Vessel Characters: Pipe, Katniss Everdeen, Jesus

“Think of yourself as a pipe,” suggests M. Robert Mulholland.

At one end of your pipe is a flange specifically designed for loving union with God. The other end of your pipe has a flange specifically designed for loving service for others. When the connection is made at both ends of your pipe, then the presence of God moves through you to others.

The concept is not new to Mulholland, though drawing a pipe diagram to help me get the point may be. I didn’t need a diagram.

In fact, the seething sensation coursing through my blood vessels rises from the exactness of my knowledge of “pipe” and how “pipe” works: hollow tube, of no significance in itself, conveys another substance for another destination, nothing for the tube or from the tube.

I also feel sarcastic about “flange” and “loving union with God.” Needless to say, I do not like this analogy of how God’s Spirit and I cooperate for sanctification and service.

Thankfully, “it’s not in the Bible,” to quote everybody in the Evangelical world, so I don’t have to like it.

On the other hand, Philippians 2:5–8 is in the Bible and I have to obey that.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross (NRS).

It is Good Friday. This is The Point. If not through a pipe, then, how shall this mind that was in Jesus get into me?

Here’s another analogy that’s not in the Bible (so you don’t have to like it, but I do). It’s from Troy Campbell, a Duke social scientist.

Deep down, most of us believe we are special. . . . It’s a fundamental aspect of our identity, and something we need to maintain and feel. . . . We all believe that if we just had the chance, we could save the day. . . . Vessels allow us to vicariously feel those things.

A vessel is a character in a movie that the audience can enter through. Every big blockbuster book or movie has a vessel: Katniss, Neo, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Bruce Wayne, Will Turner, all the way back to Odysseus. . . . These characters are simple people with simple goals—stay alive, protect Gotham, get the girl, or beat the bad guy. Most of them are truly awesome, but also . . . so general that nearly any of us can relate through them.

Katniss Everdeen . . . is [our] idealized mirror image. She’s who we want to be. And when we go to watch Catching Fire for two hours we feel like we are who we want to be. There’s maybe no greater power in storytelling than a vessel experience like that.

Here’s the analogy. Jesus didn’t just suspect he was special. He was special. Yet he emptied himself of shekinah glory and in so doing made himself a vessel through whom we can enter The Story.

We humans hope we’re special. Eyes on him (Heb 12:1–2), we feel like who we want to be. But there’s more:

With every great vessel story comes a great responsibility for its viewers. When the lights come on in the theater, will we try to become our inner Katniss or will we escape into another vicarious narrative? Will we go home and pretend . . . or will we . . .  train?

The Jesus narrative is vicarious. But it’s also True (Tolkien, 85–86).

My story is inextricably bound to Jesus’ life-death-resurrection story, not just my emotions about that story. I can either go home and pretend I am him (or pretend I am a nothing pipe, both of which fail the humility test) or by the power of his very real death, I can go home and die my own (Mark 8:34).

Instead of changing nothing, my sacrifice will save. It won’t save the world, like his does, or even my own life, like his does, but it will save a day, protect Gotham, win a heart, or beat a bad guy. And there’s no greater power in storytelling than a vessel experience like that.

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For your Good Friday contemplation, here are analogies of sanctification that are in Scripture.


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