"Where Love Makes the Difference"


This blog is the personal thoughts of Pastor Jonathan Brooks and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or beliefs of Canaan Community Church or any of its members.  

view:  full / summary

Autism Speaks... Is the Church Listening?

Posted by Canaan Community Church on December 2, 2015 at 11:05 AM Comments comments ()


By Pastor Jonathan Brooks aka Pastah J


As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth and his disciples asked him, “Rabii, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. John 9:1-3



“On the profession and confession of your faith, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!” This is a phrase I have proclaimed many times since becoming a pastor nine years ago. However, this time was different. I was literally trembling with emotion as I held a bucket of water I was about to pour over the head of an unsuspecting, autistic young man who had refused to get in the baptismal pool. His mom had recently joined our church and wanted to be baptized along with her four foster children. It was obvious that the baptisms were more about the mother’s comfort than the children professing their faith. We typically baptize based on personal confession but this mom was avid and wanted this even if it was a baptism by force. I discussed with the mother about how to proceed after his initial refusal and then filled a bucket with water and slowly walked up to the young man, who was looking down and attentively playing with a small hand held video game. I could feel the intensity of his mother’s stare and, out of the corner of my eyes, could see tears streaming down her cheeks. I walked extremely slowly because I was more than a little nervous about his possible response. It was in those last few moments before the actual turning over of the bucket that I realized this moment was not just a baptism for him, it was a baptism for us! This was our baptism by force! God knew, without this moment, we would have avoided the work that comes with welcoming this family into our church.



After the baptism service was complete everyone discussed how moving it was to be present for this baptism and how we felt like the day was symbolic of our church moving into an area of ministry we had previously forsaken. However, we really had no clue what that meant! The following Sunday as we prepared to welcome the family with what is typically known as the right hand of fellowship (for us its just everybody hugging and welcoming the family) we learned that the entire church walking up to the front to embrace our new brother was not the wisest choice. He did not respond well to our show of love and quickly taught us that it was not his responsibility to adjust to our traditions but our job to be sensitive to his needs as a member of our community. As a church we really value listening to our neighbors, but we learned a hard lesson that day and although he had never spoken a word to any of us, he had us all listening! We learned that we could not stop listening just because what we heard interfered with how we had always done things. Canaan Community Church, the church where love makes the difference, had to admit that we did NOT know how to love him or his family. Just as we need the Spirit’s help to love God with all our heart, mind soul and strength. We needed our brother to teach us how to love our autistic neighbors as we loved ourselves.



Autism is considered to be a spectrum disorder, ranging from mild to severe, due to the diversity of expression that is associated with the disorder. On one end of the spectrum are individuals diagnosed with “classic” autism who tend to have limited verbal language and poor social comprehension. On the other end are those individuals identified as having Asperger Syndrome who are verbally competent but still have significant challenges with social comprehension. Steve Shore an adult with Asperger Syndrome stated, “ If you have met one person with autism, well, you have met one person with autism.” It is good to learn about the disorder but it is imperative to learn the person. (What is Autism, Peter Gerhardt. Ed.D)



Autism truly effects the entire family. Everyday things that we take for granted like haircuts, grocery shopping, community gatherings and religious practices have quite a different outlook for families having members with autism. Autism changes daily interactions, safety consideration, recreational activities, expenditures and priorities. The family is often dealing with emotional and spiritual confusion and although we make ourselves available they are not always open to our desire to “be there” for them. (Autism and the Family, Alice F. Walsh, M.Div) We know this first hand because this family has not felt comfortable coming back to our church. Although it is painful it is helping us realize we have a long way to go in learning to love them the way they need. We consistently reach out to them but accept that we must be patient, continually learn how to love them and get as close as the family desires.



Collectively the church is lagging behind on our ability to love those with mental illness and physical disabilities but there are individuals, churches and ministries who love those dealing with mental health issues well. While this blog post is focusing on autism, there are many resources online and amongst various denominational circles that focus on the churches response to various mental health issues. The church is without excuse; from its infancy it has always been the responsibility of the church to remember those who are on the margins of society and to love them well.


For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the gentiles. James, Cephas and John , those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor (marginalized), the very thing I had been eager to do all along. (Galatians 2:8-10)


Here are a few great online resources to get started:

Beatitudes for Friends and Family


Learning from Living History

Posted by Canaan Community Church on June 7, 2014 at 3:10 PM Comments comments ()

LEARNING FROM LIVING HISTORY                                                                            By Pastor Jonathan Brooks aka Pastah J


Pastor John Auer former Pastor of Julia Gay Memorial UMC and Pastah J of Canaan 



My mom often told me asa young man that there are always three sides to a story.  Your side, my side and the truth!  I have found this to be absolutely true over my lifetime and I have decided to be mindful of it as I listen and learn.  The number one place I have put this principle into practice is during my study of history because historical “facts” are often presented from the perspective of the writer.  This is why so often history really becomes "their" story and not "our" story!


