About Lacey Louwagie

I'm a feminist, a writer, an editor, and a seeker. I co-edited "Hungering and Thirsting for Justice: Real-Life Stories by Young Adult Catholics" (ACTA 2012) and authored "Where I First Met God" in "Unruly Catholic Women Writers II" (SUNY Press 2013). You can learn more about me at www.laceylouwagie.com.

Caught Between Doctrines – What a Lucky Kid

thinking allowedLast week, the pastor at my church was talking about a youth member who attends Catholic school during the week and comes to UCC faith formation on Sundays. He mentioned that, “She’s learning a lot about Catholic doctrine, so she comes to confirmation study with questions about Catholic theology, and we try to make sense of it in the context of what we’re learning here.”

I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “What a lucky kid.”

Continue reading

Is There A Place for Big Girls in the Church?

"Forgive me, Father, for I have grown up."

“Forgive me, Father, for I have grown up.”

Recently, I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church, which is a memoir about her journey away from the clergy. When she stopped pastoring her church, she found it hard to go back as a congregant. She wrote this about her experience:

Mother Church had little interest in the things that were interesting me. Her job was to take care of her family. Why should she get into discussions that might cause them to lose confidence in her? Why encourage them to raise questions for which she had no answers? Even more important, why waste valuable time rehashing things that had been settled centuries ago when there was so much to do around the house right now? I understood her reasons, I really did. I was just looking for some way to stay related to her that did not require me to stay a child.

I immediately reached for my page flags and marked the passage. She is writing about the Episcopalian church, but her observation hits even harder for Catholicism.

Perhaps this is to be expected in denominations that require parishioners to refer to their pastors as “Father.” Perhaps that is where this pervasive infantalization of the laity originates.

Continue reading

God is Good (We Hope)

coffee bibleMy husband and I bring our laptops to our favorite coffee shop twice a week to work. We’ve noticed something about the coffee shops in our city: they are full of evangelists of all ages. You can scarcely enter one without finding a Christian mentor meeting with a mentee, a Bible study group, or a pastor writing a sermon. Based on this clientèle, I guess it isn’t surprising that the free-for-all chalkboard in the hallway to the bathroom has become a site for evangelization.

Last week, someone had chalked in large letters: GOD IS GOOD.

As I walked by it, I thought, “We hope.”

When my husband walked by, he added, “at checkers” (GOD IS GOOD at checkers).

The next time I saw it, someone had added, “& life!” (GOD IS GOOD at checkers & life!). Two separate people had written “All the time!!!” underneath the statement, with arrows pointing back to the initial statement. (GOD IS GOOD all the time!!!, or GOD IS GOOD at checkers & life all the time!!!)

Yesterday, I could resist no longer. I added the parenthetical (we hope) in the general vicinity of all the “Yay, God!” enthusiasm. Today, my statement of doubt was still on the chalkboard.

About ten years ago, my faith was shaken after a correspondence with a woman who worked for Kirk Cameron’s The Way of the Master. I had written a letter critiquing the site’s hate speech against GLBTQ people and Catholics (specifically the practice of praying the rosary). In the letter, I came out as both bisexual and Catholic. After a few emails back and forth, I was starting to feel that perhaps God really did despise me. That’s when I dropped the correspondence, because it was convincing me God was someone I did not want to know better. I curled up on my bed with my journal and wrote a list of the things I was sure I knew about God.

I don’t remember exactly what was on that list, but I think one of the statements was, “God is good.”

I do still believe that — my relentless search for meaning almost depends upon it. But I think the only thing about God I am really certain about these days is that I’m full of uncertainty. And this vulnerability is the only thing, I think, that can open me up to an authentic pursuit of God.

So I didn’t feel the need to take the proselytizing down a notch because I disagreed with the statement. Instead, I defaced it so the other doubters know they are not alone. So that those whose life experiences have led them to a very different perception of God or a loss of faith don’t suddenly feel as if they’ve stumbled into an unsafe space. To try to bring a little bit more neutrality to the table. To tamp down the arrogance that any of us can know definitively what the nature of God is, and push that definition on strangers without any inkling about their personal stories.

I was just the sort of pretentious college student who would have made such a proclamation to strangers on a coffee shop chalkboard.

Now, I can’t see statements like that without thinking about how they might read to someone who has just lost a child. Or to someone going through a divorce. To someone who doesn’t make enough money to feed her family. Or any of the thousands of other things that can happen to make someone feel that God has forsaken them.

I object to “God is Good” not because God is NOT good, but because it invites no room for dialog. Because it closes a discussion rather than opens one. Because it reflects the world view of the speaker, not the recipient. And because there’s not very much you can say to question it without looking like you are a terrible person, a “lost sheep,” or someone who wants to attack “freedom of religion.”

“We hope” might be the escape route a stranger needs; it might be the escape route I need; it might inject the distance needed to make it possible to approach the weighty and scary subject of God at all.

I believe that whoever wrote about God’s goodness did it as an act of love.

So, too, my words of doubt.

Drawing the Line v. Boundless Love

Yesterday, I listened to a Dear Sugar podcast in which the topic of discussion was that invisible “line” in intimate relationships

© Copyright Simon Carey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

© Copyright Simon Carey and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

— that edge at which your ability to stay with someone tips toward separation. Cheryl Strayed remarks that love in committed relationships MUST be unconditional — but even so, all of us do carry conditions deep within ourselves. This line is not the same for everyone, and we may not even know what it is until we are right up against it. It is much easier to draw the line when dealing with sin in the abstract than when dealing with the people we love who commit it.

