“I was taught that it was Eve who ended paradise with her hunger. But lately, I have begun to wonder if it wasn’t all over from the very moment it was created. All paradise is doomed to end. And yet we keep trying to create it.” —Lyz Lenz, Empty the Pews
The last book that I read in 2019 was Empty the Pews, a recently published essay collection edited by Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O’Neal. It consists of twenty-two essays on the varying aspects and perspectives of deconverting, or to put it more simply, losing one’s religion. The entire book was hugely impactful and inspiring to me, please don’t ask me to pick a favorite chapter. The particular essay on my mind at the moment was authored by Lyz Lenz, who is just in general one of my favorite writers ever, and she wrote about the Christian impulse to create and recreate paradise, or utopia, even though they all fail.
But that’s the story arc of the Bible, isn’t it? First God created heaven, but that eventually lost its allure and he got bored, so he made Eden. But that collapsed, and how (fucking serpent!), so he created the rest of humanity, until he tired of their asshattery and wiped them out with a giant flood, sparing only Noah and Sons. A dove bringing Noah an olive branch signaled a new beginning, a new utopia breathed into being. A truly fresh slate. This time it will work. Except that batch of humanity didn’t behave any better than the first one, so God tried a new angle by sending his son to be crucified in an attempt to wipe out all the sins and compel a new paradise via the promise of heaven. (The same heaven he found boring?) Alas, that plan also shattered fairly quickly, and now Revelation’s promise of a new heaven and new earth is all a Christian has left. Judging by the historical record, I think it’s safe to predict that will end in failure too.
As Lenz points out in her essay, creating paradise over and over and never learning our lessons when they all inevitably fail isn’t just limited to evangelicals; it’s kind of an American tradition too. Not only have small groups of Americans dabbled in varying cults and kumbaya-type societies – all of which disintegrate, some violently – but every January, everyday people are all too eager to make those New Year’s resolutions all over again. Diet companies, insufferable tech-bro “gurus”, and listicle-enamored internet publishers are all too happy to cash in on our vulnerability. This year we will lose weight, make more money, learn to knit, finally go hang gliding, or whatever.
Every January we see the opportunity, the calling, to create and recreate our own little utopia disguised as The New Year. This year will be better, we tell ourselves. This year will be different. And it’s not just about the things we resolve to quit or start doing. It’s that false sense of freshness, that sense of newness we feel in our bones that we have to know on some level is just a placebo effect. There’s a part of us that wants to believe we can leave the hardships and the tediousness and the discomfort of the past year for good, that we’ll create a paradise for ourselves this year. This year we’ll finally be happy with the shapes and sizes of our bodies, this year we will finally succeed at outrunning or outmaneuvering our inherent broken brain wiring, this year we will at last feel constantly content and happy.
And then February arrives, and we realize we have, once again, been kicked out of Eden. We never learn. We forget that hardship, tediousness, and discomfort are inevitable parts of life. Our mistakes and lovers’ spats and Visa bills never leave us.
There’s nothing magical about January. It’s just another month on the calendar. No paradise awaits any of us. But every year we will ourselves to think otherwise. Why is that? Why do we use another January as an excuse to create another utopia that we should know will crumble on us? I have no idea. Maybe it’s cultural. Maybe it’s simply hubris. Or maybe it’s an entrenched but useless part of our human wiring caught in the slow process of evolution, something nature hasn’t gotten around to discarding quite yet.
I would say that maybe that should be our new resolutions: to not do this to ourselves and each other anymore. But, I know better.
Not Just Another Kale Salad
- 1 bunch lacinato kale, stems removed and cut into bite-size chunks
- 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, stems removed and roughly chopped
- 1 small shallot, chopped
- 4 tbs olive oil, divided
- 2 tbs fresh lemon juice
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 1-2 oz anchovies
- 3 oz feta cheese, divided
- 2 tbs finely chopped preserved lemons
- 1 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- Freshly ground black pepper
- A touch of kosher salt, if necessary
- Toss the kale, parsley, and shallot in a large mixing bowl with 2 tbs olive oil and let sit for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, puree the remaining 2 tbs olive oil, the lemon juice, garlic, anchovies, and 1 oz feta in a small food processor. Pour all the dressing over the kale, then toss in the preserved lemon, chickpeas, and remaining 2 oz feta. Grind some black pepper over the salad as you prefer and taste for seasoning. It probably won’t need anything else, but adjust accordingly if it needs salt. Serve and enjoy.
I know kale is no longer trendy and it’s fun to mock its former “superfood” status. Though I may not join said mockery, neither do I begrudge it. I can admit that it is somewhat deserved. I just… really like kale, and kale salads. Just… for their own sake. It is in that vein that I start this new year by blogging one. Maybe I’ll make that an annual tradition, who knows! This is one of my favorites - it’s like Alton Brown knew all of Julie Wallace’s favorite things to put in a salad and created this just for me. Before he sics his lawyers on me, I will make clear that he did not. Mr. Brown has never met me, never interacted with me on social media, and probably never read my stuff. This salad is still one of the tastiest things ever.