Laurel, Yanny and Jesus

Danny Sutter


"Shut up," I said aloud after I started the video. "Yanny, Yanny, Yanny," repeated the nasal voiced man as I thought, "There is no way in hell anyone could hear 'Laurel' in this." If you have no idea what I'm talking about, I'll explain. A viral Twitter post provides an audio clip of a man speaking, and like the Great Dress Debate of 2015, the internet can't decide what he's actually saying. Around half of the people think he's saying "Yanny," while the other half think it's "Laurel."

I fell into the "Yanny" camp. Crystal clear, plain as day. I listened repeatedly to no avail, trying to see how someone could possibly hear "Laurel." At this point, I assumed it was probably some sort of inside joke. Those in the know are trying to make us who hear "Yanny,"  which it clearly says, feel like we're crazy because we can't hear what they do.

That's what I thought...until I plugged my headphones in, hit play and heard the deep baritone repeating "Laurel, Laurel." I did a double take. I checked to make sure I was indeed listening to the same audio sample; I was. I tried to listen again to get back to "Yanny," but I couldn't hear it anymore. Only "Laurel."

I wanted to figure out how this was happening, so I found clips online of the voice being sped up and slowed down. There are specific points where I could hear it switch from "Yanny" to "Laurel" and back again. And now that I've heard both, I can go back and forth hearing it both ways. It turns out there's some science behind this. A portion of it lies in the ambiguity of the low-quality audio, some happens because of the similarities between the sounds being used, and some of it is just personal bias.

Maybe this is why we mishear song lyrics, like Elton John's "Count the head lice on the highway," Jimi Hendrix's "'scuse me while I kiss this guy," or the Saved By the Bell theme song's "If I can have an enchilada, it'll be alright." Or maybe this is why when I say, "Time to get ready for bed," my kids hear, "Run around the house like you've just chugged three Red Bulls."

Regardless of the reasons behind it, people experience this recording differently. The same audio sample is heard differently by different people, yet their individual experience is genuine. Likewise, those of us trying to follow Christ experience Him differently from each other. I believe Jesus is calling us all to him, but we hear that call differently. For example, the more I know about Jesus and who he was, the more I'm convinced that Christians are called to be pacifists. Yet, I have friends who, through their deep convictions and understanding of Jesus, deeply believe that there are times when violence must be utilized to do the right thing.

We are both responding to the same God's call. We both genuinely believe what we hear. We even both point to the same scriptures sometimes to back up our views. What often happens is we get into an argument about who is right, who is wrong, and why, eventually ending with "Well they're just too [stupid, naive, stubborn, brainwashed, etc.] to get it." This does little to help anything other than bolstering one's own rigidity, and at the same time, it belittles the other person's spiritual journey. I believe this is the reason we have so many denominations.

In John 17, Jesus prays for unity for his followers, that we be one as He and The Father are one. What does this look like when we have so many different denominations and exponentially more individual views? I think the keys are grace, humility, empathy, and love. I've known so many faithful followers of Jesus who believe differently from each other and from me, but I can tell by their actions they are in Christ and trying their best. Give people the benefit of the doubt; most people following Jesus sincerely believe they're doing so the best way they know how.

This doesn't mean we embrace relativism, or that there is no objective truth, but it means we try to understand where people are on their journey and why. Or as the prayer attributed to St. Francis puts it, "Grant that I may not so much be understood, as to understand." Maybe we will learn more about Christ, the other person, or ourselves through this. Take my pacifism versus just war example; maybe as a pacifist trying to understand someone who believes just war, I will better understand God's justice, and they in turn will better understand God's peace. I can’t do this if I’m grasping on so tightly to what I already know to be true that I'm arguing instead of listening. It doesn't mean my beliefs on violence change. What does change, though, is my understanding of God and my relationship with the other person. By assuming the best, keeping an open mind and heart, and genuinely trying to understand, we avoid what could become malice and instead cultivate love.

Father, will you answer Jesus’ prayer for unity? Make our collective and individual pursuits of You relentless, yet clothed in grace, humility, empathy, and love.

If you want to know Danny, all you need to know is that he loves Jesus, his family, his friends, and music. Oh yeah, and the Chicago Cubs. You might recognize him as the big-bearded guy with John Lennon (not Harry Potter!) glasses who can be seen on stage leading worship with you on Sunday mornings.

Christina Hite