Several years ago, the Candid Camera television show tried a hidden camera stunt featuring a man being led by a leash around a department store by his shopping wife. The show recorded the outraged and incredulous looks of shoppers, who were asked by the woman if they could watch after her husband for a moment while she checked out. What seemed farcical in the twentieth century seems perfectly reasonable for the twenty-first as one German entrepreneur has launched what may be the world’s first “kindergarten” for men.
According to Reuters news service, Alexander Stein of Hamburg has solved the man problem for female shoppers. They can drop their husbands off at what is being billed a “kindergarten for men.” It is the ideal solution for women who find shopping with their husbands “all too stressful,” the report says. Now wives can drop their husbands off at a daycare center while they shop. Just like kindergarten, the wives are given a receipt when they deposit their loved ones that they then turn in when they pick them up.
And, just like any other after-school program, the men are fed and entertained. As Reuters notes, “The men are given a name badge on arrival and for 10 euros ($11.80) they get two beers, a hot meal, televised football and games.” And there are special events too. “Last week the men had a remote control car to play with,” the owner tells us. “Next week there’s going to be a mini racetrack.”
The men are gleeful with excitement. One man told a local newspaper, “It beats sitting around in shoe shops, that’s for sure.”
On one level, this story is so patently ridiculous that it is hardly worth a second glance. On another level, however, the German kindergarten is just another depressing example of a global culture that just doesn’t know what to do with manhood. After decades of popular culture presentations of men–especially married men and fathers–as bumbling child-like oafs, is it all that unreasonable that women would begin to think of their husbands as, well, just children with bigger appetites?
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, men are no longer seen as leaders–and certainly not as warriors or protectors. Instead, they are seen chiefly as consumers–of food, beer, videogames, and other playthings. They are seen that way, because that is what they have become. Without a revelatory compass to define what it means to be a man, more and more men have surrendered simply to satisfying their urges, and staying out of the way.
There is a gaping vacuum here waiting to be filled by the churches. As the post-feminist culture slinks deeper into despair about the meaninglessness of being male and female, the churches have a biblical vision that can recapture the moral imagination of men and women who were created in the image of God to reflect specific aspects of the coming messianic Kingdom (Eph 5:22ff). In the face of such confusion, churches should be at the forefront, challenging such purposelessness with a scriptural alternative to the useless twenty-first century man–namely a vision rooted in a fallen warrior-king of the first creation and a triumphant Warrior-King of the new creation.
The problem is, however, that our churches often don’t have the theological resources to combat the misery of gender confusion. Instead, we see passages such as Ephesians 5 teaching us first and foremost about the mechanics of successful home economics rather than first and foremost about a cosmic mystery rooted in our creation identities as male and female. If the “daycare for men” trend ever reaches American soil, we might worry that evangelical churches will start up their own centers as part of a “Wives’ Day Out” ministry.
What would happen if we intentionally focused our congregations on the goal and purpose of our gender identity–a goal and purpose rooted not in the latest cultural fads but in Scripture itself? We would indeed find ourselves on the outs with the culture, but we already are when we try to address these matters. At the same time, we might gain the attention of a generation of wandering men, who don’t know how to be anything but boys. What we need for this is not another “men’s ministry.” What we need instead is to cast a vision that can explain to men their sense of alienation, of aimlessness, of frustration.
Who knows? They might even listen to what we have to say. After all, it beats
sitting in daycare all afternoon.