Monday, September 24, 2018

Tim's Toolbox: FLOW - The Shape of Life

Here's the brief introduction to the first tool in my Toolbox, which I often refer to as "The L-Shaped Pipe." This is the core metaphor I draw upon to talk about what it means to be human, what meaning, purpose and joy look like, and the host of things that can (and do!) go wrong with our "spiritual plumbing." For additional blog posts on The Pipe, click here

You can find the whole Toolbox here.


Relationships are central to what it means to be human. We are designed to be connected to other humans, and we can’t enjoy our full humanity if we’re alone. We are also designed to be connected to God, and that relationship is just as necessary for us to experience our humanity if not more so. These two relationships are not independent. Our relationship with God affects how we relate to each other, and our relationships with others affect our relationship with God. A simple and powerful way to envision this is the metaphor of an L-shaped pipe. We receive love from God and release love to others. The inflow and the outflow are connected, two parts of one thing. We are conduits for God, and “flow” is what we experience as joy, meaning and purpose in our lives.

In the Pipe metaphor, flow is driven by pressure not suction. As it says in 1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.” When Jesus says in John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches” it’s clear that branches don’t get fed because they first bear fruit; they are fed by the vine and fruit grows as a result. Life in God has a “because/therefore” movement rather than an “if/then” requirement. This is at the heart of what the word “grace” means.

Unrestricted flow is God’s design and intention for our life together. But life as we live it now is full of “plumbing problems” that disrupt the flow of love, both to us and through us to others. Problems at either end effect the flow both in and out.

People can be wounded by others spiritually, emotionally and physically. Things that happen to you can put “dents” in your pipe that make it harder for you to receive and to give love. We can also impede our own flow. “Clogs” of bitterness, anger jealousy and such can form inside us, often in response to the dents inflicted by others. The results may look the same (reduced flow) but the causes are very different and they need very different kinds of repair work. People with dents need healing, while those of us with spiritual clogs need… Drano or Roto-Rooter!

Other spiritual plumbing problems can also be recognized with the Pipe. A person who is caring for others but neglecting their own family might be said to have “leaks” in their pipe. Someone who is deeply alienated from God could have a “break” that disconnects them from the source. People who are profoundly self-centered are like Pipes bent from the L-shape into a closed circle: they want to depend only on themselves, and direct all their outflow back to their own desires and hungers.

In the Pipe metaphor, Jesus is an example for us of what unhindered flow and full connection to God looks like. But more importantly, we believe that Jesus is not merely an example from the past but also a resurrected, living, active and healing presence in our lives now. He is the Master Plumber who is at work to repair us in every way, restore our flow and make our “joy complete.” (John 15:11)

John 7:37-39 (Rivers of Living Water);
John 15:1-11 (Vine and Branches);
Matthew 6:12 (forgive us AS);
Luke 10:38-42 (Martha and Mary);
Luke 15:11-32 (Prodigal)

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