The cover of the album Spirit of the Century shows six young men standing around a 1940's Packard station wagon. The photo itself is in black and white, but everything above the car is tinted in blue, whereas everything below the car is tinted in red. The album cover speaks of a refined patriotism that seems so hard to find today; others find patriotism to be anathema where others wave the flag so loudly that they drown out coherent thought.

It took me many years to realize that I could indeed be proud of who I am, rather than ashamed. I was raised poor and didn't have the refinements of youth that others had, and I'm a Christian who has spent countless hours questioning and contemplating the faith. And although I might disagree with and rail against the government of my home, I am truly proud to be an American. These three facts alone mean that many supposedly "enlightened" people have immediately written off anything I say or think.

I finally realized that I don't care what they think.

Spirit of the Century is a gospel album from 2001, recorded by The Blind Boys of Alabama, and it's one of the best records I've ever heard. The authenticity and heartfelt belief that you can find in the arrangements and voices on this record can simply blow you away, whether you believe or not. For me, this album is about coming to terms with the role of God in my life and exactly who I am, and realizing what exactly that means.

I am no longer afraid to be a thinking, living, feeling, breathing Christian.

This is not your granddad's gospel album, though; the Boys cover Tom Waits twice and do so much experimentation with the arrangements that the record as a whole almost defies categorization. That experimental beauty is what makes this record great.

S p i r i t   o f   t h e   C e n t u r y
Music from the soul for the soul

Release Date: April 24, 2001
Label: Real World
ASIN: B000059MEM

T r a c k   L i s t i n g

1.  Jesus Gonna Be Here           4:57
2.  No More                       4:46
3.  Run On for a Long Time        3:24
4.  Good Religion                 2:58
5.  Give a Man a Home             3:40
6.  Amazing Grace                 4:26
7.  Soldier                       5:07
8.  Nobody's Fault but Mine       2:55
9.  Way Down in the Hole          3:20
10. Motherless Child              4:19
11. Just Wanna See His Face       4:22
12. Last Time                     2:57

J e s u s   G o n n a   B e   H e r e   (4:57)
Written by Tom Waits

This is almost a straight-up cover of Waits' song from his 1992 album Bone Machine. Clarence Fountain evokes Waits' harsh apocalyptic vocal sensibilities here, almost as if the two were some sort of spiritual and vocal twins separated by a wide chasm of ideology.

Much like Johnny Cash's cover of Depeche Mode's Personal Jesus, this is a faithful cover that somehow completely changes the intent of the original. In this case, the song manages to go from apocalyptic to celebratory without much change at all in the number.

He’s gonna cover us up with leaves with a blanket from the moon Outside of where I work, there's a giant tree. So many days, I'll walk out there on my break time and sit under the tree and read. I particularly love to do this in the autumn of the year, when the leaves of the tree turn from green to golden and the first leaves begin to drift down from the sky. I lie flat on my back and watch the leaves fall down, weaving intricate patterns in the sky and on the grass below.

I'm going to get myself unfurled from this mortal coiled up world I find myself doing the same thing at night. I love to climb up on the rooftop of my house and sit there cross-legged in the nighttime, staring up at the sky and wondering what is out there. I see the light of stars so far away I'll never reach them, and then I see the reflections of Mars and Venus, which I might be able to visit in my lifetime, and I realize that there is so much possibility beyond what we can even comprehend in our biosphere. There is a magnificent universe out there waiting for us, and we are like toddlers taking the first baby steps.

I got to keep my eyes open so I can see my Lord; I’m gonna watch the horizon for a brand new Ford I went out to dinner with a devout atheist the other night, and he asked me if I really thought that I could talk to Jesus, a man who had been dead for two thousand years. Yes, I told him to his abject surprise, and when he questioned me further, I asked him a simple question. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie where you understood the character? He answered in the affirmative, and then I asked Aren't you then talking to that person, through a language of shared experience? And how is that any different than me talking to Jesus?

