Religious Narratives | Folkstreams

Religious Narratives

Religious Narratives

Adapted from the booklet "Being A Joines: A Life in the Brushy Mountains" written by Daniel Patterson, Joyce Joines Newman, Allen E. Tullos, and Tom Davenport, and published in 1981 by the Curriculum in Folklore of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Adapted and revised in 2004.

When he came back home from the war, Mr. Joines said, "Everything had a different look, and everything was changed, and even my outlook on life had changed, and nothing wasn't the same after then. I just about didn't believe in no God." There were the pleasures of marriage and a growing family, but also the pressures of increasing responsibilities, of disappointment in being financially unable to purchase a farm, of having out of necessity to take uncongenial work, of losing members of his family, and in time, of physical injuries and illness for husband and wife. Mrs. Joines maintained a firm, quiet faith during these years, but Mr. Joines was on an intellectual quest and says that "up till that Sunday" -- March 28, 1971 (Easter)--"where the Lord healed my wife, it was hard for me to even believe that there was a God."

At this point the Joineses were not regular churchgoers. The neighborhood church which Mr. Joines attended as a boy had given up the old spontaneous "hell-fire-and-damnation" sermons and congregational responses and spirited singing in favor of subdued, instructional, prepared sermons, performances by robed choirs, and printed programs. But in 1970 it got a new, young pastor, a former baseball player, who had read in the seminary of the Day of Pentecost and had "prayed to have the kind of religion that people had then." In his sermons he mentioned a sensation that had come upon him during these prayers, describing it in physical terms as "heat" and in Biblical terms as "the Holy Spirit." Mrs. Joines heard of him through neighbors and attended several of his services, but Easter Sunday of 1971 was the first time in a number of years when the whole family had been to church together.

Mrs. Joines's healing and Mr. Joines's simultaneous re-conversion during this service precipitated a revival movement within the church. Its services regained the old-time fervor and freedom, and its activities expanded throughout the week. A number of members experienced healing and other gifts. The Joineses became spiritual leaders within the congregation. Fifty members--most of them relatives and neighbors--were opposed, however, to this development and withdrew from the church in bitterness. In a second rupture the Joineses also had to leave it. The experience thus completed for Mr. Joines the breakdown of the traditional family, community, occupational, and religious frameworks within which he had been raised.

But it also made possible other ties, ones less rooted in kinship and neighborhood. Other people in the western Piedmont and the Blue Ridge had known similar social changes and personal troubles, and had also had transcendent religious experiences. So the Joineses moved outward into a new network of like-minded people calling themselves "Sons of God." It was a network that brought them in touch with people from as far away as Missouri, and New York, and Florida and with a nationwide charismatic movement..

They and their new associates respected the message of the "Overcomer" organization of evangelist Bill Britton of Springfield, Mo., but were not a direct outgrowth or affiliate of it. They gathered in non-denominational meetings for informal services of preaching, singing, and especially testifying. Their beliefs were not codified, or uniform, or even fixed. At the time of the filming their position was roughly:

(1) that the Bible is the revealed word of God, but not his only word: "I'm not worshipping the King James version of the Bible, I'm worshipping God. And God is a spirit. And God sends something to dwell in each one of us and tell us what's truth and what's wrong." (Wise: 52)

2) that this indwelling Spirit leads men to progressively deeper and deeper understanding: "God has showed me that everything that we've been preached has just been stepping stones to get to where we can enter into this Spiritual Realm. All this stuff that we've been preached will be so obsolete in a year from now, we won't even listen at it no more." (FT359/360)

(3) that there is no hell and condemnation, that the older churches and orthodoxies have glimpses of part of the truth, that all mankind will eventually reach the Spiritual Realm: "Some people say you got to write everybody off that don't go in. I ain't writing nobody off, because He said them that went in the last hour in the vineyard drew the same amount of pay as them went in the first hour. . . . We're all going back to God, where we came from" (Wise: 49)

(4) that those who progress far enough to become perfected in the Spirit will live in transfigured flesh, with bodies like that of Christ after the Resurrection: "that spirit'll be carrying this body instead of blood we'll be living off of spirit . . . I believe we're fixing to enter in that time right now." (FT356)

(5) that the end of the second millennium after Christ is the close of the second day after the Crucifixion, a day preparatory to the third, the Resurrection day, when, after crises and the collapse of human systems, the physical world and the carnal order will be transfigured by the Spirit: "After two days He will revive us. A day is with the Lord a thousand years, a thousand years is as a day. We're in the Resurrection morning, I believe with all my heart. That we're in the Resurrection morning, we're in the Resurrection morning, we're in the Resurrection day." (Wise: 40)

