Doc Stevens and the Cycle of Poverty Part 9: More on Pentecostalism & the Poor

Monday, April 27, 2009 10:11 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: In the last posting, Doc was talking about religion among poor people in the US, particularly about Pentecostalism. Growing up poor, he has some particularly interesting insights into some of the Pentecostal sects that proliferate in America, and as I research it, apparently around the world.

Doc: OK, Tondy, so we was talkin' about churches. Like I said, I ain't been to many of them uptown type churches like 'Piscopal [Anglican] and Lutherns and such. Been to some Baptist, but mostly I always went back to Pentecostal. If I'm gonna go to a church, I want one where I know I'll be able to feel the Lord. I ain't goin' if he ain't there. You can usually feel the Lord in a Pentecostal church.

Tondeleo: And why is that, Doc?Doc Stevens 015

Doc: Well, Pentecostal churches is more lively and upbeat and happy. When a man is broke, beat down and feelin' low, he needs a lift. And he needs a lift that ain't gonna cost him money he aint got, and if he is tryin' to stay sober an' maybe make a new start, that ain't leave much. Plus, if he goes back to bars and drinkin', he's gonna end up in the same old mess, with fightin' and bein' arrested.

Church can be a good place to go, if it's lively enough. If the music is good, and the people are happy and the preacher is excited about what he's talkin' about and if the Holy Ghost is movin'.

Tondeleo: What do you mean by 'the Holy Ghost is moving?' How does he "move?" Where does he move to? How do you know if he is, what you call, "moving?"

Doc: He ain't move like in wigglin' or movin' from one place or another. It means if he is movin' on the people. Durin' the singin' he might start movin' and people'll start dancin' on their own, without thinkin' about it. They might commence to shoutin' or speakin' in tongues, or fallin' out. It gives you somethin' to look at, while you're listenin' to the music an' singin' along.

Tondelo: You'll have to explain some of those words, Doc. Speaking in tongues. Falling out. Most people won't know what that means...

Doc: Who can explain speakin' in tongues? I cain't. But suppose you felt so good you ain't had no words that could tell about it... but you HAD to say somethin', or you'd bust wide open? If you felt God so real all over your body. The words what come out of your mouth might not sound like English, they might not sound like no language on this earth, but you'd be speakin' what you was feelin' 'cause what you is feelin' ain't like nothin' on this earth. That's how I'd 'splain it.

Fallin' out's the same way. you might feel so happy it just overloads your circuits. You ever kiss a girl an' feel lightheaded, Tondy? Girls call it swoonin'. They feel in love an' like they is high on love. It's sorta like that. You might feel God all over you and feel so in love with God and life and other people and the whole world that you get lightheaded and fall out. I done it once. It ain't felt like nothin' on this earth. I was standin' there quiet, and felt the Holy Ghost movin' on me, an' I got lightheaded and kinda high feelin' an' next thing I know, I was lookin' up at people, who was kneelin' aroun' me an' praisin' the Lord. Ain't nothin' wrong with doin' that. You ever done that, Tondy?

Tondeleo: I can't say that I have, no. But I can see where there might be an appeal for someone who needed a lift and to feel significant, especially if he or she was disappointed in life, or felt that no one cares about them. To feel that God himself is touching you would be very affirming, I suppose.

Doc: What? Do you know how much of a sissy you sounded like right then? [Now Doc mimics me, with a horrid attempt at an English accent, in a John Cleese-like falsetto voice, while flopping his wrists around like two fish out of water - Tondeleo] "OOOhhh... I SUPPOSE it could be INFIRMING to a POOR PERSON who needs to FEEL MAGNIFICENT..." Tondy, ain't nobody too good for the Lord to touch them. Even not you.

I'm gonna find a revival and take you to it next time you is here an' there is one goin' on. It don't cost a dime, an' you won't wake up with a hangover the next mornin' . You gonna come an' sit there with me and find out what you been missin'. It ain't about bein' religious. It's about the Lord. Everybody needs the Lord, Tondy. I do. You do. Ain't nobody who don't.

