Article by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton and the diocesan Stewardship Resources team.
Pity Star Wars’ Stormtroopers. Do you remember Obi-Wan Kenobi telling the Stormtroopers looking for R2-D2 and C-3PO, pointing at the very same droids right next to him: “These are not the droids you are looking for!” And the Stormtroopers trundle off, looking for the two droids someplace else.
It’s not the only time Stormtroopers are being fooled in the Star Wars movies; they typically come out looking not-so-sharp. That all said, have you ever been the victim of the very same mind trick? Let’s simply stipulate that you and I are a bit brighter than the average stormtrooper of the Star Wars movies—an admittedly very low threshold—yet, we’re almost as vulnerable to this mind trick as the hapless stormtroopers.
Consider this example: recently, a major oil extraction and processing firm declared that they are striving to make their operations carbon neutral. Sounds great, doesn’t it—just what we’re looking for? Yet, when your business is extracting carbon (typically in the form of oil or natural gas) from the ground, refining and processing it, and selling the results in the form carbon fuels, plastics, etc., the impact of leakage of carbon as part of your operation simply pales in comparison to the impact your actual products have on the earth. In making their announcement, this firm was hoping that we’d applaud them for their commitment to the environment and overlook the impact of their actual business, which they did not plan on adjusting to meet the challenges life on earth is facing. A classic mind trick/attention redirection maneuver if we ever have been the target of one.
If we’re honest, we do have to admit that at least on occasion we’ve been susceptible to this kind of attention redirection maneuver. Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, as retold in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 7, or the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 6, elaborates on similar challenges—we’re being directed to worry about the plank in our own eyes before we worry about the speck of sawdust in our brother’s eye.
In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, that oil firm is posing an interesting challenge to us: we are being asked to applaud that firm for dealing with a speck of sawdust in one of their eyes, and to disregard the plank of wood altogether: “This is not the plank of wood you’re looking for!” As long as we buy these carbon products, someone will produce and sell them to us. As if it were this simple—the carbon intensity of our current lives is not something that was inescapably pre-ordained, but arose as the consequence of many decisions, some minor, some major, many by our ancestors in the prior seven generations, some by us, some by others, such as the aforementioned firm. Our challenge is to figure out how we can increasingly find alternatives to the carbon fueling, in so many senses of that word, our lives, and this small blue marble of God’s creation which we call our home.