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Welcome (and stay awhile) to an intersection of justice, social change, and Catholicism

At the beginning of my reversion to Catholicism, sitting on a futon in a small dorm room in Seattle that I shared with Melissa, I would scour the Internet for blogs or articles or just something that was written from a point of view of a Latina cradle Catholic. I was looking to find a Latina whose Catholicism was formed by a conviction for social justice and a grandma praying the rosary with a copy of Vanidades laying around. I was looking to find a reflection of myself in someone else. If the statistics were right, I knew I wasn’t the only one out there, but back then I never found anyone. 

My hope in sharing honestly and openly through these little boxes is to offer a space where someone else searching for the intersection of justice, social change, and Catholicism can come sit around this fire and spin ideas. I want to offer what I was looking for to help someone else feel less alone. Fast forward to today and I have found comadres talking and planning and moving to action among the corners of the interwebs. I am apart of and I have helped create and space like the one I was looking for.

I decided awhile ago, though, that I’m not going to stress about curating this weird little piece of Internet that I have. I really, really love photography as a creative outlet. I like the idea of a feed with a color palette and a cohesive theme. But, I’ve learned over and over again that my life does not lend itself well to that type of stability. A good and wise and former college roommate who knows me startling well (Melissa I’m looking at you) has said some things to me over the past few weeks that has helped me remember this. As a family we’ve had to pivot and reimagine what life is going to look like in dramatic ways. Career changes, cross-country to cross-the-town moves, some-day-but-not-yet answered prayers, unexpected babies, unexpected medical journeys, and loss and death, addiction and recovery. It has often left me feeling like I am grasping to steady myself on some janky carnival ride. Even if I am able to plant my feet, I am not entirely sure this whole thing isn’t going to have a major malfunction and fly off its tracks. It’s dishonest for me to try to package that into some nice message for you to follow because over here the outcome is usually messy and a little lopsided. My guess is that maybe that’s true for you, too. 

We are often telling writers, and artists, and neighbors to stay in their lane on the Internet. We want to commodify each other – we want the products, but we don’t want the people. And I’m not down with that. I’m going to say what Melissa reminded me of: there is space for us to be too much, and too intense, and too loud about the things that hurt us or inspire us or move us to action. There is space for us to invite one another in and circle up and share our gifts and talents, as well as our thoughts and opinions. So, if you have been searching for a place where justice, social change, and Catholicism intersect: welcome and stay awhile.

Catholic, Mindful Wanderings

Philosophical Tensions

Mel Ziegler: Flag Exchange, installation view at Frist Art Museum, 2020

It was in college that I first started to notice and become uncomfortable with seeing the flag for the United States at the front of churches. To be honest, it makes me uncomfortable to see them anywhere in a church. It’s at this same time that my eyes were really being opened up to the dysfunctional relationships between patriotism and Christianity in the United States. I was also delving pretty deep into rediscovering Catholicism. I was earning a degree in Global Development Studies at a Protestant Christian college. I had just started to sort out the philosophical contradictions in my life that I think a lot of first generation kids struggle with.  

I had a hard time feeling proud to be from a country that so clearly exploited my father’s home country for its own economic gain. I ended up spending years reading and writing papers about the complicated relationship between the United States, Nicaragua, and the rest of the countries that make up Central America. I knew that I was supposed to be grateful to be living the life that I was, but I couldn’t help but feel guilty at what this all cost. I felt like I had lost out on honoring this culture that had so deeply shaped my identity.

I moved away from the Catholic Church in high school and I realize now that it was it’s own form of assimilation that I was going through. I was drawn to the progressiveness that one can find in nondenominational Christian circles. Where I grew up, this was largely compromised of a whole bunch of white people going on missions trips to countries that were ripe with Catholic history. I was being told that the Catholic Church was not the place for the social justice issues that I cared about. And even though in my gut I knew that I was Catholic, I kept trying to find a way to fit in with hip nondenominational Christians that claimed to be living like the first apostles. This carried over into a missions trip when I was 17 to Ireland and England that truly changed the course of my life. My relationship to Catholicism was something I was still trying to figure out all throughout my time in college and grad school.