Doc Stevens and the Cycle of Poverty Part 8: The Gospel, the Poor and Pentecostalism

Saturday, April 25, 2009 12:53 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: One thing that I notice about Doc and his friends, as well as other rural poor people in the US is that many of them have a deep sense of religion that I don't find in the UK. It seems to be in their blood, even if it is not readily apparent by their day to day behaviour.

Doc was talking about being in South Carolina, and how he ended up for a while staying in a Christian Mission. In the UK, we have dosshouses, or what are called Homeless Shelters in the US, but we do not have as many Christian based ones as the US does. Also, in the US, it seems like the poorer the neighbourhood, the more tattoo parlours, bowling allies and Pentecostal missions there are. It is especially true in the cities.

Pentecostalism in America is readily available, as it has gotten to be in the UK. I have noticed that in Africa and India, Pentecostalism is also quite common, even though the majority of the population may be clueless as to its existence and its substance.

I presented Doc with some questions about Pentecostalism and its predominance among particularly the poor in America, and here are some of his answers, the best I could understand them.

Doc: What is Pentecostalism? I ain't really know that one, Tondy. I ain't too big on the "ism's." Now, I been to some Pentecostal churches and have stayed in Pentecostal missions. Stayed in one in Orangeburg, matter of fact. Pentecostals is the ones what has more heart than most the other ones. Pentecostals care about poor folks an' they ain't care if you done time or been in trouble. They ain't so uppity.

Doc Stevens Pentecostal Mission

Tondeleo: So, Doc, how would I recognise a Pentecostal person?

Doc: They aint nothin' to recognise, Tondy! They just look regular like me. You know Slick Ballinger [a talented young Blues guitarist and singer from North Carolina that Doc introduced me to two years ago - Tondeleo], he's a Pentecostal. Goes to a Oneness church. Apostolic. And also, Big Dave, he's a Pentecostal, too, I think. I heard him speak in tongues a long time ago, an' I guess he still does.

Pentecostals look like anyone else. But if you went to church with one, you'd see the difference and you'd hear the difference. Like in a regular church, the singin' is quiet, an' boring. In a Pentecostal church, they sing with all they's hearts! They is singin' to God Hisself and they ain't 'shamed to sing to Him. I tell you, ten Pentecostals'll sing louder than a hundred regular church folks. An' they'd enjoy it more, too.

You clap your hands and stomp your feet to the music. You can dance in a Pentecostal church, too. But not with women. No couples dancin'.

The music's better. Pentecostals put more feelin' in they's playin'. A Pentecostal piano player'll play like Jerry Lee Lewis or Leon Russell or Pinetop Perkins or Katie Webster. Jerry Lee Lewis was brought up Pentecostal. But he backslid. Pentecostals usually aint had no trainin' in music or preachin' an' they cain't read a note of music. They ain't like one of them high falutin' churches what plays by music notes an' sounds like a funeral march.

You clap your hands and stomp your feet to the music. You can dance in a Pentecostal church, too. But not with women. No couples dancin'. You dance by yourself. I done it plenty of times. An' they don't get mad at you for it, if you're dancing for the Lord.

But you ain't s'posed to get in the flesh and be shakin' your rear end or doin' no Michael Jackson moves. That ain't right to do in the house of the Lord. You're s'posed to dance in the spirit, not in the flesh. Matter of fact, dancin' for the Lord is the only dancin' what Pentecostals do. They ain't go to worldly dances.

Tondeleo: You're saying that the music is different, more lively in a Pentecostal church, and that the people can dance to it. Doesn't that seem sacrilegious to you?

Doc: Naw! It ain't sack religious. King David danced for the Lord and I know in the Bible it says somewhere to praise the Lord with dance. I heard a lot of Pentecostal preachers say that one, when some folks was dancin' an' other folks was sittin' there all sour faced an' not praisin' the Lord.

That's another thing, Tondy. The preachin' is different in Pentecostal churches. In a regular church, the preacher is usually a soft talkin' sissy whose afraid to hurt anyone's feelin's. He gets up there an' tickles their ears with a bunch of stuff about love and how God is too good to send anyone to hell and all that. He ain't wantin' no one to ever feel bad, ever.

