Reflections On Andover-Newton Theological School, Or Why I Will Not Be At the Inauguration

One of my alma maters, Andover-Newton Theological School, is in crisis even as it is preparing to inaugurate the Rev. Martin Copenhaver as its president tomorrow, October 5, 2014.

The community learned this past week through a letter from Martin Copenhaver and one from the Board of Trustees (both arrived together) that Mr. Copenhaver had an affair, that he repents of his mistakes and the pain he has caused his family and wider community, and hopes the community will forgive him. The Board of Trustees expresses its support of the Rev. Mr. Copenhaver and desires to move forward “in grace,” choosing, as I read the letter, to use this occasion of repentance and forgiveness as a model for how healthy Christian communities behave.

I, and many other Andover-Newton graduates and students, are shocked and dismayed. We do not agree with the board’s decision, although there is no general consensus about what action would be best.

I am interested in public theology, social media, sexual ethics and clergy image and personae, all of which at play in this situation. Aside from my intellectual interest in this story, I have emotional loyalty to Andover-Newton Theological School, having earned my Doctor of Ministry degree there in 2011 and writing my doctoral dissertation on covenant and covenanting. And I am spiritually loyal to the body of Christ and the “beloved community” which includes non-Christian and non-Theistic Unitarian Universalists who are preparing for the ministry at Andover-Newton.

So I will say a word about all of these subjects in the interest of being helpful to the larger conversation, and as a way of offering a bit of pastoral ministry to those who are currently embroiled in the topic behind the semi-closed doors of Facebook and e-mail. There is no shame in being an institution dealing with human failing. Those of us who work in the church do it all day long and ourselves fail all day long. So I start from a theology of grace and a personal commitment to humor and intentional lightness of being: This has happened before. We are not players in a unique tragedy here. This is common human messiness.

I am first and foremost personally concerned about covenantal relationships –marriage being the most important one in this situation. It concerns me that my alma mater’s president should have violated the covenant of marriage for a long period of time, and that he and the board of trustees ask our forgiveness for that violation.

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Posted in Mind of the Minister, Theological Reflection | 37 Comments

A Different Fat Narrative

A friend sent me this article by Lisa Respers France, a Senior Producer for CNN, a woman struggling with compulsive overeating and weight issues.

I should start by saying that in America, it is assumed that all fat women are struggling with their weight. There is no existing framework in America outside a small, much- reviled Fat Acceptance movement that allows for the possibility of a woman being fat and not trying to lose weight. The same is becoming true for men, although there is still a wide chasm between public expectations for male and female bodies.

Unlike the author, I do not mind being called fat — it’s an accurate description, and since I don’t ascribe any moral value to fat, it doesn’t trigger any self-hate or shame for me. Unlike the author, I do not prefer to be called “fluffy.”  I love the word “zaftig,” which conveys a zest and juiciness that the word “fat,” in its plainness, does not evoke but “fat” is fine (Remember when Garp and his wife Helen in The World According To Garp named their son “Walt” — just Walt, not Walter — and John Irving described the word as the sound a beaver makes when thumping its tail on the ground? That’s how I feel when I hear “fat.” A nice, solid thwack of sound. I’m fat).

My friend who forwarded me the article assumed, as most people do, that as a fat woman, I would resonate with France’s narrative. I do not. I read France’s article with a weary sense of deja vu, in fact, mentally ticking off each generic trope found in the vast majority of narratives about fat women published in mainstream media, as each one appeared. They are, in no particular order:

The subject’s frustration with passive-aggressive messages about one’s looks and body given by friends (!). Hurt about male objectification that isn’t flattering enough (but the objectification itself is not a problem).

Dramatic moment in childhood when food becomes important, and eventually addicting.

Food is comforting, until it’s not, but at that point the fat person finds it impossible to stop overeating. Misery ensues.

Obligatory sad and tawdry detail about lonely binge eating (in this case, eating “squeeze cheese” and a box of Ritz crackers in  bed following a break-up).

Realization that food is a replacement for a “hole inside” or “deep yearning” that is probably spiritual in nature.

Lightbulb moment while reading the latest, most popular self-help book for weight loss/compulsive overeating, subsequent tears and sense of breakthrough (see Geneen Roth, When Food Is Love or Women, Food And God for the most current lightbulb books on women and fat).

Insight that food is a substitute for self-love.

Mention of male figure who “loves me just as I am.” Usually a husband.

Vows to “get healthy,” with recognition that this “will be hard” but with the help of God/my husband/my personal trainer/friends, the subject will accomplish this “healing.”

What happens next, the vast majority of the time, is that the subject will commit to a new lifestyle, a healthier and portion-controlled food plan (you don’t say “diet” in these narratives), will achieve success, and will write a follow-up article showing photographs of their “new” body with accompanying quotes about how much better and happier they feel and how much their medical condition has improved.

What happens after that is that they will gain back all or most of the weight they lost (or all that they lost plus more), return to the same habits they had before their conversion experience, and start the cycle all over again, only this time finding a new, more honest narrative about how food and fat work for them. After having done more work to understand their own bodies, their own personal and very complicated reasons for eating (surprise, it wasn’t just self-loathing after all), they may re-embark on the quest for weight loss and freedom from compulsive eating and achieve something that looks like success for them. Unless they are Oprah, this subsequent, more unique set of insights about overeating will never be reported.

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Posted in food for body and soul, Mind of the Minister, women's issues and feminist rants | 18 Comments

Dear Mother Universalism

Scott Wells, a foremost historian of Universalism (writing exclusively on-line), offers a pointed correction to the simplistic and sentimental treatment of Universalism proffered in too many UU sermons, books and stories.

I think it is much to Scott’s credit as a tireless blogger of the Universalist tradition that so many younger UUs are re-claiming Universalism in a serious and fierce way as central to their own theology and ministry. I took special delight in the appearance of two T-shirts at General Assembly this year, both  featuring cool, punk(ish) designs proclaiming Universalist slogans, LOVE THE HELL OUT OF THIS WORLD (a reference to John Murray’s famous saying, “Give them not hell, but hope…”) and DEATH AND GLORY (a reference to snide Restorationist dismissals of ultra-Universalism that claimed the soul went straight from death to heaven, with no remediating time in between).


YEA, Rev. Ron Robinson, Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship!


YEA, Paul Sawyer, Universalist Minister in Heartland, Vermont! And his lovely wife whose name I don’t know!

10517607_10204239534373524_5863457808536254464_n YEA, smiling GA conferee whose name I don’t know! Let’s get a closer look at that graphic, which I believe was created or commissioned by the Red Pill Brethren, a group of emergent-style UU clergy.


Another bit of fabulous Universalist swag that appeared at General Assembly this year was a great button created and distributed by the Rev. Scott Wells himself. Here’s the graphic of what Scott informs us was “the middle part of the Universalist Church of America seal from the early 40s to consolidation in 1961:”




I am currently serving a congregation that has very deep Universalist roots as well as Unitarian ones, and I am therefore more grateful than ever for Scott’s research and generosity in posting what he finds on his blog, Boy In The Bands. I am deeply grateful also to the Unitarian Universalists who are lifting up, reviving and living out the message of God’s all-conquering love in the world.

Posted in Unitarian Universalism | 3 Comments