The Call --
monthly updates from Heeding God's Call
An Effective Tool for Awareness
By Robert Fles
Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence (NPEG), the Heeding
God’s Call chapter made up of faith communities in Northwest
Philadelphia, has begun participating in a new venture recently:
When a judge is sentencing a newly convicted criminal, it is often the
case that the criminal has family, a spouse or partner, friends, and
various community connections to testify on behalf of the criminal and
advocate for a light sentence. It is also often the case that there is
no one in court but the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office
representative to say a word on behalf of the victims and the community
damaged by the crime and to advocate for a stiffer sentence.
In the courtroom watch project, folks from concerned communities,
including NPEG, attend the sentencing hearing, which usually takes
place in the morning. They are identified and introduced in court, and
they may have the opportunity to speak their piece in open court before
the judge passes sentence. The judge makes the decision about who will
be allowed to speak in court. At the very least, these people
constitute a core of community members who are deeply concerned about
violence in their city and neighborhood and who, by their presence, are
saying that they are equally concerned about the judiciary’s taking
seriously its response to that violence.
The prosecutors from the DA’s office have told us and the news media
that they deeply appreciate this courtroom support and that every
instance of an active courtroom watch has made its weight felt and in
their view has contributed to a sentence that goes beyond the slap on
the wrist that is sometimes the unfortunate outcome of serious criminal
The courtroom watch project in which NPEG is participating is organized
by a group that is a close ally in the fight against violence,
CeaseFirePA. Its staff notifies NPEG of upcoming sentencing
hearings—those that are concluding cases involving illegal guns and gun
trafficking. This is the only kind of judicial case that we feel we
should be involved in, given the purpose and aims of Heeding God’s
And what if, for some reason, CeaseFirePA should choose to discontinue
this project? It would become a decision for NPEG and HGC’s board as to
picking up the reins and continuing courtroom watch on its own.
Chapters interested in learning more about this additional tool in the
ongoing campaign against illegal guns and straw purchasing can check
out the website of CeaseFirePA for recent examples of courtroom watches
or contact any member of NPEG.
Litany of Commitment
by Pastor Dolores McCabe and Susan Windle
(Including the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from the April 4,
1967 speech to Clergy and Laity Against the Vietnam War, delivered one
month before his death.)
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King,“the calling to speak is often a vocation of
agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is
appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”
We are the mothers and fathers who have children who
will never grow old, because they have been shot dead on the city
We are brothers and sisters who are growing up without
seeing what our siblings would become, and we want to end the killing.
Listen to our voices.
We are cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors…we are all related to
the victims of violence.
We are the children of the most high God. We speak
for the voiceless of Tucson, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora,
Colorado, Oak Park,Wisconsin… for the voiceless of Philadelphia and all
the wounded cities and towns throughout this nation, for all beloved
communities torn by the ravages of gun violence.
In the words of Dr. King, "We are now faced with
the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce
urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history
there is such a thing as being too late."
Now is the time to end the senseless killing of our boys
and girls, our men and women.
Now is the time to cease the profligate sale of assault
weapons and all multiple firing guns, weapons meant only for murder.
Now is the time to rid our streets of all illegal
weapons, to put a stop to the straw purchasing of firearms.
Now is the time.
Now is the time to demand that gun dealers adhere to an ethical
"Code of Conduct,” a code of behavior that holds them accountable
to the communities in which they do their business.
Now is the time.
Returning to the voice and message of Martin Luther King, “We as
a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly
begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented'
Now is the time.
With homage again to Dr. King, we say “…let us begin… let us
rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter but beautiful struggle for
a new world.”
Listen to our voices. Now is the time.
What's Happening Around the Country
By Gail Golden
The Greater Washington Chapter of Heeding God’s Call continues with its
weekly public actions at Realco Guns in District Heights, MD, with the
intent to persuade Mr. Carlos del Real, proprietor of Realco, to adopt
and sign the Code for responsible gun dealers. Demonstrators
average ten per week and the community shows its support with honks,
waves, and thumbs-up as they drive, bike, or walk past Realco during
the demos. In October the support hit an all time high at
371! We will continue our efforts to gain Mr. del Real’s support.
In September, 2012, Presbyterians Today magazine featured an
article called “The Gun Crisis,” which spotlighted Heeding God’s
Call. Rev. Dr. James Atwood, author of America and Its Guns: A
Theological Expose, was often quoted throughout the
article. The following quote from Dr. Atwood appeared in the
article: “If our nation finally decides to save thousands of
lives every year by reducing gun violence, it will be because a
sleeping spiritual giant is waking up and realizing God is calling it
to name and unmask the idols of power and deadly force that are
perpetuating murder and violence in our communities.”
By Susan Windle
This September, I was asked to create and lead the Martyrology
Service for my synagogue’s observances on Yom Kippur, the holiest day
of the Jewish year. In the traditional prayer for this service,
called Eleh Ezkerah (These I
remember), the names and the deaths of ten Jewish martyrs are
remembered, the legends of their deaths recounted in gruesome
detail. The stories, remembrances of unspeakable violence, create
a vessel for the prayers of the people to pour forth in response to the
violence and to honor the lives of the innocents. In my Jewish
community, Philadelphia’s Mishkan Shalom, this service is dedicated to
mourning and honoring the victims of current injustice, and to praying
for transformation of a culture that allows the injustice to continue.
