A forensic anthropologist recently completed her analysis of an alleged shrunken head owned by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. It was purchased in the 19th century in Ecuador, but its authenticity has long been disputed. No more: It seems to be the real McCoy – or Hatfield.
Shrunken heads were the product of warring tribes of the upper Amazon region that believed the avenging soul of the enemy could be confined in a shrunken head and then ceremonially dismissed. This way, the victors could feel safe against the spiritual forces that might retaliate.
They would cut off the head of an enemy, slit the back of the head, remove the skull and shrink the skin. They would then fill the remaining small head with stuffing and carry it around on a pole or string until its powers were gone.
Makes you wonder whose head was smaller, the shrunkee or the shrunker! We have mostly left behind these primitive and violent ways, but in their place we continue to show our small-headedness by seeking to diminish other people created in the image of God.
A few weeks ago, some shrunken heads defaced the building of St. Luke’s Community United Methodist Church. The predominantly African-American congregation had to work to clean racial slurs and swastikas in order to hold funerals the next day. The members and leaders of that church handled their grief over the matter with grace, and in so doing they showed themselves the bigger.
The impulse to make scapegoats of others is alive and well. Whenever we blame others for the failures or disappointments of our own lives in order to make ourselves feel better at their expense, we are resorting back to shrunken-head tactics that defile our humanity as well as theirs.
Hate crimes are not acts committed against individuals because of relationships gone awry between the victim and the victimizer; they are classless acts committed against a class of people. The injury is not localized but generalized. The point is that a whole race or people be humiliated.
The humiliation is generalized beyond the victims, though. All white people are diminished by white on black hate, all Christians by Christian on Jew hate, all Muslims by Muslim on Christian hate, and so on.
Jesus said: “You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy,’ but I say unto you, ‘Love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute you.’”
The only way to stop the cycle of violence is to retaliate with love.
Only an enlarged heart can cure a shrunken head.