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10 Transformative Practices to Deepen Your Connection with God and Your Neighbours during Cultural Holidays like Black History Month


February marks the beginning of a significant cycle in the Christian calendar, starting with Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and culminating with Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. Participating in the Liturgical Christian calendar helps us remember that our story is found within the larger context of God's story and engages the critical events in the life of Christ. It fosters a sense of unity with Christians worldwide, all celebrating the cycle of lament and letting go, celebrating new life and telling others the goodness of God we've experienced every year. We have created many devotional series to help you love your neighbour as you connect with Jesus' story within each season. Check out our Lent prayer guide here!


Did you know that February also holds many other cultural observances to celebrate?

  • The Lunar New Year

  • The Muslim observance of Lailat al Miraj

  • Black History Month 

  • Indigenous Storytelling Month


Each month in Canada, several cultural holidays and observance days are available to engage. There are 14 designated Heritage months in Canada, ranging from Tamil, Irish, Portuguese and German. There are also 4 months designated to learn about the heritage of certain religions like Jewish and Hinduism. And there are many days to observe specific people groups and justice issues. Even events like the US Superbowl are cultural events that 19 million Canadians participated in this year! These are not explicitly "Christian" holidays like Lent or Easter, but intentionally engaging in these invitations offers great gifts to our faith. I have found so much richness in observing these holidays to deepen my connection to God and help me love my neighbour. This year, we used the Superbowl as a reason for new neighbours to join us in our home and explain American culture to our newcomer friend from South Africa! With some intentionality, we can see events, days, and months as opportunities and guides to live out the Great Commandment: Love God and Love your neighbour as yourself.


Here are 5 ways that choosing to engage in other cultural celebrations of the month help deepen my connection with God:




1 Participating broadens my understanding of God's character


Not one culture contains God's fullness. No single group or its culture can fully capture how amazing God is, so He made us all different to help us see His greatness from different angles. Cultures tend to focus on specific aspects of God's character. When we learn from other people how they see God at work, we grow our capacity to understand a fuller picture of God. I learned about the holiness of God by worshipping with Orthodox Christians in Ethiopian churches and in Kyiv. I learned about the spontaneity of God worshipping with Christians in Mexico and Nigeria. Why not take a cue from Black History Month to find a black church in your city and worship with them? 


2. Participating expands my ability to express myself to God in worship


Della, Angela and Denelda leading us in worship

My preferred range of connecting to God would be from silence to quiet, from seated to gentle swaying. By worshipping in the Black church, I learned to yell, dance, and process out loud. By worshipping with Indigenous Christians, I learned to dance my prayers and connect my heartbeat to the beat of the drum. Icons, incense, and intentional colour choices taught me how to receive God's love and express it non-verbally. My ability to express myself to God has broadened 1000% because of the many teachers from various cultures. 


3. Participating thickens my understanding of Scripture

Listening and learning at cultural events helps me hear how God's Scripture is understood through a different lived experience. For African Americans, the image of Jesus hung on a tree to die deepened their faith that God was with them in the suffering of the lynching era. At a recent African service, I learned that keeping God's plans for your life secret was a key to being faithful. I have never experienced people sabotaging my plans because I spoke about them. Yet, I heard several stories about how this is common within African countries. Reading theologians that line up with the Cultural Month celebration will expand your understanding of Scripture. 


4. Offers inspirational models of faithfulness to God


In Canada, Viola Desmond and Lincoln Alexander are two Black icons that we remember this month because they stood up for justice. They also were both Christians, encouraged by their church communities to remain committed to righting the wrongs of racial injustice. When we can hear heroic stories of faithful witnesses without being sidetracked by our own discomfort with the truth of our

exclusionary practices due to race and gender, we can see these people are heroes to learn from. Last month was Tamil Heritage Month. Why not take an opportunity to learn who P. D. Devanandan or K.T. Paul are and the accomplishments of their faith?


5. Teaches me to search for places of commonality in my faith

There are many shared values across cultures and religions that you can learn. Light dispelling darkness is a rich metaphor in the Christian faith. The Chinese Lantern Festival, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice all celebrate this same concept with different variations. Pursuing communal wellness in the Harmony Way or Shalom is a concept within Jewish, Christian and some Indigenous cultures. Celebrating with others and having respectful interfaith conversations build bridges and empathy for others with whom we may think we have little in common. 


