Metropolis Maria

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Max Headroom: Thirty-Year Celebration Reblog - Matters of Faith

There are three episodes of the Max Headroom series which deal either directly or indirectly with religion and matters of faith. The first season episode ‘finale,’ “Blanks,”[1] dealt with individuals who have elected to remove themselves from the computer databases of the world.  There is no official record of their existence and they are referred to as the “Blanks” of the episode title.  The plot of the story is one where the political chief executive officer,[2] Simon Peller, has decided to wage a campaign against the Blanks. Because they have no records, they don’t officially exist, and therefore have no rights.  In a later episode where another Blank is arrested,[3] we see that Blanks are matched up by a computer with unsolved crimes regardless of whether or not they actually committed them.  It’s almost as if racial profiling has gone berserk.  In “Blanks,” Simon Peller arrests and imprisons the Blanks because he finds them “untidy” and a threat to his vision of “order.” The Blanks, led by computer genius Bruno, decide to fight back, targeting the main computer on which the city depends for everything from running a coffee maker to powering the television networks.

Should the networks go down, the television-obsessed public will react violently. The Blanks interrupt the broadcasts in order to provide warnings of what will happen should the campaign not cease and desist.  During these interruptions, members of the Network 23’s board observe the reactions noting that people are going to the black market and purchasing video players and old recordings of programs in order to continue to feed their habit. Network 23, Simon Peller’s network sponsor in the tele-election that placed him in power,[4] attempts to pressure him into relenting. Peller refuses to budge.  Meanwhile series protagonist Edison Carter and his team try to convince Bruno and the blanks to relent.  Max Headroom himself visits Bruno via his computer terminals.  In their ensuing dialogue, Bruno accuses the world of being devotees of a cult: “Your network, and the authorities, are mesmerizing millions into worshipping the new priesthood of the computer. Like cavemen worshipping fire! It’s a false faith, Max.” 

Worship is simply attributing supreme worth to someone or something.  In other words, its deciding that someone or something is worthy of all you have to offer, and acting accordingly.  Bruno’s accusation stings, because in that world, it’s too close to the truth.  It is awfully close in our world as well. Network executives are always at war to keep people in front of the television screen.  Too often, as I noted in an earlier post, people are more aware and literate of television programs than they are of history, politics, and even religion.
The second episode that deals with religious themes is the second season episode “Deities.”[5]  In this episode, Edison Carter’s producer, Murray, wants him to do a story on the skyrocketing success of the ‘Vu-Age Church,” led by Vanna Smith. Unknown to the rest of the team, Edison dated Vanna when they were both in college.

Vanna is the face of the church’s weekly broadcasts on Network 23.  Each week the church promises a ‘resurrection process’ whereby the grieving family can preserve their deceased loved ones’ brains in digital format, so that they will always be around.  Currently, they can go to the church’s studios and visit the terminals where they can ‘converse’ with their deceased loved ones. It is revealed that the preservation techniques are faulty and the best they can do is a recording of the loved ones, but there is no consciousness present.  As for Vanna, she began well, as an idealistic young missionary but later got seduced by the glitz, glamour and wealth of preaching to millions on TV.

But again, the religion promulgated by the Vu-Age Church is nebulous at best. The Vu-Age church promises a ‘salvation’ that is poorly defined.  Salvation from what? To what? Why is salvation needed?  It is never explored any further than that. The church’s broadcast is modeled on that of many Christian televangelists, but many of the core Christian doctrines are never mentioned.  In the end, when the ‘resurrection process’ is exposed as a fraud, the church’s teachings are also revealed to be empty promises. When Edison Carter is interviewing one of Vanna’s subordinates, he asks “Are you a clergyman? Or just a PR man?” The reply is telling: “When you come right down to it, Mr. Carter, is there a difference?”

While there are many discussions of religion on television, tax emption status of religious entities, and when ‘holy men’ are found to have feet of clay[6], the central conflict seems to be simply between selling hope (a blind one as it turns out) versus offering the truth.

The third episode that touches on religious themes present in the series is “Lessons.”[7] In this episode, Edison and Murray enter an old church building located in the Fringes, or the desolate part of town populated primarily by the Have-Nots.  At the front, on the platform, is a television set, and the people in the pews are watching Network 23.  As the pair moves through the church, Edison asks Murray “Whatever happened to the old religions?” Murray responds, “Television killed it. We have better miracles.”

