Father Sue and Why I Don’t Neuter God



I once believed, like many of my big hearted friends, that I could cut all the male/female references out of God and It would resonate for me. I even thought the neutral would work better for me because He would be free of gender. A great Force. An It that was bigger than gender. Bigger than the labels we give to what our limited minds understand.

The Force defies images, but if I try, I come up with objects like mountains, or the sun, the moon or even flowers.

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Then one day I read two books by Sue Monk Kidd that shattered those neutral thoughts.

In The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Kidd talked of needing deep in our souls to connect with the Divine. She talked of how very much we needed to feel a connection as a reflection of ourselves. She even talked of how she felt so steeped in male terms for God that she once slipped and thought of herself as Father Sue while visiting a monastic retreat.

Since reading that book, I’ve awakened to how very repressed the Divine feminine is in our consciousness. I wonder, as Kidd did in another book The Secret Life of Bees, how the world and its balance of power would shift and how it might change if we thought of the Great One as a woman of color. Could we subjugate people if we clearly understood that they reflected the face of the Divine? Could we begin to think of these images as representing the Divine?

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I still respect and admire others’ need to take gender out all together. The Divine is not actually a woman. The Divine is not a man. The Divine is greater and more marvelous than the gender that we assign or that is assigned to us. I once believed God lived on the mountain and, living in the shadow of a volcano, it’s easy to feel the power of inanimate things.


But I am a woman, not a mountain. And I’ve discovered that to reach my best and most wonderful potential, I need to relate to a Goddess, not a God or a great unknowable Force, as fair-minded as that would seem. I don’t even object to terms like Father and Lord when we gather to worship. I feel the deep need of others to name God and relate in that way.

I only wish those male terms were balanced with the words Mother and Lady so both genders in the congregation could relate and see ourselves as reflections of the Divine. Maybe we could even sprinkle in a few neutral terms now and then to remind ourselves of impermanent nature of what we are now.

The idea of Goddess is shocking to me still — much scarier than a Force whose existence people more willingly agree to acknowledge. I’m scared to post this. My friend Shirley challenged me, and I have had a good long pause in posting while I considered what to do.

I am hoping maybe this means I’m ‘starting to get it right’ — that I might be reaching that moment Neil Gaiman described:

“The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.”

Whether I am getting it right or not, the She Who Is keeps insisting I write this in ways that won’t let me go. So I will punch the keys, hunt for public domain pictures, and hit publish. The world will keep spinning, and then I can move on to the next words tucked inside me.

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Classics for Four Year Old Granddaughters


My friend Jill asked me this weekend what reading classics I would recommend for her and her soon-to-be four granddaughter. It was a delightfully difficult question to answer. Here are all of my ideas.

Kid Classics Everyone Seems to Know

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (The language in this is amazing. I read that one of the reasons it works so well and is so soothing involves the use of the vowels created in the back of your throat. Ms. Brown is  a wonder.)

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (It is a joy to learn this book as the parent reader. After a time, you can start zipping through the language and the repetition, feeling a little like your tongue is skipping. I especially like the question at the end about asking the mother. “What would you do if your mother asked you?” Quinton always has to ponder this a bit.)

Anything by Eric Carle. (Kieran and I especially liked The Grouchy Ladybug. Quinton loves The Hungry Caterpillar.)

Skippyjon Jones series by Judy Schachner (Although the boys never got hooked on these, I adore this cat and think Jill’s granddaughter might, too.)

My Special Recommendation for Girls

The Paper Bag Princess by Munch with art by Marchenko. (This book is a delightful twist on the rescue a female from the dragon scenario — the heroine does her own brilliant rescuing. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed this more than the boys, but they appreciate my sound effects for the dragon’s actions.)

My Family’s Lesser Known Classics

If You Were My Bunny by Kate McMullan (This one is good if you like to sing. The different animals have new lyrics for old lullabies.)

The Little Critter series by Mercer Meyer (Little Critter is a wonder with his trips to the grandparents, experiences with a messy room and, my husband’s favorite: Just Go to Bed.)

One Day, Two Dragons by Lynne Bertrand (An elegant tale of two dragons off to get shots to protect them against things like scale rot and dragon breath.)

Click Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin (Again, the language rolls off your tongue as you read it. The cows and ducks triumph with words also spices up the plot.)

