"I don't know why I was doing it, except I was thinking our country was going to split apart, based on religion," said Spence. "I didn't know if there was common ground. I really didn't."
He wound up going into several churches in South Texas. Two days later, he had learned enough to reassure him that there was indeed deep belief among Texans. He returned to Austin and announced to some top staffers, "We're going to do a book called .The Amazing Faith of Texas.'"
As sometimes happens, some of those staffers rolled their eyes. But since he has, after all, a large voice in the company as one of its founders, and its president, a book indeed resulted. They got a motor home, a camera crew, and went around Texas to interview people about their faith.
"If you ask people about religion, they just clam up," Spence said. "If you ask them what they believe, they'll talk all night and all day."
They talked to cowboys, naturalists, preachers, mothers and fathers, a mayor. Spence found that most people they ran across are more focused on inclusion than exclusion.
"People buy into the notion that we're better together," he said. Hence the subtitle of the book: "Common Ground on Higher Ground."
People definitely come in a lot of varieties. "In the end, God made everybody different," Spence said. But he found common threads of charity, compassion, forgiveness and humility, among people as disparate as Buddhists, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, non-denominational, Native American, protestant Christians, Hindus, those of other religions, and those with their own self-styled set of beliefs.
"The main thing I got is that people have a longing to belong to something bigger than what they belong to now," Spence said.
The advertising entrepreneur, whose firm helps other firms define their purpose, has been involved with campaigns for the likes of Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart, the Texas Department of Transportation ("Don't Mess With Texas"), The University of Texas ("We're Texas!") and dozens of others. Spence said something he learned from the late Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, resonates through successful marketers.
"I remember Sam always used to say .We want a place where no one's too good, and everyone's good enough,'" Spence recalled. That sense of inclusion, Spence said, is far more important and effective not just for religions and across faiths, but in politics.
"The parties are stuck in representing the extremes," Spence said. He believes the fact Democrats were awarded slim control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on Nov. 7 is an indication people are tired of divisive politics.
"The American people voted for change, but they're actually asking for better," Spence said.
He points out that every religion has some form of the Golden Rule: Christian: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Or the Buddhists: "Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." And others.
The book has some beautiful pictures of churches, of the people who inhabit them and their stories, and of the outdoors, which many find an extended sanctuary or one in itself.
Spence is encouraged that the spirit of inclusive togetherness he and his friends found allows Texans and other Americans to concentrate on what unites them more than what might divide them.
At one church, he heard the priest point out that "maybe God's message is, .I made you all different, stupid. That's what it's all about.'"
Making everybody different was hard work. It would have been simpler to make everyone the same. And that may be what we have in common, Spence said: we're all different, and we should respect and treasure each other for our differences as much as our similarities.
Reach McNeely at dmcneely@austin. rr.com or (512) 458-2963.