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Pastor Glenn McDonald: A Difficult Spell

Every spring the month of May brings us not only the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – the Indianapolis “500” – but the Greatest Spectacle in Spelling, also known as the Scripps National Spelling Bee.


This year 245 contestants will gather in Maryland on May 28-30 to write another chapter in what Scripps calls “the largest and longest-running education program in America” – a white-knuckle-hold-your-breath competition that’s been happening since 1925. 


Last year’s champion was 14-year-old Dev Shah from Largo, Florida, seen above.  He correctly spelled “psammophile” to grab the $50,000 first prize.  A psammophile, as is commonly known (not), is an organism that thrives in sandy soil. 


The words that Dev had to spell correctly in order to reach the finals were also not for the faint of heart.  They included schistorrhachis, aegagrus, rommack, and tolsester. 


Google, meanwhile, regularly uses its search engine data to determine the most troublesome words for the rest of us – we who will not be participating in a spelling contest any time soon.  By tallying all the queries that begin with “how do you spell,” they’re able to identify the most-misspelled words for each of the 50 states.


Dev seems to be in no danger of losing his crown.


Three years ago, the most misspelled word in 11 states was “quarantine” – certainly not surprising in light of the pandemic.  Residents of Texas were uncertain how to spell “confident,” which seems counterintuitive in a state that claims to represent the biggest and best of everything. 


Three Great Plains states – North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska, situated from north to south – all have difficulty spelling the word “believe.” My fellow Hoosiers struggle with “desert.”  Presumably we don’t want to confuse the deserts we don’t have with the desserts that we have in abundance. 


Florida may be home to Disney World’s Tomorrowland, but “tomorrow” appears to be a beast for Floridians.


A few years ago, Colorado residents yearned for the correct spelling of “beautiful,” perhaps because they have good reason to use it.  Ohio is perplexed by “banana.” 


The residents of Arizona and New Hampshire struggle with “diarrhea.” It is genuinely difficult to imagine what else those two states might have in common.   


Back in 2016, people who in lived in Arkansas and Utah were, for unstated reasons, interested in the correct spelling of “leprechaun,” while the citizens of Minnesota were impassioned by “broccoli.”  Wyoming residents were pursuing a state-wide quest to spell “ornery.” 


People who live in Hawaii want to know “boutonniere,” which is no gimme even for spelling bee contestants.  And the residents of Alaska?  They’re fixated on the spelling of “Hawaii,” perhaps especially during the winter.  Residents of Maine would like to know how to spell “watch,” while Kentucky is all about “maintenance.” 


Back in the fifth grade, I was the stellar speller in my class. 


Going into our annual school spelling bee I felt confident because of my growing mastery of long, obscure words.  I couldn’t wait to strut my stuff.


Then came the second round of the competition, where easy words routinely eliminate students who haven’t sufficiently prepared. My school principal asked me to spell the word “obedient.”  O-B-E-D-I-A-N-T, I answered.  A instead of E. 


And just like that, my dreams of a trip to the National Spelling Bee were dashed.


There’s not much use in knowing what is esoteric if you haven’t mastered the basics.


The more I look back on that embarrassing moment, missing that word turned out to be a gift from God.  That’s because I’ve spent my whole life thinking about how to spell “obedient.” 


Whenever I’m tempted to believe I’m starting to get pretty good at this spirituality stuff, I’m reminded that first I have to master the basics.  Like obedience.


All of us are in the Slow Learners Group when it comes to the things of God – a reminder that the basics should always receive our full attention.


For which we can be truly G-R-A-T-E-F-U-L. 


Your obedient friend and partner in the kingdom, Glenn. 

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