And, finally, our all time favorite if you only let us have one children’s book forever because you were a cruel overlord or something: 

Four Pups and a Worm by Eric Seltzer (I don’t know many people who have read this one but I adore it. Seltzer has a rhythm that creates an easy flow to the words and an adorable concept. The repeating words helped Kieran learn to read and I see the beginnings of this with Quinton, too.)

“If a pet frog sounds like fun, would 3 cats and a slug lend you one? Never. No. Never. They’re just not that clever. Call four pups and a worm! They lend frogs!”

I’m hoping Jill will check these out from one of my favorite places on the surface of this planet: the library. Then she can chose her favorite or favorites to give her girl. Whatever she does, I’m thrilled she asked me. Tripping through the books in my mind was a blast that beat the trousers off of all that blowing up of explosives I heard last night.



The Inexplicable Power of a Licorice Stick



Sometimes when my reasonably fine life gets to be too much, I pull out my clarinet from its beaten case with the sides all sliced and peeling from when it faced various indignities on long ago band trips. I open the metal clasps on the side and look into that velvet-lined interior to find the five pieces that make up my black wooden instrument.

I feel the corks as I slide them together with the reed soaking already in my mouth (I’m always hoping it’s the right reed — the one that lets the tones flow out easily instead of one of those others that have me straining for each note).

I start with the bell, then the two middle pieces, building it from bottom to the top, sliding the bridge carefully together. Then I push together the barrel and the mouthpiece, pulling the barrel up to give it a slightly deeper tone as if trying to tune with a partner or band not in the little office room where I play. After all this, I’ll run through the chromatic scale, fiddle with the keys and maybe pass through my memorized “Sound of Silence.”

If my lip feels strong, I’ll play through old books, looking for fun things. But most of the time and especially if I’m playing to soothe some nameless hurt that came over me before I cracked open the peeling case, I’ll go back to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major K 622 Adagio.


I’ll play it long and slow with it’s climbing and then falling sixteenth and thirty second notes and trills. It’s in a book I used for contest but not a piece I ever played when I was in competition. No music teacher ever corrected me on it, and I think this is much of why I love it. I have no idea how badly I’m doing it. I don’t want to have any idea.

Somehow, when I play, I feel close to the man who wrote it shortly before his death — that crazy genius who died 10 years younger than I am now over 300 years ago. The sounds soothe me in a way that sings long after I pull the pieces of my well-loved clarinet back apart to let it lie once again in the velvet lining.

Thank you, Mozart.

Here’s what I hear in my head when I play:

Mother Tongue Tuesday: German



I once was quite certain I would be a German teacher. I knew like I knew that German was fabulous, and I had spent plenty of time already studying it (like 2 years). I transferred from the University of Washington to Western Washington University with the more than rather dour Herr Brockhaus because I was so certain I wanted to study to be a teacher. The UW said to wait on the teaching courses until I had my German most of the way finished. (The perils of the UW would make another story, but I now think 18 years into teaching that they were were right.)

Without writing The Story of My Life in one blog post, it’s hard to explain how I landed in ESL. It’s simplest to say not nearly as many people want to learn German as they do English. Thinking of offering tidbits of this language, I studied more than any but English overwhelms me (not least because I’ve forgotten so very much. I don’t use it except lately on a little language app). But in the spirit of the students I have known both here and for a short time in Germany, I’ll give it a go.

German Tidbits from my Memory and from Ethnologue 

  • It has a 60% lexical similarity with English, meaning many of the words are the same in English and German. (Studying German made reading Old English understandable. German and English, I like to say, are close cousins.)


  • There are several varieties aside from the standard Hochdeutsch (High German). These are often known as Plattdeutsch (Low German). High German translates refrigerator as Kuhlschrank. The Plattdeutsch speakers in my German friend’s kitchen laughed as they told me refrigerator is something that sounded like Hooheehoeshrank with plenty of sounds from the back of the throat. (I can’t verify this so maybe they were just joshing my young self. I did, however, find Plattdeutsch translators like this and wasted a lot time looking for that word, so it looks like their refrigerator joke lives on in my older self.)


  • Over 41 million of the almost 70 million native German speakers also speak English, which explains why I’ve had so few German speakers needing my ESL classes. I have several friends and relatives from Germany but their English is so good I feel foolish using them to practice my German.


  • German has crazy articles. To learn the language well, you need to memorize male, female and neuter articles and then know subjective, accusative, dative and genitive forms of those articles. These make the a, an and the of English look as easy as playing patty cake.

Famous American German Speakers

  • Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) had German immigrant grandparents and many sources I’ve found say he grew up speaking both German and English.