Well I’ve been faithful and I’ve been so good, 'cept for drinking, but he knew that I would One of the things that I pride the most is my liquor cabinet, where I keep a bottle of homemade absinthe hidden way in the back. Few things make me feel more content than a drink of scotch or a mudslide after a long day or week; it sedates the mind and body and allows me to reflect on the beauty of everything while softening the edge of reality.

N o   M o r e   (4:46)
Traditional arranged by The Blind Boys of Alabama

This is more a blues number than anything, with Jimmy Carter's voice echoing that 1930s blues sound from which the Blind Boys of Alabama arose. His voice has a plaintive wail to it that's hard to put down in words, but it flows along with the electric guitars used in the song.

This is the blues, man.

I'll keep on going till I reach that other shore When I was little, I thought that life had some sort of goal that I would eventually figure out and strive to reach. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that wasn't the case. The goal of life is the journey itself, and the goals in our life are ones we set ourselves. It is our own value structure that determines what these goals are.

Rain may fall, waves may roll, storms may rise, winds may blow, but I'll never turn back no more So I ask myself, what are my goals? What do I want out of life? I want to never stop learning new things. I want to be a good father to my son, and a good husband to my wife. I want to breathe and live and love and be loved.

I started for heaven 10 years ago I remember so long ago when I thought that to be a Christian was to be stupid, that it was akin to believing in any other fairy tale, and that I could get just as much out of Aesop's fables as I could get out of the bible. That all changed. It's been a struggle ever since to reconcile the two, and I keep up with that struggle by simply staying on the path.

In this world of temptation, I found only pain and woe To me, being a Christian is just what I said above: never failing to learn, never quitting an opportunity to grow, and most of all, never giving up on life or love. It is the long journey that is the meaning in life, and keeping that in mind not only keeps me sane, but fills me with a happiness that I can't describe.

R u n   O n   f o r   a   L o n g   T i m e   (3:24)
Traditional arranged by The Blind Boys of Alabama

This number was popularized in recent years by Moby on his album Play. Here it's a heavily R&B-influenced number, with George Scott on lead vocals with his voice quavering with an intense passion.

Perhaps most impressive: I've heard this song played more than once in a bass-heavy car stereo, and with the reverb shaking you to the core, it carries this song to another level.

Stop, listen to me, let me tell you the news; my head's still wet with the midnight dew So many people have had miserable and negative experiences involving the church itself, whether through actually attending a service or through the ham-fisted outreach work that so many churches do. It has reached a point where many people recoil at the mention that I'm a Christian, as though I'm planning on drugging them and dragging them into the back of the church, or I'm going to explode into their face with some sort of vitrol-filled message about "JEE-SUS" saving them, or I'm going to go off on a political "family values" "kill the terrorists" rant.

Some people go to church to justify trying to make a date with the neighbor’s wife Others see the hypocrisy in the people that go to church, and it's true: many are there for reasons other than the message presented. Perhaps the city council candidate is trying to score some political points. Maybe someone is in the back pew to spy on some of the other attendees. Maybe others are mere snake oil salesman, looking for fresh victims customers.

Because one of these mornings just mark my word: you’re gonna think that brother’s gone to work and he'll walk up and knock on that door; that's all brother you'll knock no more That is not Christianity, or at least Christianity as I understand it. Anyone that does these things is either not a Christian or is missing the point by such a wide margin that they've lost all direction. Christianity is nothing more than acceptance that you've been redeemed; what follows from there is up to you, but it makes sense that you take that redemption and attempt to do good with it.

Go tell that long tongued liar, go tell that midnight rider, tell the rambler, gambler, back-slider, tell ‘em God Almighty’s gonna shut ‘em down Some might ask, "Aren't you required to evangelize?" It's a part of that, but what's evangelizing? Some people seem to believe it's shouting about "JEE-SUS" on the religious channel; others seem to think it's about passing laws that force other people to live in a "Christian" way. In fact, it's both and neither of those, but thrusting your faith in someone's face is never a good idea. If you want to evangelize, be an example for others. Do good things for others and ask nothing in return, and show others the good that can come from the Christian life without tossing your religion in their face. The people out there that really are good Christians? You likely don't even know they're Christians, or if you do, they put being a Christian in a positive light for you.

