Posted by: Paul Barrera | December 15, 2016

Escapism

I have first world problems, and escapism is one of them. Escapism is the desire to distract the mind from the reality of what we can’t control, to the frustration of our privileged, technology-laden society. My escapism especially flares up after an extremely stressful meeting, like I had today at lunch.

My lunch seemed simple enough: I would meet someone I hadn’t seen in years, would exchange some niceties, talk about our future relationship, and generally re-acquaint ourselves with each other. To that end, mission accomplished. It’s in the weeds where my stress grew.

I prayed before this meeting. I asked God to bless me, to show his peace upon me, and to help me completely and honestly answer questions within His blessings and peace. The last part is the most difficult, because I had to keep the focus on healing and relationship, a truly difficult task. I successfully maintained that focus, and I am thankful to have done it.

It is in the immediate aftermath that I felt the escapism seep into my mind. I had three familiar before me: video games, drink, and the internet. Video games are great because it focuses the mind on a fictional problem that can be completely controlled and solved within the framework of the game. It’s a nice exercise in focusing the mind on an idea for an extended period of time to bring that idea to some sort of resolution. Next, I have drink. Drink can be innocent, and I can also easily abuse drink. Alcohol is a tough call because it costs money yet can produce a recreational result, taking the “edge” off the day without making me unaware of myself or my surroundings. Lastly, the internet is full of garbage as well as good information, and getting warped into it is a dangerous place.

My response was to take a nap. I set an alarm, which turned out to be a poor choice, given my continued exhaustion. I woke up weak, disinterested in life, and more prone to escapism than before.

Before the sun sets, I hope to find thankfulness and offer thanks to God for making today possible.

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Posted by: Paul Barrera | December 15, 2016

The day after law school

I didn’t feel different in terms of identity, status, or thinking. Instead, I felt a different energy. First, I felt tired, even exhausted. I was tired of the constant rat race of law school. Law school curves grades, meaning one person receives the highest score and everyone is stack ranked compared to that person. In class, students identify the student they think is the best, meaning the student most likely to receive the highest grade. After this determination is collectively made, study groups form based on perceived level of interest in the subject and perceived academic potential. That’s what I learned during my 1L year.

As a 1L, I misunderstood the rat race and my study group and student organizations burned me. My misunderstanding meant I dressed more formally than I needed, I talked about my prior career too much, I talked about my wife too little, and I allowed the people around me to dictate what I thought about and discussed. It was a challenging time because I didn’t ask the right people the right questions before I started, and I didn’t look for those right people with the right questions until much too late. Because I was so impressionable, I burned bridges with numerous students and student organizations with wrong words and wrong timing. However, I did make one friend my first year, Gregg Busch. Gregg is an awesome, funny guy.

Second, I felt relieved. I was glad to be done reading and trying to catch up on reading for class assignments. I finished my MBA with a better GPA than I expected. My performance in law school is still to be determined; however, I’m sure I passed. I look forward to being fully relieved.

This night, may you be divinely blessed.

Posted by: Paul Barrera | December 14, 2016

law school done at last

Tonight, I finished my last exam for law school. I thank God for carrying me through to this day. To my delight, during my final exam tonight I saved a hypothetical taxpayer $1.2 million in gift taxes. If only a client would pay me $60,000 to accomplish this tax-saving result!

I am tired, thankful, content, and delirious. It shows that I am tired when I used a synonym in the same sentence.

My wife supported me all this way. She is an incredible woman. And I love her.

From the beginning, I wanted to help others; rather, I wanted to fulfill my destiny given to me at Interlake High School when my class voted me as the man most likely to help others. Michaela Marsh was the woman most likely to help others. Michaela finished a degree as master of education this past May. I’m sure she will transform the world with her warmth and love of other people.

That’s why my class voted me as the most likely to help others: warmth and love of other people. I was warm to people I thought needed help, and I love being around other people. At least I like to think those are the reasons why my class voted for me like it did.

I hope you have a great night. May our God richly bless you.

