What can I say that is most helpful to you?
I am a white, male, North American. Those identifying characteristics put me in a unique category. Whatever I say, I say from a position of privilege. I might not have as much as some celebrity-wanna-be-politician, but my words come from a lifetime of getting sufficient food and ample education
What can I say about theodicy (questions of evil) to someone who lives in a less developed country? What can I say that is useful to a person in Haiti? I can talk about my struggles as a pastor in North America. I can talk about the controversy over what color to paint a Sunday School classroom or the dilemma of painting parking space stripes on the newly repaved parking lot. However, will my Haitian brothers and sisters identify? No.
Tonight, a prominent pastor in Port-au-Prince invited me to give a lecture on theodicy. I decided to talk about my upcoming journal article “Being and Nothingness: revisiting Berdyaev’s interpretation of the Ungrund.” It is riveting stuff! When it is published, I am sure the journal will go in to several editions of reprints (read sarcastically). How is Berdyaev helpful to Haitian pastors? This is a significant question. Berdyaev is no more or less significant to Haitian pastors than he is to North American pastors. His thoughts on the nature of God and God’s relationship with freedom, evil, and the eschaton are relevant, but deciphering his thought requires wading through some fairly dens and somewhat dated material. This is a tall order for North American pastors, many of whom do not pick up books as dense as Berdyaev after seminary. For Haitian pastors who have never heard of Berdyaev and do not have his works readily available, this is an almost impossible task.
Instead of launching into a lecture to which attendees would politely listen and then never consider again, I began by asking what is the greatest challenge facing Haitian churches. One pastor spoke up, “Syncretism!” Others agreed. I quickly changed tack. I could introduce Berdyaev, meonic and oukonic nothingness, and freedom, but I could not simply present a paper with the assumption that they would all leave and procure Slavery and Freedom in order to better understand what some blan was on about.
I began by giving a background on syncretism and then explained how we would relate theodicy to syncretism. Then, I asked, “What is the greatest evil you face?” “Murder.” “Lying.” Voodoo.” No one, except me, mentioned the 2010 earthquake. Thus, I did not focus attention on it. We talked about how to respond to murder (a theology of transformation; thank you Oliver Davies). We explored lying in relation to a covenant faith.
From reading their faces, I think the lecture went well. Maybe it did not. Either way, my approach shifted, and I feel good about that. Who knows? Maybe it was helpful.