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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Daniel

To Whom Would You Give an Umbrella?

Why are we so judgmental? What is it that moves us to ask questions that impose our understanding of a person or situation, rather than seeking understanding of the person or situation?

Our church recently installed a “hearing loop” for parishioners who suffer hearing loss. The hearing loop enables people who have a hearing aid with a “T-Coil” to connect directly with the sound system and listen clearly to what is being said in the church. It also enables others who do not have hearing aids to listen through a device using headphones. It’s amazing technology that has benefited many.

A person who does not suffer hearing loss learned that we were installing the hearing loop and asked the question, “Why would you give an umbrella to someone who has a raincoat?”

I do not use hearing aids. My hearing is better than I would like for it to be at times. So, I rely on my friends who suffer hearing loss to help me understand what they experience in the large space of our church that also has sounds bouncing off the walls, especially when children are in the room. What I have learned is that hearing aids are great for people who suffer hearing loss, but they are really only effective if you are facing the person you’re speaking with, and if you’re within arm’s length. In other words, hearing aids allow you to hear what’s right in front of you. On top of this, hearing aids have a way of picking up all sorts of background noise, which most of us are able to disregard or filter. And when you’re sitting in a space with wonderful acoustics—wonderful for those who have relatively good hearing, even though someone is using a microphone to enhance their speaking, hearing aids are minimally effective because you pick up all the other sounds bouncing off the walls. The hearing loop, then, enables people with hearing aids to hear what everyone else hears, which brought tears to one of our parishioner’s eyes when the sounds came through for the first time.

I’ve been in some bad weather. I’ve been in torrential downpours when an umbrella does little more than keep the top of my head dry. Sometimes umbrellas and raincoats are both needed to stay dry. Why would you give an umbrella to someone with a raincoat? is not a curious question; it is a pre-judice. It does not seek to understand the circumstances surrounding a person’s need but rather imposes a privileged understanding from the seat of abstract authority.

We’ve all done this. It may not be hearing loops or umbrellas, but we’ve all imposed an understanding on someone or some situation, asking questions that do not seek understanding but rather impose our prejudices on others. The prejudices come from the lamp of our eyes (Matthew 6). We see by the light of our habits and practices, which cast light on others and situations that either enable us to see more clearly or perceive only through our shadowy gaze of judgment.

When we ask to judge we should turn around and ask ourselves: where did that question come from? What habits or practices in my own life urged me to ask that? What habits or practices do I need to take on, so that I do not cast judgment upon the world, and thereby judge myself, but rather seek understanding through faith and open myself to being known by the abilities and disabilities of others? Judgement is a posture before it spoken in words. Our posture comes out of a bodily comportment shaped by numerous practices, people and environments. If we are to cast grace upon the world, rather than judgment, it will require that we be habituated sacramentally through the worship of the church. At the very least, we will learn to ask better questions and, perhaps, enable others to hear more clearly.

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