Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Pipe: A Visual Metaphor for Humanity, Sin, and "Atonement" (but not penal substitution).

Yeah, that title is a mouthful but it helps with the search engines.

Okay. I've had this Pipe metaphor in my bag of tricks for something like ten years now. It represents God's intention for human beings by saying we are created to be like "L-Shaped Pipes" - connected to God as the Source, receiving love, life and forgiveness from God as the "flow," and directing that flow out through us towards the world and our neighors. When the flow goes that's human fulfillment which we experience as joy.

A lot of the fun with the Pipe comes from extending the metaphor by asking what kinds of things can disrupt the flow. So you start talking about clogs, dents and leaks etc., which themselves are pretty potent metaphors for human heart conditions. I'll be writing more about that in posts to come, I promise!

But I surprised even myself when I discovered how the Pipe can be applied to illustrate how being "united with him in a death like his" (Romans 6:5) leads to new life. The trouble is, you pretty much have to see it to get it. Words and even still images are pretty ineffective in conveying the 3D mechanics of it all.

So there it sat, until Emergent Village came calling.

The folks over at EV put out a call for new Atonement metaphors, looking especially for those that aren't based in "Penal Substitution." Well, that was the bait I couldn't resist so I finally sat myself down and recorded the illustration in a two-part video which I posted on YouTube. Each segment is about 4-5 minutes. You can also view them through these links:

The Pipe: Part 1

The Pipe: Part 2

I've got a few comments and observations to add, but I think I'll let others chime in first, except for this. One of the things I like most about this metaphor is that it doesn't necessitate centering the work of Jesus on issues of guilt, punishment, justice or forgiveness. Rather, it turns our attention to "the problem of sin" as being a condition we are in and unable to get out of on our own. This metaphor shows both how death is the necessary transition from this condition, but that death only leads to life if one dies with Jesus.

So - does the video work in getting the ideas across or do I need to make some changes? Comments and critique of the metaphor are invited!



Feral Pastor said...

A pastor friend of mine, John Stiles, saw the video and we had a little coversation about the Pipe on Facebook. Here is a synopsis:

John: Interesting visual depiction of atonement, Tim! I saw both of your vids on YouTube. I am imagining an ever-widening circle of pipes connected to Christ (the circle, as a sacred Native American symbol, still holds meaning for me... so I'm trying to find a way to incorporate that into your model which isn't self-serving, but includes Christ's "flow").

Tim: I don't know the significance of the Circle motif to the Native Americans... is it related to growth, perhaps? If so, here's one way it might be integrated: consider the cross section of the pipe, which would be a circle, and ask what would allow the capacity for flow to increase? Enlarging the circle. Or, for a slightly diffeent feel, one could get more flow by thinning the walls of the circle/pipe... sort of an "I must decrease/He must increase" vibe there. (See John 3:30)

John: The reference to Native American spirituality comes from the medicine wheel which has the four directions and represents the creator (Great Spirit) who has no beginning and no end... well, something like that, at least... I'm no expert on it, but that's a bit of what I remember from my time on the reservation back in seminary. :-)

Tim: Oh, well that can work in a way... Ironically, although the circle is the form that represents sinfulness in humans, it's also the form that represents God as eternal (no end or beginning) and self-sufficient. In that, it's appropriate for God to "be circular" but inapropriate for humans to try and be "like God" on their own. Interesting.

Anonymous said...

Overall, I really like the video. It's a cool to be able to see the illustration so you can rember it whenever you see something familiar--like a pipe.

I think you could incorporate the circle into the video. To be honest the first hing I thought of when I saw the cirlce was "perfection." Many early cultures--especially tribal cultures see the sign of the circle as infinity and/or the Almighty. It's sometimes depicted as a snake swallowing its tail which kind of symbolizes the cycle of life/death. Wiccan people believe a circle is a source of power. Even the number zero is supposed to be a source of life knowledge, and fertility.

Because the circle is such a familiar symbol in regard to religion, I think it could appropriately add "power" to your arguement to acknowledge the contrast between God's shape and purpose and Human's Shape and purpose.

Production note:
-The pacing of the first video is a bit slow. A helpful hint for Speeding up a video is to cut of the 2 second pauses and then splice them together with a simple transition (available in Windows Movie Maker).

Feral Pastor said...

Hi Ry - Thanks for the comment. The circle motif is kind of complex in the pipe metaphor. When applied as a descriptor for God it does evoke ideas like perfection, eternity or timelessness, self-sufficiency, even simplicity and so on. But when humans try to "be circular" then it ends up as a negative image leaning towards selfish, self-centered, disconnected etc. It gets a little messy, but I like that. It taps into that idea that an inappropriate desire to "be like God" (Genesis 3:5) is near the heart of our human sinfulness. We should rather let God be God... God the creator; we the creatures.

Also - thanks for the production note! I felt it was draggy too. I was trying to make a submission deadline and recorded it late in the evening.... Excuses, excuses! ;)

Brent said...

I tend to look at it like an infection. Sin is a virus, an incurable virus. The only way to kill the virus is for the host to die, but if the host dies, then it can no longer enjoy life free of the virus.

So someone who didn't have the virus had to have the virus put upon him. He had to die, leave the virus in the grave, and come out of the grave alive. He would need to have life in HIm that He could give to those who died with Him. So He would have to be divine.

However you look at it, the cross was the greatest demonstration of love in the history of the universe