But a Pentecostal preacher ain't like that! No Sir. First, they ain't usually sissies. Lots of 'em grew up poor. Most of them done some pretty wild livin' in their day before they was preachers. They been there and done that. They can tell you about their days of drinkin', druggin', skirt chasin' and all that. But then they got saved and God called them to preach and most of 'em started right then and there when God called 'em and they let the Holy Ghost teach 'em how to preach.

Some of 'em went to Bible college to get some trainin' and teachin' but it don't make 'em into better preachers. It just gives 'em some book learnin'.

A Pentecostal preacher'll step on your toes, too, Tondy. He'll call a spade a spade an' he don't mince no words. If you're doin' wrong, the Holy Ghost'll tell him and he'll say it right there into the microphone! He ain't scared of nothin' or no one but God. He'll preach and run around, an' unbutton his shirt a little and loosen up his tie when the Holy Ghost comes upon him, and he'll mop his brow with his hanky! He'll jump and shout a little bit, and get the people goin' at it, too! There ain't no sleepin' at a Pentecostal church!

Then, at the end, he'll quiet it on down an' ask you about if you're saved or not. He'll tell you that if you're not, you'll die and go to a devil's hell. But if you'll come to Jesus, you'll be forgiven and get to go to Heaven to be with Jesus, the Angels and all your dead relatives what loved the Lord. It makes you want to go up front. I done it plenty of times, Tondy. Gone up front to get forgiven and to get help from the Lord.

Sometimes other folks'll come up to the altar an' lay hands on you an cry and pray with you. They pray loud, too. Like God is right here in the church, but He might be a little hard of hearing. They'll hug you afterwards and tell you that they felt the Holy Ghost moving on you when they was prayin'. You feel all clean and sorta lightheaded, too. I like Pentecostal churches, I do.

A person might have the devil leave him, and he might get to jumpin' an' shoutin' and cryin' and speakin' in tongues and all the people around'll be clappin' and praisin the Lord too. They ain't nothin' like it Tondy. But don't go if you got a migraine cause they get pretty loud.

One preacher said that earth is the quietest place in the universe! He said in hell they is all shoutin' and cryin' out in pain and in Heaven everyone is shoutin' and praisin the Lord!

Here's something else I like about Pentecostal churches. They ain't like either all white or all black. They usually is mixed. Like I met Ronnie [Perkins] at a Pentecostal church up to Sumter [SC]. I wouldn't have met him in a regular church especially down South Carolina where they is still racist. Down there, pretty much unless they is Pentecostal, the whites ain't gonna worship with black folks. Only the Holy Ghost can overcome racism. It ain't in the heart of man.

What boogie-woogie is to music, Pentecostal is to religion.

OK an' one more thing. Pentecostals'll help you when you is down an' out an' they will pray for you to be delivered if you get into drugs or alcohol or illicit lifestyles. They got love and they cares about people an' they also got more power of the Holy Ghost than regular church folks.

Tondeleo: To summarise, then, Pentecostal churches are more lively, have more demonstrative preaching, and are more emotional, caring and more interactive than the regular churches?

Doc: I don't know all them words, but I would put it like this: What boogie-woogie is to music, Pentecostal is to religion. Period.

I like talkin' about church an' revivals, Tondy. It makes me feel good, as long as you ain't makin' a mockery of it. Then I would be through talkin.'

Doc Stevens & Ronnie Perkins from South Carolina get Reunited.

Monday, April 6, 2009 9:01 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: Doc called me on my mobile with quite a bit of excitement in his voice. His old friend, Ronnie Perkins, from Sumter, South Carolina had made contact. It turns out the Ronnie has recently moved to Southern Maryland, in search of work, and a new life. Ronnie ended up settling for a while at least in Bryans Road, MD, about a half hour's drive from Doc and Marilyn. They met up with each other at the Dollar General store where they both were doing some shopping for clothes.