Posted by: Paul Barrera | December 12, 2016

One more to go…

I took a break yesterday because I had to finish my studying for finals in between church services. The morning service was very nice. It was a smooth and simple hierarchical service, coordinated by Subdeacon George Nowik. I am thankful for serving at the altar with the archbishop. The evening service was very joyful. The boys were a little too loud because they were excited for our patronal feast day. Attendance was a little sparse because people already made the commute to downtown Seattle once. Both services together made me glad to be alive.

My studying was challenging. I read through an outline of gift and estate tax on my own time, and then my classmate Greg joined me. We moved quickly through several questions from a study aide, then moved on to reviewing our professor’s materials. My head hurt afterwards.

This final round of finals, I stuck to a rule I learned during my 1L year. That rule said that I should not substantively study any topic within two days of taking the exam, meaning not the day of the exam or the day before. The purpose of the rule is to avoid cramming any materials that will have to compete with the looming stress of taking the exam. Now that I am three-fourths done with my exams, I can attest to the positive effects of this rule. I feel relaxed before my exams. feel relaxed during my exams. I feel relaxed afterwards. Before the exam, I plan my time wisely to ensure I complete my substantive studying before the day-before-the-exam. After I pass the cutoff, I do some very light review, quizzing myself on material I already know well. After the exam, I feel a smaller sense of relief than I feel when I cram. It is an immense pleasure to have the clarity of mind to move on to the next task.

I have one more exam to complete and then I can have a celebratory drink. I’ve kept off any alcohol until I complete my exams. At first, I found it difficult to avoid drinking socially with my classmates and family. After a week, it felt normal. I can see how people are teetotalers: the pressure to drink evaporates the longer I’m off the bottle.

To God be all glory.

Posted by: Paul Barrera | December 10, 2016

Write 10 minutes a day

Last year, I heard a challenge: write 10 minutes a day to improve my writing and renew my commitment to literature. Today, I am responding to that challenge.

After more than three years of study, I will graduate from law school in one week. When I started law school, I had false expectations of professional school. I thought it would be a place where people dressed a little more than casual, where students would value past professional experience, and that I would find my place in law school through participating in a study group. Instead, I found people dressed as badly as they did in undergrad, students cared very little (if at all) about past professional experience, and a study group that eventually excluded me. These experiences, contrary to my expectations, resulted in a very challenging first year that left me feeling lost.

Feeling lost is a familiar experience. I’ve felt emotionally lost several times throughout my life when I didn’t have someone spoon feed me expectations and guide me through the lived experience. I’ve blamed a variety of people and situations from my earlier life to no relief. Corporate philosophies failed to deliver expectations and a way to measure my experience. Parents presented conflicting views about what it means to be police and live in a community. Schools taught me academic topics that held little relevance to a peasant or technocratic life. Without a steady hand guiding me and me blindly following, I felt lost in the dark mystery of life.

Then comes the dark mystery of the law. I started law school with the friendly words “Welcome to law school!” from a friendly law professor, Christian Halliburton. The people I met didn’t seem to think of law school any differently than their undergraduate programs. The focus was on what the professor expected, not on what the law said. People formed cliques based on facebook information, conversations over drinks, or shared activism.

Law school was the first time where I had to make difficult decisions about how to present myself and navigate my career without the benefit of a corporate philosophy.

Posted by: Paul Barrera | May 27, 2015

New Beginnings

Two years ago, I wrote a lengthy post about how an urban parish presents unique challenges to young people.  Those challenges include meeting new and regular visitors, greeting and ministering to inquirers, and building community among the regular young people.  Michaele and I are blessed to now better know the regular parishioners, but we sadly failed in maintaining these three tasks.  I think our failure is a combination of the times as well as our own shortcomings.  Our times are complex to describe, but our failures are simple.  Convenience, lack of communion, and unease with newcomers resulted in our failure to work well with the other young people.  Our attitude toward convenience meant that we did not want to travel far from home to meet others and found urban transportation overwhelming.  Our lack of communion meant that we disagreed about a vision in life, coalescing later in our marriage.  Our unease with newcomers meant that we did not know what to say whenever we met someone new.  The result was that our parish had a short flowering of young people, only to fade when a small handful of college students left town and the young people married.  Basically, our work did not produce a strong enough community to overcome the modern Orthodox tendency to disappear from early adulthood until parenthood.