G o o d   R e l i g i o n   (2:58)
Traditional arranged by The Blind Boys of Alabama

This is a roots song, one in which the entire group is harmonizing. The song is guided entirely by a very twangy acoustic guitar and in the end comes off like a song you can imagine singing around the campfire; I suppose the last might be true of me, as I really enjoy singing songs with friends.

The song is repetitive and simple in structure, but that's part of the beauty of the song.

The day was Monday when I got good religion My faith is reaffirmed on a daily basis. I walk down the street and see children playing with each other. I see an old man and a woman strolling along, holding hands. I see two young people stealing a kiss when they think no one is looking. It's all beautiful and alive and real. I look at the beauty around us and it brings tears to my eyes; reality has an inherent beauty to it that no human endeavor can ever capture.

The day was Tuesday when I got good religion I fully understand that a lot of people think I'm a fool for believing such things, for thinking that the human condition is evidence of a divinity. It's all chemicals and neurons and physical laws, and I agree completely. But where did those laws come from? I ask.

The day was Wednesday when I got good religion There is no answer to that question that can be backed up with fact. It's all a matter of faith whether you say that there is a god or you say there is not one. Everyone has to answer that fundamental question in their own heart; I can't provide an answer for anyone.

The day was Thursday when I got good religion All I have to understand the universe is my own mind; what I can see and hear and touch, and how I process that information. I have to draw my own conclusions from this, and my conclusions are just that: my own. I used to be ashamed of that fact and I sought answers from others. No more.

The day was Friday when I got good religion That's not to say there isn't much to learn from others, but when you accept the philosophy of others as absolute law, you become a fool. You become a shell of a man like Leonard Peikoff, incapable of reasoning out issues for yourself.

Better to come up with your own answers, I think, than simply blindly follow the ideas of others.

G i v e   a   M a n   a   H o m e   (3:40)
Written by Ben Harper

This song is as much a demonstration of the vocal skills of the Blind Boys as it is a demonstration of the songwriting talents of Ben Harper. Here, Harper weaves the effectiveness of such classic gospel groups as The Soul Stirrers and puts them into a more modern rhythm and blues context. The message inside this package is one of charity, one of the central tenets of the real Christianity.

Have you ever lost your way? Have you ever feared another day? Have you ever misplaced your mind watching this world leave you behind? I remember my twenty second birthday vividly. I was walking home from work along the same sidewalk that I took every single day to work. My coworkers had taken me to lunch to celebrate my birthday and the food was in abundance; thus, I was carrying a fistful of french fries and a half of an uneaten sandwich in a box with me, intending it to be my dinner.

Have you ever worn thin? Have you ever never known where to begin? Have you ever lost your belief watching your faith turn to grief? Usually, my walk home was quite uneventful, but on this day I saw a woman sitting near the bus stop. She looked frighteningly thin and deeply sad and when I passed her, I unconsciously avoided her with a rather wide circle. Yet my mind kept coming back to this woman, sitting so forlornly at the bus stop, so after another block of walking, I turned around and went back to the woman.

Some would rather give than receive; some would rather give up before they believe I sat down beside her and asked her what her name was. She told me, then I asked a greater question: are you hungry? She nodded vigorously, so I handed her my sandwich and fries, which she immediately began to eat with vigor. As she ate, she told me her story: single mother, not making ends meet, and spending what little she had for food on her little ones. Even with just the small amount of food I was able to give this woman, it brought out a new color in her cheeks and seemed to give her a new lease on life. When the bus arrived, we went our separate ways and I've not seen her since.

Won't you give a man a home? It was such a simple act of charity, yet no other act I've ever committed has stuck with me with such passion and power. I changed this woman's life, whether it was just for a few hours or if it set into motion a chain of events that turned her life around. Quite honestly, though, I don't believe I would have ever done it if I were not a Christian. My faith kept nagging at me and, in my mind, I couldn't imagine that I was living the Christian life if I didn't turn around and help that woman.

