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Names of derision deny God, youth told

Ray Buckley visits with Cassandra Kile of Rock Cave, W.Va., following his Youth 2007 workshop on the sacredness of names. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Linda Green*
July 31, 2007 | GREENSBORO, N.C. (UMNS)

"You are stupid." "You are a failure." "You will never amount to anything in life."


"God calls us beloved," says Buckley, a storyteller and United Methodist layman
from Palmer, Alaska.

Young people often hear such messages from others - to the point that they begin to believe these words and feel that way about themselves, according to Ray Buckley, a Native American storyteller and United Methodist layperson from Palmer, Alaska.

"I meet many young people across the world who describe themselves this way, and the sense of some youth in our communities is one of despair," Buckley said during a workshop focusing on both "names of derision" and how names are sacred during Youth 2007, a July 11-15 event sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

Buckley said he frequently talks with young people who have been told all their lives that they are worthless, that they won't graduate from high school or college because no one in their family ever has, that their future is to become alcoholics, and that there is no way out of the situation in which they live.

Names of derision are not so much specific phrases but words that deny the sacredness that God has given to an individual or people, he said. "They are things that sum up your whole life and in a sense deny how God sees you and how you act."

Some names show how people view themselves and deny what God is capable of doing in their lives. "It is not an utterance of names but can be a belief in a name that causes you to act toward yourself or someone in a different way," Buckley said.

Suicides in Alaska

Every five days in Alaska, a native young person -- primarily a young man under the age of 21 -- commits suicide. In native villages, the teenage suicide rate is five times the national average. "We do not know why they are committing suicide," Buckley said.

Alaska also has the highest rates of abuse against both women and children in the United States.

Part of the problem is self-esteem, according to Buckley. After 60 percent of native people in Alaskan villages died from a flu epidemic in the early 1900s, the message brought by missionaries was that it was God's judgment against native religions and native things. The message changed the way native people spoke about their culture or their traditional beliefs.

"Both the implicit and explicit message was the essence that being a native person itself was not favorable to God," Buckley said. "Your languages, your culture, your dress, your religion -- all of those things were wrong. The only assumption a native person could make was that the very essence of being a native person was unacceptable to God."

“Regardless of how you see yourself now or what other people say about you, know that God sees you in a very sacred light. God calls us beloved.”–Ray Buckley

Today, a spiritual absence exists as native people often live in two worlds. "They feel that to be fully Christian, they cannot be native or if they are native, they cannot be fully Christian. There is an immense internal struggle," he said.

The lack of either a traditional spiritual leader or a Christian pastor in a village also has an impact. "We have discovered that where there is a lack, there is a higher rate of suicide," Buckley said.

He believes that one way to reach native young people is to bring back the tradition of sacred names.

A Lakota tradition

Buckley gave the youth a lesson about the Lakota, his Native American tribe in South Dakota.

He spoke of a woman in the 1800s who was expecting a baby, and each morning the women of the tribe led her in a circle because they wanted the unborn child to know about the sacred circle, the roundness of the universe. After the baby's birth, a selected elder gave the child a sacred or ceremonial name, chosen after months of prayer and discernment. The baby was passed from person to person in the village, and the only thing said to the baby was the sacred name. As the child grew, the child constantly heard the sacred name. "Every time the child heard its sacred name, the name would reinforce the values, the history of who and what that name meant," Buckley said.

After the baby was named, the baby's ears were pierced, not for adornment, but as "a reminder to every adult that the child's ears were open to receive spiritual truth." The earrings served as a "caution light," alerting adults to watch what they said or did in front of the child.


Dancers from Triad Native American United Methodist Church help lead opening worship. About 6,200 people from four continents attended Youth 2007, held once every four years as the largest youth gathering of The United Methodist Church.

Buckley also talked about his grandparents who as small children were taken from their villages and sent to Carlisle (Pa.) Indian Boarding School. Five generations of Indian children were sent to institutions, away from their parents and grandparents to be raised in boarding schools, he said. These federal schools were established to "civilize" Native Americans into mainstream society and, in the process, native children were stripped of their language, culture and names.

The children were taught to read using the Bible. When they spoke in their language or used their names, they were beaten by those teaching them to read from the Bible. They also were given new names. "The spiritual identity of who they were as a spiritual people ended, and there was for them an imposed name that had no meaning," he explained.

Referring to the Book of Isaiah, which talks about the dispossessed and the names of derision or diminishment placed upon the people, Buckley said God gives people new names and forbids people from describing themselves with negative names.

In the spiritual journey of his grandparents, they discovered that God had another name for them, which was "beloved," he said.

God calls you 'beloved'

"Regardless of how you see yourself now or what other people say about you, know that God sees you in a very sacred light," Buckley told the youth. "God calls us beloved."

In communities around the world, said Buckley, many young people wear upon their sleeves damaging names given to them by others and they are unaware that they can take them off.

Buckley also spoke about a "profound declaration" in the song "No Mirrors in My Nana's House" by Sweet Honey in the Rock. The song talks about growing up in a grandmother's house in which there are no mirrors. One begins to see who one is, not through one's own eyes or through the eyes of other people, but only through what grandmother says about you. The song is about being beautiful, proud, loved and cared for.

"The song was a very profound declaration of what seeing yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you can do to affect the way you live your life," he said, adding that this is also what the Book of Isaiah says.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Related Video of Ray Buckley

"Everything is dependent on the light."

"The most important thing in life is to be genuine."

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