A good friend recently pointed me to a song about a place from my past. The name of the (sad/miserable but compelling) song is You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive. The reference is to Harlan, Kentucky and the woes of the early coal mining industry. You might give it a listen. But – my mother’s folks are from the area – mostly the neighboring community of Hazard but spread all over Pike County. I was there off and on as a child up to about twelve years of age. One of my haziest memories is of a conversation with my great great grandmother (Sis-Maw) who lived with her daughter – my great grandmother (mommy Duff). The vague memory of Sis-Maw included an Indian Head-dress and a little hidden closet/pantry where, she said, they used to hide the children during feuds. It’s the only memory I have of her. Mommy Duff, of course, I remember a good deal better. And, then, there was my great Aunt, Martha who ran a small general store and was quick to give us kids treats from the candy shelves. Coal was still the life blood of the community at that time – or so I judged by the number of big dump truck loads constantly going by. The house and the store sat next to each other right off U.S. 421.
I caused a great deal of consternation one day by scaling the rock wall left where they cut the mountain to put the road through some time in the dim past. Relatives emerged from the house in time to look across the road and see me about 50’ up, reaching for the roots of a stump that dangled from the top. The relatives, all being female, insisted I climb back down – a good deal more risky than simply pulling myself over the top. In their efforts to prevent a repeat performance my mother and various aunts all assured the stump was no doubt the site of a multi-generation den of copperheads and that a crazy man lived on top the mountain who was better kept clear of. Fine by me – because they neglected to tell me to stay away from the railroad tracks where, just a few bends from the house there was the neatest trestle spanning a deep gorge – but that’s another story.
It’s all gone now. Mommy Duff passed away a year or two after that last visit when I was twelve. Martha moved to Indiana and the state of Kentucky decided the property was needed for their road expansion project – no doubt intended to make for better transport of all that coal. The state – like most states – had written the law of Imminent Domain into its charter which meant that when the state wanted to buy – you sold – at the state designated price. Most of the family was pretty unhappy about that. But the law is the law and imminent domain is the law. The house and store went away – the road expansion went through.
Many families can tell a similar story somewhere along the way and we can all agree or disagree on the merits of Imminent Domain. But I will tell you this – The earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof. And God has a highway project in mind. He will level mountains and use the rubble to fill up valleys and gorges and build His highway straight and level. He said so in Isaiah 40 – A voice is calling, clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a path and the rugged terrain a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh will see it together.
The passage probably refers to God steering governments and civilizations, causing the rise and fall of kings and nations to prepare the way for Jesus to come into the world. That’s what I think anyway. But: If the prophecy extends further and God intends to knock down any actual mountains and level up any actual gorges – He isn’t going to get any arguments from me! It’s all His anyway AND I have a vested interest in where that highway leads. I plan to get there after all.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church