The Passion and the Isolation

About Sarah Blake LaRose

Sarah Blake LaRose is a freelance writer and a professor of Biblical Hebrew at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana. She is one of three blind academic scholars who received the Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind in 2016 in recognition of innovative work in the field of access to biblical language texts and tools for people who are blind.

The following is excerpted from a journal entry I wrote several years ago. I post it as a thought-starter.

The Passion. It was expected to bring in millions of dollars in ticket sales. It was the most talked about movie in early 2004. At church on that Wednesday evening, everyone was excited because the singles pastor was planning to show a snippet from the movie. I joined the excitement–after all, blind people watch TV and movies, too.

My excitement was short-lived. The Passion is, as I would learn much later, a fantastic movie. Unfortunately, I would have to wait for a special version to come out, one that included a special narrated script overlaid describing the visual aspects of the movie. I can follow most movies with minimal assistance, forming conclusions about what is going on by listening to the dialogue. The Passion, however, has very little dialogue. The little it has is all in Aramaic–and there is not much of it.

As I sat through that evening activity at a church where I had been struggling to make friends for six months, I felt isolated in the crowd. The movie was not the only problem. Before activities began that evening, I sat at a table writing some notes in braille regarding reflections I was having about our current study. A person came up to me, leaned over my page (obviously staring), and asked, “Is that how you take notes? What’s your dog’s name?” While the movie snippet was playing, no one thought to describe what was happening. After the evening’s events were over, no one conversed with me. When the person who was transporting me was ready to leave, she retrieved me with very little conversation. We rode home in silence; and I returned to my usual routine at home. No one called during the week to ask whether I might like to have coffee.

It is hard sometimes to believe that four years have passed since that day. This morning, as a snippet from The Passion was played in a service at another church, I wondered how we will ever reach a point when no one feels excluded. I am all too well aware that no one meant to exclude me or my friend in the congregation whose vision is also too poor for her unable to see movie images; but that awareness doesn’t stop it from happening. The Passion was made in order to bring people to a deeper understanding of the suffering of Christ on their behalf. What will accomplish this for a blind person? While the rest of the church is humbled by this movie, my friend and I are blind, literally, to the death and resurrection of Jesus. We can read facts; but nothing moves us the way that images move sighted people. Descriptive movies help; but I suspect that many sighted people would not tolerate them in a church setting any more than they tolerate someone talking in a movie theater. Churches don’t see the need for description because blind people do not go to church. Blind people do not go to church because they feel excluded. This is not ok!

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