In the last 24 hours, I’ve had two seemingly unrelated experiences that raised a similar issue for me. I’ll start by briefly talking about each of the experiences. Then, I’ll touch on the issue they raised for me.
The first experience involved my viewing of the 2018 film Boy Erased. For those unfamiliar with the movie, it tells the story of a young gay man named Jared Eamons whose parents sent him to a conversion therapy program. Jerad’s father was a Baptist minister, and his mother played the role of the dutiful pastor’s wife.
A close friend of mine who has been an LGBTQ activist for over 50 years was critical of the film for being too sympathetic in its portrayal of the boy’s parents. He made that observation weeks ago. So as I watched the film, I was particularly attuned to its portrayal of Jerad’s parents.
The second experience occurred today when I read about how one of my favorite baseball players (George Springer) on my favorite baseball team (the Houston Astros) had directed a homophobic slur at an umpire just after the umpire called him out on strikes. The incident occurred on April 23. While initial reports indicated George Springer did face consequences for his tirade, no mention was given as to what the consequences were.
So what issue was raised for me in these two seemingly unrelated events?
For me, both situations forced me to think about whether or not we give people room to evolve. In this digital age that has come to be dominated by social media, it seems many of us feel compelled to make snap judgments about who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are. Once we make our determination, individuals typically get left in the camp to which we’ve assigned them.
“Is that a healthy approach?” I’ve wondered …
At the start of the film, we see some of the pieces of Jerad’s journey that led up to his placement in the conversion therapy program. As those pieces unfold, Jerad’s parents aren’t portrayed as monsters. Rather, they are portrayed as parents who are concerned about the well-being of their son (whom they love deeply) and are willing to take whatever steps are necessary in order to get their son back on track.
Ironically none of those in the film end up where they started. Jerad’s mother moves much faster in her evolution. Jerad’s father, much slower. Even Jerad lands in a different place than he was at the beginning of the story. The evolution of the characters happened only because they stayed in relationship with one another.
Jerad’s decision to stay in relationship with his folks didn’t mean he affirmed their positions. Far from it. He carefully set – and then maintained – his boundaries so he didn’t lose himself. Each of the characters DID love one another enough to stay in conversation – and it was only through those painful conversations that things began to change.
I wondered if a similar dynamic might take place in coming days between George Springer, the Houston Astros, and their LGBTQ fans.
It would be easy for some to hear what George said in the heat of the moment and completely write him off as a mean-spirited, bigoted person. (Here is a link to the inital report I read: Springer story.)
To do so would be a mistake, however. For as his fans know, George’s journey hasn’t been easy. George developed a stutter when he was very young and spent a good chunk of his life being targeted because of his stutter. George has used his fame to call attention to these issues and has helped many children who are living through the challenges he faced.
This suggests – at least for me – that George has a good heart. He just needs to enter into the experiences of those who have been marginalized for different reasons and grow to understand how hurtful words like the ones he used can be: even if the words are uttered in the heat of the moment. In an effort to practice what I often preach, I wrote both the Houston Astros’ organization and the Houston Chronicle beat writer that covers the Astros expressing hope that the incident might lead to much needed conversations.
These divergent experiences have led me to wonder, “Is there room anymore for people to evolve in their understandings or the world; or in this digital age dominated by social media, have we forfeited that room? Are we left to live in a world where people are labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based upon our perceptions of them at one moment in time?”
What do these things raise for you?