WESTMINSTER — Following in the family tradition of religious leaders, the Rev. Rosemary Maxey became ordained as a United Church of Christ minister in 1986.
The difference is that her ancestors were leaders in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of American Indians.
"On my father's side of the family, they were religious leaders in the Creek nation," she said. "On my mother's side, they were faith-keepers and saw that people acted in accord with the faith they professed."
An instructor of religious studies and philosophy at Western Maryland College, Maxey also serves as the pastor of Mount Tabler United Church of Christ in Rocky Ridge, Frederick County.
Raised asa Christian, Maxey was told about American Indian beliefs and customs while she was growing up. Performing her duties as a minister in the United Church of Christ allows her to express both aspects of her faith.
"One of the reasons I joined the United Church of Christ is that they claim to accept diversity," she said. "I'm part of the church to remind them of their commitment to diversity.
"It's a place where I can not only be a Christian but express my Creek side as well."
American Indian tribes, including the Creek, incorporate a respect for Earth in their life and religion, said Maxey.
"Each tribe felt that the creator had placed them in a particular geographic areato practice their rites and use the gifts of the creator," she said.
Religion was intertwined in every day life, as people realized that all living creatures must interact together.
"Day by day, religion permeated the lives of each person," she said.
For example, when one inhaled, it was considered taking breath from the creator and exhaling was giving breath back to him in praise.
Therefore the Creek name for the creator is "master of breath" or the "one who holds life's breath," she said. This identification recognizes the spiritual quality inherent in all living beings.
"The way we inhale oxygenwhich is given off by the plants, and we exhale carbon dioxide whichis used by the plants shows one way we are all interdependent."
When a tree was to be cut down, it was asked whether it was ready to give up its life. If so, an apology was offered to the tree and the creator for destroying a life-giving force.
"It's not just a quirky thing, it has to do with reverence and respect for living things," Maxey said. "Trees have a right to live as much as any other living creature."
Creek tradition also recognized that people are more dependent upon nature than nature upon humanity for food and survival, shesaid.
"All of nature can exist without humanity, but humanity cannot exist without it," Maxey said.
During relocation to Oklahoma in the 1860s and 1870s, Creeks -- and other American Indians -- were forced to give up their traditional religions, a right that was not restored until 1979 under the Native American Religious Freedom Act.
"Being caught practicing the traditional religions was punishable byincarceration or death," Maxey said. "For safety's sake, my
parents' generation bought into the Christian religion."
Those who did practice the "old ways" did so in secret or integrated Creek traditions into Christian worship. For example, some Creek religious songs were sung to tunes of Christian hymns or Creek prayers offered with Christian ones.
"Christian prayers tend to be for the church universal and for people without much concern for the environment," Maxey said. "Creek prayers respond to the created order and call for the well-being of the Earth."
Enough of the old traditions have been preserved for the rituals to be practiced today, Maxey said, especially with renewed interest in the environment and saving the Earth.
"With environmental issues at stake and the planet in jeopardy, people are looking to traditional religions for leadership to learn how to live within the environment and not be antagonistic to it or make it do what people want it to do."
Celebrations planned for 1992 to recognize the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in America also are bringing American Indian traditions to the public's attention,Maxey said.
While Columbus led the way for European exploration of this continent with positive effects for whites, the native cultures suffered negative consequences, she said.
Many races -- including American Indians, blacks and Caribbean people -- were exploited by the Europeans as well as the land.
U.S. relocation policies in the 1800s forced American Indians to live in poverty, a condition many have not overcome, she said.
"In movies like 'Dances With Wolves,' the white man rides off to live this idyllic dream in the Black Hills," she said. "I know that people are living in the Black Hills with substandard health care and in poverty.
"It's not majestic to be an American Indian in this country."
Maxey and other WMC professors have planned a four-semester campuswide study to enlighten students about the European colonization of this hemisphere.
"While I would not deny the whites their celebration, I want them to know that some people suffered too," she said. "We need to look at history in its full measure.Not just the good, but also look at the bad.
"I talk with my children about commemorating, not celebrating in 1992."