(6) that this change is to be welcomed joyfully and trustingly. God will provide for those who call on him: "times's gonna get rough. Jobs gonna get scarce, money's gonna fade away. And we gonna have to be at the place that that woman was when she baked that little cake of bread for Elisha, we're gonna have to depend on the Lord for keeping that meal barrel full." But this is not a cause for fear; the only fear that the people of God feel is that attendant upon spiritual growth, the shucking off of outworn beliefs: "You got a fear of deep, dark water or dark places that you haven't been and you know nothing about, and that's the only fear that God's people's got, is fear of the unknown, something we've never been preached, something we've never been taught. That's the reason He said, 'Them will become Sons of God that's led by the Spirit.' Because we'll go anywhere if we're following that Spirit it wants to take us." (Wise: 47).

Their religious experiences, then, led the Joineses not only into physical and spiritual healing and a new community, but also into intellectual and theological explorations (cf. Newman, 1972: 18-21).

Mr. Joines put his powers as a narrator into the service of this new religious experience. He would -- as he did for this film -- tell the older stories to people interested in them, but what he most wanted to tell about was the miraculous healing of his wife or the experience that transformed his own religious life, or other healings and remarkable providences, or out-of-the-body experiences and visions and dreams. Unlike the earlier stories, these were not entertainment but a witnessing for the Lord. If such stories have no parallels in the numbered motifs and tale types of Baughman and Thompson, it is to the shame of tale collectors, for the stories have as long and important a history in American life as does the Protestant revivalism from which they spring (cf. Byrne; Johnson).

Her profound experiences led Blanche Joines too for the first time into public discourse. By temperament and custom, she has always been quiet and self-effacing. In her world males were the public performers, the men of music and men of words, the fiddlers and preachers and taletellers. It was more natural for her to take one of the women's outlets, to express herself with visual forms, using textiles and colors, as when she created (by intuitive processes) her quilt square "The Woman at the Well." She had not consciously tried to work up stories, as her husband had, or to entertain a gathering of friends and strangers. Now, however, she would openly testify in church and relate her experiences to fellow believers, as she did also for the film. Still, her new freedom was consonant with her tradition. Her accounts, like a traditional ballad, are deeply felt, but devastating in their restraint and understatement.

In many other ways too the Joineses' new outlook was a reaffirmation or a transfiguration of some of the best qualities of the world from which they came. The old traditional community had put a premium both on neighborly obligations and on individualism. Back then, Mr. Joines said , "everybody had to help everybody else out . . . because nobody was self-sufficient." At the same time his comic anecdotes delightedly commemorated the eccentric individualist. The Joineses' new religious network was equally supportive of those in need. Members freely offered others everything at hand and gathered to lay on hands and offer prayers on behalf of those in bodily pain or spiritual trouble. At the same time, they insisted boldly upon their spiritual nonconformity. Each individual must follow the dictates of the spirit: "Me and the Lord," said Mr. Joines, "is a majority in any crowd." Deeper even than these parallels between the old and the new cultures lies another, a persisting quality that surely the film has caught: energy, vitality, zest. Speaking of his childhood, Mr. Joines said , "We was taught to work hard. But we played just as hard as we worked. When playtime come, why we went at it with everything we had." This bent of personality was equally evident when the film was made. Of play or work or worship he could say with equal truth: "We went at everything with every bit of force we had." (Newman, 1974: 41)


Published Sources:

Anon. n. d. Songs for Eagle Saints. Springfield, Mo.: Bill Britton .

Byrne, Donald. 1975. No Foot of Land: Folklore of American Methodist Itinerants. Metuchen, N. J.: Scarecrow Press.

Johnson, Clifton H. 1969. God Struck Me Dead: Religious Conversion Experiences and Autobiographies of Ex-slaves. Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press.

Manuscript Sources:

Kirby, Sabrina. 1981. "'Lord, Honey, What a Time I've Had': A Portrait of a Wilkes County Woman." Graduate term paper, 25 pp. (The Southern Folklife Collection, Library of theUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Newman, Joyce Joines. 1972. "The Charismatic Movement in Wilkes County." Graduate term paper, 43 pp. (The Southern Folklife Collection, Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) -------. 1978. "Humorous Local Character Stories from Wilkes County, North Carolina: An Individual Storytelling Tradition." M. A. thesis, Folklore, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 138 pp.

Wise, James E. 1977. "The 'Sons of God Message' in the North Carolina Mountains: An Exercise in 'Thick Description.'" M.A. thesis, Folklore, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 78 pp.