Room to Grow?

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?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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3 Responses to Room to Grow?

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    Two potential concerns come to mind when we talk about second chances. One is that as a society we tend to decide who gets that room to evolve based not on their behavior but on their level of power or whether we like or identify with them. The Brett Kavanaughs of the world often receive a nigh infinite number of chances, while the Freddie Grays get none. People who get too many chances become “missing stairs”: the ones others in the community know are problematic and warn newcomers about, but whom nobody is willing to cut out of the community no matter how badly or how many times they hurt others.

    The second is that every second chance we give someone comes at someone else’s expense. It comes at the expense of their victims, who see that the community values staying in relationship with the person who hurt them more than it values protecting them from being hurt by that person again. (Sometimes this leads the victims to opt out of the community rather than be pressured to forgive or ignore.) And it comes at the expense of potential future victims, who are often expected to bear the primary burden of protecting themselves from this person as the price of remaining in the community.

    So while giving offenders room to evolve and grow is a good thing, we have to be careful to do it in a way that addresses those issues. We should give our second chances fairly, regardless of privilege or “likeability.” We should set reasonable boundaries beyond which we will not grant additional chances to those who are unrepentant or making no progress, or whose offenses are too serious to risk repeating. We should balance the needs of the offender with the needs of the victims, and make sure we are not excluding the latter to include the former. And we should do the work of making sure that the person’s presence in the community does not diminish others’ ability to participate fully and safely in the community.

  2. Stevie says:

    I’ve been a parent for 51 years. I also consider myself to be an unquestionable LGBTQ ally. If one of my children had come out as gay in the 80s or 90s , I have no idea what my reaction would have been, and neither does anyone else. I know I would have been afraid for her, and I know my love for her would have helped me, and I’m absolutely certain I would have evolved.
    I haven’t seen Boy Erased yet, but I know as parents we are products of our life’s experiences. Being faced with any change in what we’d expected in our kids’ lives is influenced by that. If we aren’t given a chance to evolve, then there is no hope at all. To me, it’s about choosing not to. Then I’m pretty judgmental.
    As for George, I’m pretty mad at him. He needs to apologize.

  3. Andrea Frazer says:

    I think giving people second chances requires a very very VERY counter cultural response to a culture seeped in more more more quick quick quick JUDGING YOU NOW mentality. You alluded to this. I believe that when the very thing you are saying becomes part of cultural conditioning it will be easier to allow. (Having worked as a sub, and having made some mistakes this year and having been ‘let go’ from one assignment for one dumb move on my part, I know only too well the pain that can come when someone sees the one thing you did wrong and ignores the other 99%.) GREAT POST.

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