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This piece was written in March 2023, three days after the Nashville Covenant School shooting.
Sadly, of course, there continues to be shootings, violence, despair, and despondence in our world.
It’s my hope that this will be one story, one perspective, that will speak to the greater grief we all experience living in the world today.

I woke up today with my old friend grief.

I’m still sitting with the tragic school shooting, in Nashville, and I’m grieving. There’s been a palpable tense energy in conversations with the staff I work with. Social media proves to be divided once again. And I’m not even going to try to explain the experiences of the parents I see dropping off their children at my church’s nursery school.

The Covenant School shooting victims

I don’t have children of my own, but I know, love, laugh with, and genuinely care for so many children. And this is devastating. I’m grieving that so many children won’t know or even fathom a world without fear of just going to school. I’m grieving that as a country we would rather protect the people that own the guns, rather than show concern for the victims of gun violence. I’m grieving that we have had a mass shooting every single day in 2023. And I am grieving that the future isn’t looking more promising.

I am old enough to remember the 9/11 attacks. Yet I’m young enough to recognize that I was only in elementary school. There are a lot of things about that day specifically that tap into each of our photographic memories and emotional warehouses.

One thing I heard that day from my teacher was that “when you’re at school you are safe.”

“When you’re at school you are safe.”

Something I wish I could promise and guarantee to every child today.

Something I wish could be trusted and bring relief to every child today.

As a pastor, parishioners and community members look to me for answers. Today, I’ve been a bit quieter and slower to answer.

So of course, I look to Scripture! Surely Scripture would offer comfort.

For some reason, today my eyes danced around the Old Testament, scrolled by the wisdom literature, looked past the Gospels, and around the epistles and didn’t really find what I was looking for. Sure, I found some nuggets of hope and even the root verses of our favorite platitudes, but I didn’t find what I was looking for.

Instead, it seemed that my gaze landed on verses of violence, retribution, and oppression from the powers that be. Not what I needed today. However, it did get me thinking, maybe other people aren’t finding what they need when they peel open their Bibles.

True confessions — one of the passages that I often roll my eyes at is Ephesians 6:10-18. It’s the infamous “Armor of God” passage that so often makes the neural connection of religion and violence. If Christians were the peacemakers that Jesus calls us to and blesses us to be, why the need for the armor? Regardless of my impending soapbox, it was one of the passages that stuck out to me in the moment.

The passage stuck out mostly because of how badly I wanted to re-interpret the passage. After Paul explains his interpretation of the Gospel story, he then explains what our story should look like in light of the Gospel. Sounds good, right? Paul’s got points on unity, living into our new life, and whatnot. Then there seems to be a bit of a turn. He tells men that they should have power over their wives, and that the wives should just respect that (Yikes, Paul!). Then he goes on about slaves obeying and listening to their masters (Double Yikes, Paul!) as a means of Christian living.

Then we come to the “Armor of God” passage. A response of sorts to what is known in Ephesus: spiritual evil. Believe what you want about spiritual warfare or the powers that be. I believe that we all have come face to face with evil. We know the insidious nature of the time we live in.

Division, hatred, warfare, climate chaos, sexualization, discrimination, systemic oppression, narcissism, bigotry, the refusal to listen, the refusal to speak up, and the evil of this day: gun violence.

Unlike Paul, I don’t feel a need for defensive armor. I’m needing healing. I’m needing the time to be still so that I’m not reactive, but instead responding to this weary world.

I don’t believe God created us to be violent or be defensive in the face of atrocity. I believe God desires us to experience wholeness, love, grace, and hope, and to invite others into that too.

In light of this latest shooting, I’ve interpreted Ephesians 6 in a new way. As I wrote it down, it felt like Mr. Rogers would have approved. Maybe this is a balm of hope for you too.

Ephesians 6:10-18 (Marcy’s version)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of God’s power.

Put on the whole Cardigan of God,
so that you may be able to rest in the midst of the wiles of the devil.

For our struggle is not against the perpetrators and shooters of blood and flesh,
but against the leaders, rulers, and present powers who show us real darkness in their action and inaction.

Therefore, take up the Cardigan of God,
so you may resist evil and have done everything to remain grounded.

Sit therefore, and pour yourself the tea of truth
and lay down on your pillow of righteousness.

As slippers for your feet, slide them on to help prepare you to proclaim peace.

With all of these, take the weighted blanket of faith,
with which you will be able to quiet the cries of suffering in your mind.

Take the beanie of salvation, and the candle of the Spirit,
which is the word of God.

Breathe in and breathe out the Spirit at all times.
To that end keep awake and ready to be still before the saints.

Marcy Ryan

Marcy Ryan is a minister ordained in the Reformed Church in America, currently serving as the Associate Pastor for Congregational Life at the Presbyterian Church in Westfield, New Jersey.