These episodes address the role of religion in the world of Max Headroom (one specifically, and two tangentially).  And I see this as a warning to the Church that this future is, again, only 20 minutes away.

Specifically, the Church may be on the verge of making itself irrelevant to the life of the world around it.  For the purposes of this discussion, my definition of the Church is the body of Christian believers around the world. The Church was established by God the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to be a witness to the world of the Resurrection of Jesus and to proclaim the salvation from sin that He accomplished by that miraculous event.  Religion refers to the outward expression of that body; it is the life that we as believers in Jesus are called to live.  “Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.”[8]  This was written by the Apostle James, who many believe may have been the half-brother of Jesus.  It is in keeping with the long tradition of Old Testament prophets who decried religious ceremonies and rites, but rather called for God’s people to live out their faith in service to others.  However, we need to be reminded that salvation from sin and to a complete reunion with our Heavenly Father is not predicated on doing the right things. Rather, our works should be a reflection of a life transformed by the Resurrection of Christ.  The Apostle Paul makes this clear when he writes “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”[9] Vanna Smith’s Vu-Age Church is about buying one’s way to salvation (however it was defined), but there were no following good works. These good works flow from a saved life, they do not earn it.  I believe that living this transformed life, with Christ as our center, will result in the miraculous. In Max Headroom’s world, believers were co-opted by the world (see James 1:27 again) and made irrelevant. The Church is at its most relevant when it is counter-cultural and speaking the truth (the whole truth) in love to power.

[1] Episode 105, originally aired on May 5, 1987. I refer to it as the first season finale, but its not in the sense that we understand it today.  It simply was the last episode of the first season.
[2] The series never gives the position a title. Is he the Mayor? The President? The Majordomo? The Big Kahuna? We never find out.
[3] Episode 201, “Academy,” aired September 18, 1987
[4] Elections in the world of Max Headroom are held via network ratings during the election period. Whichever network “wins” the ratings period, the candidate that it sponsors wins the election. It is also noted that the results are often negotiated in advance which makes even this kind of election a sham.
[5] Episode 202, originally aired on September 9, 1987.
[6] “Betrayal comes to us in many forms: the husband whose credit account shows visit to unlicensed sex therapists; the child who won’t watch his TV; the TV hero who turns out to be quite un-heroic. This is a story about an even greater betrayal: when those who claim to speak for God turn out to be liars.” – Edison Carter.
[7] Episode 207, which was the last episode aired on ABC, on May 5, 1988.
[8]  James 1:27, Phillips NT
[9] Ephesians 2:8-10, New International Version

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Max Headroom: Thirty-Year Celebration Reblog - Future Tense

In celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the premiere of the Max Headroom television series that ran on ABC in the US, I am reblogging my posts from five years back and on:

The Max Headroom television series almost invariably begins with the tagline “20 minutes into the future.” This is usually seen in a caption at the bottom of the screen superimposed over the establishing shot for the episode.  It is also, not coincidentally, the title of the UK telefilm that served (with a handful of adjustments) as the pilot for the series.

But I see it as more than just a clever indicator of the setting.  In one way, it reveals a sense of immediacy.  That is, it informs us that the society we are witnessing on the screen is right around the corner.  We are not that far off from the passage of laws banning off switches on televisions, the limitation of education for only those who can afford to pay for it, and from television network ratings determining elections.  This future is upon us and we must deal with it, the tagline subtly warns us.

The largest corporate sponsor of Network 23 is the Zik Zak Corporation.  While it maintains offices that are only slightly smaller than the Network 23 building, its main headquarters is in “New Tokyo.”  

Zik Zak has taken diversification to heart.  It produces fast food ‘burger paks,’ ‘soy muffin mixes,’ and many other items (in fact, one slogan says “We make everything you need, and You need everything we make.”). One item in particular Zik Zak made was a bracelet that stimulated the pleasure centers of the brain, creating a euphoric vision that also dampened the internal controls on impulse behavior, thus causing the wearer to seek out more Zik Zak products for purchase.

Its corporate brand is “Know Future.” This is a promise that Zik Zak will deliver the future.  But what future will arrive courtesy of Zik Zak? Its burger paks promise convenience at the expense of taste and nutrition. The Max Headroom character famously noted that the burgers doubled their nutritional value simply by being packaged in its plastic wrapper.