The deeper I got into looking into my faith and my politics (by way of my choice in taking the academic route that I did) the more I felt out of place in Protestantism and the more I felt cynical towards the US. In researching for papers and projects about the United States and Central America I naturally started to stumble upon the important (and sometimes contentious) role Catholicism has plaid in recent Latin American history. A simple question of “why” led me to better understanding Catholic Social Teaching, liberation theology, and some badass religious. Why was Saint Oscar Romero willing to go toe-to-toe with the Salvadoran government? Why was Father Ernesto Cardenal willing to have his rights stripped as a priest to administer the sacraments to fight alongside the Sandinistas? So much so that it led to many of their deaths. Why were these government entities seeing Catholic nuns and laypeople as such a threat to their power? 

This red, white, and blue flag standing at the front of churches started to feel like a betrayal to the parts of me that I felt most confident and connected to: I’m Catholic. I’m the daughter of a Nicaraguan refugee. 

I wish I could say that coming back to Catholicism in all of its fullness was the reconciling I needed to seeing those flags at the front of all those churches that I hopped around. For awhile, it did, I suppose. But the reality is that there are times when it feels like the political world of Evangelical Protestants have hijacked the ancient Catholicism that radicalized the likes of Peter Maurin, Servant of God Dorothy Day, Father Ernesto Cardenal, and Saint Oscar Romero. The search to make this all make sense hurts in a different, deeper way this time around.

It has been hard to find Catholics on the world of the Internet and social media that I could relate to in a meaningful way. Back in college I scoured blogs and endlessly Googled trying to find someone who related to my Hispanic Catholicism and my bi-cultural upbringing. The closest I got were finding Catholics that were also passionate about social justice. I settled with that for a long time. Finally, just in the last couple of years I have started to connect with other comadres and it has been life giving. But it’s also made a glaring wedge to some of the ways the Catholic Church in the US has failed to work in solidarity with and for some its most devout. 

Whether we are talking about abortion, civil unions for the LBGTQ+ community, Black Lives Matter, or immigration policy many Evangelicals and Catholics alike are tone deaf to how their words land. The way in which many decide to defend the Church and her teachings end up leaving harm and hurt in their wake. A documentary recently came out with a clip of Pope Francis talking about how we should be protecting our friends and family that identify as LGBTQ+. The Catholic response was so quick to remind people that Catholics “don’t believe in gay marriage” that they missed the whole point: we also need to first come to people with love and compassion. We need to recognize that our obsession with the legality of marriage between certain people have made for rhetoric that is perceived as hateful and unwelcoming. It’s making people feel like they will never be loved or worthy by the Church our her followers. 

This is true, too, for the rhetoric around abortion, immigration, and a whole host of “progressive” causes, is it not? Language calling women murders and splashing pictures of tangled fetuses is not only lacking compassion, it is traumatizing. In what ways could we all be better at entering these conversations not to tell people to not have an abortion, but instead actually be proactive about meeting the needs they identify as most important? Instead of insisting that our current immigration policies are someone else’s fault or assuming those crossing those invisible lines are ruthless criminals ready to take down the integrity of the United States, maybe sitting down and truly listening to the stories about why someone chose to make that journey would do us some good. Something that I have learned from these years I have spent in the nonprofit field is that the most successful and effective programs and policies are the ones that are led by the community that the work is intended to serve. 

I am not totally hopeless when I look around at my fellow Catholics. I do find myself startled time and time again to come across people who understand so much of the faith, but totally miss the mark on these issues. There is a way to defend the faith and share the ancient traditions with those around us without causing so much harm along the way. It’s worrisome to see the blurred lines between our faith and patriotism. I pray that us Catholics start to do a better job of honoring the legacy of social justice in our Church and that we commit to doing a better job in the future. I pray that The reality is that a lot of us shy away from certain movements (ahem, Black Lives Matter, for example) because we don’t agree with all of the tenets of the organizers or the mission at hand. Instead of inaction because you don’t agree with the loudest voices, I encourage all of us to figure out how we can still be moved to action. We cannot use the politics of anybody else as an excuse to sit any of this out. That may mean we pave our own path, but that in no way means we should ever turn our back on the injustices of our time. And that might mean that we hold our Church as our home to welcome all lives into as our number one priority. 

