No Black and White

We like organization, structure and lists.  We like to be able to say, “this goes here and that goes there.” In movies and I think in life we like to know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

Real life, as I am learning, isn’t that easy.

For instance, this weekend we planted a small orchard.  Along with a few friends from Rochester Church of Christ, we plated seventeen applet trees on a vacant lot just a few blocks away.  As we were planting we began watching the neighborhood wake up, start moving around and a couple of dealers start doing business in front of their houses.

One guy would eye-ball us every twenty minutes or so and head back into the house.  Eventually he walked over.

“What’s this?  What are you guys doing?”  he asked.

“Well, we bought this vacant lot and decided to clean it up, plant some trees on it and keep it looking nice for the neighborhood.”  I said, I’m sure stumbling over my words.

“So, you’re planting trees here?  Apple trees?”


Now mind you, this guy was big and intimidating.  He had tattoos from his neck, across his chest and down his arms.  We’d watched him run to the street, change hands with money and drugs and watched him walk back in the house on several occasions. He, if were were to categorize him, would easily fall under “bad guy.”  Which is why the next thing that happened was so surprising.

“That’s cool as hell man.  Do you need to use a lawn mower?”

“What?” I asked.

“I noticed your lawn mower didn’t start, you want to use mine?” It was true.  The lawnmower that we had brought was in need of a new spark plug and had failed to start.

“Sure.” I said.

He walked in his house and pulled out his lawn mower.  We put gas in it and started it up. When I had finished mowing the lot I took it back over.  “Thanks man,” I said.

“Hey no problem!  If you ever need to use it, you know where it is. And I tell you this…” He got really serious, “Ain’t no one going to mess with your stuff [EDITED FOR LANGUAGE]. I’m going to protect it.”

When I talk about the work here, I often say that people recognize universal goods.  Meaning, the everyone on the block sees our neighborhood events as a good thing because it brings people together, the kids come out and play and it creates a sense of community here.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the sweet grandmother on the block or the drug dealer, you can see that what is going on is a good thing.

It’s a cool thing to navigate these things here.  I’ve had presuppositions shattered as well as upheld almost daily.

The adventure continues.


About coleyoakum

My name is Coleman Yoakum. I am formerly a student at Harding University. Today you can find me in Detroit Michigan doing what I can to expand the Kingdom of God and preparing to start an intentional community in Pontiac. I enjoy reading, writing, photography, music and politics. I am sure that all of these things will find their way to this blog from time to time. Twitter: coleyoakum Facebook: Coleman Yoakum Email: Flickr:

3 responses to “No Black and White”

  1. Larry Allen says :

    We often put people in a box and expect them to stay within the confines of its perimeter. We are surprised when the “bad guy” exhibits a sense of humanity, when in actuality he’s just another schlub trying to get by, albeit not in a manner most of us would approve.
    So there lies that glimmer of hope, that there is something to be redeemed, and the inspiration to continue to have optimism in humanity.
    We are commanded to love others, even the drug dealer. Doesn’t mean you have to like him.

  2. kmpinkel says :

    This awesome. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Debra Lyn Anderson says :

    We all judge others in some form. When we are able to look at people as just people- we will find that we are all the same. What we don’t always think about is, what some people do to get by, may be the only thing they have ever seen. Drug dealing, prostitution, stealing are examples of desperate desires to just get by. If we who have had it a little better in life aren’t the examples-we will never change a thing. We must be the change we want to see. You guys are such a blessing to Pontiac and great examples to us all.

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