In addition, the future that Zik Zak is inviting us to ‘know’ the one that is only ‘twenty minutes’ away, is a future in which art and politics are heavily influenced by business interests.  The quest for financial gain determines the courses of government and culture.  In the episode entitled ‘Neurostim’[1] (from which the Zik Zak bracelet mentioned above appeared), one bit player lamented the fact that “no one makes anything new anymore,” which reveals that in the world of Max Headroom, creativity and originality has taken a back seat to rushing to make a profit.  And in the political arena, it was noted that at the corporate executive levels that ‘everyone knows’ that the tele-elections (elections determined by network ratings) are rigged.  Each network takes turns supplying its endorsed candidate for the leadership of the government. Keep in mind that the politicians are beholden to the networks for their candidacy, and the networks are not beholden to the viewers, the common citizens, but to the corporate sponsors, like Zik Zak.

Once elected, the Network 23-endorsed candidate begins a program of harassing those individuals who have chosen to live ‘off the grid,’ i.e., outside of the prevailing digital culture. These people, known as ‘Blanks,’ have managed to surreptitiously have their records expunged from the computerized databases. The politician, Simon Peller, believes in order, and the Blanks represent a threat to this order, and so he is willing for the Blanks to completely destroy the public’s access to its television programming rather than release innocent Blanks who he has ordered imprisoned. The stated result of corporate control over government is that very often, justice is about ‘cash flow,’ and Blanks and those forced to live in the Fringes (outlying poverty-strangled areas of the city) are obviously bereft of cash.

Is this the future we are invited to ‘know?’

One of the recurring character, Blank Reg (played by the marvelous William Morgan Sheppard), notes “Remember when we said there was ‘no future?’ Well, this is it.”  This is the character’s assessment of the world he lives in.  Blank Reg and his companion Dominique, operate a pirate television network called ‘Big Time TV.’  In the original UK telefilm, Big Time is the mirror for Channel 4, the British television network featuring the Max Headroom character as the host of its music video program in the 1980’s. In the US series, Blank Reg, Dom and Big Time TV are allies of intrepid tele-journalist Edison Carter and his comrades at Network 23. They live in the Fringes, and the network is housed in a large, pink RV, and thus mobile, setting up shop wherever the mood strikes them.  Blank Reg is illiterate, but still cherishes education.  In one famous exchange, he is approached by a denizen of the Fringe who has stolen Edison’s video camera. She wants to trade it for something of value. Blank Reg produces a book. She says “What is it?” He responds, “It’s a book. A non-volatile storage medium. It’s very rare. You should have one.” To which she tells Blank Reg to “Shove it!”

If we look at the warning that this future is only ‘twenty minutes’ away, the corporate suits’ invitation to ‘know’ it and the assessment of someone who lives in that future and decides that it is empty, we wonder if we really want to live there ourselves.  It is a bleak vision of the future, one that seems to offer no hope for a happy ending.

But for the Believer, we look forward to a happy ending.  We have faith in the promise of one and that there are no trials, tribulations or difficulties that can in anyway compared to the joys to come.  This does not negate the reality of the hardships of this world, but rather encourages us to endure them.  Stripping away much of the eschatological prophecy seeking in the Book of Revelation we read one common theme: that the end of the story, filled with light and rest and joy is promised to those who have endured the hellish persecution presented in the first nineteen (or so) chapters.[2]  Elsewhere, the Bible contains promises for the believer, where God promises to give those who trust in Him a ‘hope and a future’[3]  Other passages also indicate the promise of a future full of good to those who believe.[4]  Once again, the Book of Revelation teaches us that no matter how bad things get, human history is progressing toward a definite end, and it is an end full of promise. That is the future I want to know.

[1] Episode 206
[2] Revelation, chapters 21 and 22
[3] Jeremiah 29:11
[4] Psalm 2:1-6 and Proverbs 31:25, for example

Monday, February 13, 2017

[Monday Review] Identity Crisis, by Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales

A friend of mine loaned me his copy of Identity Crisis, and I finished it in one sitting. It is a heartbreaking story about the toll being a superhero can take on your personal life and the lives of those around you. Also, as a friend on Facebook pointed out to me, it was a very intimate story, as worlds were not at stake. It was personal, and yet, the tension was still high, because you cared about the characters enough to want to solve the mystery and resolve the titular "crisis."