I spent some time looking into the history of our denomination, congregation and church building and found some very interesting information. As I searched online and through historical records I often found, what I considered, sanitized versions of many of the stories.  This led me to step outside of the written histories of these various entities and search for those who were first-hand participants in much of the history.  Here is where the stories came to life! When you speak to someone who has personal involvement in a historical event you not only receive the information but you also receive the emotions attached to the event. 


Earlier this year I had the privilege to meet the former pastor of Julia Gay Memorial Methodist Church, the original owners of our church building.  I was initially not sure what to expect from this interaction and was worried it would be awkward.  Would the history of this majority white church in, what was then, a predominantly German and Swedish community be relevant to me now?  Besides, I had read all about the church and when it began so I was not sure this conversation would be helpful. I introduced myself and shared a little about Canaan. As I shared my heart for the community I saw a single tear come from his right eye.  From this point forward we went on a rollercoaster of emotions as he shared story after story about the church, community and building.  I learned more history in that two-hour conversation than I had in the previous two weeks of research! 

Overall what I have learned from this journey is that it is imperative to not only study history but to connect with those who are “living history” around you.  I am not under any illusion that I am receiving objective historical information from those who were personally involved in historical events, but are we ever really sure?  I am aware that their information will be full of personal bias and has also been tainted by the distance of the events. However, in my opinion, I would much rather have their biased version of history that is based on first hand experience and emotion, than a sanitized book version  from a historian in an ivory tower.  I know as an academic I should receive my information from research and scholarly writing but I guess the pastor and community activist in me has a special affinity for personal stories!


I never really cared much for history it just never really seemed beneficial.  However, after this experience I have gained a new appreciation for oral history.  I have learned that history is important because it keeps me from making the same mistakes as those who have gone before, and it also helps me to evaluate their successes!  I read a quote by the late, great John Wooden, the incredible head coach of the UCLA Men’s Basketball team which says,  “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” This is why I have decided to make history a priority, and I am hoping you will too.  It does not matter if you choose family history, racial history, religious history, or any other history just make sure you understand the importance of learning from those who have gone before you. However, I encourage you to not limit your study of history to the pages of a book or the links of the internet go speak to someone who has been around longer than you.  Not only will you gain historical information but also you may just gain a friend!  It is when we experience the events of the past, through relationship and emotions, rather than just reading them that genuine learning happens.

One of my favorite poets as well as my fraternity brother, Langston Hughes, wrote a wonderful piece which sums up my learning style and chosen approach to history.  If you are honest with yourself, he is probably describing yours as well.


by Langston Hughes

I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one any day.

I’d rather one walk with me than just to show the way.

The eye is a better pupil and more willing than the ear.

Advice may be misleading but examples are always clear.

And the very best of teachers are the ones who live their creed,

for to see good put into action is what everybody needs.

I can soon learn to do it if you let me see it done.

I can watch your hand in motion but your tongue too fast may run

and the lectures you deliver may be very fine and true

but I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do.

For I may misunderstand you and the fine advice you give

but there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.


Prisons "Overwhelmingly Filled With People of Color": Just or Unjust?

Posted by Canaan Community Church on March 28, 2014 at 12:00 AM Comments comments ()

Interviewed by: Margot Starbuck          Date: March 3, 2014

Like many today, Jonathan Brooks, Senior Pastor at Canaan Community Church in Chicago’s Englewood Neighborhood, is concerned about the juvenile justice system in America. Today he shares about the problem and—if the church will speak out—the solution.


Jonathan, what is broken about the juvenile justice system today?


Broken family structure and the broken education system fail many of our children daily. However, society still makes the same demands of success and prosperity on these students, even though they have an extremely different reality. These initial inequities lead many to seek success and prosperity in alternative ways.


Many get caught breaking a law, get arrested, and then—in the words of Michelle Alexander—are “shuttled from their decrepit, underfunded inner city schools to brand-new, high-tech prisons.” If they are released they are relegated back to the same broken households and education systems that failed them in the first place, this time mandated to experience different results or return to prison. Many of these young people are tracked for prison by third grade and labeled criminals by the time they reach their teen years.


Third grade?


3rd grade testing data has been used to estimate future prison populations.


Yikes! Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, describes an awakening to a racial reality to which she’d been blind. Can you put some flesh on that? To what did she, have you, should we awaken?


In the 1950’s and 60’s Jim Crow kept black and brown people separate from white society and create a permanent underclass based on race. Today these same black and brown people are overwhelmingly overrepresented in our incarceration system. At one point in American history, to be black meant to be a slave; then being black meant to be a second-class citizen; now being black is to be a criminal.