  • RZ says:

    I went back and studied the passage after reading your reflection. I am not out to defend Paul here, and I agree the military analogy is not one of Paul’s best, to say the least !
    Nevertheless, I see a thread in Ephesians 5 that supports your cardigan- armor theology.
    It seems to me that, like Jesus, Paul never advocated military overthrow or nationalistic supremacy. He accepted prison and its opportunities for witness rather sacrificially. And contrary to the way submission has so often been taught, he makes it clear that submission is absolutely MUTUAL. A two-way street. Husbands , if you loved your wives as Christ did, we would not be having this headship conversation. Same for exasperating fathers with their children and masters with slaves. If you want to tear down the institution, do it brick by brick, not with a battering ram. Follow the way of the cross. So the interpretation could go something like this: Put on God’s armour rather than Israel’s. Truth, the Spirit, righteousness, prayer, faith rather than retaliation. Gentle pressure, relentlessly applied. The problem with violent/forced conquest is that it never addresses the root of the problem, namely the absence of mutual flourishing. “Victory” means the conflict goes underground until it flares again. Retribution logically insists on this outcome. Sorry for the rabbit trail here, but you got me thinking about the Israeli /Palestinian conflict and how a military solution will never work.

    • Daniel Meeter says:

      Thanks for this RZ.

    • Rena says:

      I liked the settle in leace with God But the armour of god is for self spiritual protection against unbiblical practices that invade the Christian Way. Nothing to do with earthly violence. In these woke days we need the armour.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    I love especially the beanie of salvation.

  • Nancy Landrigan says:

    Marcy, this was beautiful. Thank you for starting my day wrapped in the cardigan of God.

  • Phyllis Roelofs says:

    Thank you, I grieve with you about death caused by guns, wars, and other violence. This morning I took a picture of a beautiful full double rainbow visible from our balcony. I decided I needed to take another one, went back outside to do so and it was gone as was the layer of sunshine below. I was stunned and reminded how quickly beauty, pleasure, and hope can disappear. I hope that people in war torn places also get to see rainbows and that it might have meaning for them too. Today I’m wearing a cardigan with a rainbow brooch to keep me grounded in God’s promises, even your interpretation.

  • Lena says:

    Pastor Mary writes “I’m interpreting Ephesians 6 in a new way.” Our pastors of the Reformed faith should be proclaiming and explaining scripture (our forefather were very insistent upon this) not making up their own interpretation because they don’t like what the Bible says.

    • Rowland Van Es, Jr says:

      Every reader is an interpreter, Lena. Mary was just giving her interpretation by using a paraphrase.. Here are some reasons scripture always needs to be re-interpreted for us.

      1. Bible originally addressed to ancient readers, not us. We are third party (not first or even second party).
      2. Bible composed in ancient languages, not spoken or understood directly (not written in our mother tongue).
      3. We are separated from text by enormous cultural gaps (not living in the ancient Mediterranean world).
      4. We are separated by historical gap of 2-3,000 years (not living with their historical perspective).
      5. Problems of collective authorship and long growth of traditions within text.
      6. Oldest manuscripts we have are all copies of earlier missing manuscripts.
      7. As Sacred literature it has many different traditions of interpretation already.
      Source: Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics by Craig C Bartholomew, Baker 2015.
      PS your forefathers were also re-interpreting even as they were proclaiming & explaining.

      • Lena says:

        No, Rowland. Pastor Mary was saying the exact opposite of the
        armor anology that Paul was using. A paraphrase would involve minor word substitution to convey the same or similar meaning. Pastor Mary indicated in her blog that she did this because she did not want to accept what this particular Bible passage was explaining. If she wanted to talk about a soft response to violence, there would have been other Bible passages to use. (Ecc. 10:4)
        Pastor Mary’s blog here is representative of the Reformed Journal’s way of thinking. I point this out now and in previous blog responses for the benefit of some RJ readers and the many CRC/RC members who still are conservative to realize how far off track the RJ has progressed.

  • Sue Jansons says:

    When I read the title of your article this morning, I was hoping that Mr. Rogers would be mentioned. I grew up with Mr. Rogers, and he was a large influence in my young life. I now teach pre-K at a Christian school, and even among these church attending families, children are exposed to so much more violence than they used to be in years past. Just last week while telling the story of Jericho, for the first time I had a student ask me, “What happened to the people inside the walls?” I felt a deep desire to wrap her in the wings of my own cardigan sweater, and pray for peace.

  • Steven Tryon says:

    Beautiful. I like this metaphor.
    Thank you,

  • Pamela Spiertz Adams says:

    My niece and her family went to the church where the nursery school was ravaged, and she would have had a message similar to yours. I do too. I know others see me as idealistic but shouldn’t we be with a Savior like Jesus. The NT tells us this message through out.

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