San Antonio Express-News, October 9, 2022

BELIEF by Julie Brenton Rowe

As fewer people identify as Christian in this country and the number of Nones and Dones grows, there is much out there about what is wrong with organized religion; it makes us blind to what is right about it.

When they are healthy, faith communities inspire us and give us meaning, a place to belong where we can wrestle with the deep questions of life and can make us and our community healthier and happier.

Unfortunately, faith communities also can foster intolerance, narrow-mindedness, violence and racism — seemingly in the name of God.

One or more of those things drive people out of religion altogether.

But it need not be so. Many people of faith and courage are working together for love, compassion and the good of their neighbors.

What if all faiths got together and wrote a book: Religion for Dummies: Chapter 1 — Love God, love your neighbor as yourself, and treat others as you want to be treated. Come back for Chapter 2 when you have that one down.

World religions writer Karen Armstrong did just that. She gave a compelling TED talk in 2008 that led to the development of a “Charter for Compassion” that calls religions, especially the three Abrahamic faiths, to re-center themselves in compassion and the Golden Rule.

Over 50 nations and 120 cities have signed onto this new global movement centered in compassion in action.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg chose to have the City Council sign the Charter for Compassion as his first act — to make San Antonio a compassionate city in 2017.

Years earlier, Lutheran Pastor Ann Helmke organized an innovative Youth Gang Peace Summit. She invited the gangs to the table, as well as police and city leaders. Some people boycotted, some criticized, some were transformed.

Helmke and Rosalyn Collier — the “Lucy and Ethyl” of the San Antonio peace community — along with communication wizard Susan Ives worked together with a core team to birth the peaceCENTER.

Its 30 years of community-building and educational programs sowed the seeds that grew into Compassionate San Antonio.

The harvest of all of this peace-keeping has been rich:

• Helmke is one of the country’s first “faith liaisons,” a city employee who is integrating the resources of faith communities and the city to meet crucial needs in our city.

• is a dynamic website that allows one to find a service in their community by searching for a key issue, such as shelter, food or health by ZIP code.

• @ the Intersection is a meeting of local civic and faith leaders who network to share resources, information and ideas every Thursday morning via Zoom.

In her TED talk, Armstrong says that the original meaning of “belief” was to love or to hold dear, but the meaning was narrowed in the 17th century to signify an intellectual assent to a set of propositions.

She believes the true meaning of belief leads us to commit ourselves to something with our whole hearts.

Find a positive force or community that inspires you to believe in and promote healing, peace, compassion and justice in yourself and your world.

It’s yours to create. Tag, you’re it. As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see.”

Julie Brenton Rowe is chaplain at University Hospital.

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