Some further reading and listening that may be of interest to you:

Mindful Wanderings, Personal

What the Internet Has Taught Me About Grief and Mourning

In a conversation with Casey, I had a realization recently: as much as I have become weary of the state of social media and the Internet at large right now, the reality is that social media (specifically Instagram and blogs) has provided me with an opportunity for kinship in some of my loneliest and most difficult times. 

This all came flooding to the forefront yesterday when I listened to a podcast conversation between Leticia Adams and Laura Kelly Fanucci about grief and mourning. I have never met either woman in real life, but I have learned so much from them. Through Instagram I’ve gotten to exchange personal messages with them as well. Both Leticia and Laura lost children and although they lost children under different circumstances, they have taught me immensely about grief. I have learned that we feel grief and can practice mourning not just for people, but also for events or plans go awry. Leticia taught me that many of us are feeling grief over all the cancelled plans and upheaval we have felt from living through this pandemic. It was a social worker while Olivia was in the NICU that allowed me to mourn the postpartum period that I had to let go of when Olivia was in the NICU. Instead of physical rest and snuggles with a newborn, I was thrust into chaos of an intensive care unit advocating for a very sick baby with a tired and healing body.

I recently shared with Laura that it was her writing through losing her twin girls days after birth that helped me enter into grief and mourning when Olivia was born. See, as I’ve shared before, we were initially told that Olivia likely would not survive longer than a month. The information we were given that first night didn’t give me much hope to think she would live through the night, let alone the first few days. In our kitchen that night after we finally got home without a new baby in tow all I could muster to mind were Laura’s words about holiness and grace and mercy and how that is all intertwined and made clear when you see Heaven so close to Earth. See, in our Catholic tradition we believe these innocent baptized souls become saints and enter Heaven. Her words helped me better see past the current situation. Through these women I saw what life can look like on the other side of the pit of despair that you sometimes find yourself lingering. 

One poignant moment in their conversation is when they share a few moments of absurdity and mundane that they found themselves wading through in the days after death. The inappropriate laughing, the misplaced jokes. The person gingerly trying to break news to you that you brace yourself for just to find yourself incredibly underwhelmed by what they had to share. For me, that particular moment, was when Olivia was finally starting recover from a really bad infection that she almost died from and the new resident on rotation sat me down with some news. I was preparing myself for the worst and found myself dumbfounded when all she had to share was that Olivia was likely to lose a toe. I remember thinking, “All of this fanfare cannot just be about a toe?” But now looking back on it, I get it. Every bit of news about prognosis can hit differently based on a loved one’s own hope for the future. I knew at that time that she would still be able to walk, and run, and jump without a toe or two. But not everyone can see that in the moment, right? That resident was trying to be caring and empathetic as a good doctor should be! But in the moment of my own grief, that single little toe felt so inconsequential. My daughter is alive! She is going to make it through this infection. She is going to live longer than we expected! We will probably get to take her home. 

There is no textbook way to grieve and mourn. And as Leticia and Laura have taught me: the more that we can all share honestly and openly about the times we have grieved the more we can normalize it so that others can shamelessly enter into it and experience God’s grace on the other side. This is the same reason I shared openly about my miscarriage. It’s why I think it’s absolutely beautiful and brave that Chrissy Teigen shared about the loss of her baby. As Laura and Leticia have taught me: if we can stop trying to turn away from the hard mucky stuff and instead sit in it maybe we can better sit alongside one another in the uncomfortable hard places. Maybe we can be better neighbors, friends, and family members if we are willing to work through the hard and give one another hope for what life can look like on the other side. And the fact of the matter is sometimes it’s easier to accept these life lessons from complete strangers baring their hearts in the Internet. 

