Friday, May 31, 2013

Afterthought #17 - a few more

Thanks to readers for adding to the list of  four-letter words worth keeping:

         food   tree   frog   yarn   mint   beer   wine   taco  rest   soon   done.

Since I just celebrated my birthday, I can't forget:


Speaking of birthdays, this year I spent mine in Portland, Oregon. My sister-in-law is a guide for Urban Tours, so she led my husband (her brother) and me to noteworthy sites in downtown Portland. A stop at The Heathman Hotel was a highlight; I showed my writer geekiness with a slow stroll through the hotel's collection of first edition books by authors who have stayed there.

The next day, we went to Eugene where I collected my prize for first place (student category)  in the Oregon Quarterly Northwest Perspectives Essay Contest: a writing workshop with contest judge Ellen Waterston and a public reading by the contest winners (you can read the winning essays
here; mine is "Boris's Bluff). 

As you'll discover when you read this fine magazine, it's published by the University of Oregon.
Better add one more four-letter word to my list: 


*University of Oregon mascot

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Four-Letter Words

Growing up in the Midwest, four-letter words were forbidden in my household, at least by kids.  My mom warned that if I said them, she’d wash my mouth out with soap.  I believed her, because she did it one time, not for uttering a four-letter word, but as punishment for “talking back.”

Four-letter words get a bad rap. Here’s how the American Heritage Dictionary defines them:

                  four-let·ter word (fôr ˈletər wərd)

                           n.  Any of several short
                           English words
                           generally regarded
                           as vulgar or obscene.

Sure, there are some nasty ones that I wouldn’t mind having washed away:

                        hate   rape   pain  rude  liar   feud   
                        fake  jail   hurt  sick  fear   kill.

And some are even more obscene with just three letters: 


There’s a simplicity and honesty about short words, though, that I value. Here are a few that I plan to keep in my vocabulary:

        read    book   sing    song   noun  verb  cook  fork  food  bake  cake  feed  note
        card   foot  toes   moon   rain (well, maybe not after weeks of it in the winter)  sail 
        pail   hike  bike  toot   vote   coat   look   like   love  seed   dirt   wool   silk   dock   
        sock  work   soon   tune  bowl   hair   care  fair   pear   milk   kilt   cove  need  help  
        fire  bird  sari  pair  tool  word  work  grin   talk   walk   duck   bead  plum  chum 
        soap   hope   boot   hoot   goat   boat   deer  dear   head  play   pray.

What four-letter words are you happy to use?

Friday, May 10, 2013


I remember a few things about a Bible study I attended thirty-five years ago.  I sat on a hard, wooden pew in the sanctuary of an inner-city Lutheran church. The minister, a lanky, shaggy-aired, pipe-smoking man who I respected deeply, paced up and down the aisles; his blue eyes rested on each of us as he taught. I can’t recall what verse or chapter we were studying; I don’t remember the points the minister made. What I do remember is raising my hand and asking a question about the text’s meaning, then feeling a churn in my stomach when the reverend’s eyes flashed disapproval. My suggestion that the Bible’s prescriptions might be open to interpretation, might need examination in current times, hung in the silent air.

Definitive answers had long been a comfort to me.  I listened, without questioning, for years to the wisdom of my parents, teachers, and ministers. I welcomed the certainty that there was an explanation, a logic, a right answer, for the many parts of life I didn’t understand. Eventually, though, somewhere around the time my Lutheran pastor frowned at my questions, such conviction began to feel stifling rather than reassuring.

This memory returned to me at last month’s spring gathering of Friends as we considered “Ways of Belonging Among Quakers.”  At the opening plenary session, four people shared stories of how they came to find a spiritual home among Quakers.  Later, in small worship-sharing groups, we considered queries about how we each came to Quakerism and what has kept us here. 

Queries. Questions.  That’s what has kept me among Friends for over thirty years.  Not only is it acceptable to ask questions, it’s expected.  We use open-ended questions that invite us to speak from our own experiences and that guide us to explore how God is leading us now, individually and collectively. 

So now, I sit in the silence—sometimes on a hard, wooden bench, but usually on a couch in a friend’s living room or on a folding chair at a Quaker gathering, at other times on a rocky beach or deep in a pine forest—and ask questions. And now, it’s the questions that sustain me through life’s mysteries.