Correction to This Article
A June 7 Style story on Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) misstated the planting and harvest seasons for wheat in Kansas. According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the predominant wheat crop in the state is generally planted in September and harvested in June.

Faith-Based Initiative

Sen. Sam Brownback
Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback: "Instead of getting angry at somebody for opposing you on something . . . you just pray blessings on them, blessings on their family." (Bill O'Leary -- The Washington Post)

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By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 7, 2006

In 1995, Sam Brownback sacrificed part of his body and wound up closer to God. He discovered a melanoma and had to have two surgeries, during which a "big hunk of flesh" was taken out of his side.

"It was a great season in life," the Kansas senator says in his soft lullaby of a voice. "Season" is one of his favorite words. He sometimes sounds as though he's quoting the Bible even when he isn't.

"I can identify now better with people that have cancer, 'cause when you're told that, it's kind of like -- where else? What else is going on in this body?" Brownback says. He is sitting on a couch in an office in the Capitol and once or twice smiles a serene smile. "But that's mind focused on the flesh. That's death. Literally, you almost can worry yourself to death."

Instead of dying, the first-term Republican congressman had a revelation. In a speech once, he likened the melanoma to God pounding on his hardened heart, even bringing a hunk of concrete and an ax onstage to make the point. He says now it produced "a wonderful and radical transformation of focus." When he ran for the Senate the next year, his spiritual awakening gave him the determination to run an aggressive campaign and crush his opponents at the polls.

Everything has its season, and now is the time when presidential aspirants sprout like stalks of tall Kansas wheat. Brownback thinks 2008 might be his moment, though in interviews he emphasizes his humility. He calls himself a "flawed man," and says the longer he pursues his faith, the more he finds his own sin. It seems contradictory -- all that ego and all that modesty.

"I could be the right person with the right message at the right moment. And I could be completely wrong and I'll still be happy about it," he says, sounding way too mellow for a wannabe president.

In the meantime, amid the fundraising and the visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, Brownback is focused on spreading light when he enters a room. He has said he tries to see Jesus in his fellow senators.

Three years ago he gave a speech at the Archdiocese of Denver. He spoke of the need to "convert the culture" by spreading God's love. He posed a question: "When we walk up to the McDonald's counter, what if we looked at that person in the eye . . . and we said, 'God bless you for that Big Mac?!' "

Then Brownback quoted Burt Bacharach.

"What the world needs now," the senator said, "is love, sweet love."

A Religious Experience

Four years ago, Brownback -- who'd been a Protestant all his life -- had another spiritual transformation. He decided to become a Catholic.

"Just felt a real deep calling," he says.

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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