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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.
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.