Family, Personal

Welcome Camila Esperanza!

Camila Esperanza Alfaro Frazier was born on the Feast of Saint Augustine of Hippo, August 28th, 2020 at 12:39 AM measuring in at 5 lbs and 12.1 oz and 17 ¾ inches long. What I was shirking off as Braxton Hicks contractions kept getting stronger as I drove my mom home from the airport in a torrential rain downpour complete with wind, lightning, and thunder. I reasoned that it was the stress of driving without being able to see in front of me that was causing the contractions, but after getting home, putting my feet up, and drinking water the contractions didn’t let up. Not four hours later, Mila was welcomed into the world at @baby+co in Nashville. This labor and delivery was healing in many ways. Her entrance into this world was the closing of an intense chapter in our little family’s life.

Saint Augustine of Hippo was greatly influenced by Saint Ambrose, whose feast day happens to be MY birthday. It’s also on August 28th that we remembered the 57th anniversary or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, “I Have a Dream.” Oh little Mila, what are you going to teach us? We can’t wait to see what you have in store.

Ichthyosis

Ichthyosis Awareness Month: Why We Chose Genetic Testing

A reality of life with ichthyosis is that we are almost constantly having to explain it to someone. We have come up with our canned responses, kid-friendly explanations, and quick answers to avoid conversations with well-meaning strangers. We have learned how to field inappropriate questions and uncomfortable conversations. We also have learned how to read when people want to ask a question, but don’t quite know how to go about it. I knew that when I got pregnant people were going to have questions. Ichthyosis is a genetic skin condition and Harlequin Ichthyosis is double recessive condition, which is why it’s so rare. Casey and I each have a different mutation on the same gene. This means that there is a 25% chance that any child we have will have the same skin condition as Olivia and a 50% chance that any child we have will be a carrier of one of the two mutations. These numbers are always swirling when we talk about future children, whether between the two of us or when others ask.

I knew that an invasive (although generally well meaning) question that would come up would be whether this baby has Harlequin Ichthyosis. At the end of the day, it doesn’t change anything for us. As Catholics, we are open to life. This doesn’t mean that weighing decisions about whether to have more kids or not comes lightly, it just means that we are committed to bringing those kids into this world if a pregnancy does occur. So, I want to share a little about WHY we chose to get an amniocentesis and find out if this baby has the same skin condition as Olivia.

When I was pregnant with Oscar and we were discussing what genetic testing we would opt-in for, we weren’t really sure what to do. We weren’t ever going to end a pregnancy, so did it really matter? Our midwife said something that has stuck with me ever since: “You could get the genetic testing done just so that people have time to get over it.” What she meant by that is that if we have that knowledge than we can choose how to educate ourselves and how to educate family and friends on how to support us. Now that we’ve been surprised at a birth with very little answers, I can’t agree more with what that midwife said. I knew that if we could find out if this baby had the same condition as Olivia that there is a lot that we could do to prepare our families, our home; and maybe most importantly, the hospital staff, doctors, and nurses in Labor and Delivery and in the NICU. We know what adhesives work and which ones don’t work at securing PICC lines, IVs, and an intubation tube. We know that Aquaphor was really hard to get at first when Olivia was transferred to UCSF because the NICU didn’t regularly store big tubs of it. As parents, we could come in with a lot of first hand experience. We wouldn’t have to hear, “we are figuring this out along with you.” We could make much better informed decisions. I knew that I wanted to know as early as possible if this baby had the same condition as Olivia, not because it would change anything about how I felt about the baby or my excitement for adding a little sibling to this family, but because it would provide the best outcomes for the baby.

