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The Tucson shootings
January 8, 2011

What are your thoughts about this event?
I don't know what adjective to use in that line ... awful, tragic, revelatory, or what?  Anyway, we'd like to hear your thoughts, so just send a note, to be shared here.

First response in Tucson

PDA’s national response team is first to assist after shooting spree

by Jerry L. Van Marter, Presbyterian News Service   [1-26-11]

LOUISVILLE – Three members of the National Response Team (NRT) of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance arrived in Tucson, Ariz., within 48 hours of the Jan. 8 shootings there that killed six and injured 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

PDA’s NRT trio was the only national religious community responder to serve in Tucson in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

“We can be grateful to a denomination with the vision to equip, train and deploy faith leaders into arenas of human-caused violence,” said the Rev. Laurie Kraus, pastor of Riviera Presbyterian Church in Miami, FL. Kraus has served on PDA’s NRT since its inception in 1996.

She was joined in Tucson by fellow NRT members Rick Turner, a member of John Knox Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C., and the Rev. David Holyan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood, Mo. — who at the invitation of Presbytery de Cristo began immediately to offer support and encouragement to pastors, congregations and the presbytery as they responded to the crisis. ...

“On Sunday morning (Jan. 9) as I listened to sermons by colleagues in Tucson reflecting on the aftermath of the tragedy and the commemorations of MLK weekend, I was struck as I always am, by the integrity, authenticity and vulnerability of faith leaders who step into the pain and chaos of a human caused disaster with words of honesty and calls for the church’s meaningful participation in the healing of the community,” Kraus wrote.   More >>

Faith leaders to Congress: ‘soul searching’ needed about toxic rhetoric    [1-17-11]

PC(USA)’s Gradye Parsons joins 50 others in appeal

JANUARY 13, 2011

Faith in Public Life, by Kristin Ford


In an open letter to Congress published today (Jan. 13) as a full-page advertisement in Roll Call newspaper, faith leaders are calling for national “soul searching” and praying for Members of Congress after Saturday’s shooting spree in Arizona, which left six people dead and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ, critically injured.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons is among the 50 prominent national religious leaders who signed the open letter. The signers include heads of mainline Protestant, Catholic, evangelical, Jewish and Muslim denominations, congregations, and organizations.

The signers urge Members of Congress to reject vitriolic and rancorous rhetoric, consider the consequences of their words, and engage political adversaries in a spirit of shared American values of civility and cooperation.

Other signatories, in addition to Parsons, include megachurch pastors Bishop T.D. Jakes and Rev. Joel Hunter; the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners; Nathan J. Diament, the Director of Public Policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; and Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches and the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the NCC, which represents 45 million people and 100,000 congregations in the U.S., and Rev. Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which serves 15 million Hispanic Christians, also signed the letter.

The full text of the letter, which is also available online with a complete list of signatories:

Dear Members of Congress,

As Americans and members of the human family, we are grieved by the recent tragedy in Tucson, Arizona. As Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders, we pray together for all those wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as she fights for her life. Our hearts break for those lives lost and for the loved ones left behind. We also stand with you, our elected officials, as you continue to serve our nation while coping with the trauma of this senseless attack.

This tragedy has spurred a sorely needed time of soul searching and national public dialogue about violent and vitriolic political rhetoric. We strongly support this reflection, as we are deeply troubled that rancor, threats and incivility have become commonplace in our public debates.

We appreciate the sacrifices you make and risks you incur by accepting a call to public service, and we urge you to continue to serve as stewards of our democracy by engaging ideological adversaries not as enemies, but as fellow Americans.

In our communities and congregations, we pledge to foster an environment conducive to the important and difficult debates so crucial to American democracy. In our churches, mosques and synagogues, we come together not as members of a certain political ideology or party, but as children of God and citizens called to build a more perfect union. We pray that you do the same.