Just like it affected the psyche of minority children in the past, it is affecting them now. The landscape of the juvenile justice system is different than it was years ago. Where it was once concerned with deterring crime and punishing those who perpetrated it, it seems to now be concerned with controlling the black and brown children in this country and preparing them for a life within the system of mass incarceration.


It is almost humorous to me that I would have to put flesh on that statement, if you visit any prison in America it would be extremely obvious that they’re overwhelmingly filled with people of color, especially African Americans. Without any statistics to confirm—although they exist—I could ask you to walk through any juvenile detention center or adult prison and you could easily tell me which races are being affected by mass incarceration.


If you believe this picture is just, then you must also admit that you believe certain races are more prone to criminal behavior than others. That belief has nothing to do with justice but an incorrect view of humanity.


What keeps us from waking up? What, in particular, makes it difficult for the white majority to see what you see, what Michelle Alexander has seen?


The system as it is set up now is created to keep us lulled to sleep; it uses a very sneaky premise to justify and hide the underlying caste system. This system says that punishment is warranted because people choose to commit crimes. Since they make the decision, they are responsible, and they are locked up. It makes parents believe their child can escape the system if they are on their best behavior.


However, even on their best behavior they are still harassed, searched, labeled and condemned.


Here is the other problem; no one is always on his or her best behavior!


What teenager does not make mistakes? How many of us have done something that could have gotten us arrested had we been caught or not shown grace? The white majority fails to realize the system makes criminals out of children who make mistakes, sometimes very serious ones, but mistakes nonetheless. Do we believe our children are better than these children or are they just given more opportunities and more grace? Don’t all of our children deserve the same opportunity for growth rather than being headed for prison before they are old enough to vote?


How is your congregation a part of the solution?


We have chosen to be a congregation that shares love, shows love and is shaped by the love we show to the incarcerated as well as their families. Through various partnerships we use our facilities to house two alternative mentoring programs for young men and women in the juvenile system. We also partner with other ministries to provide ongoing support to those who have family members incarcerated from the Englewood neighborhood. We visit them weekly to listen, talk, laugh, cry, pray, and let them know we care. We also deliver Thanksgiving baskets and Christmas gifts to the families on behalf of their incarcerated family member. The families are made aware that the gifts are from their family member and we are only the delivery people!


We have also made the decision that having a criminal record will not keep an individual from working for or with us. Many of the young people in our programs, upon completion, are given the opportunity to work as mentors for the program. Most importantly, we are offering programming that includes art, sports, music lessons, college scholarships, and other activities as opportunities for children to make better decisions and hopefully never enter the system in the first place.


Break it down. In your opinion, what has to happen for things to change at a national level?


In my opinion, those concerned with justice must lead the fight to re-humanize those we have considered criminal. Rather than looking at individuals as the unwanted other we must begin to learn their stories and connect with them as people again. We must aggressively seek to eradicate the incarceration of our young people and provide services rather than prisons.


Though once outlawed, at the beginning of the twentieth century, private corporations once again can own and operate prisons for profit. The juvenile justice system is the feeder for these privately owned adult prisons, if we are going to dismantle this injustice—profitable imprisonment—we must choke out its feeder system. Once these children enter the system it is almost impossible to get out because it is profitable for those who have the greatest influence on lawmakers. If the church sits back and says nothing about this racially charged injustice, it will be just as damaging as the church’s silence throughout the injustices of slavery and Jim Crow.


Michelle Alexander has noted, “The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.”


Original Interview can be found at Red Letter Christians

To learn more, Jonathan recommends:


Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnes

Ray Jasper Letter from Death Row

Inside the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center

Ok, White Foks, Here's how you can Really Help!

Posted by Canaan Community Church on February 23, 2014 at 4:15 AM Comments comments ()

Ok, White Folks, Here’s how you can really Help!

By Pastor Jonathan Brooks aka Pastah J



It was a brutally cold, Saturday evening in January of this year, my wife and I had agreed earlier in the week that we would share our story with a group that was staying at an inner city ministry, which we work closely. Neither of us really wanted to brave the cold or dig ourselves out of the alley again! We tried to convince ourselves we could just cancel “Its just going to be another group of ignorant upper middle class white folks coming to ask really uncomfortable questions and make very uninformed statements.”  Did we really want to fight the brutal cold and shovel our way out of our garage in West Englewood to hear that?  Was it truly worth it to hear this group, although genuinely, ask us questions like, “If it is so bad here why don’t these people just move away?”



