Kate Campbell is a country singer with a soulful voice and distinctly Baptist theology. She has lent her talents to many worthy causes, and I have been pleased to be with her on many occasions. She brings a sort of prophetic insight into social issues that often escape the more entertainment-minded in the music industry.
Unfortunately, identifying her as a country singer is not entirely accurate. Her CDs will certainly be found in the country and folk sections at the music store, but her music really doesn’t fit comfortably into either genre.
She would like to call herself a Christian or gospel performer, but the Christian music industry won’t have her. They told her years ago that her music was not overtly Christian enough for the typical Gospel audience. That led distinguished historian Wayne Flynt to describe Campbell’s music with words Flannery O’Connor used to describe the South. She wrote: “While the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ haunted.”
The Christ-haunted character of Campbell’s music is nowhere more apparent than in her song recalling the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. The title, “Bear It Away,” is derived from an enigmatic saying of Jesus found only in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus remarks that the kingdom has suffered violence throughout history, and the “violent bear it away.”
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Campbell’s take on what Jesus meant is reflected in her mourning for the lost future of the four little girls who died. She sings: “It hurts my heart to think of them. Four little girls and what they could have been. But we never know about these things -- when the violent bear it away.”
It’s hard not to wonder how many losses there have been to violence. Not just the individuals who have died or suffered pain, though that’s loss enough. But how many opportunities have we lost by turning to violence first instead of as a last resort? How many times has the kingdom been at our doorstep, a moment of grace within our reach, only to have the violent take it away?
And only God knows what violence has taken away from us in terms of our humanity. What poets, or painters, or songwriters have been stifled when the violent come and bear their art away, replacing sensitivity with anger or hate? How many teachers, community leaders or healers have drifted into despair when the violent come and take away their dreams, replacing compassion with fear and cynicism?
You would think by now we would learn. Jesus tried to tell us -- an eye for an eye only makes the world blind. Cruelty does not breed love; it breeds more cruelty. Anger does not create understanding; it only creates more anger. Pain inflicted with a sense of righteous indignation does not create righteousness, only indignation. And the violent carry our hope away.
Of course, violence is not a new problem. It’s been with us from the beginning of time. Jesus saw it and warned about it. And how ironic that Jesus, who seemed to know so well what violence can do, would also be one taken by violence.
I have found myself thinking about Kate and her music, and the violence that bears our hope away, in regard to the Florida pastor who thought it was a good idea to burn the sacred text of another religion.
This senseless act, sadly, spawned violent reactions by extremists in the Middle East that resulted in the deaths of 12 United Nations workers.
Once again, the violent bear it away.
I don’t know who the recording professionals were who told Campbell her music was not overtly Christian enough to be considered gospel, but they were wrong. Mourning the loss of innocence, while blaming the violence that takes it away, seems to be a path Jesus would approve.