I grew up in a black-and-white world, spending my formative years in a conservative church and conservative religious school, from kindergarten to the winter of my eighth grade. We raised and slaughtered chickens, grew a garden every year, and recycled tin, glass, and paper, right in the middle of Kansas City, Kansas. Seemingly independent thinkers but shackled by the religion we surrendered to.
My parents volunteered at the church often. I remember watching my father wrapping Spanish language New Testaments in brown paper, standing at a table in the corner of the church. He smoked the whole time. No one cared. The books were loaded in the bottom of a small trailer and covered in "clothing donations ."My dad's buddy drove the trailer to Monte Rey, Mexico, crossing the border like a good Samaritan. Contrabanded New Testaments for the missionaries, clothes for anyone who could use them. In the meantime, my father subscribed to Soviet Living Today. He appreciated the trappings of the communist theory and lifestyle, keeping it to himself as a secret pleasure—a former Army military intelligence specialist sitting in a church on Sundays.
My mom served the church by cooking, and teaching Pioneer Girls, then came home to her studio, where she painted, drew, and sketched. She followed political news, and our tiny black and white TV was dialed in and blaring during the Nixon debacle. Like my dad, she was a thoughtful individual, seamstress, and avid roller skater-praying to get it all right. Even with such a broad band of parenting, of all the influences I experienced while growing up, putting everything in black and white in my head, mind, and choices became an agonizing responsibility, thanks to the power of religion. Black and white. Right and wrong. Them and us. Shame or perfection. Never enough, always missing both extremes.
As I've aged, I've worked hard to find the grey space in the middle. It's more relaxed there. That whole black-and-white thing means constant justification, debate, or argument. Moving in the middle makes room for exploration, expansion, and the freedom to see both sides. I wish I had this freedom as a kid. Things may have been different.
This morning, listening to a podcast, the speaker reminded listeners that conclusion is futile. There is no conclusion. Things can be learned further and in new contexts and light. Science teaches us this, nothing is definite, and everyone can learn more. Conclusion is a false sense of knowing when exploration can inspire.
This is where I find myself now. Gone are the days of youth when authority, control, and definitions are put upon me by religion, peers, or community. Sure, there are some guidelines we all have to follow. But the sweet and flowering nuances, often twisted into dogma, or leveraged as facts, can be explored, considered, and even passed by. Freedom. Individual choice. Living in the realm of possibilities and wonder.
Our formative years tend to put in stone things that would be better if more pliable. It's hard to outgrow these foundations and break the habits and stagnation they bring. But as the speaker said this morning, truth is found in seeking, exploring, and staying open to learning more, and conclusion, that black and white end to it all is limiting and eventually outdated. I choose to seek, revisit, and let exploration determine the space I dwell in. And with luck, my mind will stay young and open, ready to relive that liberated formative youth I yearn for the rest of my days.