George Bowers Sr.: The dangers of two heads
One of the coolest aspects of growing up in a taxidermy shop was the excitement of unexpected arrivals. When customers came through the door, we never knew what they might bring with them for dad to mount. Over the years, we saw African antelope, American turtles, western elk, and southern snakes. Some of the oddest creatures, however, were a few two-headed calves that came from local farmers.
Polycephaly is the technical term for having multiple heads or faces and is a severe case of conjoined or Siamese twining that occurs in many species. Its exact causes are not well understood but it is normally associated with identical twins that don’t completely separate. The old maxim that two heads are better than one fails in this case for almost without exception, these unfortunate creatures die either before, during, or shortly after birth because of the multiple physical complications involved.
On a Maurertown farm in the 1970s, a young Hereford calf was born with this deformity. It had two mouths, two noses, four ears, and four eyes, but only one neck and body. Tragically, it not only died at birth, but it also caused the death of its mother. Since the animal ended up at dad’s shop, its unique single neck with two heads has been preserved to this day.
Imagine the difficulty such a living calf would have. One mouth might crave corn while the other is determined to graze grass. One brain might want to jump forward while the other desires to lie down and rest. Two eyes try to turn right for a better look while the others are locked to the left. Such a critter would have a miserable existence constantly battling competing interests.
These unusual animals can remind us of an important lesson Jesus taught long ago on a Galilee hillside. Sitting above the lake, he said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” And he was so right. Anyone who has ever tried to please two bosses knows how impossible that arrangement can be.
Spiritually, however, it holds much deeper truth. Jesus went on to identify two masters that vie for control of every person when he said, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Setting a goal to become rich while remaining faithful to God usually results in the demise of one or the other. While there is nothing inherently wrong with wealth, making it a master eliminates pleasing God, who told us to have no other gods before or beside him. Like a two-headed calf, we end up trying to split in two opposing directions and one or the other will eventually have to give.
Money is not the only competing master, however, as we all face various temptations. Our sports and hobbies can grow from avocations into obsessions. Fame or popularity can also compete for headship and other people can even become gods to us. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with these, if any one of them becomes our highest priority, everything else becomes subservient, including our character and our savior. We can enjoy wholesome pastimes and we are to love and engage in relationships with family and friends, but none of these are to take the place in our souls that only God should occupy.
When anything other than Jesus consumes our every waking minute or idle thought, it ought to warn us that our soul is out of alignment. While we think we can accommodate both interests successfully, one will invariably lead us in directions the other opposes and both will ultimately demand supremacy. As we contemplate the challenges a two-headed animal must face, let us remember to keep God first in all things, for no calf or person can ever successfully serve two masters.
George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books, including his devotional collection, “Blessings.” He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.