Read this article, with a link to the list of signers of the letter >>

‘Civility’ author James Calvin Davis comments on Arizona shooting, political blame game     [1-17-11]

A news release from Westminster John Knox Press begins:

The recent shooting in a Tucson, Arizona supermarket has saturated the media the past few days, sparking accusations of political influence from the Tea Party and a rancorous political climate to explain why the shooter decided to open fire. Middlebury College professor and ordained Presbyterian minister James Calvin Davis, author of In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues that Divide Us (Westminster John Knox Press), commented on the tragedy today, urging for civil discourse in our debates. More>>

How did this happen?      [1-17-11]

Another comment on the shootings in Tucson:

Where and how did this person get the gun (and others) used in this heinous crime? Did his parents know he had this gun (and others) including ammunition? Who is the owner of the gun(s) and ammunition? Where were these items purchased? Were they kept in the house where he lived with his parents? Where did he get the funds to purchase these item? If the parents knew, did they 'approve'?

M.B. Neace

The author of this note lives in Atlanta, GA, where he and his wife attend of the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, and participate in their International Sunday School Class.

People of Tucson show light in the midst of the darkness   [1-12-11]
This report came from the Los Angeles Times on the afternoon of January 11.

Tucson rallies to protect girl's family from protesters

Arizona lawmakers moved quickly Tuesday to try to block protesters from the funeral of 9-year-old shooting victim Christina Green, passing an emergency measure prohibiting protests within 300 feet of any funeral services.

In addition to the new law, hundreds of Tucson residents were making contingency plans to try to protect the family of the girl who was slain in Saturday's rampage.

The actions were prompted by the Westboro Baptist Church, a publicity-seeking Kansas congregation [led by pastor Fred Phelps] known for demonstrating at the funerals of U.S. soldiers, arguing that their deaths are retribution by God for America's acceptance of homosexuality. The church announced it would protest Green's funeral, scheduled for Thursday, because the family is Catholic.

The protest drew instant and unanimous condemnation from Arizonans. ...

Tucson residents are preparing to line the funeral procession for Green, both to show their support of the family and to block them from seeing the Westboro protest.

"We just want to show the families in Tucson that we're a community that's bound together, through the good and the bad," said Janna Zankich, a 46-year-old dance studio manger.

On Tuesday evening, she planned to gather with dozens of people at Breakout Studios to construct 8- to 10-foot wings that volunteer "angels" would wear along the funeral procession to block the family's view of the protesters.   More >>

Second Tucson shooting victim with Presbyterian ties identified   [1-12-11]

Jerry L. Van Marter reported on Jan. 10 for Presbyterian News Service

Another victim with Presbyterian connections has been identified as among those who died at the hands of a lone gunman in Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 8.

Gabe Zimmerman, an aide to U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — who was apparently the main target of Jared Loughner, the alleged mass murderer — came from a staunch Presbyterian family, according to the Rev. John Matthew, a longtime Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) executive from Boise, Idaho.

Matthew told the Presbyterian News Service Jan. 10 that he and his wife, the Rev. Judy McKay, are headed to Tucson to Tucson for the memorial service for Zimmerman and the five other victims of the shootings.  
More >>

Good Friday on Championship Monday?

David True, a PVJ member and Associate Professor of Religion at Wilson College, Chambersburg, Pa, posted his reflections on Tucson and football on the blog page of Presbyterian Outlook. Writing on Jan. 11, he begins:

Watching the college football championship game being played in Arizona last night, felt strange to me, sort of like returning to the scene of the crime to throw a party. There was nothing to be done--or I haven’t thought of it. We needed a good game, but why did it have to be in Arizona? It was almost as if the Fates had conspired to make us endure the tragic comedy in which old people and a little girl are shot down in cold blood and football players proudly cant their praise to the god of football. Who can blame those who curse this god and any and all faith? What kind of universe would this be if it were true that God was too busy deciding football games to bother with saving little girls from crazed gunmen?

