Archive for November, 2013

I was reading Robert Thayer’s Life Place: Bioregional Thought and Practice in which he builds hypotheses about what it means to be grounded (my word, not his) by talking about my “home”.  And I had to stop because I was overwhelmed…

Overwhelmed by a sense of love—as tangible as any I have experienced—for my nearby.

Can one “love” a place? 

Yes, I say. 

As one yearns for more time with one’s beloved, one can yearn for one more sun-drenched day in late autumn in the fields of the valley that is my backyard.  Like the proud father of a growing child, one can tell the stories of the amazing abilities of this land to heal and revive.

Sometimes I wonder if it is the geometry of the place that reaches into my heart (I love straight lines and order).  The fields and roads in a grid create peace, clarity and predictability.  But then.  Then I ride a contour or wind through a valley and find the unpredictable—the lack of symmetry—even more comforting than the lines.  And I rest by the road out of breath and panting in thirst for more. More and more.  A thirst happily unquenched.IMG_0041

I remember when I first came here and (this sounds strange) I stopped one day on my bike and actually (it’s true) pinched myself to see if I was really here.  Here in this too flat, sun-scorched, valley.  Here, where the hills and mountains beckon east and west but never approach the stacked heat of a summer afternoon.  Here, along the packed earth fields and trickling creeks. 

I have loved a woman going on 35 years, children for more than half that, and grandchildren for a smaller wedge of time. 

I know love. 

It is companionship and trust.  It is perseverance and hope.  It is a longing to be with and for and to.  And I feel and know of all of that for this place. 

It caught me by surprise and I blush at my schoolboy rush of emotion—my longing to merge with it, be rooted in its soil.  To flow forever into its history and narrative. 

I remember as a child running to the far end of the yard in the Pennsylvania piedmont, singing as I ran “California here I come…” and there was a deep longing in a space near my heart.  I knew not what I sang and that land was far and I was not sure it existed.  Now I know that even then—even then—I  “discerned” that there was a place where I could find place (does that make sense?)

This is my life-place.



Posted: 27 November 2013 in Faith and Life

You know how it is.  You hear yourself say something and then wonder, “Where did that come from?”  I am not talking about a classic faux pas said in front of a room full of strangers.  I am talking about something much more subtle.  Something that may have sounded perfectly reasonable (intelligent even).

But something that rebounds to your ears and announces that you have changed; and not in a good way. That rebound stings.

And so I found myself saying: “So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for SES.” 

Innocuous right?

SES: Socioeconomic Status.  That still-ubiquitous summation of something we all know but really don’t understand.  And the rebounding words transported me back to the first week of graduate school.  A time when I had never heard of a “p-value” nor would have understood what it really meant to “control” for anything.  But still I remember the forum.

It was an informal session in the student lounge during which people who had just finished their masters program could discuss their experiences with the incoming class.  Conversation ranged from which courses to avoid to which libraries to use.  From how to snag a good advisor to how to make sure you took courses that added up to something coherent.

And then a woman spoke up (and it’s funny, I don’t remember anything else specific from that day but I do remember this) and said something like: “You are going to hear a lot about SES. Practically every study you read will claim to ‘control’ for it. Don’t accept it at face value.  It hides more than it reveals.  It is an easy way to pretend to say something rather than deal with the reality of what really makes people sick—and keeps them that way.”

And that was it.  And I was careful.  I remember asking about it nearly every time it came up in a study and it never really meant the same thing.  Mostly it just meant “income level.”  Sometimes it was a constructed index of poverty, sometimes it was linked to race.  Sometimes educational level.  Sometimes geography.  It meant something but I was never sure what without doing some serious digging. 

I decided then to never use it but to always drill down and find out what it really meant. 

But over time…

And so here I was all these years later pretending to say something but not saying anything at all.  I should have said

“So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for having to work two jobs with no health care and actually earning half the minimum wage when you consider how many hours they had to spend commuting by a mediocre public transit system…”


“So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for, being a mom with sick kids and no access to health care and having food stamps that magically get cancelled or reduced because some so-called leader far away decides you are a moocher though you have worked harder than they ever will…”


“So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for, being a non-native English speaker who breaks his back making your food and then gets threatened by a boss saying that he will be fired unless he works three straight shift despite having a severe burn caused by the lack of safe kitchen practices…


“So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for trying to find child care that is priced such that only one of three jobs is required to pay for it…”


“So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for being addicted for so long that the paranoia of not getting a fix permeates every waking hour and there is no way to find a way out because down here the only people I ever talk to are people dealing with the need for the same fix…”


And you get the picture.

You can’t “control” for these specificities.  I know that.  The point is I can’t control for the myriad causes and effects of exclusion and I should not pretend that a study that claims to do so has much of value to teach me.  These crude models create the dehumanization they purport to try to come to terms with. 

So next time I say something like “So, in these studies I am assuming they controlled for SES” please smack me, hard, before the rebound reminds me of how callous I have become.