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Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Whether we know it or not, today we stand in the crosshairs of war. This war is not nation against nation, or even so much nation against terrorist. This war that we are on the brink of exists within our borders, on our very streets, perhaps in our very homes. There are lives being lost, bullets flying about. Yet, the casualties are such that at this point we are not awake enough to realize how real this war is.

Throughout history wars have prophesied themselves to the public. Those who were aware saw the war coming. Signs in culture signaled its reality. Many took this as an opportunity to become spectators of the war. Civil wars, those between brothers, seem to draw the crowds. The residents of Charleston, South Carolina came to the water fronts to watch and observe the display of war in front of them as Fort Sumter took on the first cannon volley of the American Civil War. Spectators with picnic baskets arrived at Manasseh to witness the spectacle of brothers fighting at Bull Run.

Perhaps the spectacle of Captain America: Civil War can give us pause enough to consider our cultural situation and the precipice over which we stand.

And so our culture is telling of the war in front of us again today. This time the cinema is prophetically, or maybe responsively, broadcasting the impending war before our families. We should not be so naïve to think these visual arts are merely entertainment for entertainment’s sake. They are, in fact, cultural artifacts beholding us to what is real all around. Within the last two months, two major studios have released two shared-genre films with one specific thematic plot: the war between allies. Today’s release of Captain America: Civil War is obvious enough to tell us exactly what it is before we set foot into the theater. As a visual, theatrically produced war between cultural icons is displayed before us, it tells of the real war happening all around us.

War is a spectacle.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

The plot of Civil War is obvious enough without delving into spoilers. Captain America and Iron Man disagree, and they fight. The circumstances of fate or mystery work behind the stage pulling strings that bring these two in ultimate conflict with one another. They fight spectacularly. As large as the war between brothers becomes, it is no less the sum of its parts. Two men, two friends, two brothers stand on opposite sides of the line. I suppose that this is the reality of all war.

The intrigue, the amassing of allies, the hidden truths, and the manipulation of others may collude together to put brothers in direct opposition to one another, but we want a spectacle, and a spectacle we will have.

When I was in college, I shared a dorm room with my younger brother. When there was harmony between us no one hardly took note of it. When there were disagreements, the entire floor would come out to the hallway to see two scrawny brothers wrestle it out for dominion. Might makes right.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

When the culture around us begs for a spectacle, and when the prevailing structures of authority legitimize the actions of power and aggressive, domineering, behavior to impose its dominion, then we must have war. The war is both coming and already at our feet. Those sworn to serve and protect become handmaidens to the domineering powers. The media gives us unhindered access the street fights, bloody abuses, and destruction of brothers. Civil war is a spectator sport.

The legal system turns, bends, shifts like water moving along a channel of sand. It takes the path of least resistance, always affirming the one with the most power. Civil war becomes an unjust spectacle.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Captain America: Civil War will probably be the highest grossing Marvel Studios film of all time. It is, in my opinion, the best film the studio has ever produced. The Russo brothers have taken the directorial helm of the brand and very clearly and obviously know what to do with it. They understand pace, surprise, visual arts, ensemble casts, and intricate plot lines very well. They have mastered their craft. It is an excellent summer blockbuster film.

But it is also an obvious cultural provocation to the larger issue of our war. Brothers fight. Perhaps that is what brothers do. But our culture stands at a brink of a greater civil war, and this film is a pop-prophecy to that effect. It’s not merely that Tony Stark sees things one way, and Steve Rodgers sees it another and so they come to fisticuffs. Everything is nuanced, everything is mysterious, everything is suspicious.

The “society of the spectacle”—as Mark Sayers calls it—doesn’t allow us to reflect on these things. It just produces another blockbuster tale for the world to enjoy. And so we will go, we will watch, we will laugh (at all the right moments), we will cheer, we will gasp in surprise, and we will stick around for the post-credit easter egg scenes because we, as fans, like to be acknowledged by the studio tipping their hats to our consumeristic cravings for more spectacle.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

Perhaps the spectacle of Captain America: Civil War, though, can give us pause enough to consider our cultural situation and the precipice over which we stand.

Today, we see brothers and sisters crushed under the hands of the oppressive and unjust systems of society and culture. Do we see the war coming? Today, we are on the brink of a tyrannical, pragmatic, power-hungry demagogue eager to tear down America, only to rebuild it in his own image. The war is at our feet. Today, we are embroiled in the controversy and conflict of immigration, health care, border walls, economic security, tolerance, and backwash of power struggles. The war is with our brothers.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!

This is why we must reflect on the need for unity within the people of God. It is a beautiful display of the nature of God when we dwell in unity. Jesus prayed for our shared unity. The veracity of our message is testified to the world by our unity. The strength of our gospel is known, not by our arms or numbers, but by our unity. Yet cultural forces and sinful hearts regularly threaten this heavenly directive.

The unity of the people of God is the necessary construct with which we must overcome the civil wars in our streets and pews. It is not an easy or natural work. In fact, we seem hellbent on maintaining division. Our superhero myths are prophesying about the war at our front door. Will we have the eyes to see beyond the popcorn and spectacle to what’s really going on?


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