I have been a fan of Brad Meltzer, surprisingly enough not from his books, but from his History Channel television series, Brad Meltzer's Decoded and Brad Meltzer's Lost History. The latter program identified artifacts that had been lost, misplaced or plain stolen and asked for viewers to aid in their recovery. The first episode detailed the story of the "911 Flag" that was raised over Ground Zero.  Toward the end of that single season, it was reported that someone had come forward and returned the flag. This was followed by several months of testing, and then a follow up standalone program aired on the investigation that led to the recovery, identification and verification of the artifact. His writing and delivery sold me on his skills to tell a story.  These skills served him well in making these characters human.

I must confess I was not (and still am not) very familiar with the entirety of the DC pantheon of heroes and villains, but what I knew helped me follow the story. I can completely understand why this is considered a classic.

Of special interest is the article at the end detailing some of the pop figure personalities that the artist used to model his figures of the characters on.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Skylab's Skyfall

On this date, in 1979, The United States' first space station, Skylab, tumbled out of its orbit and disintegrated in the earth's atmosphere near Perth, Australia.

Photo: NASA
I remember watching occasional news reports of the four Skylab missions between launch in 1973 and its final mission and subsequent abandonment in 1974, and the video images of the station in orbit over the earth were exhilarating. While in orbit, US astronauts set the space endurance records.
We had already demonstrated our space travel superiority over the Soviets by landing men on the moon and returning them safely to earth nearly eight times over a ten year period, and it seemed that there was nothing that could keep up us from setting up a permanent station in orbit around the earth, then one on the moon and from thence, beyond into the rest of the solar system. It was a heady time to be a NASA groupie, to be sure.

But then, after only six years in orbit and a cost of over $2 billion, on July 11, 1979, the once proud achievement became only so much space junk that was discarded and allowed to crash ignominiously back to earth.

When I saw that the anniversary of its fiery death was approaching, I began to reflect on the story of the Tower of Babel as told in Genesis 11:1-9 (NIV):
"Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.  They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”  But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”  So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel —because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth."
Now, let me be very clear: I am in no way suggesting that the destruction of Skylab and the Tower of Babel are the same in terms of epic impact on the human race.  After, all, less than twenty years later we launched the next attempt, the International Space Station, or ISS.

But I think its instructive for us to pause and consider that often we initiate these big, technological achievements and forget that it is only by the grace of God that anything succeeds at all. Often, we think it is all us. We are the masters of our destiny. We are as powerful as God Himself. Until something happens that we can't fix, that our ingenuity didn't account for or know to correct or avoid.
We would do well to remember that while our God has given us intellect, wisdom, and the ability to do some pretty awesome things, He still wants us to choose to love Him, to obey Him and to be dependent on Him. To do otherwise invites our own technological marvels to flame out. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What I'm grooving on, Summer 2016 edition

Every once in a while, I get sucked into something I hadn't expected, and find myself enjoying a property is just so perfect in its conception.

I'm speaking, of course, about Fox's Houdini & Doyle 

The series is set not too long after author Arthur Conan Doyle has just published "The Final Problem," a short story in which the great Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarity have plunged over Reichenbach Falls to their deaths. It was a move to allow Doyle to move on to other pursuits.  
In the television series, Doyle (played by Stephen Mangan) teams up with showman and escape artist extraordinaire Erich Weiss, better known to the world as Harry Houdini (played by Michael Weston) in order to investigate crimes that at first blush have a supernatural origin. This is based at least partly on the real-life friendship between the two, and their respective worldviews: Houdini as the skeptic, Bradly debunking most paranormal claims because as a magician and illusionist himself, he knows ask the tricks, and Doyle, as the true believer (Doyle was once fooled by paper cutouts into believing that fairies had been photographed). To balance these two opposing philosophies, the pair is joined by Constable Adelaide Station (played by Rebecca Liddard, who reminds me of a young Rachel Weisz from there Mummy movies).

The show seems to be attempting an X-Files-but-set-in-the-Edwardian-era vibe, which I think they pull off rather well, despite a few glaring anachronisms.

