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This edition of Granola is a little different, and I'm really excited to share it with you: I asked several amazing people to contribute their thoughts, recipes, and favorite reads, as part of a larger effort to focus this month on friendship and community. Also: there's a book giveaway! (Details below.) I hope this edition introduces you to some new kindred spirits, and encourages you as much as it's encouraged me!
– Gracy
Given that the current amount of student loan debt held in the United States now exceeds the annual GDP of all but 12 of the world’s countries, it is likely that most of the readers of Granola carry some amount of student loan debt.

If you don’t have student loan debt, you likely have some other form of debt. It could be more ‘normal,’ like a mortgage or car payment or more ‘dangerous,’ like a large credit card debt. Medical debt, of course, is also a fact of life for millions of Americans. Financial debt is so much a part of life that the thought of living without it can seem unimaginable to many.

But many Americans are trying to find a way out of their debt-dependent lifestyle. The American right has its share of financial experts who promise joyful, debt-free living if you’ll follow their financial plan. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is debating various policy proposals that either directly or indirectly address the distinct forms of financial debt besetting so many Americans. Thus, you can argue that both the American right and left have spent a considerable amount of time and energy helping individuals become debt-free.

To the extent that this is about helping Americans enjoy a better quality of life by freeing them from a source of anxiety and suffering, that’s obviously a great objective. But the way that this is spoken of is, I think, telling. To be debt-free is to be detached, self-sufficient, obliged to no one. You can argue that being debt-free is the necessary precondition for being able to ‘define (your) own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,’ in the famous words of Justice Kennedy. Thus we secure our most basic rights, in this way of thinking, by being free from debt.

And yet when I think of my life, virtually every good thing I do is an act of either becoming debtor or creditor. Family life is a complex web of dependencies, a series of nearly constant exchanges of help and counsel. So too with friendship and church life. Even preparing a meal can be a kind of debt—you hope to create something that is worth the labor of the farmer or the life of the animal.

Our lives are an accumulation of debts because we are contingent, limited beings. We cannot provide for all our needs on our own. And while providing for all our needs via finance, which is largely how we have arrived in our present state, is unhealthy, we still must rely on others to provide for some of our essential needs, which is to say we must live according to a certain kind of debt.

The 19th century art critic and armchair economist John Ruskin says that there is no wealth but life. (Apparently Kanye is reading Ruskin?) If that is the case, then the solution to our out-of-control financial debt is not to become ‘debt-free’ but to amass a different kind of debt and spend our lives discharging it. We accrue debts to the land, to our family, to our neighbors, and we service that debt through love and fidelity. Our living, our making of things, is an act of honoring the debts we owe to one another and to our places as human beings.

The food we make, the poems we write, the furniture we build, the music we play… all of these things can “become an earnest of your faith in and affection for the great coherence that we miss and would like to have again.” The life of post-war America is built on a financialized imitation of the debts we naturally acquire and dispense through our living. The quest to become debt-free is merely another riff on this same basic approach to living. If we are to become people living sustainably in our relationship to the land and within the bonds of love with one another, we will do so by rediscovering the great coherence—and participating in the debt that it entails.


Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy and the author of In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife and children. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Email me and let me know your thoughts on Jake's vision for indebtedness. I'll include some thoughts in the next newsletter!

in other news
  • Costco is going to dramatic lengths to keep its $4.99 rotisserie chickens—it's creating a $450 million poultry complex in Nebraska, where it hopes to "control the production process from farm to store." (h/t Luma Simms)
     
  • Soil erosion in the west is getting worse.
     
  • “We’re all going to have to do something to help our land, our country itself. We have to find a way to pay it what we owe it. And what we owe it, of course, is our love." – Wendell Berry in Vox
     
  • We've adopted a "specific, disturbing and very new version of ‘happiness’ that holds that bad feelings must be avoided at all costs."
essays
 
  • Matthew Loftus:  "I really, really loved this essay by Wesley Hill about families and children. He captures perfectly that eschatological longing we have for redemption and a future family while also recognizing the joy of children right here and right now."
     
