Psycho-killer. Massacre madman. Gun-rampage maniac… how would you describe Derrick Bird? The words chosen by headline writers were like these – all words of “other”, as we seek to dehumanise, to separate. Derrick Bird cannot be one of us, he must be different. Because the thought that humanity – our humanity – contains the capacity for his crimes is too scary a thought. With our name-calling that we learn at school and carry into adulthood we make a safe place around ourselves, moving people who scare or frighten us – mostly those we do not understand – away into ‘other’, where the bad people live. The same goes for John Venables, or suicide bombers, or anyone else whose crimes are simply too frightening to comprehend.
What if we were to do the opposite? What if, instead of pushing away into “the other” we were to embrace the side of our humanity that we find the hardest, the most ugly? Not to embrace the actions, the crimes, absolutely not. And not some “hate the sin love the sinner” cliché that still separates us from the evil we see and hear and fear. But to stand with and alongside humans in their evil, their depravity, their lostness and their pain. Look them in the eye because they are human, and so are we.
If we do this, we take to ourselves the world’s pain, which then leaves us unable to demonise, dehumanise, because we recognise it is part of us. It is within us. That we are all, at times, capable of terrible things. And most frighteningly, most scandalously, there is no hierarchy of terrible things. Derrick Bird is no worse a human than me. His crimes are far worse and the consequences of his actions are far worse. Of course. But as a human, a human capable of being loved, he is no worse. In the classic scale of human comparison from Mother Teresa to Hitler, there is only one line, and all of us are on the wrong side of it.
To take on such pain and such evil and take it to ourselves, not pushing it away but embracing humanity in all its riches and darknesses, in all its goodness and all its evil is hard, so hard. It will not make us many friends. It will be misinterpreted. It will be mocked. It is far easier to name-call and look down on and distance ourselves from.
But could there be a model for us? Could there be a model for taking into oneself the pain and suffering of a world that is not actually wholly yours? Could there a model for taking onto oneself all of humanity in all its goodness and its horrors, not clutching perfect divinity like a child but giving wholly, fully; and in that process being led to death but coming through death and so rescuing, redeeming and recreating that humanity so that it no longer is driven to such extremes. Could it be that humanity – real humanity – is not lost forever but beautifully wonderfully restored?
And if so, might we be able to follow that model? We are not God, of course; but we are holy. So, do we choose to take that holiness and make it separate, lock it in a church, join in the name-calling and feel better that we are not so bad; or do we not clutch our holiness to ourselves but throw it amongst that which is not holy and see what happens? To paraphrase Jackie Pullinger, most Christians have hard hearts and soft feet; surely it is better to have soft hearts and hard feet.
May we not clutch our holiness to ourselves but be soft of heart and tough of feet as we walk the road with people who do the most terrible things.