What I really like about the show is that each of the main characters' views carries enormous personal stakes: Doyle desperately wants the supernatural to be real, as he is struggling with the impending death of a dearly loved member of the family, and Houdini is struggling with the guilt of leading a young widowed mother to kill herself, orphaning her children because she desperately wanted to believe that she would be reunited with her recently deceased husband. Houdini insists that people look to the near and now and not be so preoccupied with death that they forget to live
For Geekklesiastics, this tension holds a special appeal. As believers, we are totally on board with the supernatural. We get that when we die, we will be reunited with our Creator and Savior. But on the other hand, we are called to remain in this world as long as possible, being salt and light.  The Apostle Paul echoes this tension when he writes in his letter to the Philippians:

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:23‭-‬24 NIV)

But this tension is resolved in a very famous passage just two verses before:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21 NIV)

It is possible to live within both extremes. We can both believe in a world to come after this one, but we cannot allow ourselves to become "so heavenly mined that we are no earthly good." But Jesus promises us that although we do well to look forward to heaven as our eternal home, He will make our lives in this world completely worth living.

This is (was) a joint US - British production and as of this writing, there is no word on whether or not it will be renewed for a second season. However, the ratings for the putative first season were not promising. There is an official Facebook group dedicated to the series, but there has been no announcement one way or the other. Which is a shame, as I would love to see them explore this tension even further.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Captain Hydra?

Update: There have since been some further "big reveals" from issue 1 to issue 2 that have clarified my position somewhat. Read on, then see below.

So the first issue of Steve Rogers: Captain America, I think the heat from the firestorm raging on the Internet is contributing to the global warming crisis.

While I have not read the comic, there is a pretty big reveal at the end: Steve Rogers has been a Hydra sleeper agent almost his entire life.

I'll let that sink in a little.

Steve Rogers, the sickly. scrawny young man who volunteered for the top-secret Super Soldier program of the US Army, the kid who hates bullies and just wanted to help the war effort, and as Captain America, the only successful recipient of the Super Soldier Serum, he punches out Hitler a full year before the United States enters the war, was actually aiding and abetting the enemy the whole time.

There are plenty of blog Twitter and Facebook posts on this with most on the side of this being a heretical turn and others asking what's the big deal?

One pretty compelling post  I saw put the scandal in the historical context of comics in general and Captain America specifically. The discussion pointed out that this reveal invalidates who Steve Rogers is, and treats the Holocaust as nothing more than an attention grabber, "clickbait," to use the author's expression. Again, as I have not read the first issue (and am not certain that I want to), this could well be hyperbole.

But what if it isn't?

And what if the writers and editors were doing something that they may not realize themselves?

In an interview with Entrainment Weekly, writer Nick Spencer says "Captain America is not just one of the most recognizable faces in the Marvel Universe. He’s an inspiring figure, somebody who brings people together. Everybody here obviously gets that. What you hope is that this story, in its own very different way, highlights those things and only continues to elevate the character in importance, and only serves to illustrate how powerful that symbol is."

Mostly, I believe that Captain America is and has been a symbol of what America should be.  But what if this darker turn illustrates more what America really is.

Don't get me wrong: I am an American Exceptionalist. I believe in the promise of America, that when its right, there is nothing else like it and it should be a shining beacon of hope to the rest of the world. That is the essence of Captain America's power as a symbol.

But by portraying Cap as a secret Hydra agent, I believe that there may well be a message that Cap is really revealing the hidden parts of the American Dream, the parts we don't show to company, lest they get the "wrong ideas" about us.

But what if, instead of a symbol for the potential of America, this new interpretation of Steve Rogers is as a symbol for how America truly is: Outwardly displaying virtue, loyalty, perseverance, and moral righteousness, but inwardly corrupt, divisive and fearful.

Currently, we are embroiled in one of the most divisive, bitter presidential campaigns in my memory.  For the first time, the leading candidates for each party carry an unfavorable rating in the most trusted polls. In other words, neither candidate is looked upon favorably by the voters.  On the one hand, we have a corporate-natured tax-evading, misogynistic xenophobe, playing to the deepest most visceral fears humans of all stripes experience. On the other hand, we have the ambitious wife of a former president who routinely plays fast and loose with the rules, is under scrutiny for her use of an unsecured private email server for government business and who is consistently viewed as untrustworthy by a large number of the electorate.

The American Exceptionalism I adhere to will proclaim that America is the best possible place, and then use that as a promise, not a boast, to the rest of the world. We make this promise, and then use it to critically examine ourselves and judge how we measure up, not against any other nation but our own ideals, and founding documents. Where we fail it is not because of our ideals, but because we have failed to hold ourselves accountable to those ideals.