A m a z i n g   G r a c e   (4:26)
Traditional arranged by The Blind Boys of Alabama

Amazing Grace is one of the most well known hymns to secular audiences, primarily because of the song's strong pop association with funerals. The song itself is a powerful expression of faith, however, and here it takes on extra power due to the clever arrangement. In this rendition, the song is set to the tune of the classic House of the Rising Sun, giving this common song a new special feeling.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I was raised in an agnostic household. My mother occasionally attended Catholic services out of habit, but neither of my parents professed any real faith in anything. My grandmother, however, was an ardent Catholic who attended services until she was no longer able, and at the end of her life she received communion on her deathbed and was able to confess her sins in a whisper.

I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see At the time, I thought this was utterly silly: here is a woman at the end of her life babbling on about the flying spaghetti monster. What I didn't see then is the power of what was happening; her soul was coming in for landing and she was able to move through those final days of her life with a great peace.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved They played Amazing Grace at her funeral. I opened a hymnal and stumbled through the words of it, mostly out of respect for a woman I had loved so much. I sang those words from my heart, even though I didn't understand what I was saying at the time. I thanked God that she was finally at peace, and as I looked at that precious woman, I knew that she really had found a great peace.

How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed I hear the words to Amazing Grace and I understand their power and sentiment; I feel a more complete person now that I've affirmed my faith. I think back to that old lady in her last days, her soul able to rest because of the faith she'd held her entire life. That is power, no matter what you believe the source of it to be.

S o l d i e r   (5:07)
Traditional arranged by The Blind Boys of Alabama

Another traditional gospel number given an updated treatment, Soldier rocks right along, driven by the powerful chant of the group repeating the lines of the lead vocalist. The song eventually grows into a lengthy jam session, yet somehow you realize you don't need the words to get the message.

I’m a soldier in the army of the Lord This was one of the most inaccessible gospel songs I had ever heard. For years, I tried to understand the militancy of this song. When I first heard it, I thought immediately of the evangelical nature that Christianity can take on and thus the obvious parallels to radical Islam and its' warlike mentality also creeped into my head. I'm not about to kill for my Lord, because that violates everything that I have learned.

I got my war clothes on in the army of the Lord Instead, this song rings true to me in the sense of a Salvation Army. Through my own acts, I can do God's work. It's all spread right out there before me; I've been given a manual on how to do it and the gifts of thought and ability to carry out these works.

I got my breastplate on in the army of the Lord What kind of acts? It could be an act of charity, it could be a deed of public service, or it could be as simple as giving advice to someone. I don't have to convert anyone to my belief structure, nor do I have to change someone's life. I just need to be vigilant to do what is right.

I believe I’ll die in the army of the Lord I'm not much for evangelizing. I'm the last person that will try to convert you. I'm fully aware that it's a matter of faith, and it doesn't mean much at all if you don't have faith. All I can do is do something good with my life and provide spiritual guidance for those who wish to receive it.

N o b o d y ' s   F a u l t   b u t   M i n e   (2:55)
Traditional arranged by The Blind Boys of Alabama

This is a classic blues number with countless lyrical variations, performed by everyone from Led Zeppelin to Blind Willie Jefferson. Here, the lyrics are given a few spiritual twists but it retains the same dry darkness of the standard that many are familiar with.

I've got a bible I can read Christianity is a struggle with yourself. If you think it's easy or you think it's a fool's journey, go back to watching some awful televangelist. Any spiritual path worth taking is a challenge, because you're challenging yourself. You're challenging what you believe every second of every hour of every day.

I've got a bible I can read A day doesn't pass when I'm not spiritually challenged in one way or another. I doubt my beliefs all the time; I turn them over and over in my mind, honing them down to the finest point, like a well-adjusted reed in a woodwind instrument. It is this constant challenging of the belief that makes it strong, like a tempered steel.

If I fail to read it it's my own fault It's up to me and me alone to answer these questions, and when I neglect to try to understand the world around me, it's my own failure. I can make the choice to confine myself to ignorance out of sloth, or I can fight the desire to simply retread the same paths over and over again.

