The Call -- monthly updates from Heeding God's Call

 

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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: courtroom watch.
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 convictions.
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 Call.
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.

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Litany of Commitment

by Pastor Dolores McCabe and Susan Windle 

Litany of Commitment
(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.)
 

Leader:

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.”

People:

Listen to our voices.

Leader:  

We are the mothers and fathers who have children who will never grow old, because they have been shot dead on the city streets. 

People:  

Listen to our voices.

Leader:

We are brothers and sisters who are growing up without seeing what our siblings would become, and we want to end the killing.

People:
Listen to our voices.
Leader: 

We are cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors…we are all related to the victims of violence.

People:

Listen to our voices.

Leader: 

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.

People: 

Listen to our voices.

Leader:

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."  

People: 

Now is the time.

Leader: 

Now is the time to end the senseless killing of our boys and girls, our men and women.

People: 

Now is the time.

Leader:

Now is the time to cease the profligate sale of assault weapons and all multiple firing guns, weapons meant only for murder.

People:

Now is the time.

Leader:

Now is the time to rid our streets of all illegal weapons, to put a stop to the straw purchasing of firearms.

People
Now is the time.
Leader:

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.

People: 

Now is the time.

Leader: 

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' society.”

People:

Now is the time.

Leader:

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.”

All:

 Listen to our voices. Now is the time.
 

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What's Happening Around the Country

Greater Washington
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.”   


Philadelphia

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.

Reader 1:
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 100,000 people. 


Reader 2: 
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 of prayer.

Reader 1:

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.

Reader 2:

We 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.

Reader 1:
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.

Reader 2:

God’s 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 possibilities. (susan@susanwindle.com)
I send you much love and many blessings for this our vital and sacred work.
 

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Upcoming Events 

November 2012
Greater Washington: Every Monday afternoon 4:00-5:00 p.m. at Realco Guns
Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence (NPEG): November 20 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Delia’s Gun Shop
NE Philadelphia: November 28 4:30 p.m. Prayer Vigil at Mike & Kate's Sport Shop
 
December 2012
Greater Washington: Every Monday afternoon 4:00-5:00 p.m. at Realco Guns (no action December 26)
NPEG: December 4 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Delia’s Gun Shop
NPEG: December 18 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Delia’s Gun Shop
NE Philadelphia: December 26 4:30 p.m. Prayer Vigil at Mike & Kate's Sport Shop
 
January 2013
Greater Washington: Every Monday afternoon 4:00-5:00 p.m. at Realco Guns
NPEG: January 1 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Delia’s Gun Shop
NPEG: January 15 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Delia’s Gun Shop
NE Philadelphia: January 23 4:30 p.m. Prayer Vigil at Mike & Kate's Sport Shop
 

Gun Violence in the News

Facts, Statistics, Reports

http://gallery.mailchimp.com/78ec0d0fe719817883b01c35b/images/get_attachment.aspx.jpegMaybe 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.  

 

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