More >>

PC(USA) member among those killed in Arizona shootings

Church leaders express horror and anguish over tragedy

Phyllis Schneck
Phyllis Schneck

By Sharon Youngs, Communications Coordinator, Office of the General Assembly   [1-10-2011]

Phyllis Schneck, a member of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., was among those killed in the shootings on January 8, 2011, that left six people dead and 14 injured.

Schneck’s pastor, the Reverend Andy Ross, described her as “vibrant, fun, and a devoted woman of faith. Her smile, her commitment to the mission of Jesus Christ, and her friendship to so many will long be treasured.”

Ross continued, “From all of us at Northminster to all of you – we offer our hope and commitment to live as Christ's disciples, advancing his Kingdom of peace and healing, hope and salvation, with God's divine help, and with all of you. God bless you!”

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders issued a statement today in the wake of the shooting tragedy.

Elder Cynthia Bolbach, Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, and Elder Linda Valentine, Executive Director of the General Assembly Mission Council, expressed anguish over the shootings and horror over “this kind of assault on public discourse.”

Bolbach, Parsons, and Valentine also encourage all Presbyterians to join President Obama’s call for a moment of silence today at 11:00 EST.

The full text of their statement:

We join with millions of people in this nation and worldwide who are horrified and anguished by the shootings in Arizona two days ago that resulted in such critical injuries and loss of life.

We are also horrified by this kind of assault on public discourse. Freedom of speech and assembly are foundational to who we are as citizens of this nation. As people of faith, we condemn violence and hatred and are committed to respectful civic engagement.

We encourage all Presbyterians to join in prayer with the President of the United States’ call for a moment of silence today at 11:00 a.m. EST, “to honor the innocent victims of the senseless tragedy in Tucson, Arizona, including those still fighting for their lives. It will be a time for us to come together as a nation in prayer or reflection, keeping the victims and their families closely at heart.”

Presbyterians have already been reaching out in this incident through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and de Cristo Presbytery.  A community worship service is planned for today in Tucson, and additional assessment and follow-up will be ongoing.

The Psalmist writes,

For you are the God in whom I take refuge
O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling …

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
     (from Ps. 43)

This report is also posted on the PC(USA) website

Baptism ... and a time for renouncing evil


Surely many sermons yesterday (Sunday, January 9, 2011) included some comments on the tragic killings in Tucson just the day before.

The Rev. John Shuck, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton, Tennessee, focused on the baptism of Jesus, with texts from Mark 1:9; Matthew 3:13; 4:1-11; and Luke 3:21; 4:1-13.

He notes the stark question put to candidates for baptism and membership in the church: “Do renounce evil and its power in the world?”

The question sounds strange, perhaps, to progressive sorts of folks. But Shuck insists it is very relevant. He continues:

Yesterday, six people were killed and twelve injured by a gunman in Arizona. One of the injured is congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She is believed to be the target of the attack. This is evil.

But we need to say more. What is this evil specifically? What exactly is the locus of the evil?

Is it the 22 year old who fired the shots?
Is it something within him, some mental illness that wasn’t treated?
Is it some "demon" within not exorcised?
Is it our collective lack of care for our youth and for each other?
Is it our messed up priorities?
Is it our abuse of creation, each other, and ourselves?
Is it the atmosphere of our nation and world?
Is it the angst about future?
Is it the fear and paranoia and our love affair with weapons of all kinds?
Is it in our inability to communicate, cooperate, and create together?
Is it our need to separate us vs. them, good vs. evil, blue vs. red, either you or me?
Is it the nastiness of our political discourse exemplified by a politician who creates a map with gun sites targeting her opponents?
Is this evil a form of terrorism in an attempt to keep people fearful and silent?
Is it the human condition that we find in Genesis 8: “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth?”

And yet that same book also said that humankind is created in the image of God.

It is confusing. It is complex.

There is such a thing as evil. But it is hard to know exactly what it is and where it is and what we are to do about it. Yet we are asked: Do you renounce evil and its power in the world?

