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MOUNTAIN MUSIC THEOLOGY by Fred Stehman

A forward looking faith pulled from the past

Read: 2 Corinthians 2-6

Reflect: You may be familiar with the traditional gospel folk song “I’ll Fly Away”. It celebrates the joy of escape from this weary world and journeying to a glorious eternity in heaven. Plainly and directly the song addresses death head on: “When I die, Hallelujah, bye and by”, it celebrates. This phrasing follows a long practice of folk song writing that is centuries old. Folk song writers, often lacking literary sophistication, wrote songs about life and lore taken from their immediate surroundings and experiences. In the early to mid-twentieth century, gospel folk songs about the hereafter emerged from the mountain region of Appalachia. Life in the mountains was hard. There was poverty and lack of access to medical care to treat illness and disease. The process of childbirth was often a life-and-death risk.  Work was grueling and often dangerous. Coal miners broke their backs for low pay in unhealthy conditions and often became victims of an early grave, therefore, death was a common theme for songwriting. Rooted in a strong Biblical faith, song writers balanced the struggles and strife of mountain life with the joys and rewards of eternal life in heaven. To mountain folk life on earth was so difficult their best hope for worthwhile existence was a forward vision, not of this world, but in the glory and joys of their home in heaven! These mountain folk tunes, often written and sung with pathos and humility, expressed a forward-looking theology that may deserve our thoughtful consideration.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 Paul speaks to the sufferings and struggles of his mission work as a preacher of the Gospel. Paul laments his human frailty for the task of carrying the valued treasure of the Gospel massage, having to rely on God’s power and not his own.(vs.7) Pressed by troubles, hunted down, and knocked down (vs.8-9) Paul sees help in God and trusts in help from God to press on and not give up and quit. The ultimate suffering – facing death as Jesus did – Paul shares in Jesus’ death but also shares in the life of the risen, victorious Jesus. (vs.10)

Paul’s troubled life in the first century was lived out in different circumstances and purposes than that of twentieth century mountain folk. However, he, as they, had to find a source of strength to keep from sinking and fainting under the weight of life’s struggles. Paul had a courageous faith where he trusted in God to help, care and protect. (vs.13) He had a firm and well-grounded hope of resurrection; the same resurrection that raised Jesus is a joy promised to us. (vs.14) Paul considered his sufferings bearable as others believed and came to know and follow Jesus. (vs.15) Paul, like the mountain folk, rested in the prospect of eternal life and happiness. Troubles and hardships of this life are weighed in the balance against the glories and joy of heaven. This perspective enables us to discern that unseen things (heavenly) are eternal, seen things (earthly) are but temporal. By faith we pursue the unseen things. (vs.17-18)

Apply: Many believers draw strength and find comfort in meditating on Scripture, through hymns and gospel music, or personal devotions and journaling.  What sources of strength do you lean on to prevent sinking and fainting under the weight of life’s troubles and trials? 

Fred Stehman is a Charter Member of GCC and serves as Lay Delegate to the Evangelical Congregational National Conference as well as being a member of the GCC Ministry Council. Fred is active in GCC Men's Ministry and actively supports SportXchange Int'l Ministries