2014 30 October

When Goodness Triumphs – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

Last week’s tragic events in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu have been on my mind as I enjoyed the hospitality of United Church people in Newfoundland.

How does one make sense of the deaths of two members of Canada’s Armed Forces in acts of violence that defy comprehension? What could possibly motivate one human being to slaughter another? There is no sense to make of these senseless acts. Was it radicalization, mental illness – or a bit of both – we may never know for sure.


War-Memorial-Ottawa[Photo: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial is surrounded by people during a candlelight vigil in Ottawa on Oct. 25, 2014. Photo: Shaamini Yogaretnam, The Ottawa Citizen: http://ow.ly/DtmdM ]


What offered me comfort as I grieved the loss of life as a result of these tragic events was an interview I listened to on the CBC Radio program, As It Happens. It is a conversation I want to share with you because as I listened I knew this was exactly what we need to hear in the aftermath of last week’s events.

What I took away from this interview with Barbara Winters was the much needed reminder that there is goodness in this world – we just need to look a little harder when we are overwhelmed with the fear that evil is winning. It is not. The bystanders who stepped in to try to save the life of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the Sergeant-at-Arms, security guards, and police officers who put their lives in danger to protect others are proof of that fact. It is at times like these when we are challenged by the worst of human behaviour that we must make an extra effort to appreciate the hope that can be found in witnessing the best of human behaviour.


Cold-Lake-AB[Cold Lake Mosque, Cold Lake, Alberta. Photos (top) Fletcher Kent, Global News Edmonton; (bottom) CTV Edmonton; http://ow.ly/Dtsbs%5D

This reminder of goodness helps us combat the fear that springs forth when such terrible things occur. Fear can often lead us to knee-jerk reactions, calling out for “law and order” backed by ever-increasing measures to enforce security. The threat of terrorism is real, of course, but we must not lose our sense of perspective, and the need to balance the legitimate demands for safety with protection for civil liberties and freedom. There may be lessons to learn from some countries in Europe, who have confronted the problem of “Islamic radicalization” not just with increased security measures, but also with concrete efforts at working directly with disaffected young people, through re-education and re-integration into society. We cannot lose our trust in the essential goodness of creation, of people, of our neighbours; we cannot be ruled by fear.

I find myself concerned on behalf of my Muslim neighbours, as I hear reports of anti-Islamic statements, of graffiti on mosques, of slurs and insults directed towards individual Muslims. The actions of a few disturbed and violent young men must not be seen as the face of Islam – just glance at the statements made by various Muslim organizations, as they unequivocally condemn what happened last week.

As Christians, we know how religion can be distorted to support violence (think, perhaps, of the Ku Klux Klan), and thus we have a responsibility to speak up against any attempt to use last week’s events to justify “Islamophobia.” I am heartened by the response of so many people in Cold Lake, Alberta, who, regardless of their faith, came together when the mosque in their community was vandalized and repaired the damage, posting a sign that said, “Love your neighbour!”

I have also found myself thinking of the young men who did the killing – what does it mean to hold them in prayer? Is it prayer that searches for understanding? For forgiveness? For compassion?  And what about their families – how do we care for them? I was deeply moved to read how the family of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was fatally run over last week in Montreal, reached out to the family of man who killed their son, saying in a statement, “Our thoughts… go to the Couture-Rouleau family, who are living through difficult moments.”

The actions of Barbara Winters, the response of the community of Cold Lake, the compassion expressed by the family of Patrice Vincent, these are beacons of hope that we can hold onto when events like those of last week threaten to drag us down into despair. Similar beacons of hope surround us each and every day. We need only make the effort to see them to know that goodness will triumph over evil.