This year’s theme was gun violence.
Together, with members of Mishkan and members of Heeding God’s
Call, we threaded the facts about gun violence with prayer, poetry and
song, to create a piece that portrays the reality of U.S. gun violence
within the sacred container of worship. I invited members of the
congregation to speak the names and ages of thirty six, a random
sampling of the 317 gun murders in Philadelphia in 2011. In
response we chanted the opening line of the traditional prayer in Hebrew
and English: “Eleh ezkerah, v’nafshi alay eshpakah":
These I remember, and I pour out my soul.” Giving flesh and bones to
the starkness of the names, the Seays and the Harrells, two families
who lost sons to gun violence in 2011, riveted the congregation with
their stories and their obvious courage in the face of enormous
loss. We interlaced the bare and startling facts of gun violence
with the prophetic words of Jewish mystic and scholar Abraham Joshua
Heschel, mostly from his essay “On Prayer. ” Here is a sampling of the
litany, which I called “Prayer for Facing an Awful Reality.” The facts
and statistics are in Roman, and the words of Heschel in italics.
America’s gun laws are the weakest in the developed world. In 2006,
with almost half of American households legally owning guns, there were
about 11 annual gun deaths per 100,000 people. In England, few
households are armed, and the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people was
31 hundredths, or .31. Japan prohibits handguns and long
guns are highly regulated. In Japan, the rate of gun deaths was .08 per
Prayer as an episode, as a cursory incident, will not establish
a home in the land of oblivion. Prayer must pervade as a climate of
living, and all our acts must be carried out as variations on a theme
The United States is the number one supplier of small arms to
the developing world. United States guns are killing Mexican citizens
at an alarming rate. US guns fuel the heightened levels of gun violence
related to the drug trade in Northern Mexico.
have lost sensitivity to truth and purity of heart in the wasteland of
opportunism. It is, however, a loss that rebounds to afflict us
with anguish. Such anguish when converted to prayer, into a prayer for
truth, may evoke the dawn of God.
Countries and states with strong gun laws are endangered by countries
and states with weak gun laws. Mexico is endangered by the United
States. New Jersey is endangered by Pennsylvania.
mercy is too great to permit the innocent to suffer. But there are
forces that interfere with God’s mercy, with God’s power. This is
a dreadful mystery, as well as a challenge….God is ensconced in
mystery, hidden in the depths. Prayer is pleading with God to come out
of the depths.
And there is more…
The service, with the moving testimonies of the families, turned out to
be hour long, 15 minutes longer than we had time for in the rigor of
the schedule for the closing hours of Yom Kippur. We had to shorten at
the last minute, leaving off the final Litany of Commitment that
incorporates the words of Martin Luther King Jr. Fortunately, the
litany was printed on the handout we created, so it was not lost to the
congregation. This is the litany created by Dolores McCabe and
me, which we have been using in our Murder Site Public Witnesses here
in Philadelphia since the summer of 2012.
All of this material is available to Heeding God’s Call. There are many
ways the service can be adapted to inspire and organize our various
communities. Please let me know if you would like to explore
I send you much love and many blessings for this our vital and sacred
Every Monday afternoon 4:00-5:00 p.m. at Realco Guns
Partners to End Gun Violence (NPEG): November 20 3:30-4:30
p.m. at Delia’s Gun Shop
November 28 4:30 p.m. Prayer Vigil at Mike & Kate's Sport Shop
Every Monday afternoon 4:00-5:00 p.m. at Realco Guns (no action
December 4 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Delia’s Gun Shop
December 18 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Delia’s Gun Shop
December 26 4:30 p.m. Prayer Vigil at Mike & Kate's Sport Shop
Every Monday afternoon 4:00-5:00 p.m. at Realco Guns
January 1 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Delia’s Gun Shop
January 15 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Delia’s Gun Shop
January 23 4:30 p.m. Prayer Vigil at Mike & Kate's Sport Shop
Gun Violence in the News
Facts, Statistics, Reports
Maybe pigs can fly? Last April, the Pennsylvania
House passed a bill that would impose a five-year mandatory minimum sentence on straw
buyers. Finally in mid-October, the Senate passed the
bill 49-0 and at the end of October, Gov. Corbett signed the bill.
The Senate took action only after the arrest of a straw purchaser
who allegedly provided nine guns to a convicted felon who shot to death
Officer Bradley Fox of the Plymouth Township Police Force.
Officer Fox was an Iraq War veteran who was killed in the line of
duty the day before his thirty-fifth birthday. He leaves behind a
toddler daughter and his wife who is pregnant with their second child.
The Pennsylvania Legislature has yet to pass a bill requiring gun
owners to report lost or stolen guns.
On Election Day 2012, Kathleen Kane was elected Attorney General
of Pennsylvania. During her campaign, Ms. Kane--the first woman
Attorney General of PA--vowed to work to close the "Florida
Loophole". House Bill 2536 introduced
by Delaware County Rep. Bryan Lentz would prevent Pennsylvanians
who have been denied a PA license to carry a concealed firearm or who
have had their PA permit revoked from obtaining a license from another
state, such as Florida, which has more lenient standards. Many
law enforcement groups support closing this loophole.