A long time ago

Our four year old son spontaenously started composing/singing a song at dinner last night, so I grabbed my IPhone and captured the moment.

I present: “A Long Time Ago”

Lyrics:

A long time ago, I like to plant flowers.

A long time ago, a bird landed on my finger.

A long time ago, I saw a funny cloud going by my house.

Oh yeah, a long time ago, a-yup-i-tow

A long time ago, a long time ago, I like to drink milk.

A long time ago, my mom text me.

A long time ago, my mom text me

A long time ago, I like to fly my kite.

A long time ago, a long time ago,

A-wa-yeah-oh-yeah, a long time ago.

My GTD/Gmail system

Media_httpwwwshawncoo_pgfvb

Click for larger image

Here is a heopfully not too rambling yet probably inadequate explanation of my new GTD/Gmail system.   GTD stands for “Getting Things Done” and is a organizational system by David Allen.  You can read more about it here or here.  I adapted my Gmail setup using a modified version of this Lifehacker Gmail/GTD system.

Here are the key components.  I’ve turned on some of the Gmail Labs features (should be under your Gmail settings).  Specifically, I use Superstars and Multiple Inboxes.  Superstars gives me multiple choices other than simply starring individual emails (red or yellow exclamation points, orange arrows, etc.)  Multiple inboxes lets me have, you guessed it, multiple inboxes showing on my main Gmail page.

Media_httpwwwshawncoo_mbnob

When you create another inbox you tell Gmail what you want displayed in that inbox.  For example, the inbox I’ve labeled “Needs Assigning” displays only emails that have the default Gmail star.  How does an email get that star? I’ve created two Gmail filters that automatically star any email that includes in the subject “&c” or “&h” which are my shorthand for a to-do item that needs to be done at church (&c) or at home (&h).  When Gmail sees “&c” I’ve created a filter that tells Gmail to 1) skip the inbox 2) star it and 3) apply the label “Church” and a similar filter handles &h the same way except for giving it the label “Home”.

One of the key GTD principles is that whenever you think of a task that needs to be done, you immediately record it somewhere so that it will end up on your to-do list or in your GTD system.  Some peopel use a simple pad of paper to write tasks down.  I use my IPhone.  So if I’m at dinner with my wife and I suddenly remember that I need to make a phone call to John tomorrow, then I quickly pull out my IPhone and send an email to myself with the subject “Call John &c” and when Gmail gets it it will automatically put it into my “Needs Assigning” inbox.

Then tomorrow I will look and see that “Call John” needs assigning, and I’ll change the star to a red exclamation point.  Gmail knows that the inbox labeled “Immediate Action” is for emails with the red exclamation point.  I also use the red ! for emails that need a reply (this helps keep my main inbox empty).  My other inboxes: “Next Action” is for yellow !’s which are things that aren’t so time sensitive but still need attention in the near future.  They are individual tasks, not large projects.  Large projects go in the next inbox, “Ongoing Projects.” So I might have something like “Paint the House” in my projects inbox, but in my next action inbox I might have “Choose paint color for house.”  And finally, there is the “Future Ideas” inbox for things that I don’t need to do right now but I don’t want to lose sight of.

For some people this system is enough, but I still like my to-do lists with due dates.  So at the beginning of the week I go through these inboxes and put my weekly tasks on my Remember the Milk list.  But my RTM list is only for things that need to be done in the current week.  If it’s longer term than that it goes to Gmail.  RTM is also good for repeating tasks that you need to do each day, week or month.

I’m sure some people think my system is too complex or not complex enough, but that’s why it is my system and not yours. 🙂

Kids aren’t colorblind. Why we need to talk about race with children.

Media_httpwwwshawncoo_dajcj

This article from Newsweek is about how early and easily young children are aware of different skin colors in people, but for the most part, parents have little or no explicit conversations about race with children.  A study was done at the University of Texas that focused on how parents talk (or more accurately, don’t talk) to their children about race.

There are many troubling things about this study but here is one aspect I find very disturbing,

“…Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: “Do your parents like black people?” Fourteen percent said outright, “No, my parents don’t like black people”; 38 percent of the kids answered, “I don’t know.” In this supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to improvise their own conclusions—many of which would be abhorrent to their parents.”

The Univeristy of Texas is in Austin, and Austin tends to be a pretty liberal town.  So multiculturalism and embracing diversity are values that are openly talked about and supposedly held by lots of people in the capital of Texas.  Yet over half of the children of 1000+ Austin residents aren’t sure if their parents like black people.

