why every church needs an eccentric lady

Last week I found a hair on my chin, it was not from the cat who had been sleeping on my clothes, it was firmly attached and sprouting in that random way that unwanted hairs have.  It was a sign that I had to think about something I have been repressing ever since I saw Moana last year.

Have I become the village crazy lady?

When and how did this happen?

Up until I found that rogue hair I was always the hero in my own story.  I was the central figure, strong and courageous (well at least in my head if not in fact), full of ideas and knowledge.  I was bursting to lead a small group of loyal friends and eager to help people and change the world.  But the solid and loyal group never eventuated, the big heroic opportunity never arrived, that one big life-changing adventure never beckoned.  Life happened step by step, small detail by small detail.  Small tales of following God and trying not to lose my edginess in the swirls of limiting ordinariness.

Then I woke up with a hair on my chin and a sore hip and realised that I was no longer the main protagonist in the story, my spunk, eagerness and relevance dissolved by the sleeplessness and pressures of motherhood.  I realised that I had to accept that I was no longer the centre of the narrative, it was no longer my role to take on the world and return triumphant.  When I started my career in young adult ministry I thought it was going to keep me young, but as the years have passed I am beginning to think that perhaps it just makes me more aware of my increasing age.

Thinking back I hold some grief, mourning for that young protagonist who has been left in the dust of past fights.

The hero days may be over, but a new position awaits, there is a new role forming.  Over the last two years of thinking and blogging and building bread and pomegranates (and watching kid’s movies) I have realised that every village, every church, every hero needs a village crazy lady that stands alongside them.   The village crazy lady has a special role to fulfil and plays just as valuable a part in the story as the hero.  I am especially inspired by Gramma Tala from Moana, she has a joy and acceptance of her role, she relishes the freedom it gives her, and is confident in knowing her part in the story.  When Moana asks Gramma Tala  “Why are you acting weird?  Gramma Tala replies “I am the village crazy lady, that’s my job”.

The crazy lady of the village as Gramma Tala names herself, or the church eccentric lady (EL), holds herself a bit apart from the main village or church.  Her behaviour is not as constrained by ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and ‘but we have always done it that ways’.  Rather these women tend to follow their inner values and learnings, and foster their connection with God independently to the group-think that often occurs in communities or churches.  The EL has a deep understanding of what is actually important rather than getting swept up in trends or the politics and traditions of their churches.  Often as the narrative unfolds we learn that although the village crazy lady or church eccentric lady is not totally accepted in her church where she stays on the periphery, she is not actually just crazy or eccentric. She has, in fact, more understanding of what is going on, than those fully involved, she sees the bigger picture and can contribute wisdom into the situation.  Her position on the edge gives her a different view, one where she can observe carefully and reflect to a greater degree than if fully involved.

She is a wise woman that the church would do well to listen to and value.  

Wise women have learned that the story doesn’t actually revolve around them, that their job is to provoke growth and point to truth.  Like Gramma Tala, they do this by their use of excellent questions that make the heroes think, and reflect for themselves.  They help others learn, not just about the world but about themselves.  Wise women understand that the answer that will save the church or village is not a solo hero running off by themselves, full of their own worth and confidence.   They understand that it is about the whole village or church going on a journey that is not sudden but is about gradual growth, and constant change.  Heroes tend to be completely focused on the present, which limits what they can see.  Wise-women have a good knowledge of the past, of the history of the church or village, they also have the ability to understand what futures are likely.  They bring that knowledge of the past and the future into the present and they can see how that impacts or needs to guide current decisions.
Wise women have the ability to see more, see from a different perspective and reflect deeply on all that they see.  Unfortunately, when they share this honestly with the heroes and the village this is not always accepted or taken well, thus their label as ‘village crazy lady’ or church eccentric lady’.

After two years on the edge of the church exploring what it means to be a guide on the edge, I am still reluctant to claim the title of ‘wise-woman’ it seems too arrogant when I am still full of flaws, questions and doubts.  But I feel comfortable here on the edge much more comfortable than I ever did trying to fit into institutions.  Perhaps this role of eccentric lady of the church was the one that God was always calling me to?  Standing a little apart, supporting the current generation of heroes that are exploring their own calling.

What I struggle with, the problem I have uncovered is my own lack of wise-women.  Where are the aunties and Gramma’s of the generation before me?

Those who could have played a role in training and supporting me in the edgy wise-woman role were either quiet voices, repressed and lacking in confidence, too busy following the village rules, or too busy hanging on with their fingernails to their role as the hero at the centre of the story. These last women often taking on a role that resembled Queen Lillian or The Fairy Godmother in Shrek more than Gramma Tala from Moana.

With no direct role models, I have had to wrestle with how to do this by myself, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide me through.   I am learning how to stand behind and beside the heroes (placing my own dreams of the heroic aside). I am learning how to be guided by the past, to keep looking at the future, to reflect on the now, and how to tell the truth confidently, but with sensitivity.  But I wish there were more role models around me who have been here before, who could be guiding me in how to be prophetic and edgy and hopeful and wise.

The church needs more eccentric ladies (and men) so I encourage you to embrace it wholeheartedly if this is where God is leading you. If you already are an eccentric lady of the church I exhort you to look around to those younger than you, not just the heroes, but those who might be moving towards a wise-woman position in the church. Show them how to be, show them how to love their role and to do it well.  Find ways to pass on what you have learned, encouraging and supporting a new generation of crazy ladies of the village to grow.

Because every church needs an eccentric lady or two to guide it into the future.

I’d love to hear from you – how has the eccentric lady of your church helped you grow?

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