Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (2 Chronicles 25) transports me to a mid to late 90s place that I can’t for the life of me remember, nor the occasion, but I suspect it was some kind of Christian music festival or denominational meeting. What is indelibly etched in my memory is who I met there: Guy Hovis, aka Guy from the Lawrence Welk duo Guy and Ralna. I grew up on Lawrence Welk, and remember with great fondness the way my dad would jump up at the end of every show and try to get my mom to do the polka with him in the living room. Anyway, at this particular forgettable event, I got the opportunity to shake hands with Guy, get an autograph, and chat him up a bit. I was so disappointed; he completely brushed off my nostalgic remembrances (I later found out he had suffered a break-up with Ralna, and didn’t like re-visiting their duet days). All he wanted to talk about was his latest project; he had just produced a CD called Let Freedom Sing by The Singing Senators, a barbershop quartet comprised of conservative upper chamber stalwarts John Ashcroft, Trent Lott, Larry Craig, and Jim Jeffords. The recording was a collection of old gospel and patriotic chestnuts like I’ll Fly Away and God Bless America.
While the tight harmonies between the barbershop quartet’s baritone, bass, tenor and alto voices were impressive, I can’t help but cringe at the loose dis-harmony between then Senator and later Attorney General Ashcroft’s pentecostal piety and his repressive public policy achievements. Here was a man who could sing like a bird from prison bars has flown and sign off on torture tactics for those jailbirds still behind bars. He could belt out Turn Your Radio On while turning up the dial on human rights abuses. He had found a way to connect his upbringing as the son of an Assemblies of God preacher and his law school education, coming up with an intellectual and theological justification for diminishing civil liberties and employing cruel and unusual punishment. He was not the first to manufacture an intricate system of ethics in which one could claim not only legality but righteous godliness while perpetrating godless acts. Today’s passage records the public achievements of King Amaziah, who reigned in Jerusalem for 29 years. The second verse of his bio speaks volumes of his casuistry skills: He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a true heart. The literal Hebrew reading gives us a clearer picture: the king could manufacture ways to maintain a sense of righteous propriety (Hebrew -yshr) even though his heart lacked shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, wholeness, health and welfare. Looking through the Chronicler’s version of the Congressional record shows just how far removed his righteous sense of propriety was from shalom. He was closer to being a member of the Sopranos than a barbershop singer, given his public policy acts of mass murder and strategic alliances with a rival gang. Amaziah’s legacy has continued throughout the history of corrupt governance undergirded by claims of godliness. To be completely fair and bi-partisan, Attorney General Ashcroft’s version was not the latest case of Amaziah-like cockamamey casuistry, as current AG Holder has consistently claimed moral justification for his predecessor’s Patriot Act, not to mention drone attacks and other abuses of human rights.
The Singing Senators had planned a follow-up CD, but the group dissolved before they had a chance to go back to Nashville’s Station Sound and Quad Studios. Ashcroft lost his Senatorial re-election bid, Jim Jeffords declared independence from the Republican Party and lost favor with conservatives, and Larry Craig was forced to resign after being arrested for lewd behavior in a public restroom. Guy Hovis hasn’t slowed down, though. You can still hear him singing in Branson, MO at the Lawrence Welk Resort. He often includes Ashcroft’s Let the Eagle Soar in his repertoire. May the heart of shalom one day find its way into that soaring bird.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.