Doc: "I couldn't believe it, Tondy! Me and Ronnie go back a long time. I ain't seen him in years! Last I heard, he was down Georgia stayin' with family! Then me an' Marilyn was up the Dollar General an' I hear someone callin' out, 'Doc! Doc! Izzat you, Doc!' I recognized his voice right away, but I weren't thinkin' Ronnie'd be up here, but sure nough, it were him!

"He's doin' good, too, Tondy! He ain't drinkin' so much, an' said he gave his heart to the Lord an' is tryin' to get his life together an' make a new start up here. He said a new start with a new heart! He's a good man. Marilyn was glad to meet him, too, 'cause she'd heard some "Ronnie stories" from back in the day. You gotta come down when you can to meet him Tondy!

That Ronnie can write a song just by hearin' me play guitar. An' he sings out, like I do. He ain't need no mike like them boys you is used to hearin'. We ain't always got mikes down south."

Ronnie and Doc played some music together in South Carolina a few years back, and Doc is thrilled to have an old mate to play music, swap stories and sing with. Doc thinks Ronnie is one of the more gifted singers he knows, and Ronnie's talents seem to mesh well with Doc and Marilyn's.

I am always amazed at how these roots and country musicians can sit down and play new songs together that neither of them have ever heard before (because they make them up on the spirit of the moment) and actually sound good. I also have noticed that some people are better with making up lyrics off the top of their heads while others are better with the tune and the arranging.

Ronnie's life story is similar to Doc's and to several other people whom I have met through Doc and my other travels in the southeastern United States: A family history of hard working people who struggled to eak out an existence; alcohol and drug dependency throughout the family tree; music and singing being a form of free entertainment as well as supplemental income; regular packing up and moving from state to state to get new starts on life, and to find work; minor jail time, and a non-judgmental attitude towards other people, yet a basic initial mistrust of strangers.

I made it a point to spend an evening at Doc and Marilyn's bungalow so I could meet Ronnie Perkins. Ronnie is a black gentleman with the gracious manners of a Southerner, a ready smile, and a friendly spirit. At first he was quiet, and only began to open up as he watched my interactions with Doc and Marilyn.

I was able to discern within minutes why Doc and Ronnie were such good friends. Like Doc, Ronnie has several trades, including auto mechanics (which must run in American blue collar blood), carpentry work and general handyman skills. Ronnie also can write songs and come up with passable lyrics almost off the cuff.

We shared an evening meal together, and then Doc brought a couple of guitars to the table and Marilyn retrieved her harmonicas from her room. Ronnie had a new tune creeping around in his head, and he wanted Doc and Marilyn to play some back up for it and to help with the arranging.

Ronnie said that people like Doc help him to get his songs so they sound right. "I get a few lines and some words, and then I get stuck for a while. If I can get around someone like Doc, as he plays the guitar and gives a pattern to it, the words come and then the rest of the tune comes. I don't know how it works, it just does.It's like I get half of it and he gets the other half. Then, Marilyn fills it out with the harp. The Lord works through people that way, Tondy" Ronnie revealed to me.

Quickly I got my camera out, and sat it on the tripod, so I could record this song being created. Ronnie hummed a few bars of it, so Doc could find the right key and rhythm. He told Marilyn which harp (harmonica) to use, and she and Doc began to play along with Ronnie as though they had known the song for most of their lives.

Ronnie said that he sings primarily Gospel music nowadays, and he does seem to have a gift for it. He didn't yet have all the words to this new song, which he calls "I'm Coming Home." He told me that he was a little embarrassed singing it in front of an outsider without it being finished, and that he wasn't too thrilled with me taping it. At the same time, he said that it was ok to put it on "the YouTube" if I thought someone might enjoy it. So, here it is. I hope you like it. I think it has good potential, once they get all the bugs worked out.

Doc Stevens on the Cycle of Poverty - Part Seven: Drugs, Alcohol, Gambling and Finding a Way to Do the Right Thing.

Friday, April 3, 2009 7:32 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Doc: Right is right an' wrong is wrong. But you gotta have compassion on folks, too, Tondy. A lot of poor folks does drugs, drinks too much and gambles and some steal when they can. People with money say them things is what causes poverty. I aint sayin' that.

