Country music singer Collin Raye was recently named the spokesman of the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network. Having endured the devastating loss of his granddaughter, who died last year as a result of an undiagnosed neurological condition, Mr. Raye's powerful witness speaks to the severe redemption offered in suffering and the beauty of conversion. Rozann Carter interviews him today for the Word on Fire blog.
ROZANN: Mr. Raye, throughout your musical career, your music has had a longstanding reputation of striking deeper chords than the typical country ballad. Many of your popular songs challenge the listener’s presuppositions about love, dignity, and faith. You have consistently tackled difficult issues in the lyrics of your mainstream country songs, using that medium to sow seeds of deeper truth and more challenging contemplation. Now, it appears that you are engaging in a qualitatively different and altogether more difficult battle as you use your musical gifts and notoriety to reflect upon the life of your granddaughter Haley. How have the choices that you have made in your musical career prepared you for this situation and for the difficulty that comes with the tremendous opportunity to share Haley’s story with the world?
Music was originally one of the most powerful tools to worship and praise God, and then as society evolved, so to speak, music had other uses - maybe to escape but also to heal and bring clarity. Pouring my heart and soul into my music, and addressing social issues at times with my songs, has certainly prepared me to deal with life’s difficulties. My latest album, His Love Remains
), helped me to begin to find healing after Haley’s death. Turning to God and giving myself over to his will has been a huge part of my journey. Particularly, “Undefeated” and “I Get What I Need” off the new album speak to everyone who has ever questioned God’s providence (really, haven’t we all at one time or another?) and circle back to the fact that God will give us what we need when we need it.
CR: I am so honored and humbled to be speaking for those who have no voice, like Terri Schiavo. Every single life is precious, regardless of whatever disability or cognitive disorder one may possess, and no one has the right to end innocent life besides God. There are too many “Terri’s” out there today and I hope that, with my voice, I’m able to let families know that there is help out there if they face a similar situation like that of Terri Schiavo. Since the Life & Hope Network’s (www.lifeandhope.com
) inception, over 1,000 families have contacted them for assistance. With the implementation of Obamacare, we expect there to many more families contacting us and I want people to know that there is hope and we can help.
RC: As the resident country music enthusiast at Word on Fire and a long-time fan of your music, I was intrigued to learn about your conversion to Catholicism and curious about the impetus and process of this conversion. Can you share a bit of your journey to Catholicism?
CR: I was 23 when I entered the Catholic Church. I was raised in the Bible Belt and grew up Southern Baptist. Because of my upbringing, I know my Bible pretty well and I had a personal relationship with Christ for as long as I can remember. But I grew up thinking there was something more for me. I thought it sounded awfully easy if I just accepted Jesus as my Savior and that was that. It also seemed easy to fall away. In my mind, conversion needed to happen on a daily basis because the devil will pound on you every single day. In my early 20's, I started looking for a church that would suit me better. There was a couple who often came to see my band in Oregon and I noticed the woman wore a crucifix. So I brought it up and asked the couple if I could go to Mass with them. I know it sounds cliché, but when I walked into the Church I felt this heavy presence in the air and peace. I just wanted to stay in there. I found out later that was the presence of Christ in the Tabernacle. I knew churches before as only nice meeting places so this was totally new for me. Through the course of my instruction over the next few months in RCIA, I fell in love with the faith and was a pretty easy sell after that. I’m so thankful to God that he chose me to discover the Church when I did because how different would my life have been had I not?
RC: Father Barron’s book, And Now I See, speaks of conversion as a “new way of seeing.” In a similarly descriptive way, presumably, your vision of the world has been “converted”—has been dramatically altered by the life and witness of Haley. Has your “new way of seeing” in regard to faith provided a lens through which to see Haley’s ongoing impact?
CR: My view of life has certainly been altered after my experience with Haley. She was the most perfect human being and I have no doubt she went straight to heaven. When Haley died, I wanted to go with her and be where she was. It took everything I had to wake up every day and continue my life. But God had other plans and thanks to his grace, I was able to hand over my talents to him and have him use me for his greater good. I never thought I would be where I am today after I lost my granddaughter. She was and still is, as well as her Mom and sister and my son,
the love of my life and I’m so happy to carry on her legacy and through my music and my work with the Life & Hope Network
today. I always knew every life was precious but going through the experiences I did with Haley and my family, the appreciation I have for life is that much greater. When does life become worthy to live and who decides that? Regardless of Haley’s condition, she was a tremendous gift to our family.
RC: You have a new CD that was only recently released. On this CD, the song “I get what I need” speaks of the way in which our prayers for virtue are not necessarily answered by a bestowal of a particular virtuous capacity, but rather, by a challenging situation that will call forth conversion and growth, resulting in the very quality for which we prayed. There is no doubt that the suffering you underwent upon the loss of your granddaughter was part of a transformative event that produced courage and dedication, especially to this particular cause. Having been through this, would you be willing to offer your perspective on redemptive suffering?
CR: There is value in suffering even though we may not see that when its happening. God doesn’t heal every time we ask. He hears our prayers but doesn’t all give us what we want. When Jesus healed people when he was on Earth, I think he healed primarily to show us who he was. Jesus has answered my prayers many times but not always what I want, but what I need. Like you said, that’s the premise of my song “I Get What I Need” on my new CD. Christ suffered tremendously and in the end, I had to tie my own sufferings to Jesus. He’s the one who got me through that. It’s often said that Jesus never said this life would be easy, and how true it is. Jesus suffered throughout his life and if we choose to follow him, why would we expect our life to be any different? Uniting ourselves to Christ and knowing the unimaginable depths of love he has for us is the only way to get through the sufferings in this life.
RC: Another song on your CD is your beautiful rendition of Ave Maria. What role has the Blessed Mother played in your journey—through your music and through your suffering?
CR: Growing up as a Southern Baptist, I only had a relationship with Christ, not the Blessed Mother. I’ve always tried to pray all the time and about everything and anything to Jesus, trying not to only go to him in times of trouble or hardship or treat him like Santa Clause. But when I need the big guns, I go to Mary. It’s something I need to work on - I need to go to her more often. It’s been a wonderful journey learning more about her and forming a relationship of my own with her as an avenue to Christ. She’s the greatest of all the saints and if anyone knows about suffering, it’s the Blessed Mother. She had to watch her Son suffer and die and I draw strength from her suffering and know that she understands the pain I am going through.
Thank you, Mr. Raye! God bless you, Haley, and all who seek the support of the Life and Hope Foundation.
To purchase Mr. Raye's CD, you can go to www.hisloveremains.com
To read the press release regarding Collin Raye's appointment as spokesperson of the Life and Hope Network, please visit this site.