My current favourite joke: A chicken farmer is dismayed to see that his favourite chicken has stopped laying eggs. He tries everything he knows to fix the problem but no success.
Then he remembers that his next door neighbour is a very clever man, a professor of theoretical physics at the local university, so he goes to seek his advice. 'Come back in a couple of days' says the professor 'and I'm sure I'll have an answer for you.' A couple of days later the farmer comes back and the professor looks pleased. 'Well,' says the professor 'I have good news and bad news. The good news is, I have the solution to your problem.
The bad news is, it will only work for a perfectly spherical chicken in a vacuum.'
We are in the process of appointing a new minister in our deanery, interviewing a fabulous guy that I have known for a little while. I am absolutely sure that he will be terrific but I am always really conscious during the appointment process how we can so easily fall into the trap of looking for perfection. How many job adverts seem to be seeking the Archangel Gabriel?
And how many job seekers look for the perfect next job - the right church in the right place with a wonderful, supportive congregation that is tireless in mission and never complains about your sermon? At one point during the recent process I had to remind myself as well as the rest of the selection panel that the candidate is an imperfect person and we are offering an imperfect job - the best we can do is to try to make sure our relative imperfections in some way can fit together without too much grinding and groaning.
I spend a fair amount of my time (imperfectly) helping imperfect people to overcome the frustrations and annoyances that arise when we attempt to work together for the Gospel in community.
My aim is to help them get back to a place where they can work together effectively again, a place of peace and harmony on the other side of the sea of conflict they find themselves in at that point. But a few months ago I found myself meditating on the story of Jacob on his way back to meet again his brother Esau from whom he has been estranged for many years. The night before he meets Esau, God comes to Jacob and wrestles with him until morning. At the end of the encounter God renames Jacob 'Israel', which means 'struggles with God' and that is the name that becomes the name for all of God's people.
Perhaps, I thought, the wrestling is the point, not something to be overcome as quickly as possible so we can get on with what we should be doing, but a defining characteristic of us as the people of God. The jostling together of imperfectly shaped stones creates perfectly smooth and shiny pebbles; maybe the jostling together of imperfectly shaped people in the presence of God's Spirit is what will eventually result in the perfect people we will be when we finally meet Him face-to-face.
This reflection has made me a little more patient with the process of mediation, allowing it to take the right amount of time so that God's work can be done in the process as much as in the solution. It would be lovely if we were all perfectly spherical people who existed in a vacuum but that's not exactly real life - real life is, after all, what God has gifted us with and He does know what He is doing!