Some may fear the loss of authoritative control when considering the possibility of how orality may shape textuality and theology generally. Whether we are aware of it or not, orality and other forces shape our approach to texts. Those we deem authoritative shape our readings of texts. Schools of thought develop around those who are deemed authoritative.
Take for example Jesus. In Matthew 7:28-29, we find that Jesus is viewed as authoritative, as his teaching is compared favorably with the teachers in his day. No doubt, it had something to do with the nature of his claims, which were staggering in terms of how he viewed his uniqueness and his teaching’s import for their lives. Notice how he compares himself favorably with the Law–seeing his teaching and work as the fulfillment of the Law and how his disciples’ righteousness must surpass that of the religious leaders if they are to attain eternal life (Matthew 5:17-20). The wise build their lives on his teaching, which is to do the will of his very own Father, who is in heaven. Those who fail to build their lives on his word do so to their eternal peril (Matthew 7:21-27).
I have noticed in the Hawaiian context how it is even more significant than it is in the continental U.S. that one is connected relationally–having relational authority, including the need to make relational connections to those with whom one speaks. Authority in this context is earned increasingly, as the relational connections are built. One needs more than degrees and titles and resumes. They have their place. But they can never replace what is of paramount importance–relational connections.
Authority can be imposed on people. But such authority does not win people’s love–only their spite and hate. In contrast, Jesus wins people’s hearts by laying down his life for them, not by ruling oppressively over them. The kind of authoritative orality arising from Jesus that forms his rabbinic school is shaped ultimately by his sacrificial life offered up for his students, not sophisticated rhetoric that may wow people’s intellect, but does not win their total trust.
Hawaiian theology as I envision it requires that its teachers give themselves, including their words. Only then are teachers truly deemed authoritative and their teachings worth writing about.
As challenging as it may be for those of us who teach in Hawaii (and elsewhere for that matter), we should become like Father Damien, the Catholic missionary who gave himself for the people at the leper colony on Molokai, not like the prototypical plantation overseer or luna. Only then are teachers truly deemed authoritative and their own teachings worth writing about.
This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.