This version of Captain America exposes the ugly side of America. I hope he goes away soon, and the Cap that I and millions of others look up to comes back.  Not because I want to hide our failings, but because I, and I presume others as well want a symbol that will inspire us to be and do our best.

So, the big reveal is that when Kobik, the living embodiment of an infinity stone restored Steve Rogers and he once again assumed the mantle of Captain America, his reality was "reshaped" by Kobik, thereby making it possible for him to be a Hydra deep sleeper agent.  I still think that the wrtiers are playing a dangerous game by even considering this a possibility, but I do apologize if this post seemed reactionary.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Captain America: Civil War and the Book of Romans

Now that a few weeks have passed, and I have had the opportunity to see Captain America: Civil War twice, there are some thoughts that I believe are present.

A number of bloggers and other critics have noted that neither Steve Rogers/Captain America nor Tony Stark/Iron Man are 100% correct in their views. Neither individuals nor institutions can be trusted to provide competent, reliable oversight for people with power.

Personal responsibility:
I find it interesting that in discussing the Sokovia Accords, which would limit the Avengers to act only when they had clearance from a UN panel, Steve Rogers claims to accept that in order to act he must be willing to live with the consequences. In other words, he sys he is willing to take responsibility for the results, good and bad, of his actions.  

Speaking to Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, he says "This job... we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn't mean everybody. But if we can't find a way to live with that, next time... maybe nobody gets saved."  Later, as the Avengers debate whether to sign the Accords, he has the following exchange with Tony Stark/Iron Man:

Steve Rogers: Tony, if someone dies on your watch, you don't give up. 
Tony Stark: Who said we're giving up? 
Steve Rogers: We are if we're not taking responsibility for our actions. This document just shifts the blame.

These statements are inspiring, and even convincing in their call to take responsibility.

But then, when he and his best friend Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier share a private moment, Steve's tune seems to change. Only Bucky appears to accept the implications of his actions:

Bucky Barnes: I don't know if I'm worth all this to you. 
Captain America: What you did all those years, it wasn't you. You didn't have a choice. 
Bucky Barnes: I know... but I did it.

"I did it." The simple, quiet way that Sebastian Stan (the actor playing Bucky) delivers the line is heartbreaking in its resignation. It does not matter the why he did those things. He openly acknowledges that it was by his hand that people died.   Too many people try to minimize or negate their responsibility. Many years ago comedian Flip Wilson had a catchphrase that to this day people still use: "The Devil made me do it." Bucky rejects that excuse, admitting that although his mind was not his own, he nonetheless owns up to the fact that he still bears the responsibility.

Another exchange, this time between Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch and the Vision also seems to resonate with Paul's message in his letter to the Romans:

Wanda Maximoff: [laugh] ... I used to think of myself one way. But after this... [swirling fingers with magic]...I am something else. And still me, I think. But that's not what everyone else sees. 
Vision: Do you know, I don't know what this is [point at mind gem on his forehead]. Not really. I know it's not of this world. But it powered Loki staff, gave you your abilities. But its true nature is a mystery. And yet, it is part of me. 
Wanda Maximoff: Are you afraid of it? 
Vision: I wish to understand it. The more I do the less it controls me. One day, who knows, I may even control it.

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.  (15)  For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  (16)  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.  (17)  So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  (18)  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  (19)  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  (20)  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  (21)  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  (22)  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  (23)  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  (24)  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:14-24 ESV)

Where Wanda and Vision differ, of course, is their desire to fully understand and eventually control the parts of themselves that make them different and potentially dangerous. Paul, on the other hand, realizes that not only can he not control his inward nature, he will never fully understand it. He laments this failure in that 24th verse: "who will rescue me?"

Bucky seems to realize this as well, and gets that he is not in control. His solution? To lock himself away from anyone who could exploit him and his abilities.

Steve Rogers: Are you sure about this? 
Bucky Barnes: [going into cryogenic stasis] I can't trust my own mind. 

T'Challa: Your friend and my father, they were both victims. If I can help one of them find peace...

