Black or White? The Sunset Limited

"Black" and "White"

“Two players. Two sides. One is light. One is dark.” The quote comes from Lost, but it’s a perfect epitaph for The Sunset Limited, a stage play by Cormac McCarthy, and now also an HBO film.

The Sunset Limited has only two characters, named simply “Black” and “White.” Early on it becomes apparent that Black had been on his way to work, waiting on the platform at the train station, when White had attempted to throw himself in front of the train. Black had caught him, stopped him, and brought him home to his apartment. The play itself consists of the two characters engaged in a verbal wrestling match for an intense ninety minutes.

White is a professional intellectual – Black calls him “Professor,” and he is clearly better at stringing the words together than Black, an ex-con and reformed murderer who lives in the ghetto in hopes of being a sort of Good Samaritan to the hopeless lost (he calls them “the junkies”).

The two debate the existence of God (Black believes; White doesn’t), the meaning of life (to Black, it’s about God; to White, there is no meaning to life), the reality of suffering (to Black, suffering is real, but has a purpose and an end; to White, all of life is vain suffering, a cruel joke, and death is the sickly sweet, desired end to it all).

Throughout it all, White has a dazed, haunted look about him. Whereas Black can break out into a raucous laughter at his own silly joke, White can only laugh the despondent, despairing cackle of a man who’s given up all hope of anything making sense.

Dialectically, Black is no match for White. But he possesses a simple wisdom about life that transcends all of White’s big words and long sentences. With obvious anguish, Black pleads with White to, “Stay with me a while,” “Let’s talk some more,” all the while hoping that White will open himself up to God and find the great relief and release that follows that simple act of the will. White won’t do it – whether he cannot or will not, it’s hard to say. In the end, it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t do it. All he wants to do is die and end his absurd, miserable, meaningless existence.

This week marks Passover, when Jews commemorate the Angel of Death passing over all the firstborn of the Jews in Egypt. At God’s command, every Jewish family sacrificed a lamb and placed the blood on their door frames. When the Angel of Death came through, he saw the blood and “passed over” their homes, but every Egyptian firstborn was slain. The following day, Moses led the Jews out of Egypt, in plain view of the Egyptians who were mourning their dead.

The events of the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy take place after all this happens. It basically consists of one long sermon from Moses to the people of Israel. If you were to summarize it in one sentence, it might go something like this: “Serve God and you will have life. Reject God, and death will have you.” Consider this sober prediction concerning the one who rejects God. “You will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and in the evening, ‘If only it were morning!’ – because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see.”

An ‘anxious mind,’ ‘eyes weary with longing,’ and ‘a despairing heart filled with dread day and night.’ That is White. He’s rejected God, and death has him. All that’s left is for him to finish himself off, making the choice complete.

This week is also Easter, when Christians, to whom Jesus is the Passover lamb of sacrifice, celebrate the great feat of redemption, not from the physical bondage of slavery in Egypt, but from the bondage of sin and slavery to a meaningless existence. The wholly redeemed life is signified by the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead which took place three days after Passover when he – the Passover lamb – was sacrificed. Life, purpose, meaning … That is Black. He has simply responded to God, acknowledged God, and he has life.

Death or life. Some things really are black and white. “Two players. Two sides. One is light. One is dark.” Which one will you choose?

Blessed are the Communists?

JesusWasACommunistMatthew Modine is turning to Jesus. His new short film "Jesus Was a Communist" offers "a discussion of the New Testament's messages in the context of poverty, pollution and political unrest." The film will "also address the Occupy Wall Street movement happening throughout the world and how it relates to the Bible."

How timely. It's the new meme.

Socialism = Christianity. C'mon Christians, obey your Lord Jesus like good little boys and girls.

Or so say the atheist and agnostic secularizers.



  • Jeremy is a college student friend of mine. Today his Ethics professor told the class that Jesus was really about socialism and Marxism because under those arrangements everyone selflessly spreads the materials around to help the poor. (This same professor also suggested giving thanks to the Earth, land, and water, rather than any Creator – yes, giving thanks to your food, rather than for your food ...)

  • Bart Ehrman, a non-churchgoing, agnostic professor of religious studies who has elsewhere charged that some of the New Testament writers were liars, commented, "Jesus believed the whole system was corrupt. The people who ran things were empowered by the evil forces of the world and his followers had to work against these powers by feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and caring for the sick."

And what theological perversion revision wouldn't be complete without artwork?

Jesus occupy_wall_street

This would be comical were it not so life and death serious. Matthew Modine, the occupiers, and their sympathiers may be turning to Jesus, but it's a different Jesus from the one who said "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

There are two ways of interpreting the teachings of the historical Jesus. One is authentic. The other is an inversion, which makes it a perversion.

Christianity: What's mine is yours.
Socialism: What's yours is mine.

Christianity: I am my brother's keeper.
Socialism: My brother is my keeper.

These are antithetical, mutually exclusive approaches to life, both personal and societal. One is the way of grace and liberty. The other is the way of tyranny and oppression. One is the way of Jesus. The other is the way of hell.

The best thing about the "Jesus Was a Communist" film is it acknowledges that the Occupy Wall Street movements are just the sort of Marxist uprisings of which Communist  advances are made. The worst thing is that too many people may nonetheless fall for it.

Which one prevails will literally be a matter of life and death.