Native American United Methodist Weaves Stories of Heritage and Faith
by Mary Beth Coudal
“I do not know why I am here today. I have asked God to teach me things of your lives...God connects lives in intangible and remarkable ways,” thus began Ray Buckley, a Native American storyteller who was a part of two of the four devotions at the annual board meeting for directors of Global Ministries.
Director Kathleen Conrad from Louisiana Conference called Buckley’s stories, “healing, enriching, and fulfilling.”
Rev. John W. Culp, a director from South Carolina Conference, thought Buckley claimed a personal and spiritual heritage of which many are shy to speak. “People are not telling enough personal stories of their faith journeys. Christian testimony has been lost with the shuffle. This was witnessing in a deeper way,” said Culp.
Stories of one’s ancestors are spiritual gifts of value to be passed from generation to generation. “Therapeutically, we have to go beyond emotional barriers and claim who we are. Sometimes we can’t go beyond the pain of our heritage. You have to find the pain, the hope, and the love,” said Culp inspired by Buckley’s testimony.
Buckley shared many stories about his ancestors. Although his grandfather was from Pine Ridge, the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre, Buckley, still, recalled and demonstrated “the goodness of God in our lives.”
“He (Buckley) was sharing the voices of his soul and he was able to bless and claim them. He was so passionate and genuine and loving. Tears were coming down his face as he told the stories. It was so fresh,” remembered Culp.
Native Americans, Buckley explained, value the sacredness of nature, and imbue names with meaning. For example, said Buckley, one Lakota word for child is “Standing Sacred in Front of Me.” So, he joked, a parent might say, “Standing Sacred In Front of Me, go make your bed!”
Perhaps most touching of all of the stories were the ones about his father. Buckley told a story of how his father danced, leaving behind a footprint in the dirt for his children to follow. His father, knowing his days were numbered, gave away all of sacred and earthly possessions in a dance. “As we dance, it is not what we accumulate, but what we give away,” said Buckley.
All of the directors and staff listened, enrapt, as Buckley humorously and emotionally expressed the lessons in life’s challenges. Whether he was discussing his Tlingit/Lakota father, his Scottish mother, his older brother, or the tribes with whom he has journeyed alongside, Buckley repeatedly returned to the theme of the power of interconnectedness, frequently using metaphors.
Like the strands in an Ojibway dream catcher, Buckley explained, “We are all connected and interwoven, one with another.” Dream catchers, small, round, and woven hang above the beds of children in Native American homes to symbolically catch in their webs any evil dreams.
Buckley is a writer and illustrator of five books and he will author the 2009 United Methodist mission study on North America and Its Native Peoples. He will also lead the United Methodist Youth Event, SPLAT, when 10,000 youth gather in Greensboro, North Carolina, in July 2007.
As Director of Connectional Ministries for the Alaska Missionary Conference of The United Methodist Church in Palmer, Alaska, Buckley unites the Alaska Missionary Conference, Native tribes, mainland United States churches, and 229 tribes in Alaska.
He is a board member of the Native American Comprehensive Plan, a churchwide program administered by Global Ministries. One purpose of which is to share Native American spirituality with the entire United Methodist family.
For more on the Native American Comprehensive Plan, visit http://gbgm-umc.org/naplan/
Date posted: Oct 24, 2006