My soul trembles in the midst of conflict with the people I love, and I spend even more time than usual looking inward, trying to discern the best way to proceed. Relationship gurus like “Sugar” offer conflicting advice, and I find myself turning to my faith, remembering that Jesus calls us to be boundlessly generous and endlessly forgiving. This, I know, is the Ultimate Advice on how we should conduct our relationships, but it’s scary to do in a world where we protect our own goodness out of fear that it will be used against us. So we find a place to draw that line, a place at which we will turn our goodness and forgiveness and generosity off.

Continue reading

All Families Are Holy … Except Yours

south-dakota-marriage-equalityMy husband and I were with family on Holy Family Sunday, so we went to a Catholic service. The priest gave his homily about how the face of the family was changing, so that there were fewer and fewer families that looked like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. He claimed that families in which grandparents raised the children, families with adopted or foster children, and even (gasp) single-parent families could all be “holy families” because it’s not about “what families look like,” but “how they treat each other.” [My husband thinks the single-parent thing was a concession because there are so many of them and the priest didn’t want to diss a sizable contingent of parishioners, and I did note that he seemed to think single-parent families were only okay if the parents didn’t “plan” for it to happen that way.]

He then went on to assure us that families led by same-sex couples could not fit into the Biblical definition of a Holy Family by their very nature–as the “readings showed.”

This comment perplexed me, and the priest did not offer any clarification. So I re-examined the readings for the day and still found nothing. Yes, there is reference in the readings to marital relationships between “husbands” and “wives,” but if this does not exclude single-parent families, why does it exclude same-sex headed households?

He couldn’t offer clarification, of course, because as more GLBTQ people come out and more straight people can put faces on the “issue,” all of the old excuses stop holding up so well. All the ready defenses crumble, so that the best you can do is make vague statements about your disapproval and hope that no one calls you on it.

On Monday, a federal judge overturned South Dakota’s same-sex marriage ban. In so doing, she addressed every one of the state’s “defenses,” showing them for the flimsy covers for prejudice that they were. The whole opinion came across as a slap on the hand for Governor Daugaard and Attorney General Jackley, and it’s about time. On page 23, she wonders why South Dakota’s state leaders are so hung up on “preserving the status quo.”

A very good question.

One I would like to ask the priest from Holy Family Sunday.

Sometimes, someone with more power finally swoops in and chastises those who refuse to stand on the side of love and equality. The top-down approach in the Catholic church means there are many options for someone with “more power” to swoop in and chastise priests that continue to make discriminatory comments and behave in exclusionary ways.

Progressives love to grab hold of Pope Francis’ now iconic “who am I to judge?” comment as a signal of real change in the church. But the truth is, until the church holds its officials accountable for their hurtful choices, until the church rethinks its teachings on homosexuality and reexamines the meaning of love in all its complexity, diversity and simplicity, the church that our “non-judgmental” pontiff leads is passing judgment every single day.

“Who am I to judge?”

You’re the leader of the world’s largest denomination, that’s who. I’d like to tell Pope Francis to please, go ahead and judge, because we’ve been waiting too long for watered down statements about love and acceptance to bring about real change. Go ahead and judge, and when you do, perhaps you can take a page from the 26 federal judges who finally said, “Enough is enough,” and struck down discriminatory state marriage laws, one after the other.

That’s the kind of judgment that makes me proud to be American, and finally proud to be South Dakotan.

I would love that kind of judgment to make me feel proud to be Catholic again as well.

On Suffering

When it’s my time to go, this is the priest I prefer.

My mother is the unwilling president of the CCW at her hometown parish. Recently, she had to attend a dinner for a visiting priest. She was not impressed. Her own mother, my grandmother, was in the last weeks of her life. My mom could only take comfort in knowing that Grandma was not suffering, thanks to anti-anxiety medications and pain killers, and that when her hour came, she would go peacefully.

So Mom’s hackles went up when the visiting priest proclaimed that we “shouldn’t” give pain medications to the sick or the dying because “suffering is good for the soul.”

It is this kind of heartless, fundamental misunderstanding of the Lord they claim to follow that ultimately pushed my husband and me away from Catholic services and the priests that lead them. In this case, I think the priest has followed a confusing line of thought that goes something like this:

God is good, but people still suffer. We can find meaning in suffering by remembering that our Lord suffered as well. If remembering the Lord is good, then suffering is good. Therefore, we do good to others when we allow them to suffer.

Continue reading

The Rosary in New Jersey

rosaryTwo weeks ago, my husband and I took a trip to the East Coast, beginning in New York City and ending up in Boston. Because of hotel prices outside our Midwestern budget, we decided to try our first experience with an AirBNB house. On AirBNB, regular folks offer up anything from a couch or air mattress to a fully furnished apartment to guests. We rented a bedroom with a single woman in New Jersey. When it was time to go, we carefully checked the dressers, closet, and bathroom to make sure we were leaving nothing behind.

I was waiting for the Amtrak at Penn Station when I reached into my pocket an realized my rosary wasn’t there. In the habit of saying it before bed, I often find it somewhere under the covers or on the floor the next day. Continue reading