Needless to say we trudged through that snow and cold with our two children and headed over to the ministry.  Just as we expected it was a majority white, suburban, upper middle class church group coming to “learn” from those working in the city and seeking a better understanding around issues of poverty.  They were very open and honest about their misconceptions about our neighborhood and the image that was perpetuated by the media.  They awkwardly asked us questions about poverty, inner city education, food deserts and violence in thecity.  Some of which were based on such extremely ignorant biases that they made me cringe in disbelief and aroused authentic anger.  (I won’t go into these questions here, but let me just say that if you think I raise my children in a war zone where people are being brutally killed everyday and the value systems of the average resident are evil, I think you would be hard pressed to call me a responsible father.)  My wife and I shared our story of returning back to Englewood after getting married and becoming the pastor of Canaan in 2006. When I was done I opened up the floor for questions, I was pleasantly surprised by how candidly the group was able to admit they had allowed biases to form without any tangible proof or personalconnection to our inner city communities. 



What happened next was this extremely emotional moment where people felt the need to confess their feelings of shame, guilt and helplessness.  It led to the very question that I am writing this post about as well as my passion for giving an answer.  It went something like this: “Now that we’ve been made aware of this situation, how can we help?”  It was followed by statements like “there is so much to be done” and “if you could tell us one thing we could do when we leave here as a challenge what would that be?” I often don’t have great responses to this question in the moment but I decided after this last opportunity that I would sit down and really think through some answers to this question.


The great African–American evangelist Tom Skinner was once approached by a young white man after one of his sermons, he said to him “I agree with your beliefs on racial reconciliation and want to know as a white man is there anything I can do to help with the cause.“  Tom’s response was probably shocking to this young, enthusiastic, hopeful, young man because he simply said, “No, there is not.”  The young man refusing to take no for ananswer replied, “Surely there must besomething I can do” and Tom said to him, “Young man we appreciate your support and energy but really the best thing you can do for our movement is to go back to your churches, families, communities and friends and share the truth you have heard today.  It is the education of your own race, which will be the biggest catalyst for change in reconciling all races and bringing the kingdom value of racial unity and harmony into existence.”



In the spirit of Tom Skinner I share with you my top 5 things that a white person of privilege could do to help in the fight for racial unity and harmony in America.  I would also like to add that I am aware that race is not the only issue in America around which reconciliation needs to take place but if we act as if racial profiling and discrimination do not still exist we are fooling ourselves.  Not only do they still exist but they are fueled by the same sociological lies, which are at the core of every discriminatory system in our world: class, mass incarceration, sexism, ablest issues, ageism, sexual orientation, etc.  

Here are a few ways that I propose the wealthy majority in our country can begin to get involved:  (Disclaimer: reconciliation is a long-term process and therefore I would encourage you to be prepared for a long-term commitment, there are no quick fixes!)



It is extremely important that you do your research.  Find authors, speakers, artists, politicians and educators who are talking about these issues.  Listen carefully to their thoughts, ideas and expressions and be open and honest about your reactions.  Information is a great foundation; it does not have to be the first step, as sometimes you will be confronted with issues long before you are able to research them. However, you must not skip this step because experience without a sociological understanding of the systems that create injustice and prejudice can lead to even worse misconceptions.




This step is also extremely important, many people want to know how they can help but have no desire to truly understand the experience of the minority in this country. They would like to help the situation without being engaged in the process of transformation or entering into the pain or problems of the people. This approach will only lead to further disconnection and discontentment, it is only until you have experienced the systemic struggles associated with living in under resourced communities that you can really begin to understand how to help.



Here is the key to the entire process and what I consider the missing link in the chain that will lead to the eradication of discrimination and racism.  Relationship changes everything! The only reason racism can exist is because people look at one another as objects rather than people created in the image of God. This is all due in part to lack of relationship.  God created everything to have relationship both with him and one another. However these relationships were broken through our actions in the Garden of Eden but thankfully they were restored again through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. We not only have access to a repaired relationship with God but we now have the opportunity to repair the other broken relationships around us.  It is in these reconciled and repaired relationships that we truly understand the gifts and needs of one another.  When we are in relationship with someone and learn to love them for who they are we can no longer dismiss them as the unwanted other.


I believe relationship is the key and central piece to this process however, for our white, privileged brothers and sisters this step is the probably the most challenging.  This is a challenge for you to now take this information you have, these experiences you have from being on the inside, the new respect and love you have from these newly formed relationships and lovingly share them with your family, friends and colleagues. You will never be able to truly understand what it is like to live as a minority in America but you will get a small microcosm of the feeling when you become the only person in the house challenging everyone’s misconceptions about prejudice and discrimination.  You become the strange one who always brings up race conversations whenever you’re around, you be the weirdo who turns off the news when you see racist propaganda perpetuated about low income communities, you be the one to introduce everyone to the various literature,art, politics and life lessons that informed you. Get in their face and don’t let them ignore the truth!



