- Rev. Barbara Ballenger
This is the Fast I Want: This is Not Enough -3.2.23
As part of her Lenten observance this season Rev. Barb has set aside Thursdays from noon to 1 p.m. to fast for an end to gun violence, pray for those who have died or been injured in our community, and write a brief reflection on the issue. You are invited to join your prayer to hers each Thursday at noon by lifting your own prayer for an end to gun violence in our community and nation. An updated list of all those who have died or been injured by gun violence in Philadelphia can be found here.
An hour of fasting is not enough, nor is an hour of prayer and reflection on gun violence. It’s not enough, which is one of the points of a Lenten fast, to remind us for our limits, of the need that far surpasses our ability to respond, of the cry for God to save.
But I said I’d do it, every Thursday in Lent, to go without lunch and use the time to pray and learn and write something about the gun violence that is destroying my community. I said I’d post something on Facebook when I was done. I promised this all last week in my rector’s note, when my heart was tipped past breaking from just one more story about a shooting in my city. It wasn’t the biggest one, or the worst one, or the most reported one. It was just the one I happened to see in the paper that morning, the day after Ash Wednesday.
Today, I started by praying for those who have died from or were injured by gun violence in my city this year. This data from the city Comptroller’s Office painted a pretty clear picture of victims by age, race and gender and where they were shot. No names, though, just statistics. To date, there have been 69 homicides in 2023, a 20% decrease from 2022 if that’s a consolation, according to the site. It has an interactive map with little dots to indicate the dead and the wounded and where they fell. In all, 51 died and 214 were injured as of Feb. 28. I made of litany of their age, gender and the neighborhood where they died, saying these things aloud in prayer. I held up the more than 200 remaining who carry the scars, the ongoing injuries, the trauma. I lifted the family members who mourn the dead and care for the survivors, I prayed for those who want vengeance, those who want peace. Somewhere in that data from the previous year was the son of my neighbor up the street, who was gunned down execution style at a gas station. I can still hear her cries of anguish from houses away when she got the news. Which reminds me that there are real people behind these statistics; I wish I knew their names.
So I’ll try to do that each week. Pray for the dead and the injured. I’m sure the number will grow, sadly, sickeningly.
Meanwhile, there is intense and hard work going on in Philadelphia and other cities to try to prevent gun violence before it happens. The Inquirer ran an article today on an intervention program that reaches out to youths in danger of committing violence. It seems to be working. The New Yorker ran an article recently on violence interrupters, formerly incarcerated men who return to their communities to negotiate peace settlements, to accompany people in danger of retributive violence, who sometimes are killed themselves, or are occasionally pulled back into crime. But they also reduce gun violence, with their bodies. That is a lot more than missed lunch and an hour set aside.
The Episcopal Bishops of Pennsylvania have released a statement decrying gun violence. It can be read here. In it they call for actions such as limiting handgun purchases to one a month; passing judicial orders that remove guns from dangerous people; prohibiting sales of assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines; and prohibiting the sale of “ghost guns: that are assembled in a way that they can’t be traced. For more information contact The Rev. Canon Toneh Smyth, The Rev. Canon Toneh Smyth, Canon for Mission, firstname.lastname@example.org. She does great work.