First off, there were two chairs both tended by male barbers. As I entered, a man was leaving. “Hopefully I’ll see ya’ when turkey season comes ‘round,” he called out to one barber. “You betcha,” came the reply. The feng shui of the interior was heavily influenced by the 70’s style paneling that lined the walls, and while there were no mounted deer heads, there were several posters of Wisconsin sports teams, and one poster of about twenty “modern haircuts.” All of the pictures were head-shots of men, and nearly all sported very short haircuts (with several variations on the “flat top”). There was, however, one long-haired “radical” cut. It was a 90’s style, super-spiked Mohawk.
ESPN blared from the TV. Tucked into a corner of the mirror was a photo of my barber holding up a large fish.
We chatted a bit. Small talk mostly, but it felt like gruff, manly small talk. Cars and sports and the like.
“You just gettin’ off work?” He asked. I told him that I was, and then he asked where I worked. That was when the whole tenor of our manly conversation changed. When I told him I worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and explained what I did, his demeanor seemed to soften. He became a kinder, gentler barber. Instead of talking loudly about fishing with buddies or his son’s car, my barber spoke softly about the hospital visitation program of one client’s church, and how nice it was that those church people did that for those poor, sick patients.
Why is it that doing anything with a church seems so un-masculine? Is it the strong nurture orientation of the Church? Is caring for widows and orphans unmanly? Does working with your church or a Christian ministry so lack action, adventure and life-threatening risk that Christian action is for pansies? Jesus was anything but a pansy and following him was indeed life threatening for the original followers. It is today, too, for converts in some countries.
Christianity Today published an article in April by Brandon O’Brian titled, “A Jesus for Real Men.” He celebrates the corrective which the masculinity movement has brought to the church, but O’Brian rightly criticizes the movement for having exalted the masculine sins and excesses in their response to the feminization of Christ and the Church. He points out that the fruits of the Spirit (fruits which are to be borne by men and women alike) include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. What’s more he chides the men’s movement for selectively holding up Jesus’ anger-laced flipping of the of money-changers tables, while conveniently leaving out Jesus weeping for Jerusalem and longing to gather her residents as a mother hen gathers her chicks.
Still, there is something to the wide perception of unmanliness in doing any kind of church-related work. My job at InterVarsity is to help university students explore the possibility of long term service overseas to the poor, the lost and the broken. Probably two-thirds of those who sign up for our short-term projects are women. There is a resulting dangerous imbalance of women working long-term among the poorest of the poor. Many of them live with the unsettling question of whether any guy will ever follow them into ministry and live with them among the poor.
Men that work with their churches are often viewed as cowering wimps like Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice, or nasally-voiced weaklings like Ned Flanders in The Simpsons. Media profiles of men who love their churches are anything but manly. Perhaps a Rambofication of the church would help:
1. Instead of a pastoral search committee, sponsor a gladiatorial fight to the death from among pastoral candidates.
2. Hazing ceremonies for men who agree to teach 5th grade Sunday school (some consider the hazing part built-in to teaching 5th graders).
3. Male-only leadership posts in the church (Oops. I forgot, we’ve already tried that one).
4. Encourage congregations to loudly belch their agreement to prayers instead of the whispered “hmm, yes Lord.”
5. Invite my barbers to decorate your church.
Testosterone has its place in the church. We need to celebrate and embrace the things about Jesus and his coming Kingdom that appeal to the masculine psyche. But defining the church in solely testicular terms is unhelpful.
I know that it is possible for men in the church to live out a form of masculinity without patriarchal dominance. We can seek Kingdom advance without triumphalism. And we are able to express leadership without becoming dictators.
When my barber finished cutting my hair he unfolded a single-edged razor, lathered my neck with a brush, and scraped that threatening blade across my vulnerable neck. I have to admit, it was more thrilling than the fine-hair electric trimmer I was used to. I thanked my barber courteously when I left, then I squeezed his hand tight in a manly handshake.