 

So now that we've gotten some ideas on how these National Heritage Months and commemorative days can help us love God, let's turn our attention to the second half of the Great Commandment: Love your neighbour as yourself. This calendar framework can be an opportunity to learn who is your neighbour in your own city. This month, I attended an online Indigenous Storytelling event. I learned that the host grew up in the neighbourhood I just moved into. I emailed her asking if she would like to have coffee and share her stories with me so I can learn to be a better neighbour to others and her. You never know what opportunities will present themselves to be a loving neighbour! If we are unfamiliar with the culture that they are from, it is good to do our homework and be thoughtful about how we can engage with them in ways that show honour and respect.



Here are 5 ideas for engaging Heritage Months that will help you love your neighbour with greater dignity and respect:




1 Attend local events led by people of that culture in a listening posture


Showing up to community events to learn or being in solidarity communicates that you care about them and their experiences. Attending is an opportunity to listen carefully to and learn from the voices of those most impacted by systemic racism in our country. This teaches us to listen first before speaking and learn how to hold our discomfort rather than jumping to defensiveness or fixing problems. 


2. Educate yourself to dispel stereotypes


Taking the heritage month to learn more about the people group helps us to find our shared humanity. Often, this requires doing the difficult work of turning our attention toward systemic pain, particularly systemic racism. Next month is Ramadan, and Islamophobia is on the rise in Canada. Learning more about the local experience of Muslims in your city or country helps you be a loving neighbour. I have found that integrating a hobby or interest of mine with a particular cultural holiday helps me explore how being white has shaped me without burdening people of colour with my ignorance. I like reading, music, movies, and poetry, so for Black History Month, I am looking for new artists and stories to watch and read. 


3. Learn about this culture's experience in Canadian history and in your particular city


Depending on where and when you received your Canadian history education, you may have yet to learn a history of the country that reflects the truth of those oppressed. You can only love your neighbour well if you know the truth of your shared experience as a citizen. There are many books, articles, podcasts and documentaries to learn from, so you don't need to learn from someone who may not be willing to be a cultural advisor. Suppose you have already done the work of expanding your understanding of how Canada came to be. In that case, you can add new local history to understand how that particular culture impacted your city's well-being. Understanding local racial and cultural injustice issues will inform how you can love the neighbours in your city with justice in the future. 


4. Practice Hospitality with that culture


Tip 4 and 5 are intentionally after 1-3 so that they are offered on a foundation of learning from the people themselves. Sharing appropriate meals, stories, and traditions can create a warm and welcoming environment that reflects your love for God and your neighbours. Educating others about various cultures establishes an appreciation for their gifts, even if they do not know any people personally. However, if the stories are not your own, do your homework to attribute them to their owner and learn if you need permission. When cooking recipes that aren't your own, don't intentionally adapt them to your preference or create a "fusion" without significant consultation with someone who makes that recipe to determine the impact of those changes. If you want to avoid cooking a new recipe, treat your friends to dinner at a local restaurant from that culture. 


5. Practice acts of kindness and service


If you've done the previous 4 ideas, you will have many more relationships with people of those cultures. Out of respectful and mutual relationships will come an abundance of ideas for how to serve them. Find ways to take the load off, whether it's helping with preparations, offering help to those in need, or simply expressing gratitude for them.


By actively participating in cultural holidays with an open heart and a spirit of love and understanding, you can strengthen your relationship with God and foster a sense of unity and community with your neighbours. With all these ideas, it's easy to become overwhelmed, especially if you've never tried them. Don't let overwhelm stop you from trying something out!


Here are 3 tips to quickly integrate a Heritage Month or observation day into your daily life:



  1. Put a reminder somewhere visually so that when you make decisions this month, you can remember to integrate these days. Everyone needs to eat, relax, entertain themselves and connect with friends during the month. Suppose you remind yourself that March is an opportunity to learn about Irish Heritage, Holi, Ramadan, combating Islamophobia, women's day and eliminating racial discrimination. In that case, you might integrate the holidays that pique your interest with your eating and recreation choices. Eat out at a restaurant from that culture, or find a movie or book by someone from that culture. Ask your friends to attend a community event with you instead of coming over.

  2. Release yourself from needing to recognize everything. Taking a moment in prayer related to the people or issue is a simple way to acknowledge God's intent to help you learn more about God and your neighbour without reordering your life. 

  3. Look for overlaps with your rhythms and patterns. Is there a mosque in your neighbourhood? Drop in and introduce yourself. Do your kids have friends of that culture being honoured that month? Find out what they are doing to celebrate. Is your community centre offering classes or related events? Bring a neighbour to enjoy it together. Are there groceries sold at your supermarket that are associated with that heritage? Bring it home and try it. When you look for opportunities, follow your curiosity. 


Have other ideas that you've tried? Let us know in the comments! Want coaching on how to integrate cross-cultural learning into your life? Email Krista-Dawn.Kimsey@servantpartners.ca for a free consultation.

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