Today, I am grateful to God because my life is now more stable and joyful than it was two years ago. We now have two children.  Having two children means we broke our commitment to convenience and became committed to overcoming everyday challenges of energy, relationships, and emotions.  In addition, we have a small but strong network of friends.  We have a few key friends that visit us, travel with us, and host us.  These friendships have been a key turning point in our life together.

I cannot be more specific because so much time has passed.  Nonetheless, I am happy to report that life is much more stable and joyful than it was two years ago.

Posted by: Paul Barrera | August 7, 2013

New Era

Yes, a significant change is here. Life has already changed and soon it will be transformed.

A few months months ago, I wrote about three lessons I learned from a mission, which was really two lessons and the synthesis of the two.  When we went to the mission, we sought a refreshing drink of God’s Grace.  What we found, was not Grace, but social gratification.  The two lessons encompass both points.

The first lesson was about freedom.  The priest spoke at great length about freedom is his sermon.  He spoke about freedom in a parish community that allows guests and visitors to freely worship and commune with the congregation.  When we ask guests about where they come from and how they heard of the parish, we limit freedom by imposing questions that make the conversation artificial, and lacking organic connections that naturally occur.  During our visit, since I was previously active in the congregations, I expected to be free of these phony connections.  To my detriment, they were present, but thanks to the people I do know outside of the church walls, I was saved from these fake conversations.  This was why the priest preached about it.  Several times, people who I’ve never spent time with outside of a church event, tried to announce my presence or recent events in my life.   Since the people I do know personally pulled me aside and greeted me warmly, I didn’t leave with the sense of strangeness I think the priest preached against that day.  I left instead with a sense of social gratification from the smiles, hugs, and kisses me and my family received.

The real lesson about that freedom is that the mission did not have it, my own parish did.  In my own parish, no one speaks in a fake way about their ‘spiritual journey,’ or make each parishioner into the welcome wagon.  If visitors care to stay after a service, one of us will greet them and exchange some kind words, but there will be no invitations to our homes or to do anything further.  First of all, most Orthodox parishes have visitors each week, and a visitor may not want to be dragged into the social life of another.  True, some may, and God will open doors for them, as He did for me.  But we do not create an inviting space when we force these invitations.  Second, we have a high ratio of visitors, as we are an urban parish.  To embrace each visitor as if he was going to return is impossible, since many of these visitors are on vacation, or otherwise in from out of town.  W do our best to provide a beautiful worship experience, liturgically correct, and with ample standing room.  Guests sadly still stand crowded in the narthex.  But we do have freedom, and you will experience it when you join us for worship.

The second was about elements of that social gratification, in sitting with the right people.  The week prior, at our own parish, we continued our practice of placing our bag down, getting food, and sitting to eat.  The people we conversed with in line and on the way to the coffee hour disappeared when they saw we already decided where we wanted to sit.  Not because we sat there first, but because a friendly man, whose English needs a little help and whose culture is greatly different than our Northwestern way of life, sat with us and took up half the table by his awkward placement.  A few years ago, I spoke with him at great length at another parish, and he remembered me fondly, and I him.  However, he did not know my wife, or my son, so it was very awkward catching him up, as he asked to clarify again and again in the loud parish hall.  Eventually, our friend came and sat with us, but she did not try to relate to the man, and told us about recent turn of events in her life.  Normally, this would have been fine, but we felt unsure since my old acquaintance strained to follow what she said, and we were unable to share anything about ourselves for the same reason.  It was disastrous.  At the mission, we found that we did not have to carry our things, since the parish hall was on the same floor as the nave.  This meant that we could freely acquaint ourselves, and sit naturally with those whom we connected as we got our food.  This is what overcame the overbearing welcome wagon and the potentially unnatural connection that we experienced the week prior.  We found that we sat with another wonderful family, recent transplants, who connected with us in a few ways.  It was uplifting.  From this encounter, we began to refrain from choosing a seat right away, and simply place our bag to the side of the parish hall to retrieve upon our exit.  The result, ever since, has been great success.