Also, I am asking that you get involved but you might be surprise by what I mean by this statement.  I have one rule to those I speak to or who come to our community, especially mission groups.  Do not come here and do anything you do not do at home.  Here is why, because coming to our community and wanting to help alleviate poverty insinuates that there is no poverty where you reside.  Coming to our community to help single mothers makes us believe that there are no single mothers in your community.  I would advise you to first look at the brokenness in your own community and engage it before you look at the brokenness in ours.   I also challenge you to be able to see the Glory of God in our community and thank God for it just as you see it in yours. It is important we realize that both the Glory of God and the brokenness of humanity exist everywhere and in everything and that it is our responsibility to identify them and seek direction from God on how to address them both.


Lastly, I am asking that you do not forsake the redistribution of resources.  This includes the exchanging of money for there is an economic wealth gap in our country that is ridiculous.  As your views change it should affect the way you spend your money and the things in which you decide to invest.  It does not however only mean money for just as much as money there needs to be access.  Minorities need access to networks, relationships and skills.  Exposure is key to an even playing field and allowing those who have been typically shutout of certain areas of society, open access. Those doing inner city ministry need your support financially and through your networks.  How many of us received our first job because of some relationship either we established or we were privy to because of someone else we knew? Along with financial gifts, these structures of power need to be redistributed throughout society, especially access giving relationships. 


Why Kwanzaa may be more important than Christmas

Posted by Canaan Community Church on January 1, 2014 at 10:00 AM Comments comments ()

Why Kwanzaa may be more important than Christmas!

Now I know as a Christian pastor this may seem like a rather strange statement and there will even be those crazy enough to call it heresy.  The only response I have to those who may feel that way is… that is great! Why? Because that means I have your attention.

Let me begin by saying that I am a lover of everything Christmas.  I love the music, lights, food,family atmosphere, and the way people seem to be just a little nicer to each other most of the time.  (Excluding when they are shopping, of course.)  I am most of all excited about celebrating the birth of Christ and the Christian belief that God himself put on human flesh and moved into the neighborhood!  John 1:14 MSG

However for the last few years I have had the opportunity to do less shopping, wrapping and holiday decorating and have spent more time serving, helping and building relationships in my community during this time of year. It is during the holidays when many of the defensive walls my tougher to get to know neighbors put up all year may come down just for a few weeks.  I mean, this is the season to be jolly, right? The principles of Christmas like joy, peace, kindness, family, and giving are usually on full display and well received by almost everyone during this time of year.  While this is true, unfortunately, these principles are still extremely individualized so we think about giving individually but rarely consider the communal effects.  This is why we flock to purchase gifts for less fortunate individuals, or make meals for the homeless but rarely consider the factors that have led to these needs.  We are focused on Christmas as a seasonal fix, which is why most churches ramp up their outreach during this time of year, Canaan included.  Don’t get me wrong none of these things are necessarily bad, that is not my premise at all.  I am glad that the church is able to be a temporary solution during the holidays. But are we truly concerned about eradicating the issues in which we call ourselves being a temporary solution? Or would we rather remain a temporary fix so we can feel useful once a year?

I am especially worried about the image that seasonal giving portrays in communities of color where the Christmas holiday is just a magnified example of everyday realities. When you look at the average minority family during the Christmas holiday, you begin to understand that this time of year, which should bring joy and peace, typically brings frustration and disappointment.   Parents are overly worried about providing for their children and I don’t just mean gifts under the tree. Students are home from school for two weeks while most parents still have to work.  Not only do they have to figure out childcare but the heat and lights are running, extra meals must be provided, warmer clothing is necessary, family may be coming over for the holidays and on top of that gifts are still an expectation even when kids know parents are struggling.(At least that’s how it was in my house.) 

This year I made the decision that I would take seriously, for the first time, the Kwanzaa holiday and carefully read, understand and embrace the principles of the Nguzo Saba. I have of course taught on Kwanzaa as an elementary school teacher and even been a part of a school that used the Nguzo Saba as its guiding principles for culture and climate.   But just like many others, I felt like it was really just an add-on to Christmas that was not all that important to my family. Simply put I was wrong and this year, Kwanzaa has had a bigger effect on me than Christmas.  Everyday since Christmas I have read one of the principles, lit a candle on the Kinara and prayed that God would help me to see how the principle coincided with my Christian call.  What I have realized more than ever this year is that the guiding principles of both Christmas and Kwanzaa MUST become our guiding principles everyday.  Christians must learn to take our eyes and hearts of our individualistic desires long enough to see our negligence towardsthe communal aspects of our faith. Kwanzaa reminded me that if our church helps families have a Merry Christmas and does little in ensuring those same families won’t need us next year to do the same thing, then we have missed the mark. I am not naïve, I know next Christmas and every Christmas after that there will be a need to purchase gifts for children of incarcerated men and women from our community.  However, Kwanzaa reminds us that all year long we should be a part of the fight to keep our men and women out of this predatory system in the first place.  Next year, we will again sing Christmas Carols for our neighbors with the Chicago Children’s Choir.  However, Kwanzaa reinforces that we should also sing songs to celebrate our history and the life of great leaders such as the late Nelson Mandela which we will do this coming February.  Christmas reminds us of all that is good about God and humanity.  Kwanzaa reminds us that it takes work to see that good perpetuated on a consistent basis.