Ain't nobody's fault but mine Every time I make the choice to skip reading the bible, or any other philosophical work of merit, and instead choose to invest that slice of my day in some inane activity that seems important at the time, I only fail myself. It's my own responsibility, my own faith, and it has given me such great solace over the last few years that I truly see myself failing when I neglect this faith.

W a y   D o w n   i n   t h e   H o l e   (3:20)
Written by Tom Waits

Another Tom Waits number, this time drawn from 1990's Franks Wild Years. Again, it's a pretty accurate cover; Waits has the ability to write powerful songs of faith and the Brothers are able to draw from these songs and add their own powerful performance. Much of the song sounds like a bluesy jam session, a style that seems to fit them well.

When you walk through the garden, you gotta watch your back I see things and hear things and read things that infuriate me. Normally, I am quite adept at controlling my anger, channeling it into something constructive, but I've seen the darkest side of my rage. It's usually triggered by unbelievable acts of injustice, and when I see them, it's all I can do to keep my faculties under control.

He's got the fire and the fury at his command Once, I saw a man strike a woman on the street. He reached out and slapped her as hard as he possibly could, right on the sidewalk directly under a streetlight. My rage boiled inside of me and I stepped in between the two of them, ready to let my fury rain out upon him with my fists. The rage at such a terrible act burnt inside of me, yet I held it inside of me and instead reacted with my voice, screaming at the man and giving the woman a chance to escape, which she took (thankfully).

Don't pay heed to temptation for his hands are so cold My rage, anger, and disappointment towards George W. Bush knows no bounds. I work next to an ardent supporter of the man and it is constantly a struggle to keep myself from exploding at them, tearing down their Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign paraphenilia, and shaking them over and over again, hoping that they will see the madness in both his absurd domestic and barbaric foreign policies. I just sit there instead, quietly biding my time, and promoting Libertarian candidates whenever I can.

You gotta keep the devil way down in the hole I have been called ignorant and stupid for my beliefs. I've had people actually laugh in my face for being a Christian; so many others have simply turned away from me for this belief. I want to scream and shout at them so that they can understand it, but wouldn't that just defeat the whole purpose? So, sadly, I watch them walk away from me, my hands tied by my own ideology even as I feel the deepest of regret and hurt in my heart.

M o t h e r l e s s   C h i l d   (4:19)
Traditional arranged by The Blind Boys of Alabama

Here we have another traditional number, composed by Harry Thacker Burleigh sometime around 1915 and long ago consigned to the public domain. It's arranged here as a dark jazzy number, something that you can almost imagine Billie Holiday doing something amazing with if she were still around in some smoky 1970s nightclub.

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child Every once in a while, it occurs to me how truly alone I am. I've only ever known the inner thoughts of one person. I've only been able to truly understand one perspective (and often I don't even fully understand that perspective). One set of truths, one set of lies, one set of loves, one set of heartbreaks.

Sometimes I feel like I'm almost gone It's a unique set of experiences, one that no one else has ever had and no one else will ever have. From the moment I first opened my eyes on the world, when that umbilical cord was snipped, I became an orphan. I am the only person who will ever experience this.

Sometimes I feel like I don't have a friend Yet that's not entirely true. So much of the beautiful richness of humanity is that of shared experiences, even if we don't feel the same things. I can sit on the rooftop with my wife, my arm on her shoulders, and the two of us can experience the same amazing sunset. I can hear a song and someone on the other side of the world has heard that exact same song, bit by bit.

A long way from home So often, I feel this cold emptiness of the realization that I am alone in this universe between my ears, but when I look around and truly open my eyes, I see how much we all do share. It is in these things that we find our shared humanity; the beauty you can find in others is the beauty that you can find in everything, and the realization that others can share these experiences, too.

J u s t   W a n n a   S e e   H i s   F a c e   (4:22)
Written by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Another fairly accurate cover, this time of Exile on Main Street era Rolling Stones. This means that the song is a bluesy rock number, featuring wonderful horns and very soulful vocal work.