This leads me to the synthesis of my points – freedom in community.  In a community, we must act freely with one another in order to embrace the life in Christ that he intended.  When we love freely, we life the Life that Love gave us.  That is, when we commune with the Trinity, the Trinity communes with us.  For in expressing our love with the community, the community becomes an icon of the Trinity.  Brief, and theologically inaccurate insofar as descriptions, but true.  Let us live and choose freely to gift this sacrifice of love so “that our God, Who loves mankind, receiving [our sacrifice] upon His holy, heavenly, and ideal altar as a sweet spiritual fragrance, [and] will send down upon us in turn His divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Posted by: Paul Barrera | February 17, 2013

Lessons from a Mission

This morning my family went to the medium-sized mission church in the suburbs. They recently moved into a new building, so we went to check out the new space and see old acquaintances and meet new ones. Our outing brought us two impressions and two lessons.

The first impression at every mission is that the community is intimate. As with any group, there is a core of leaders, but through their synergy and love, others are invited into their fellowship and the mission blossoms. This particular mission was in the midst of a flowering five years ago, when I was once involved, but that failed once a key couple moved away and some of the very active college students graduated and moved on with their career choices. Now, however, they have turned a corner, finally moving into a bigger space that allows for more freedom under a slightly different leadership.

That brings me to the first lesson, in leadership. The priest preached about this during his lengthy sermon, but it was demonstrated during their coffee hour. The priest spoke about the need to allow freedom for you, me, and God in any conversation in a church setting, and not force ourselves, or the Church, on anyone. When we assemble as Church, we enter into that freedom, where we might not know what we will encounter, but when we encounter It, It will attract us to come again and again. Part of that It is the Divine community, the Church Militant, which must greet and meet others and leave pressure outside of the conversation. This is how we welcome newcomers to our parishes in particular, and inquirers to the Church at large.

The second impression I received was in the room for growth the mission has in the new space. There were many awkward, intruding glances as the congregation looked at me as I took our son outside the nave to change his diaper. This is a sign of a people paying half-attention, of a people unsure of themselves. This is a sign of mission. Over time, of course, this immature reaction will grow itself out, and there won’t be the awkward glances or distracted looks as people move about and participate in the Divine Liturgy in various ways. I now know that the prayerful, magnificent atmosphere in our parish allows that very freedom to participate in the Liturgy in our the prescribed way, as the Lord gives us freedom each time we enter His Temple.

The second lesson was in how to seat ourselves during coffee hour. It sounds simple, but how we seat ourselves changes our entire experience. Last week, we chose poorly by placing our things before we had any food, and thus no organic meeting of persons occurred. We haphazardly went through the experience with an awkward table, where there was neither language, nor culture, to bring us together. When we wait to place our things down, we meet those around us before they are seated, and are able to determine common ground before we sup with them. This is the key to organic meetings – establishing a connection before commitment.

The mission reminded us of how to bring freedom and organic encounters together. This is what I miss from years back, when I used to meet so many people, stay the night at their houses and become well acquainted throughout the Puget Sound, simply by being free to meet others and open to the organic nature of the encounter. I hope that as we implement these lessons, of the freedom of others to choose or leave us, as well as establishing connections before we commit to a longer meeting, will enhance our experience at our own parish.

Posted by: Paul Barrera | January 23, 2013

Baby Christopher: A Brief Summary of My Journey to Fatherhood

Below is the text of my presentation today I gave about myself.  I will expand on each theme during the coming weeks.

 

One summer evening, after a refreshing glimpse into the lives of new friends, I enjoyed a movie with them into the early hours of the morning.  At 3 am, when my energy flagged, I trekked back to my room in a college dormitory where I would soon be a resident assistant.  When I entered the elevator, I met a young lady, keenly interested in me.  I paid her little attention.  That was August 2005.  In November 2012, we had our first child, the baby Christopher.