As a Christian community developer, I feel like I have immersed myself in the best of both worlds this year.  I have celebrated the abiding principles of Christmas and also been enlightened and challenged by the collective spirit of Kwanzaa.   When I think of the year round struggles faced in our community I can’t help but be inspired by the principles of both Christmas and Kwanzaa and challenged to truly incorporate them into my everyday life.  

So, whether it is because it is my first year allowing the principles of the Nguzo Saba to permeate my thoughts, if it is the newness of the celebration in my home, or just the fact that I have been called by God to serve under resourced communities. For the first time I can truly say that both Kwanzaa and Christmas were a necessary part of my growth this holiday season.  However, Kwanzaa just might have been more important for me this year.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are as follows:

Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race. 

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves. 

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together. 

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together. 

Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. 

Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. 

Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

God Bless,

Pastah J

Jesus...Superman or Clark Kent?

Posted by Canaan Community Church on December 7, 2013 at 9:00 AM Comments comments ()

I have been teaching on Jesus as the ultimate example of living on Earth as it is in heaven.  In this series I have repeatedly stated that we have to stop looking at Jesus as a superhero!  Not in the sense of what he did for us on the cross for that was truly heroic. In the sense that he had super "God" powers that allowed him to live according to God's will.  What we do is use these special unaccessible powers to dismiss ourselves from the same standard.  Many Christians make the excuse that Jesus was not like us he was more of a "special" human, so the stuff he said in the "Red Letters" is stuff we really can't do.  Well, my contention is that Jesus MUST be like "us" or his sacrifice is of no effect. 

A member of our church has been struggling with this notion and emailed me a response I thought would be interesting to share.  She researched, prayed, and received quite an answer from the Holy Spirit as to how to deal with her struggle with Jesus being FULLY human as well as FULLY divine. Although we still have some points to discuss, I find her insights thought provoking and am sharing them with you. Here are her thoughts:

Pastor J, I went back and researched what we talked about and thought that I had found the answer that Jesus was 100% flesh and not 100% human. (This was her original argument)

1 John 4:2 tells us that the Word became flesh and 2 John 7 tells us that anyone that doesn't believe that Jesus Christ came down as flesh is the deceiver. But my spirit was not comfortable with this assessment because I do believe that Jesus came down as flesh and was human (Jesus was born (Luke 2:7). He grew (Luke 2:40, 52). He grew tired (John 4:6) and got thirsty (John 19:2) and hungry (Matthew 4:2). He became physically weak (Matthew 4:11; Luke 23:26). He died (Luke 23:46). And he had a real human body after his resurrection (Luke 24:39; John 20:20, 27. )

However, my argument was that He was special and different because He wasn't conceived the way human beings were conceived (with an earthly father), He didn't sin, and because quite frankly…He was God. 

Well I began talking to the Lord and asking Him to clarify this for me. He spoke in my spirit this: He said "Jesus was not a different kind of human, He was what "The Original Human" was before sin…what humanity was intended to be. ..He was perfect."  I couldn't’ accept that Jesus was 100% percent human because I was comparing Him to what Humanity is today…not what humanity was supposed to be in the beginning; and to say that He was like me…like humanity is today... was wrong!

My second argument was that Jesus was different because of the way He was conceived. By definition a human birth consist of both an earthly mother and an earthly father…surely by this definition, He was not human like me…the Holy Spirit as a father and a virgin mother is not a typical human birth!  

The Holy Spirit told me to examine the way Adam was created. Adam was formed in the dirt and God breathe life into Him…was He not Human? He formed Woman out of a rib that He took from Adam…Was she not Human? Sin changed everything...My human birth, by definition was "different"…different from the creation of the original Human.

Jesus’ Humanity was a glimpse into how the original human was before sin and the inspiration of who we are supposed to be now. By all accounts, my birth was different, my humanity is different...I am the "different one" not Jesus! 

Hopefully, we will have the opportunity to share this with everyone because I definitely want to clarify any misconceptions!

Thank you Holy Spirit!!!! And thank you Pastor for your patience!

Well...What do you think?

Mandela, Music & Ministry

Posted by Canaan Community Church on December 6, 2013 at 1:45 AM Comments comments ()

"If I had my time over I would do the same again. So would any man who dares call himself a man."       

-Nelson Mandela-

Whenever I am a part of Ice Breaker activities that ask me to name one thing about myself which would surprise the people in the room, I always write the same thing.  "I traveled to Japan, Mexico, Russia, Poland, South Africa, Austria and Italy all before I graduated from High School." No one ever guesses it is the black guy with dreadlocks from the south side of Chicago!