If we had read on into the very next sentence in Paul's letter to the Romans, which leads into Chapter 8, we read Paul's solution lies outside of himself and his ability to understand and mastery: only by being surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ can one hope to escape. He does not have to submit to cryogenic stasis to be freed; freedom comes from the sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection of Jesus.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.  (8:1)  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (2)  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 7:25-8:2 ESV)

The Avengers have never been the tightest-knit group. In fact, when they first meet (in the first Avengers film), Captain America and Iron Man take different approaches to apprehending Loki, and then when they all get together, the squabble so much that it is impossible that they could every work together, unless, of course, they get a little push in the right direction. This push comes from the death of a beloved agent, a good man, who gave his life to try to stop Loki.  In the second Avengers film, again Iron Man and Captain America have different approaches to protecting the world, and each is too stubborn to compromise until it is almost too late.

The villain, Helmut Zemo, recognizes this weakness and does all he can to exploit it.  His reasoning follows thusly:

Zemo: An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again, but one which crumbles from within? That's dead... forever.

This is an echo of what Jesus said  to people who claimed He was possessed by Satan:

Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. (Matthew 12:25 ESV)

This quote has appeared many times in our history, including speeches by Abraham Lincoln on his determination to preserve the Union during the American Civil War.  Even now, 150 years later, we are still dealing with the mistakes of this great national tragedy.  The phrase "United we stand, divided we fall" even forms one of the taglines for the film we are discussing.

I think its important to note here that unity in this case does not necessarily mean uniformity of presentation or thought; it means that we have a common purpose and we work together to accomplish a common vision.  Much like the Avengers, the Church is a collection of people who have gifts, talents and abilities to be used for a common purpose. None of us look alike, and we certainly all don't think alike, but when we put these gifts and talents to use, working together, amazing things happen.  Too often, though, the Church descends into petty squabbles based on our differences, and we end up with our own Civil War, in miniature. The problem, though is that our Civil War potentially has eternal consequences.

Vengeance & Justice:
Zemo is nursing an overwhelming loss. During the Battle of Sokovia (as presented in Avengers: Age of Ultron), his family was killed, and he blames the Avengers. In this bit of dialogue with T'Challa/Black Panther, he shares his pain with someone who he believes understands his thirst for vengeance:

T'Challa: Is this all you wanted? To see them rip each other apart? 
Zemo: My father lived outside the city, and I thought we would be safe there. My son was excited. He could see the Iron Man from the car window. I told my wife, "Don't worry. They're fighting in the city. We're miles from harm." And the dust cleared, and the screaming stopped. It took me two days until I found their bodies. My father still holding my wife and son in his arms... And the Avengers? They went home. I knew I couldn't kill them. More powerful men than me have tried. But if I could get them to kill each other... I'm sorry about your father. He seemed a good man, with a dutiful son. 
T'Challa: Vengeance has consumed you. It's consuming them. I'm done letting it consume me. Justice will come soon enough. 
Zemo: Tell that to the dead. 
[points gun to head, T'Challa stops him] 
T'Challa: The living are not done with you yet.

Vengeance is a fire that consumes everything. In this case, it has consumed Zemo and his actions in search of retribution have led to many others dying and/or being hurt in the process. Those seeking to avenge themselves often are careless with regard to the collateral damage they cause. They only want to hurt the object of their vengeance, and if anyone else gets in the way, too bad.

The problem is that vengeance often breed more vengeance. You hurt me, I get back at you, which drives you to get back at me, and so on and so on, ad nauseum.   Again, Paul discusses this in his letter to the Romans:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  (20)  To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."  (21)  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)

One might object that Paul was not thinking about the loss of family and the pain that would cause someone which then might lead them to seek vengeance. But I believe that Paul believed precisely this to be the case. He was writing to Christians in Rome, who were being persecuted for their faith. Family members and loved ones could well have been killed as part of this. Only T'Challa gets that vengeance is something that we do for ourselves, and rather than making us feel better, it only consumes us more. He rejects the notion of vengeance for something else: justice. Justice is the equitable assignment of responsibility and penalty for wrongdoing. T'Challa understands that Zemo, in his careless pursuit of vengeance must account to the survivors and those he has hurt. The living require an accounting of Zemo for the pain he has caused.

If vengeance is such a bad thing, then why does the Scripture teach that God will execute "vengeance?" Only God is unbiased and righteous enough to execute vengeance on our behalf without it consuming Him; this is true Justice.  Those who seek reckless vengeance must answer to those who are left in their wake.

Many would scoff at superhero movies in general and Marvel superhero movies specifically as eye-candy and fluff. But to my eye, there is much in this film to ponder over and to consider in light of personal responsibility, unity, and vengeance and justice.