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Illustrating faith in Texas
Words, photos paint picture of spirituality in Lone Star State
Religion 1.4col
Mark Sprague, a cowboy’s pastor, appears in this undated photo provided by Idea City Press, from the book titled "The Amazing Faith of Texas: Common Ground on Higher Ground". The full-color coffee table book is splashed with character-etched faces of faithful Texans and their houses of worship. - photo by Associated Press
    DALLAS — Remembering how a television ad campaign captured the national spirit of unity after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, advertising entrepreneur Roy Spence began looking for the ties that bind people in the Bible Belt.
    The result is ‘‘The Amazing Faith of Texas: Common Ground on Higher Ground’’ (Idea City Press, $24.95.)
    The full-color coffee table book is splashed with character-etched faces of faithful Texans and their houses of worship. Like the highly acclaimed ‘‘I Am An American’’ public service ads, the book was inspired by a road trip.
    ‘‘I started stopping in towns, and I was struck by the church — still the tallest symbol, the tallest building,’’ said Spence, founder and president of the Austin-based GSD&M advertising firm.
    Spence hopes the book duplicates the unified feeling created by ‘‘I Am An American.’’
    Grounded in Washington, D.C., after the attacks, Spence and other executives from his firm were forced to make the long drive home to Texas. Long hours of discussion on that ride led to the moving ads, which featured people from diverse backgrounds and religions united by the single patriotic statement.
    ‘‘I was struck how powerful we were when we were together. The country was united, the world was united,’’ Spence said.
    As religious tensions flare around the world, the 156 pages of the ‘‘Amazing Faith’’ book are filled with this message: God is too big to be contained in one religion.
    The stirring images include a bearded Mennonite, waist-deep in water, clutching his Bible; a Hindu sitting cross-legged on the floor, in deep meditation; an American Indian shaman in colorful native dress.
    The book, released in September, strengthened the faith of 25-year-old photographer Randal Ford, who was so excited about the plum assignment that he purchased 200 books to promote his work.
    Ford, of Austin, was a business major at Texas A&M, but found his true love behind the camera.
    ‘‘It was phenomenal, meeting all these people,’’ said Ford, who shot all the photos over a three-month period. ‘‘That was the best part about it, seeing firsthand the true faith that they really did have was inspiring.’’
    Among Ford’s favorite shots was of Garland Robertson, a Vietnam veteran who felt drawn to the Mennonite faith because of its tradition of pacifism.
    ‘‘We went down to Barton Springs in Austin, and he had pants, shoes and a shirt on and he just walked right down into the water like its nothing,’’ Ford said. ‘‘I loved the look on his face, peaceful, you could tell being down there was a place of worship and home. When I came out of the water, I had leeches all over my feet. Anything for a good image.’’
    Mike Blair of GSD&M, who won national acclaim for the popular ‘‘Don’t Mess With Texas’’ antilitter campaign, conducted interviews for the book over eight months. He edited the vignettes.
    Spence, whose company represents big-time clients such as Wal-Mart, Southwest Airlines and AT&T, said the project was a learning experience.
    ‘‘The first thing I learned was when you ask people about what they believe, they will talk about it. If you ask them about their religion, they won’t,’’ he said. ‘‘People were willing to talk about what they believed, which was cool.’’
    Spence said he found that Texans are united by their belief in a higher being, and tolerance for others’ beliefs as long no one is being hurt.
    ‘‘Every religion has a version of the Golden Rule,’’ he said. ‘‘I had heard that, but I didn’t know it.’’
    Among his favorite essays was about Leroy Behnke of Shallowater, who told of giving the eulogy at a friend’s funeral — and how the faith community in the small town played a role in remembering him.
    ‘‘I’m standing up, a Catholic, at a pulpit in a Baptist church, speaking at the funeral of a Church of Christ minister,’’ Behnke said in the book. ‘‘I looked out at the congregation and said, ’Y’all look around — this is what heaven looks like.’’’
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