But, that is the reality. This hip-hop loving, saggy pants wearing, black, male, teenager from Englewood was able to travel all over the world and it was all due to MUSIC.  Wel,l and some major financial sacrifices by my mother and others. (smile) 

As we celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest leaders of our lifetime, I am reminded of my trip to South Africa in 1996 with the Chicago Childrens Choir ( as ambassadors for racial reconciliation and peace.  As teenagers many of us had no clue the impact this trip had on history or our personal lives but it became extremely clear as the years passed.  We spent 32 days in South Africa and traveled the entire country. We sang in historic Regina Mundi Church (Bishop Desmond Tutu), stayed with host families, and found ourselves engaged in some very difficult conversations about race and prejudice.  We sat front and center as the country of South Africa tried to untangle the web of decades of injustice and uninformed prejudice.

We also visited Shanty homes on the outskirts of South Africa and had our minds blown by the extreme poverty of the villagers, yet their extreme joy in life and hospitality to us.  It was an abrasive reminder to an arrogant, spoiled, American teenager that there was more to life than material things.  (Which I found out the hard way later on in the tripe when all of my luggage was stolen off our tour bus!) 

I am convinced that God was speaking to me even then in South Africa although I personally was not committed to him, yet.  God's hand has been on me all along, even when I was not aware. It was this experience in South Africa which began my heart for the marginilized and oppressed.   Losing this great leader today is a gentle reminder of the work God begun in me 17 years ago. I was too young to realize God was using Mandela & Music and that this tandem would be a huge part of my journey into Ministry.  Today as I write this blog I am honored to have been a part of Mandela's legacy and yet another testimony of the far reaching impact of his life.

If you would like to know more about the Chicago Children's Choir and our trip to South Africa in 1996 some media outlets aired some stories today about the trip.  Two of my good friends Mollie Stone and Jackie Johnson are featured in the stories. (If you look closely you will see me as well but the 1996 version... LOL) Check them out below:

Much Love everyone and Rest In Peace Mandela,

Pastah J


More than I Bargained for...

Posted by Canaan Community Church on October 11, 2013 at 12:20 AM Comments comments ()

Sometimes you go to a bookstore and you are able to walk around and search for the book you would like to read.  Other times you walk in and a book screams out to you and says "Hey, you need to read me!"  

This is the experience I had a couple of months ago at a Barnes and Noble store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I was speaking there for a convention and brought my family with me for us to have a little bit of family time before school began in August.  My wife and two daughters were off in there favorite sections of the store respectively, Jas in the tween "Diary of a WImpy Kid" section, Jade in the childrens books (specifically Mickey Mouse) and Micheal in the cook book section. I was thinking about the bank balance and the fact this was not the only stop on our shopping excursion so I wandered off into my favorite area, the bargain books!  

While looking through the normal array of crappy vampire love stories and all of the "for dummies" books I saw the spine of this book which read OUT LIVE YOUR LIFE. It seemed to jump off of the shelf as if it was in all caps and bold!  I said to myself that is exactly the sentiment I have been trying to convey to my congregation, community and even in my classroom.  You should live this life in such a way that your impact is felt long after you leave. (Of course this might be a good book for everyone else to read) I immediately grabbed the book and as every good reader does immediately began reading the back cover.  (You would be surprised how many books have I chosen or put back based on the back cover!) 

Little did I know that this would begin a journey of God speaking personally to ME about MY responsibility to the society around me in a new and refreshing way.  The book was so timely and speaking so directly that I found myself sitting on the floor of the bargain books aisle reading a third of the book while waiting on my family.  I could not put it down!  So I tucked the book under my arm ( I did pay for it...I think?) commenced to reading it nonstop and finishing it before we even traveled back to Chicago.  This was definitely a GOD moment which caused me to ask myself some very difficult questions.  In the distant future when people look back on the time in which I lived, what will they think of my life?  Will they believe I was truly concerned about others?  Will they see the love of Christ in the way that I lived?  Will my life be an example of how to live or how not to live based on the impact I made during this present generation?  These are hard questions to ponder, but this is the way God chose to speak to me!

Now there is no guarantee that when you read this book you will have the same epiphany. However, I am certain you will be challenged about how you live.  As Christians, neighbors and members of humanity we are all called to live our lives in a way that others benefit because of our sacrifice, which in turn allows us to benefit from their relationship, gratitude and wisdom.  

Will you join us in reading this book and studying the book of Acts together?  Will you take the challenge with us and find out what happens when you realize "You Were Made to Make a Difference".

Grace and Peace,

Pastah J

Trayvon on Trial for his own murder?!

