How Politics Drove Me to Find God
Brice Spangler is a subscriber to the St. Croix Review. He is a retired 20-year Air Force veteran, a manager of a consulting firm, a father, son, uncle, nephew and cousin. He is the fifth generation to live near the St. Croix River since his great-grandfather John Jacob Spengler arrived from Germany and settled in Taylors Falls in the mid-1880s.
In my late teens, I was struggling with my Lutheran background, even after having grown up in the church choir, Sunday school, catechism and confirmation. I read apologist C. S. Lewis’s The Four Loves, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, and The Screwtape Letters. I was not convinced. I couldn’t get past the “leap of faith” or “child-like faith” described to me; this was, I was told, all I needed to believe. I made the decision that since no one could prove to me that God existed, I was comfortable leaving that as an open question. Congratulations: at about 19 years of age, I had made up my mind, without ever having read the Bible, that if God existed, it was up to him to show me. In my mind, this allowed me to be very comfortable as an agnostic.
In 1979 at the ripe old age of 20, my relationship started with the love of my life. This woman, Nancy, would end up being my wife (of 38 years as of this writing). Her upbringing was similar to mine, but in the Catholic Church. She wasn’t firmly Catholic, but I’ll leave that story for her to tell. Where it fits in with mine was that I influenced her with one question when discussing religion and belief in God; “Why?” I understand now that this is a very cheap shot and isn’t a coherent argument at all, but it did influence her to be comfortable being non-religious with me.
The future unfolded with our living overseas for almost all of 20 years until I retired from the Air Force in early 2004. Our adventures included three years on the Island of Crete; Greece, in the Mediterranean; four years in central West Germany; three years in northern Honshu, Japan; and almost eight years on Oahu, Hawaii (considered overseas by the Air Force). For the duration, I had a top secret, sensitive compartmented information clearance. Any misstep, like bouncing a check, any legal issue other than a speeding ticket, could cause revocation of my clearance and consequently end my career. The Air Force did not retrain you for a job that doesn’t need a clearance if you lost yours. You were just done. Needless to say, since we made it 20 years to successfully retire, we lived a very squared away life.
Our extended time living out of the country, not just touring on vacation, gave us a deep appreciation not only for the host countries, but also for our home. We were immersed in different cultures, while having a tangible lifeline to our American ways, through the bases we were assigned to. During this period, we were disconnected from all local politics and most national politics. I volunteered to help register military members and their families to vote, but remained politically neutral, but pretty much not liking any party or the government (remember, I worked for them). While the Air Force was my career and I excelled at it, we had an adversarial relationship from beginning to end. That would need to be covered in another chapter.
After retirement from the USAF in 2004, we purchased a house near our families back in Minnesota and immediately felt the need to get involved with our city to keep an eye on taxes and make sure they had our best interests in mind. While attending city council meetings, a few county meetings, and reading the local papers, I started to get informed on the politics in the local area, state as well as federal. While feeling we were conservatives, I wanted to make an informed decision, not so much about why I was going to declare as a Republican, but why I wasn’t going to be anything else. At the time, I think Minnesota had 17 local political parties, and I read the platform of each. The Republican platform, while I did not agree with 100 percent of it, was the least objectionable.
We went to caucus for the first time. We became county delegates in the local Basic Political Operational Unit (BPOU), eventually being elected on the executive committee and holding elected positions in the Congressional District and State as delegates. We went on to be elected to represent our county at the state party as State Central Delegates, part of the body responsible for the state party operations. We’ve worked on campaigns for local city, county, and state representative, and are currently on the campaign committee for our state senator. We’ve campaigned for candidates in statewide and congressional district races, U.S. Senate, governor and state constitutional seats. We were even two of the three hundred personally invited to a President Trump Business Roundtable in the spring of 2019. Thank you, MNGOP State Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan, for the personal call and invitation. Again, we were personally invited by our congressman’s staff to be part of his allotment of individuals to be in the VIP section at the October 2019 Trump 2020 rally in Minneapolis. Thank you, Congressman Pete Stauber, for the invitation.
From 2004 through 2010, my wife, Nancy, had a job at a local newspaper as manager of the marketing and graphics department. In 2010 it was downsized to zero. After a dismal period of unemployment and short-term jobs, out of the blue she received a call from our former city mayor, who was at the time district manager for our congressman. They needed to replace a district scheduler and office manager in a nearby local congressional office. She began working for Congressman Chip Cravaack half way through his two-year term. Some of the perks in that position included being invited to meet with then Speaker of the House John Boehner, as well as getting behind the ropes to see vice president candidate Congressman Paul Ryan in a 2012 campaign visit to Minnesota.
As I write this, it seems like a lot of bloviating and bragging, but it illustrates just how involved we are with these candidates and political views. One of those views is the right to life. During a campaign event, seeing that I was wearing a pro-life candidate’s campaign shirt, I was approached by someone, who I think was pro-choice, who asked me if I were a Christian. I said yes, thinking that would make him go away, and it did. But as I considered what I had blurted out, I started to think about our life and the values we had always lived by; Judeo-Christian values.
Two issues here: abortion and Judeo-Christian values. First, unlike my wife who has always been pro-life, I had always taken the “no stance” position on abortion. I really didn’t want to have the conversation. I just didn’t. I had a lot of excuses like, it didn’t affect me; I didn’t want to get into a philosophical argument that couldn’t be won. You really don’t need to have a position on everything; there just isn’t time. However, over the years I had been leaning toward life beginning at conception. Not for religious reasons, just rational determination. Regardless of what you think it “means,” everyone should be able to “observe” that all that is needed for life has arrived at the moment of conception. Unfortunately, the constant bleating from the “my body, my choice” crowd reached a point where I was determined to push back. If they would have continued to have their abortions and pay for them themselves, I probably would still be inattentive. But when you want me to pay for your abortions and approve of them, now I have a problem.
