to Transform Ourselves, Others and the World, is his way of articulating the significance of the journey of our lives as human beings.
Hallam believes that the roots of human fulfillment lie in our relationships with self and others and sees Jesus as the ultimate role model for a meaningful life on earth. A man with an impressive background, Hallam holds a B.A. from Dickinson College, an M.S. in Education from the University of Pennsylvania, and a M. Div. and Doctor of Ministry from Drew University.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Hallam lives in Newtown Square, PA with his wife, Kerry. Between them, they have seven adult children and one very special dog.
While highlighting the wisdom of various world luminaries and the examples set by everyday people he has known, Hallam contends that the life and teachings of Jesus demonstrate most profoundly what it means to be a gift-giver. The gifts described in his book will resonate with all of its readers, regardless of their religious affiliation.
“My book is for those of us who want to find a direction for their journey and figure out how to make the world a better place,” explains Hallam. “The values I wrote about truly make us our best selves in terms of being members of the human family.”
Hallam asks us — how will you use your gifts? Human Gifts is a book about the innate capacities that lie within each of us and how, through developing and sharing them, we can find personal meaning and fulfill our potential in the world.
Your book is filled with important life lessons about empathy, compassion, kindness, acceptance, friendship, and more. Why are these values so important to you/us as people?
James R. Hallam: The values I write about are those that call for our best humanity. Not that they exist as independent entities. The grounding of all of those is love. Love is the centerpiece and I believe that humanistic love is that quality that is necessary to live our lives as complete people.
Why did you write Human Gifts?
At the time, I was working on another book focused on the questions and responses I asked my students at Neumann University to keep in a journal. In the shower one day, the idea of human relations popped into my mind as a topic I should be dealing with. This topic gave me a chance to articulate the significance of the journey we are living as human beings. I wanted to get beyond all the rituals, dogma, and creeds and state the essentials of a Christian lifestyle in a contemporary world with respect to sharing all of the gifts as human beings.
Are there a few ‘gifts’ that resonate most with you and why?
The ones that I would focus on are love, kindness, listening, and gratitude. The essential one is love because it has an eternal quality. I think of R.J. Palacio’s book Wonder. There is a section where the school principal is talking to his Middle School students when they are graduating and he tells them, “Be kinder than necessary.” Also, the Dali Lama teaches us that the definition of religion is “to be kind.”
How did writing and publishing your book change you?
It is all about human connection for me. Those of us in a prosperous situation are obligated to help others and share what we have. I believe strongly in the words and deeds of Steven Girard, the founder of Girard College. When he died, he left his estate to build a school in North Philadelphia, a residential program for boys who lost their fathers. His words were, “My deeds must be my life. When I am dead, my actions must speak for me.” Baron von Hugle, a Catholic philosopher, was dying and whispered from his bedside, “caring is everything; nothing matters but caring. This is profound when it comes to human interaction.”
Also, according to the Gospel of Luke, “Much is required of the person who has much.” Those are the things that illustrate my sense of human gifts and what really leads to a fulfilled life and a life that makes a difference.
What is one lesson that you taught your students over the years that is reflected in your book?
I have always told my students to understand that relationships are more important than things. Unconditional love is the greatest gift we can give to one another.
What was it like to hold the finished book?
There is a sense of accomplishment that goes into it. I appreciate the opportunity to touch people’s lives and make them think about how they are living. I wanted to complete a creative goal on my bucket list and leave, as part of my legacy, the lessons I tried to teach my children.
What feedback are you getting from church members? Friends? Family?
I have received excellent comments from people indicating they read and enjoyed it and keep it on their bedstand. A former academic friend from Temple University, who is an atheist, said the book was meaningful, challenged her outlook and that the religious quotations were not burdensome. A lot of people have told me that it is well written, an easy read, yet challenging in terms of the whole journey. I feel a sense of accomplishment to be able to touch some people’s lives and contribute to their development as human beings and fulfillment as a person.
Why are the gifts of listening and compassion so important in order for us to lead fruitful and happy lives?
Listening and compassion are capacities that enable us to connect with others. Listening enables understanding and permits another person to know that we are truly present and care. Only in being kind are we truly fulfilling our humanity. We are connected to all living things and every person is special and valued. We all hurt or are broken at times and the healing touch comes to us through the genuine care of others.
What did you love about teaching? Being the dean of students? Fatherhood?
I enjoyed teaching because it gave me an opportunity to engage students and others in the thinking, learning, and sharing process. As Dean of Students, I was able to promote wellness and felt that I could help nurture a context in which students could grow and mature. I love being a parent. To love and be loved makes the experience life-giving.
During COVID-19 and isolation, the act of touching became very difficult. Yet, you believe finding human contact is so important. How do we manage this?
That’s definitely true. I’m a hugger so it’s really difficult for me. You have to replace the physical touch with touching verbally and affirming people. The elbow thing doesn’t quite do it. It’s a tough struggle, what do we do with touch in an environment of harassment and COVID-19 restrictions.
Do you plan to write additional books?
Yes, I plan to continue writing. My next project is to utilize the responses to questions I asked my students in Introduction to Theology and World Religions while a lecturer in Pastoral Care and Theological Studies at Neumann University in Aston, Pa. The focus will be on self-discovery.
James Hallam’s website and social media links are:
Facebook: Human Gifts