Today I want to give you a summary of my journey to fatherhood through a brief glimpse into my relationship with his mother, her pregnancy, and finally Christopher’s birth and early life.

Elevator Lady

After that fateful elevator ride one hot August night, my circumstances would take me closer to that elevator lady.  I saw her regularly in my resident duties, since she worked as a resident assistant as well.  Even though she was in a different hall, department meetings and joint activities kept our interactions frequent.  By December of that year, after a drink with my friend, I pursued the opportunity.  A few weeks later, we went to the opera, Die Fledermaus, a comedy about romance and champagne.

Two years later, in 2008, we celebrated our nuptials amidst some drama, some comedy, and much champagne.  We spent our first year raising a dog, intended as a gift for my brother-in-law, who became subject of a sale before our honeymoon in Greece.  After our Greek expedition, I learned I liked this elevator lady enough to have a child with her.

Pregnancy

In December 2011 she had a miscarriage.  On top of being a sad and a crushing disappointment, while I hurried her to the doctor’s office to evaluate her condition, I hurried so hard I got a speeding ticket.

A few months later, and the elevator lady was pregnant again.  After some trepidation from the miscarriage, she carried the child well enough to visit home for a few weeks during her second trimester.  I stayed home for that trip and missed her dearly – I spoke to her frequently on the phone.  I spoke to her in my apartment, I spoke to her during work.  I spoke to her on my bus ride home, I spoke to her in the car.  I spoke to her as I drove across the Ship Canal bridge on I-5, moments away from home, where I received a ticket for talking on the phone.

Baby Christopher

Last November, after eight hours of labor, baby Christopher emerged.  Due to some minor complications, I was the first to hold his small, 6 pound 14.8 ounce body.

Below is his birth announcement:

Image

Let me tell you my highlights of his early life.

  • Christopher smiled at me, unconsciousely, within days of his birth.
  • Christopher attracted home-delivered meals for his mother and I from our friends.
  • Christopher introduced me, a modern person, to the pre-industrial practice of two-part sleep.
  • Christopher smiled, consciously, at me four weeks after birth.
  • Christopher transformed my mother-in-law from an imposing tourist to a temendous helper as she realized the impact of her first grandson.

I look forward to more interactions with the baby Christopher as he becomes the toddler Christopher.  

Closing

The elevator lady and I grow ever closer since those moments at three AM that hot summer night.  More than operas and Greece, we’ve gone back to her home in the South Pacific, Hawaii, and up and down the west cost.  I hope to continue to travel the Pacific rim with her in Alaska, Mexico, Argentina, Australia and Japan.

I hope that she will not travel too far away during her next pregnancy so I can avoid another cell phone citation.

And I hope that baby Christopher will continue to inspire me.

Posted by: Paul Barrera | November 24, 2009

A New Martyr is Born?

Last week, a masked gunman entered a church in Moscow and gunned down the priest.  In the process, he also shot the choirmaster.  As I learn more about this event, especially today as my friend pointed out his martyrdom and his life, I realize he may be a New Martyr.

Father Daniel preached for Christ in the arena of Islamic culture and religion.  Himself a Tartar (a traditionally Muslim people), he embraced the Lord Jesus in his life and in his death.  The threats against him never checked his unwavering voice and witness, and for it he became a True Witness, a Martyr.  (The Greek word for Martyr is Witness).

He is married and has three children, who I hope will be alright.  I will remember them in my prayers for their sorrow.

Father Daniel himself, however, should be no case for sorrow.  He knew he would soon mystically encounter the Lord in a profound meeting.  Now, he joins the choir of Paradise as one of the millions of faithful Witnesses to our Lord.

If you are interested in donating to his family, please consider sending a donation to the following address:
MATUSHKA SISOEV FUND
c/o Rev. Peter Perekrestov
475 26th Avenue, #2
San Francisco, CA 94121
USA

 

Святейший Патриарх Кирилл совершил литию у гроба священника Даниила Сысоева

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