There is a lot in the article about the idea that merely exposing children to people of different ethnicities makes them colorblind or accepting of all people equally.  It turns out that this isn’t really the case.  There is actually more social segregation in schools with more racially diversity.  Exposure to racial diversity doesn’t have the impact we hope without explicitly talking about racial diversity with our children.

“Is it really so difficult to talk with children about race when they’re very young? What jumped out at Phyllis Katz, in her study of 200 black and white children, was that parents are very comfortable talking to their children about gender, and they work very hard to counterprogram against boy-girl stereotypes. That ought to be our model for talking about race. The same way we remind our daughters, “Mommies can be doctors just like daddies,” we ought to be telling all children that doctors can be any skin color. It’s not complicated what to say. It’s only a matter of how often we reinforce it.”

It certainly seems easier to talk about gender stereotypes as opposed to racial stereotypes.  Are we as parents afraid of seeming less than colorblind?  Are we hoping that our children haven’t noticed that people come in various hues and colors, or that they have just magically realized and accepted that the difference is only skin deep? This article states pretty clearly that kids as early as six months old notice difference in skin color, and it doesn’t take too long for children to make value judgments based on skin color, especially when their parents don’t offer any explicit direction to the contrary.

We are often very eager as parents to start making our children smarter at an early age.  Let’s play classical music for baby in the womb!  Let’s learn Spanish with Dora!  In our home we have several maps near our dinner table for impromptu geography lessons.  We recognize the potential of young children to learn even before their formal education starts.  So doesn’t it make sense to carry this same principle into education about race and diversity?

“Several studies point to the possibility of developmental windows—stages when children’s attitudes might be most amenable to change. In one experiment, children were put in cross-race study groups, and then were observed on the playground to see if the interracial classroom time led to interracial play at recess. The researchers found mixed study groups worked wonders with the first-grade children, but it made no difference with third graders. It’s possible that by third grade, when parents usually recognize it’s safe to start talking a little about race, the developmental window has already closed.”

My wife and I have already started talking about race with our four year old son.  I’d like to say that this is simply because we are the Best Parents in the World(tm), but it’s not.  If all goes according to plan, next spring or early summer we will be traveling to Ethiopia to adopt our daughter.  So pretty soon our son will be fielding questions about skin color and race, we will be fielding his questions as well, and our daughter will have her own questions to ask and answer.

We will have the luxury of being a multi-racial family.  Conversations about skin color will occur and we will have the opportunity to address these differences and stereotypes.  And selfishly, expecially for my daughter, I hope that others will create these opportunities to talk to their children about race as well.

What’s the big deal about Advent?

Media_httpwwwshawncoo_jbyzv

I get Advent.

It’s a time of waiting, a time of preparation.  A time to contemplate our need for a saviour coming into the world.  A time to focus on God’s ultimate goal for creation and Jesus’ Second Coming. It’s a distinct season from Christmas.

Yada yada yada. (Yes, I just yada yada’d Advent).

For the first five or six years out of seminary I was a good Reformed minister.  I gnashed my teeth at the thought of any Christmas hymns before December 24th.  And I boasted proudly that our Christmas tree or Christmas lights weren’t going to come down until after Epiphany! The Advent Conspiracy got hate email from me because the conspiracy was that it was actually about Christmas and not about Advent!  But in the last couple years I’ve been rethinking my staunch adherence to the Advent Party Platform.

What’s the big deal about Advent?  What harm is it to start dealing with Christmas in scripture, sermon and song before December 24th? I’m not advocating for singing Silent Night, Joy to the World, and O Little Town of Bethlehem in November.  In my family we have an Advent wreath that we light every night at dinner, adding a candle at each Sunday of Advent.  But with my four year old, we also talk a lot about Christmas during this time because that’s what is on his mind.

By early to mid-Decemeber I think it is time for us to embrace that Christmas is all around us regardless of what the Liturgical Calendar says. Remember Karl Barth’s take on newspapers and the Bible? Well, guess what the newspapers are full of starting the day after Thanksgiving?  It ain’t Advent.

Right now, someone reading this is shaking their fist at their monitor and yelling at me, “But Shawn, we aren’t supposed to conform to society! Since everyone is in such a rush to hurry to Christmas, that’s just a greater reason for us to wait and stay in Advent.”  It would be great if everyone would slow down and really take time to be in Advent and not hurry to Christmas.  It would also be great if we all ate family dinner together every night, schools wouldn’t schedule things on Sundays, and going to church was a given.

But this isn’t the way things are anymore, and no amount of sticking our heads in the sand is going to activiate the magic time machine to take us back to the good old days.  As a church, we lose the chance to reflect theologically about Christmas if we wait until December 24th to do it.

So what do you think?