catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 10 :: 2008.05.16 — 2008.05.30


The sacred and the profane

Or, hooking in Carolyn’s basement

I am a hooker. Admittedly, hooking isn’t a widely appreciated pastime nowadays—at least not in the public sphere. Also, hooking today is not what one would call an economically viable profession. For that reason, most hookers (myself included) must confine their hooking to hobby status. Even then, the hard work put into this craft is vastly underrated. Consider my mentor, Carolyn. Besides my grandmother—who was a hooker for much of her life and in whose name I began hooking—Carolyn is the most accomplished hooker I have ever met. No, that’s an understatement. Carolyn takes hooking to an entirely new level; she is an artist of epic proportions, at least according to her students and anyone who has seen her in action. In fact, not only is Carolyn talented, she is prolific. I can’t even begin to imagine how many hours she has put into hooking. Perhaps this is what I admire most about her—her complete devotion to her art, regardless of the time and attention to detail that it requires. It seems there are few things in life today that demand such devotion and such an uncompromising belief in right and wrong. There is most certainly a right and a wrong when it comes to hooking, and if you hook wrongly, you’d better expect to start all over again from the beginning.

To be honest, I am not entirely used to this belief system based on the strict adherence to a black/ white, right/wrong ideology. I am a true child of the Postmodern Age—my colors are grey and grey, my flag is a patchwork, and my conflicts and conversations are endlessly existential and nearly always without resolution. I find it difficult to accept another person’s notion of God as my own, and I find it nearly impossible to buoy my skepticism when I am confronted with an either/or dichotomy, especially in regard to religion—and more specifically, in regards my religion—Christianity. In my short time on earth, I have found myself among the Jesus Freaks, the Conservatives, the Nazarenes, the Non-Denominationalists, the Gnostics, the Evangelicals, the Catholics, the Wiccans, the Calvinists, the Baptists, the Buddhists, the Taoists, the Emergents, the Greek Orthodox, the Atheists, the Jewish, the Mennonites, the Unitarians, the Zoroastrians—I needn’t go on—and still, I have yet to find one creed, one code, one set of ideologies with which I can fully agree. Of course, this is not at all the case with hooking. In hooking, there is a right, and there is a wrong. If you hook “rightly,” you will be proud of the results. If you compromise for any reason (even a good one), you will not. I need this in my life.

My husband Jordan and I met on an off-campus program called the Oregon Extension. During this semester, Jordan did a project on a man named Jacques Ellul. Ellul—a sociologist, philosopher, theologian, and (perhaps most interestingly) Christian anarchist—inspired a small but feverishly devoted cult following of sorts. It was from Jordan that I learned about Ellul’s passion for the concept of dialectic. Before becoming a Christian, Ellul was a Marxist. When he became a Christian, he realized that he would be unable to abandon his Marxist perspective. At the same time, he was wholly devoted to his Christian faith and all that that meant for his life. As a result, he chose to not to ignore or justify either belief system (despite the potential contradictions), but rather to live through and with this dialectic, this tension that the combination of the two brought into his life.

The whole idea of dialectic, especially in terms of one’s faith, is not an easy one to comprehend or to articulate. Yet for those like Ellul, the idea of such a tension may be the only one that rings true. For Ellul and his followers, the notion of the dialectic is foundational to the understanding of mind and matter, God and humanity. In light of the implications of this dialectic, words like “right” and “wrong” seem not to fit. Ideas like “truth” and “untruth,” on the other hand, suddenly have a home.

As nebulous as that all might sound, I think that these ideas are nonetheless worthy of attention. In fact, I think that there are a lot of “grey areas” or “areas of tension” in our lives that inspire notions of truth or untruth. My Calvinist friends would probably smile and mumble something about the concept of discernment. I’d mumble right back at ‘em—yes, I suppose I am talking about discernment, about seeking to understand the complex and potholed territory that stretches across the vast field (or ocean, or galaxy) that is Truth and God and everything and nothing in between. There is a truth and there is an untruth. I may be a golden child of postmodernity, yet the guppies in my heart tingle to hear these words: truth, untruth. When truth meets truth, there is a dazzling spark of recognition—our hearts leap when they recognize themselves in the big shiny mirror that is the heart of God.

So about this hooking—it’s good for me. It’s good for me to meet up every other Tuesday to hook with my friends, all of whom are more than twice my age and full of a lifetime’s worth of wisdom and sarcasm. We sit together under the bright overhead lights in Carolyn’s basement and work. Sometimes we drink coffee or tea, and we always stop for lunch.  Hooking—doing it right—requires one to be willing to take instruction and to humble oneself to the guidance of the instructor.  In our case, that’s Carolyn, and one couldn’t ask for a more pedigreed example of what it means to hook both beautifully and well. She spends her time each Tuesday—the entire five hours—making suggestions; initiating corrections; and, if you’re really lucky, giving encouragement. When the latter occurs, you can see the hookers (myself included) glow under the warm light of Carolyn’s words.

There is nothing on this earth akin to a compliment from a ferociously honest expert—one who believes in and lives by a rigid standard of right and wrong. If Carolyn says that you’re doing something right, you can know that it’s true. If she says that you’re doing something wrong, you can be sure that that’s true, too. It is in Carolyn’s basement with the hookers that the dialectic, in all its tension and seeming contradiction, fully manifests itself. In this place, both right and wrong are true when it is Carolyn who speaks. It is because of this—this ability to both speak and live the truth, and to simultaneously acknowledge right and wrong in a way that defies reductionism—that I respect her so much. Also, she’s an amazing hooker.

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