  • Catherine Addington: "I loved Anna Gát's close reading of the "Despacito" music video. If there's one thing I love more than "Despacito," it's good writers doing meaningful art criticism on pop culture—even if they have to adopt just a tinge of ironic discourse to disguise their obvious gleeful sincerity at embarking on these deep dives."
     
  • Matthew Shedden: "This recent essay by Jonathan Franzen reminded me why I find him one of our best cultural critics. His ability to call us to love the particular and to have some hope in midst of what is surely bad news is a gift. It draws me out of my apathy in midst of a crisis to love and hope again."
Leah Libresco has offered one lucky Granola reader a free copy of Life From Our Land: The Search For a Simpler Life In a Complex World, by Marcus Grodi, and so we are having a giveaway! Here's how you can enter:
  • Share this newsletter on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram
  • Tag me in your post (Here's my TwitterFacebook, and Instagram)
  • We will draw names, and send you a message if you're the lucky winner!
The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, by Christopher Lasch

Jeffrey Bilbro: "I’m part-way through this book. I’ve read some of Lasch before, and I benefited greatly from Eric Miller’s biography of Lasch, Hope in a Scattering Time, but I am just now getting to the last book Lasch finished before his death. It feels remarkably contemporary, and it offers an incisive diagnosis of the causes underlying our political and social divisions: 'The new elites . . . are far more cosmopolitan, or at least more restless and migratory, than their predecessors. . . . Success has never been so closely associated with mobility.'"

Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology, Elizabeth Theokritoff

Tim Markatos: "I read this book on a late-summer vacation. I frankly found it totally brilliant. Dr. Theokritoff writes with clarity and a mastery of her sources as she considers many of the paradoxes and seeming contradictions in how the early church talked about the body in relation to the rest of the created world. She also has a sly sense of humor that comes out whenever she addresses common criticisms of shallow Christian postures toward the environment. She pulls no punches in holding both contemporary Christian and non-Christian arguments about environmentalism to the higher standards set by some of the most profound thinkers and greatest saints the Orthodox church has ever produced. The book was written a decade ago, so if there’s anything else I would have liked her to address, it’s the recent popularization of catastrophizing narratives about climate change in the media, particularly those stories that frame poor, the marginalized, and the disabled as somehow bearing a larger responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuel companies and multinational corporations."
what we're eating
what we're listening to 
  • Macarena Olsen: "I recently enjoyed listening to this interview of author, midwife, and artist Pam England: she discusses her latest book, Ancient Maps for Modern Birth, where she explores the literary tool of the Hero’s Journey as a map for childbirth preparation. Although most women in our culture experience birth merely as a medical journey (we are primarily encouraged to gather information to make the 'right decisions' and become 'informed health consumers'), England charts a different path forward: one that binds the spiritual quest of the ancients with the modern search for identity to help women experience their birth as a rite of initiation rather than merely a medical outcome."
     
  • Matt Miller: "Joan Shelley, Over and Even: a little Joan Baez, a little Gillian Welch, something oddly Celtic in this beautifully simple Kentucky music."
     
  • I got to do an interview w/Chuck Marohn for the Strong Town podcast, all about community & why we need each other! You can listen to it here.
Feedback for the last edition of Granola: 

"As a professional musician with two young children, I am constantly trying to help them value beauty: from a magnolia tree in our neighborhood, to the architecture and streets of Old Town Alexandria, to watching opera clips on Youtube. It’s really something that people don’t take time to contemplate: what is beautiful, what is decidedly not beautiful, etc. As I have deepened my Catholic faith, I this concept of beauty is always in the back of my mind, from the smallest and simplest thing to a grandiose Mahler symphony. "
– Brandon
I grew up in rural Idaho, and now live in Northern Virginia. I have written for The American Conservative, The Week, New York Times, Washington Post, National Review, Weekly Standard, Christianity Today, and others. To quote C.S. Lewis, "You'll never find a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me."
 
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Copyright © 2019 Gracy Olmstead, All rights reserved.