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Loretta Lynn performs at the Summerfest Special in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 2011.
Creative Commons photo by Third Coast Daily

Loretta Lynn experienced darkness and light

The music star loved to sing hymns and gospel songs, while critics hailed the rhinestone feminism of her country hits.

On many Sundays, Loretta Lynn sent her social-media followers a thought for the day from Scripture.

Two days before her death at her ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., the 90-year-old country-music legend posted two verses, repeating the second verse to stress her point.

Loretta Lynn accepts the Crystal Milestone award during the 9th Annual ACM Honors at the Ryman Auditorium on Sept. 1, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn.

Loretta Lynn accepts the Crystal Milestone award during the 9th Annual ACM Honors at the Ryman Auditorium on Sept. 1, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn.

Lynn’s final Instagram post said: “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:20-21”

The feisty superstar experienced plenty of darkness and light and shared the gritty details in a career that changed the role of women in Nashville. Lynn was raised poor in the Kentucky hills and spent years in church pews before she started singing in honky-tonks. Her husband Oliver “Dolittle” Lynn struggled with alcoholism, but they stuck together in a union that inspired songs about love and loyalty, as well as break-ups and fist fights, such as “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind).”

Lynn vowed to tell the truth about both sides of her life. She loved to sing hymns and gospel music, while critics hailed the rhinestone feminism of her hits such as “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “The Pill,” “Rated X” and “You’re Looking at Country.”

In her “Coal Miner’s Daughter” memoir, Lynn described her faith journey: “I believed it all, but for some reason I was never baptized. After I started in music, I got away from going to church and reading the Bible. I believe I was living the way God meant me to, but I wasn’t giving God the right attention.”

Related: Loretta Lynn ‘was serious about her faith and a devout member of the church’

In that same 1976 memoir, she added: “I’m trying to lead a good Christian life, especially since I got baptized two years ago. So there ain’t too much spicy to tell about me — just the truth.” Christian Chronicle editor Bobby Ross Jr. noted that she later added a strong kicker to that: “Nobody’s perfect. The only one that ever was, was crucified.”

Anyone who explored the details of Lynn’s life and music knew that she wasn’t a good fit in the “elite feminist establishment” or among advocates of a “status-quo idea of domesticity,” noted Russell Moore, Christianity Today’s editor in chief.

“Lynn endured more than anyone should have to bear,” he wrote. “She will be remembered for seeing the pain around her and within her and challenging people to stop seeing all that pain as ‘just the way things are.’”

Consider, noted Moore, the working-class realities woven into Lynn’s song “One’s on the Way,” written from the viewpoint of mother who feels abandoned in her own home.

“The girls in New York City, they all march for women’s lib / And Better Homes and Gardens shows the modern way to live / And the pill may change the world tomorrow, but meanwhile, today / Here in Topeka, the flies are a buzzin’ / The dog is a barkin’ and the floor needs a scrubbin’ / One needs a spankin’ and one needs a huggin’ / Lord, one’s on the way.”

The flip side of that hit record was that Lynn never gave up on her marriage and she never lost faith in the family ties that bind.

Related: Saints and singers

“Mostly, she sang about home, and all that entails. It was this ability to connect with the broken hearts of her hearers that propelled her to stardom as the leading lady of Music Row,” said Anglican theologian Brandon Meeks, writing for The American Conservative magazine.

“Life was never easy for Loretta Lynn. But she took all of its punches standing up, absorbing the hard knocks, and giving them back to the world as melodies of hope. She taught us to receive whatever dark obstacles Providence lays in our path as diamonds in the rough.”

In a free-flowing Facebook post, Marchetti wrote: “It was so surreal because yesterday mom was talking and very animated telling us I am ready to go to heaven. Doo is coming to take me home. They told me I’m really going home. She really said that yesterday. She knew. She just knew and was happy.”

TERRY MATTINGLY leads GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a senior fellow at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.

Universal syndicate column, used with permission of the author.

Filed under: Church of Christ celebrities country music gospel music Loretta Lynn memorial Obituaries Opinion People Top Stories

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