Posted by Canaan Community Church on July 20, 2013 at 10:55 AM Comments comments ()

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL."

When he was just a little boy maybe around five years old I am sure, just like most other children, that Trayvon learned the words to this pledge even if he did not fully understand.  Interestingly enough, I'm sure as he grew older that the truth of these words felt just as elusive to him as they do to most black and brown boys in this country.  Today as many gather all over the country to protest for a civil rights case to be brought against George Zimmerman,  I sit and ponder the fact that in a country that has penned some of the most beautiful ideas ever written, we could still have a teenage boy on trial for his own murder?  This young boy who was mercilessly hunted because of his race and mistakenly profiled because of anothers hate, lost his life and then was accused of being in the wrong when he attempted to defend himself.  I am saddened for the loss of this family which is the unfortunate results of our societys unfair portrayal of the African American male.  As well as our own desire to sell our souls and poison our own communities with the perpetuation of that image just for financial gain. 

Trayvon was on trial and he was the victim!  This is how twisted our "so-called" justice system truly can be when race, class and hate are involved.  Sadder still is that we ourselves are on trial as well, now the entire country knows that the life of young black boys in America are only valid as long as they remain where they are told.  Remain in your "hood" areas and stay out of our subdivisions, cul-de-sacs and turnabouts!   If you are viewed as dangerous we will assume you are a threat and protect our "stuff" at all costs. 

I do understand that the blood of our young people in Chicago has been an alarming issue and  many are wondering where the outrage is over these murders.  I agree but want to say that in my community my outrage always leads to action it is a different kind of action which may not include picket signs, protests or politicians.  Losing the young people right here in my city, usually at the hands of their own, leads me to mentorship, providing jobs for young people, teaching in public schools, partnering with the Juvenile Justice System, helping young people get their H.S. Diplomas, providing college scholarships and spending more time walking the streets of my community than sitting in the pastor's office!  So, yes there always needs to be a response whether the issue is local or national they all deserve an immediate response.  I challenge us all to respond as intently, strategically and passionately to EVERY murder as we have to Trayvon's because every bit of blood spilled is a travesty and further damages our community.

My final question is... Will we continue to let our young people be punished for the sins of the adults around them? Let Trayvon be a reminder to us all that if we do not have the difficult discussion about race in our homes, schools, neighborhood meetings, and places of worship or seek opportunities to purposefully cross cutural lines and dispel our differences we WILL continue to travel this road of destruction.  When you are silent you are perpetuating the problem and are raising children who will be facilitators of fear and misunderstanding. 

Do not get me wrong, I am very angry, but  I am also very hopeful!  I have to trust that God has a plan although it is extremely hard for me to see right now!  I am trusting that true faith does not require me to be able to see. 

Grace and Peace,

Pastah J

So long Nairobi!!

Posted by Canaan Community Church on June 27, 2012 at 3:50 PM Comments comments ()
Unfortunately I have been unable to update because the Internet has been pretty spotty here in Nairobi, but trust me the experiences have not slowed down one bit! One of the guys on the trip, Dave said "I don't know how to explain what we've seen, there is a story behind every picture, every person and every place we go!". I feel the same way almost completely overwhelmed by my time here. Although Nairobi has been exciting and challenging it has been encouraging as well. There are so many lessons, prayer requests and most of all relationships I will be bringing back home with me. Today we had a CCDA conference here in Kibera with the local pastors and we challenged each other with ways to better love our neighbors. I had the opportunity to present on how the church can engage hip-hop culture and it was definitely needed. From the moment I stepped foot in Africa I have been bombarded with the elements of hip-hop... Every barber shop, CD Stand, and beauty shop was thumping with the sounds of Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Beyonce. as we rode public transportation I was bombarded with graffiti on the back of the seats and large politically charged murals on the walls of the slums! At the first church we visited I met a young girl named Elizabeth who was into hip-hop, as a matter of fact she said she lived to break dance. When I asked her to show me she said I can't my church won't allow it they only let me do traditional African dance. I immediately was saddened and could relate to her pain, I wish I could tell her the church in America was overwhelmingly different but I couldn't. Luckily I had some videos on my phone of Canaan's hip-hop Sunday's and The Houses' Hip- Hop Revival. I encouraged her not to be disobedient but that God loved her and he loved hip-hop as well and that she may have to hide it now, but God will open the eyes of the leaders. Prayerfully today was just the beginning of many seeds being planted! We are leaving the city of Nairobi and heading to Rural Kenya to Amboseli Sentirm Camp and the Amboseli National Park which sits at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We will be visiting the Massai people who are one of the 42 different tribes found in Kenya. There is big game viewing so we will see many animals up close and personal such as lions, leopards, buffalo and elephants. It is a three hour drive outside of the city so this may be my last update for awhile. A San Tay, (thank you) Pastah J