A lot of rich people does drugs, too, And drinks too much too. An' alot of rich peoples steals too. But they can steal with they's computers an' ain't nobody knows it 'til the banks collapse. Poor folks steal with guns an' knives. Rich folks steal with computers.

Tondy, the economy bein' so bad aint from poor folks and it ain't from immigrants. It's from the rich folks takin' everything they could from everybody else they could. And the heads all them companies ain't all white men, neither. I heard on NPR [National Public Radio in the USA] that they was whites, blacks, asians, spanics an' folks what was mixed who was heads of them banks. So it ain't all the white men makin' the economy bad. It is selfish folks.

Different people does different things for different reasons. Ain't all people does things for the same reasons. Some just aint know no better. Like when I was a boy, my daddy gave me beer since long as I can remember. Maybe two or 3 years old. I didn't like it at first an' he would put salt in it to take off the edge.

He told my mama that it canceled out the alcohol. I didn't never like Doc Stevens 88 beer too much, but it made him and his friends laugh so I would do it. And it made me feel like a little man. They gave me cigarettes too, Tondy. My uncles smoked reefer and when I was maybe 12 they would offer it to me.

I ain't never tasted whiskey til I was maybe 12 or 13. I took one drink and I liked it. It just felt right in my mouth and felt like a old friend. I just liked it alot. Drinkin' runs in my family and it is in the blood. So that's how I got started. But that's just me.

Same with drugs. I ain't never been too much on drugs, but a lot of people is. Some of it comes from their own family, their mama or daddy. Older brothers and sisters can get you started. Might be a thing where all your friends does it and you just want to fit in.

If you aint raised in church, you don't know it's wrong, it's just somethin' to do, an' everybody else does it, so it must be ok. Even some of the cops says they do it when they's off duty, an' a lot of cops is heavy drinkers.

But here's difference if you're poor and start drinkin' an' smokin' pot and then get to sellin' it. First, you ain't got nothin' goin' for you in the first place, so you ain't thinkin' you got nothin' to lose.

If you're livin' in a motel or little apartment an' there aint nothin' to do, you can be sure one of your neighbors is gonna sell you some pot. And if you ain't servin' the Lord real strong, you gonna smoke it. It's the only break you might get from stress an' all that.

Drinkin' is the same way. Wherever you got poor folks, you gotta liquor store close by, within walkin' distance most the time. So poor folks is gonna go to the liquor store when they's bored. They gonna go when they is stressed. They gonna go when they had a argument with they's family. They gonna go to the liquor store when the boss man fires 'em and they gonna go when they cain't pay the rent an' they's all tore up about it. Poor folks got more reasons to drink an' less options than folks with money.

Gamblin' is somethin' else what poor people stakes more on than folks with money. A poor man knows he ain't got no chance to make big money in his life, an' ain't none of his poor relatives gonna die an' leave him anything. Mostly, when one of our people dies, we all end up passin' the hat for money an' whoever in the family is workin' ends up footin' the bill. An' there is always some in the family what ain't never paid toward no one's funeral.

A poor man will try to buy a couple of lottery tickets whenever he can. It's his only chance. It might be enough to pay his rent, or to buy a car. He might win enough to be a millionaire! Like they say, "you gotta play to win." Folks with money ain't see the lottery as their only hope. It is just something to do for them.

That is why it is a good thing to find a way to not be poor, an' to get better friends what will help you stay sober an'to do the right thing. You is a friend like that Tondy.

You need good friends. Marilyn got a few good friends by goin' to church. They is good people.

Sometimes gettin' in trouble helps. My parole officer one time a long time ago said the Lord'll let you get in hot water to clean up your act. A good scarin' can make a man do better.

You also gotta have a gold [goal], a reason to pull yourself outtat the gutter. Learnin' a trade is a good thing. For me, playin' guitar helped. Takin' care of Marilyn helped. Gettin' right with the Lord gave me the strength I needed. I still need to pray and talk to the Lord for strength, Tondy.