They gather in a dimly lit basement. Some of the men are in suits, others in overalls, young men and old, black, white, Asian and Hispanic. They stand in a circle as a clean-shaven, blond-haired man welcomes them and explains why they have assembled.
It is nearly 20 years old now and Brad Pitt has a few more wrinkles on his face but Fight Club is still one of the most challenging films I have ever seen. It wrestles with male identity in a way that few other films have managed. It depicts the internal fight that many 21st-century men feel as they work out what it means to live in a culture dominated mainly by conscription to consumerism, careerism and competitive sport.
I share the dissatisfaction Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler, has with shallow, empty ideas of manhood. But I cannot share his longing for war. I have seen first-hand the terrible impact of war on the streets of Kosovo and the refugee camps of Lebanon. I still feel my mother’s pain of growing up with a Military Cross medal where she should have had a dad. We certainly don’t need another war, but I have discovered a fight worth having. Right on our doorsteps there is injustice taking place, a crime against humanity that needs someone to stand against it. We don’t have to travel to the Middle East to find a conflict worth getting stuck into. We do not require automatic rifles or camouflage gear. We just need men who will step up to the fight.
On the news recently I watched men – emergency services and ordinary townsfolk – pulling a dusty, crying child from the rubble of a building that had collapsed in Syria. It struck me that we need recruits right here in the UK to pull children out of the rubble of collapsed families. Every town and city needs help, as a child needs rescuing roughly every 20 minutes. It might be a young boy whose home has finally imploded under the barrage of domestic violence. It may be a toddler whose family has collapsed because of the influence of drugs. It may be a teenager fleeing terror in Syria discovered months later on the back of a lorry at the M40 services. Whatever the tragedy that has brought these children to the attention of the care services, they desperately need the safety and security of a home – for a while or even for good. More than that they need people to fight for them – for their voice to be heard, and their lives to be rebuilt.
My parents taught me to fight back. I was growing up the only brown boy amid an ocean of white children as far as the eye could see. When I was backed into a corner, provoked day after day with racist language, discriminated against and bullied, my parents encouraged me to fight back. Not with my fists. That would have been too easy. But with words, and with tenacity, and with fierce love, intellect and a sense of humour.
Perhaps this was why I enjoyed Fight Club so much. The film tapped into the collective angst of many men bored with their lives and looking for something more. The film is right – there is a need for a revolution, but this revolution of advocacy and hospitality is far more demanding and challenging than a bare-knuckle fight or a rocket-propelled grenade. It takes little effort, training or bravery to pull a trigger, and the anger, chaos and disaster unleashed in a second can take a lifetime to repair. To fight for peace, for justice and for healing takes a great deal more effort. Perhaps this is the war for our times.
I have been told that most men don’t care about fostering and adoption. I’ve met scores of women who tell me that they would love to foster or adopt but that their husbands aren’t interested. Speaking in churches around the country, in seminars about fostering and adoption, men are usually outnumbered by the women several times over. The vestiges of the last few centuries have left the skewed impression that childcare is women’s business. But fostering and adoption is far more than just childcare. It is about fighting for the rights of victims. Often it is about fighting for children who have been damaged by indifferent men, by angry men. I will never forget one child who came to our home because his mum had arrived in a women’s refuge needing urgent facial reconstructive surgery. While the medics fought to save her outward appearance, we fought to heal the boy’s invisible wounds.
What I do know from my visits to churches around the country is that most Christian men I know have a desire to be godly. They are striving, albeit often with frustration, to emulate God’s character. One way that God describes himself is as a Father to the fatherless and a protector of widows and orphans (see Psalm 68:5). God, the creator of the universe, ties his very identity with nurturing and protecting the vulnerable. God defines his fatherhood not in terms of biological function but in terms of caring for someone else’s children. God steps up and takes responsibility for missing fathers in order to fight for the protection and well-being of children in need. What if the machismo rubbish that says fostering and adoption is just for women may actually be undermining our manhood? To be a godly man must surely mean aligning ourselves with the Fatherhood of our God – protector of widows and orphans.
There are days I get down that most men don’t care about the needs of looked-after children. But perhaps we don’t need most men for this fight. I believe what we need is a few good men. Men who will not settle for being the middle children of history, men who recognise that we are not little boys content to play with toys and obsess about getting our needs met. Men who are willing to be the grown-ups and look out for children who can’t look after themselves. Men who can pull themselves away from the sport on TV, the repetitive video games or their attachment to their careers and be willing to take a risk in the lives of others. Men who want to be like Jesus, suffering the little children to come to them. Men who recognise that whatever they do for the least, the last and the lost, they do for Jesus and for his cause.
I already know a few good men like this. Like the Fight Club we too come from all sorts of backgrounds, although we don’t usually meet in darkened basements. I know a foster dad who is an airline pilot, another who is a world expert in nuclear fusion, another who teaches German in a local school, another who was captain of Liverpool Football Club, another who left his career so his family could care for more children, another who is a bishop in the Church of England, another who designs and builds tug boats, another who is a member of The Magic Circle. There is always plenty to talk about and often there are new war wounds to show off. Some are battling sleep deprivation, others a system starved of resources. Some are navigating the minefield of special educational needs. Others are building peace with birth families on the verge of self-destruction. One is beaming with news that his foster child has graduated from university, another that his adopted son has recently learned how to ride a bike. This is our fight club, we will fight for the rights of these children, fiercely protecting them from further harm, giving unrelentingly of our best to ensure that these children plucked from the rubble will have a much better future. New recruits are always welcome – why not consider joining our fight club?