Don't want to walk and talk about Jesus It's often very hard for me to express my feelings on my faith to others; that's why this writeup has been in the works for several months. In my eyes, faith is a very personal matter, one that is difficult to share with others, particularly those who don't share that faith. I have several close friends who somehow envy the faith I have; I have others who almost ridicule it. It's often a struggle for me to talk about the faith with them.

Just want to see his face My biggest worry is coming across as preachy. The last thing in the world I want to do to someone is preach to them. I occasionally quote Scripture in the most literary fashion, but this is about as close as I'll get to discussing my faith in mixed company. That's a hard and fast rule. Occasionally, in a circle of friends, I'll let my guard down a bit more, but my deepest fear is that something I will say will give them further reason to distrust their faith, if they have any to begin with.

Don't want to walk and talk about Jesus I also worry that I'm spreading some sort of diseased doctrine; just because I believe it does not make it true, nor does it make it so that you believe it. I tend to be coldly logical at times, particularly when evaluating some new idea, and from that perspective the topic of religion in conversation is a very sticky one for me. Very few people are interested in digging deep into religious philosophy as a conversation piece. I usually only feel comfortable talking about my faith in a very small group: two or three people who are willing to check their preconceptions at the door. Interestingly, my most profound conversations about my Christian convictions came at the hand of a very strong atheist who deeply enjoyed discussing and deconstructing Christianity in a non-confrontational way. We both learned a great deal about our own beliefs, as well as other perspectives.

Just want to see his face In the end, though, I feel most comfortable with my faith when I am in meditation or prayer, whether alone or with others, or when I have the opportunity for a quiet moment studying Scripture. I can close my eyes and try to touch the face of God moving on the waters. I have not yet reached Him, but I have been very close.

L a s t   T i m e   (2:57)
Traditional arranged by The Blind Boys of Alabama

The only a capella number on the disc... and, in my opinion, the most beautiful. This is one of the most amazing songs I've ever heard; the life and vitality of these old, old men seeping through here. They had performed together for more than fifty years when this was recorded and yet, even with the ravages of age in their voices, you could still hear such amazing life in this performance. I sing this song often around campfires at night with friends; most of them don't know that I learned it from the most spiritual group that I've ever heard.

May be the last time we ever shout together There are so many moments in our amazing and beautiful lives that could signal the end of an era. Today could be the last time that you see your best friend; today could be the last day that you get the opportunity to walk with your fingers wrapped through those of the person you love. Today could be the last time you ever get to smile; the last time that you ever get to listen to your mother worry about you over the telephone. Today could be the last time you get to believe in something.

May be the last time we ever moan together When I saw the utter devastation left by the dreadful tsunami in Asia or by Hurricane Katrina, I can't help but think how fragile everything is. The most unexpected thing can happen that can rip everyone and everything of value away from you in the blink of an eye. How many people in Sumatra never got to hug their best friend one last time, to tell them that their silly spat was just that, silliness? How many people in New Orleans watched their families splinter and disintegrate like driftwood against sharp rocks?

May be the last time we ever fellowship together The worst thing we do on a daily basis is walk away from others with hurt feelings over something silly, or simply walk away without letting that person know their value to you. When you see your friend today, the one you see so often, give that friend a hug and tell them how much they mean to you. Write someone you care about and haven't seen for a while a long letter. Say a little prayer for someone that your heart has forgotten about.

It may be the last time, I don't know You and I will likely pass through the rest of our days never having the opportunity to meet each other. But, right now, we're making a connection, one that may be repeated if you read something else I've written, and perhaps again when I read your things. Write something proud, something beautiful; it could be the last words that I ever hear from you.


I am often pained by what people think when they hear that I'm a Christian. They immediately ascribe to me a number of traits based on a terrible stereotype, one that is based only on a few loud voices who hope to profit from twisting the beauty of Christianity to their own goals. That's not Christianity; I don't know what it is, but it's not Christianity.

Life is a living, breathing, beautiful thing. It doesn't matter where you think it comes from or where you think it's going. What matters is that you're here, and I'm here, and we are living, thinking, breathing beautiful people.

This is my life tell me yours.

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