  • Sandra Bullock grew up in Germany for many years. This video example of German has her speaking it quite well (to my ear).










Visiting My Doomed High School


The wrecking balls plan to smash down Auburn High School this summer so I decided to take one last look during the open house for alumni and friends. I don’t remember setting foot in the place since I graduated 25 years ago.

I’m still unsure how I feel about saying goodbye to those cracked and beat up white buildings. Facing my own mortality comes to mind although the place looked run down to me when I went there. I would say it’s past time for the district to rebuild.

Anyway, here’s a tour of what I saw and remembered. I did feel a sadness of a time gone past and the loss of that wide open future feeling I once had. At the same time, I sure had fun walking through with my family and feeling complete in a way I know I never did while sitting on those concrete benches.

Mother Tongue Tuesday (on Wednesday): Marshallese


The other day in my 1000 Places to Visit Before you Die calendar, I saw Chuuk Lagoon. It sits in the Pacific, far out and filled with sunken Japanese ships. Because it was the naval base for most of the Japanese Imperial fleet, the U.S. bombed the lagoon in 1944.

Now it’s a graveyard and a place where divers love to look under the sea for hulking ships as they slowly corrode away while worrying environmentalists about their leaking oil.

Some of my students come from places near these islands that sprinkle the Pacific. One moved to Washington from the Marshall Islands, which the United States used to launch the attack on the Chuuk Lagoon in World War II. The Marshallese student brought me this headdress I would love have the guts to wear. The next time a crown is in the dress code, I will be ready to go.



Marshallese Tidbits (from Wikipedia and Ethnologue) 

  • This language was much harder to find great chunks of information about since only about 55,000 people speak it. The UCLA Language Project which I so often go to has nothing on Marshallese. Still, it’s use is described as ‘vigorous’ in Ethnolgue and I know my former student and his friends communicate in it frequently because I’ve seen their Facebook posts on my instructor account.
  • It’s has several classifications, including Austronesian and Malayo-Polynesian.
  • Marshallese is also known as Ebon and has two major dialects.
  • One of its closest linguistic relatives is Chuukese, the language spoken on the islands in my calendar.
  • It has many consonants with with a grand variety in ways to form them from patatilized to velarized — two things that push at my memory of pronunciation but which I would struggle to fully explain.
  • Marshallese does complicated things with its pronouns and with word order that involve markers and a radically different way of dealing with nouns.

One of the first things my student told me about his islands involved nuclear testing and its lasting effects on the area. Once again, I learned much from a person in my class, but sometimes I wish they wouldn’t teach me so much. My ignorance on this subject was much more comfortable than knowing what happened when we blew up another pristine place in the world and how it keeps affecting people today.

At least the people there were able to retain their fascinating language with forms and sounds so different from English. I do hope we will be able to do more in the future to help the Marshallese and their words flourish.




Mother Tongue Tuesday: Russian


After a day in Tian An Men Square with a trip to the mausoleum to see Mao Tse Tung, I stayed in a hotel nearby with many other tourists. I went down to the lobby to write for my first NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) because my mother was sleeping in our hotel room. I was surprised to hear Russian from the group sitting crowded together on the couch across from me.

After so many days and months of struggling to pull out words from Mandarin, the Slavic sounds felt comforting and reminded me so much of my life before that they made me homesick. I even felt slightly capable again because I could pick out the different words so much more easily. Slightly capable.

Russian has crazy verb changes, more consonants than I can often wrap my tongue around, and enough challenges to keep me occupied even when it makes me nostalgic to hear it in Beijing.

Russian Tidbits 

  • Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet with two letters that don’t make a sound in themselves but change the sounds of the letters written before them. My Russian speaking friends have enjoyed watching  me try (unsuccessfully) to get these sound changes right.
  • Russian changes words. A lot. Women put different endings on adjectives to describe their feelings than men do. An English equivalent would be something like: He is happy and she is happiette.
  • Probably because it has so many changes in the words to indicate the use of the words, the order is very free. A Russian speaker often uses Subject Verb Object order but can switch things up and still easily be understood.
  • The basketball star Sue Bird for the Seattle Storm has a father of Russian ancestry. Their name was originally spelled ‘Boorda.’

It feels somehow wrong because so many of my students would object to the lack of dignity, but here is one way I like to work on my Russian: My son watches kid videos on YouTube and doesn’t mind if they are in other languages. It gives me a little language challenge and keeps me from getting bored like I do in English with trains that have a very limited plot line.