The answer to that question is, “Yes, I do.” And the answer needs to be, “Yes, I do.” And we need to say it clearly and with conviction and with humility. We need to say it even when we don’t know the extent of it or have a precise plan of how to renounce it. Not only do we need to say it, but we need to do it.

He concludes the sermon:
In response to this tragedy and to this evil and to the evil of violence, we will tap in to resources within. We will discover creativity and direct it toward compassion. Right now, there are vigils, there are facebook pages, there are sermons preached, there are prayers spoken, there are people uniting to share their grief, to offer love and compassion, and to imagine a more peaceful, just, and kind world.

That is what makes us human.

We are created in the image of goodness, love, and blessing. That is who we are at our core. We are in turn creative and we have goodness, love, blessing and healing to share. Evil is a distortion. It is powerful but not ultimately so.

More powerful is love, joy, and compassion.

That is how we will renounce evil and its power in the world.

To that question we can respond,

“Yes, we do and we will!”

For the full sermon >>

An Attack on the Soul of the Nation

The Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners writes on the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords as one who knows her personally, but offers a thoughtful faith perspective as well. He begins:

The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, the young Congresswoman from Arizona, must speak to the soul of this nation. The shooter raised his gun to her head, and then he kept shooting until 14 others were wounded and six people killed, including a district court judge and a 9-year-old girl who was president of her student council. Gabby, as everyone calls her, is one of the most beloved political leaders in the Congress and back in her home state of Arizona. Everyone likes her on both sides of the aisle. One of her colleagues remarked that if there was a list of the most vitriolic politicians in the country, Gabby’s name would be near the very bottom of the list. Gabby is known as one of the warmest, brightest, most open, and best listening members of Congress. She was listening to her constituents Saturday at a shopping center when a young man pointed a gun at her head and shot her at point-blank range.

More >>

Responding to the shooting in Tucson

Hymns that might help you and your congregation respond to latest American insanity    [1-8-2011]

with thanks to Carolyn and Bruce Gillette

Tonight we grieve the deaths and injuries in Arizona. We don't know if there is a connection to the political climate of hatred, but there is to insane gun culture in our nation that makes guns too available and too often used.

Sometimes prayers are all we can offer, they always need to be the first thing we do before we take further action.

Carolyn wrote a hymn-prayer lamenting gun violence ("God of Mercy, You Have Shown Us") for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program in 2009 that is posted here with the music.

Her earlier hymn on the day of the Columbine shootings is also posted here..

Please share them with friends in your church and online.

January 30th is the beginning of the lectionary series from the Sermon on the Mount. To further Jesus' vision to our present times, we hope to have Carolyn's "The Sermon on the Mount: A Worship Service of Lessons and Songs" available soon on her web site This service celebrates Jesus' teachings of love, peace and justice by having the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) read in sections in a worship service that includes four new hymns based on Jesus' teachings. We used this special service in our church and people found it very powerful to hear Jesus' whole sermon while singing hymn responses written to well-known hymn tunes.

Blessings on you and your work for peace in 2011.

Grace and Peace, Bruce

Bruce & Carolyn Gillette, Pastors
Limestone Presbyterian Church, 3201 Limestone Road, Wilmington, Delaware

19808-2198 Office Phone: (302) 994-5646
Church website:
Home Phone: (302)-994-0220

A turning point in the discourse, but in which direction?

by Matt Bai, revised today from an article published in the January 9 New York Times   [1-8-2011]

The article begins:

Within minutes of the first reports Saturday that Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, and a score of people with her had been shot in Tucson, pages began disappearing from the Web. One was Sarah Palin’s infamous “cross hairs” map from last year, which showed a series of contested Congressional districts, including Ms. Giffords’s, with gun targets trained on them. Another was from Daily Kos, the liberal blog, where one of the congresswoman’s apparently liberal constituents declared her “dead to me” after Ms. Giffords voted against Nancy Pelosi in House leadership elections last week. The full article >>


GA actions ratified (or not) by  the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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