It seems a pity that the number of pea-shooting enthusiasts for a world championship fits onto just one village green, but there it is. Accuracy, not distance, was the aim of this weekend’s competition in Witcham, Cambridgeshire, with contestants shooting a pea through a 12-inch tube, 12 feet towards a 12-inch target.
Preparation is intense. Growing the most aerodynamic pea and discovering the most effective launch pad (even laser-guided shooters are not considered cheating), can be a year round commitment. Few contestants will be satisfied unless they hit the bull’s eye.
Striving for perfection provides motivation in a wide range of human activity. It can be taken to extremes. Many people are unhappy with themselves unless they always hit the bull’s eye. Such perfectionism usually leads them to a permanent sense of dissatisfaction. But there is value all the same in having a challenging target.
Jesus spoke about the need for his followers to be ‘perfect’ as God is perfect. The word which the older translations of the Bible interpret in this way really means the state of having fulfilled a purpose. God is perfect in the sense that God is fully and completely God. Believers in God are called to be perfect by being fully and completely who they are supposed to be. The target for human beings suggested in these words of Jesus is to become the people we each of us were made to become.
Let’s today give up on perfection as a goal if it means always being successful or permanently in the right. The bull’s eye that’s really worth trying to hit is the feeling that you are becoming the person you were meant to be.
“Furious wife pulls hair from eminent clergyman’s head” A possible tabloid headline, except that it happened in the 18th century. The witness’s actual description of the hair was “venerable locks”!
John Wesley, whose conversion is celebrated today, had trouble with women all his life and for all sorts of other reasons, makes a fascinating psychological study. Except that material about his inner life is hard to come by. His journal (on the face of it, his own frank description of his life) was in fact written as a public relations exercise and gives very little away about his internal sufferings and struggles.
Yet Methodists the world over, and others too, are today grateful to God for John Wesley. A powerful preacher, brilliant organiser and undoubted man of God, he transformed the 18th century religious landscape in England and founded the worldwide Methodist movement. An extraordinary public persona behind which was someone who privately experienced much more ordinary internal battles.
Today, as we continue in our lives to face our inner struggles, we celebrate the fact that their existence does not necessarily undermine our public effectiveness; indeed properly harnessed they may enhance it. And in our dealings with others, we remember that they may have private difficulties that we know nothing about and for which, sometimes, we should make allowances.