This is part of life with a rare genetic disorder in the family: you learn how to let go of plans. You learn how unpredictable and precious life is. You learn how little control any of us really have in life. You learn that there is a thin veil between life and death. You start to get really comfortable in that in between space. And most of all, you get a perspective on how petty and ego-centric so much of the world is. You learn that so little matters when you’ve come face-to-face with a life slipping – or almost slipping – before your eyes. It’s hard to keep that perspective sometimes. It’s easy to fall back into the way of society and the rat race for comfortable living. It’s easy to rationalize that I can plan everything out and it will all go as planned. But it doesn’t take much to pull me back out of it all. It’s often as simple as a too hot car interior or planning a weekend based on access to a bathtub. Or going in for an amniocentesis in the middle of global pandemic. We can plan as best as possible, but we always have to be ready to pivot.

The day we received the results from the amniocentesis we were more jittery to find out the sex of the baby. The focus on whether the baby had Harlequin Ichthyosis or not had dissipated and shifted to if it was a boy or a girl. When the genetic counselor called me she shared that this baby does not have Harlequin Ichthyosis and I cut her off and quickly asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?” She laughed and told me that somehow that page of the paperwork didn’t scan correctly so they had to re-run the test. I ended up finding out that this baby was a girl through an ultrasound, like most people, and not a sophisticated genetic test. What what is that I said? We can plan as best as possible, but we always have to be ready to pivot.

Catholic, Mindful Wanderings

Holy Saturday in Pandemic Lent

Every Lent ends the same way. The altar is stripped. The tabernacle is empty and left open. Jesus is not physically in our churches. It’s always jarring and humbling. This year though, having a picture of it sent through email by a priest made it that much more shocking. I shuttered when I opened this picture of St Patrick Catholic Church in Nashville. This particular parish has been a breath of fresh air many Sundays while we have lived here. It has always been a reverent experience. That’s what makes this scene feel so meaningful. For some, this pandemic has made it easier to focus on Lent, but not for me. I’ve been distracted and things have been disordered and mis-prioritized without the order of the liturgy. I cherish the rhythm of the liturgical year and this year I’m reminded deeply why that is. Tomorrow, we will claim His resurrection. But not tonight. Not yet. Tonight we find stillness in the humility of His death. We are shuttered and shocked to see the altar stripped bare and the tabernacle empty and open. Thank God for tomorrow.

Mindful Wanderings

Know what you know well

What’s one topic or theme you feel like you know really well, but maybe know about this topic so well that you could easily talk about it for 10 to 15 minutes with evidence to back it up. When I say evidence I mean, you can pull some solid facts and background information about it. This isn’t just an opinion about something, but a topic you can actually answer the *whys* and *hows* behind. Okay, do you have a topic (or a few in mind)? The topic doesn’t have to be anything you have formal education around, but maybe it’s something you like to read about or something you have done in the past. It’s probably something you are passionate about – something you find exciting to talk about.

What if these were the only topics we were allowed to comment or engage in on social media? Other people could ask questions and read the discourse, but only people with immediate experience or substantial knowledge could participate. My hunch is that we would probably learn a lot more and maybe get a little less mad at strangers on the Internet. Obviously, we can’t impose these types of things on others, but we can challenge ourselves. We can rise to the challenge and seek to learn and understand and assume that maybe we don’t know everything about every topic. And that’s okay because there’s probably something we have to offer to someone else. We can refrain from uncharitable comments and snarky remarks. We can certainly vow to not purposefully stoke a fire just for enjoyment. The Internet and comment sections and social media have made us all believe that we can be experts in just about anything. And the Internet certainly provides some great resources. But it’s a false confidence. And a false confidence leads to an un-empathetic ear.

For those that have taken the time and energy to invest in a study or a pastime probably has an emotional investment in that thing. We should of course listen and engage with empathy and humility, right? So let’s try to model this by remembering we don’t get to claim space wherever we want. Our age, our race, our educational background, our experiences have shaped us to be experts in certain things, which means we can’t be experts in it all. Let us seek out the experts, even if our assumed opinions tell us we surely disagree, and try to take a back sit and listen with grace. That is my challenge to myself and to you. Actually, I triple dog dare you.