Now to issue two; being pushed into thinking about life and conception, and feeling as if I had to take a stand on abortion that I had diligently avoided, I started to wonder about the rest of the things that my politics and conservatism is based on. Also, now at the age where I’ve continued to educate myself and have benefited from experience, I may actually have a new perspective on old ideas. I thought it might be beneficial to revisit some of that “settled science” determined when I was such a young man. Believing strongly that our country, Constitution and the values I live by are rooted in and based on Judeo-Christian values, I considered that now was a good time to see what that was all about. Never comfortable taking anyone’s opinion and making it my own, I needed to find out for myself. I have always had a problem being told what to do and if I was going to pick a label for myself and publicly stand for something, it had to be my choice. To paraphrase what I’ve heard Bill Whittle say, “the good thing about always being right, is that you take in new information and analyze it all the time, and when you convince yourself that you were wrong about something, you change your position.”
As it happened, we had been listening to Dennis Prager’s Fireside Chats and we knew he had just published his new book, The Rational Bible: Exodus. I bought the audio version and listened. Then I listened again. Then one afternoon I told my wife that I believed in God and was currently comfortable identifying as an ethical monotheist. A short time later, her mouth closed. She said she was amazed at how quickly, almost overnight, that had happened. I just needed information. For the first time I was actually studying the source document. It’s all there. You only need to choose to see it. For me, there is no leap, just the realization that there is no other rational explanation.
I’ve since purchased and listened to The Rational Bible: Genesis more than once. I’ve listened to Exodus multiple times now. Having decided that God exists and wondering how that fits into our lives, I suggested we might go to church.
We were acquainted with Steve and Susie Brooks, who have a church and run a private classical Christian school, Veritas Academy, so we checked their website to see what time their service was and we showed up one Sunday. To their everlasting credit as good friends and Christians, the pastor, Steve, came out to our car and informed us that they haven’t had services for about two years. We continued to talk through the car window explaining a little of what we were doing showing up for church. We were invited inside to talk some more and he got Susie, his wife who runs the school, to join us. There was a four-hour outpouring from my wife and me about our life’s spiritual journey to this point. As we prepared to leave, they asked if we might be interested in getting together for Bible Study. They said they’d be happy to put something together for us. We didn’t commit, already feeling like we had barged in on them.
Nancy and I got in the car to leave, feeling emotionally exhausted, but also feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted. We looked at each other and both said “What just happened?” We are both private people, me in particular, and we had just bared our souls to these two wonderful people about our personal lives, and our questions about our current journey to God. Very unlike us! The next week, we were contacted and asked if we would consider meeting again for a Bible Study. Feeling like we had imposed enough for a lifetime already, we again said no, we didn’t want them to go out of their way just for us. It did start my wife and me talking about what their needs might be. Realizing that they might have a need to do this; not just for us, but for them. The pastor was a pastor after all, without a congregation at the moment. That must be hard.
The following week, we were contacted again and were advised they had put together a Bible study group and they had talked to some others, so we wouldn’t necessarily be the only ones there. Being from Minnesota, you don’t accept on the first ask, but passively aggressively find a way to get things done without imposing. It goes something like this:
“Would you like a donut?”
“Oh no, I couldn’t.”
“Well, I made them just for you.”
“That’s so thoughtful, but I really shouldn’t.”
“Well, I’ll just have to toss them out then, because they aren’t going to keep.”
“Well, okay, I suppose I could maybe have one.”
So, on the second week after our initial unannounced visit, we showed up by invitation this time for a 12-week study course. Their 16-year-old son, Seraiah, has joined us each week. We’ve had a couple of other people join us a few times. We were joined in a couple of weeks by their visiting foreign exchange student. As we were getting down to the last week of the 12-week course, they asked us if we wanted to continue. We said, if they will have us, we would love to. We are now studying the Old Testament with Dennis Prager’s books as a guide. While still fairly new to us, it’s old hat to them. However, Dennis’s commentary and our discussions have caused them to reassess some things they had previously understood, but now find with new depth and perspective. We’ve not set an end date to our studies. I think that speaks volumes to our desire to learn, and their kindness and fortitude. We are extremely grateful to have them as friends and guides.
We give what we can, but let them know we couldn’t afford them as therapists. However, that is really what it has been like. My wife says her perspective on things has changed. We both seem to see brighter colors and experience lighter days. We liked the Bible they use at the church and while they offered one to us, I wanted my own. That particular one is not in print, but I already had particular requirements and had to make multiple trips to stores and even online to get the right one. So now there’s a Bible in the house. I’ve listened to The Problem of Pain again and didn’t have any problems seeing the points. I am probably going to go back through the other C.S. Lewis books. After all this time and with the change in attitude, I’m sure they will be a very different experience.
To Dennis Prager: this is really all your fault. Of course, no matter what you said or how, I wouldn’t have heard it until I was ready. I’m very grateful this came along at this particular point in my life. I’m also sad that no one ever reached me on the rational level when I was younger. It still might not have taken, given the times and who I was then, but it might have.
To bring this to some sort of close after such rambling of thoughts, I guess I’d just like to thank God that I was open to learning all through my life and willing to reassess some value judgments made at an early age. I’ve found God and some wonderful friends along the way. In my case, being challenged by differing political ideas caused me to have the discussion and reevaluation of my own thinking. I would recommend to anyone to be open to new ideas and check your premises. You may not have initially latched on to the right answer. *