Tag Archives: Lake of the Ozarks

Guest post: News that shakes my faith

JJ — The following column, posted with permission from my friend Bruce Wallace, appeared in the Wednesday, July 11, 2012, edition of the Boone County Journal. Bruce’s column was a response to the July 4 deaths of Ashland siblings Brayden and Alexandra Anderson, who were electrocuted while swimming at Lake of the Ozarks.

I have a special affinity for independent publishers of weekly newspapers. Bruce is cut from the same kind of newsprint that shaped me. And, as the scribe for southern Boone County, he is charged not only with chronicling the lives and events that shape the area’s history, but he’s also responsible for speaking into the collective hearts and minds of his community, even — and maybe especially — when words seem so inadequate.

This is all he wanted for a bio: “Bruce Wallace is the editor of the Boone County Journal in Ashland, Mo. He enjoys paddling his canoe on Missouri Rivers with his wife.”

News that shakes my faith


 I didn’t go to church on Sunday.

Sure, I should have; but to tell you the truth – I was a little upset with God last week.

OK, maybe “angry” would be a better word.

How about “outraged?”

This was no little snit. I got the worst of possible news on July 4 and I, like so many others in our community, was horrified.

“How could such a thing happen?” we asked.

“Why would Alex and Brayden be taken from us like that?”

No, this was no high school-like “I’m so mad at you I’m going to ‘Unfriend’ you Facebook fit.”

For me this was real live hostility.

Was I the only one?

Probably. It is a failing of mine. Getting truly ticked off at God is not likely the best reaction, the idea of a lightning bolt striking is humorous – but I haven’t been in the mood for humor.

I have been brought up to have strong faith in God and have been so fortunate, yet, when disaster strikes – I’m less than a strong Christian.

I can say the right words to everyone and share their grief appropriately, but when I’m all alone, I have a few choice words for Him.

The tragedy shook Southern Boone parents and youngsters to their very core last week. It is the kind of tragedy that you read about happening somewhere else. And it seems to always happen … somewhere else.

Regardless of where or how it happens, children should not be taken from us so soon.

And whom do I see about that?

Therefore – and I know it is wrong and I know my mother won’t appreciate reading this – I had some very unkind things to say to God.

Like so many through the ages, I just couldn’t help but wondering where was He when we needed Him on July 4?

And, of course, that is not the answer. Anger is not the answer.

For me, the true answer came when I saw where God really was in our community last week.

He was in the parents who organized efforts to help the Anderson family move forward, one day at a time.

He was in the voice of the mom who told me she and her sons would be working to help Garrett Anderson heal the void of losing two siblings.

He was in the grace and kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Anderson as they talked to kids at New Salem Church and tried to help them with their grief.

He was with the dozens of students who poured out their grief on a Facebook page, determined to never forget their classmate and to honor her memory.

He was in the hand of the friend I talked with at the grocery store. After exchanging a few words about our grief, that friend gave me a pat on the back and we agreed with each other that our community would be OK. It was a strong pat on the back, a hand of reassurance that I needed.

As I moved past being angry, I opened the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to these words:

“Most merciful God, whose wisdom is beyond our understanding: Graciously care for the Anderson family in their grief. Surround them with your love, that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss, but have confidence in your goodness, and strength to meet the days to come. Amen.”

What else can be said?

What we can really say is that there is no way to make any sense of all this.

I turn a few pages in the Prayer Book and read again a passage that has sustained so many:

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want …”

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Cave song

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

A memoir-in-progress of my life’s spiritual journey, centered on but not always about Wednesday night prayer meetings of my childhood and teen years.


Caves have impeccable acoustics.

There’s a cave at Windermere Baptist Conference Center near Lake of the Ozarks. In September 1981, a group I was with from the Baptist Student Union in Warrensburg left a late Saturday night worship service as part of a weekend youth conference. Instead of heading back to our cabins – men and women had separate quarters, of course – we instead hung out on the grounds, somehow staying in the shadows and avoiding the slow, sweeping beam of a night watchman’s flashlight.

We were under direct orders – both from conference staff and our BSU director – that anyone not in bed with lights out at the stroke of midnight wouldn’t be allowed on future trips.

There were other, non-specific consequences, the type that 18- and 19-year-old Baptists flatly ignored.

There were about 15 in the group I was in, so we must have felt braver en masse. Just after midnight we dashed from the cover of a shadow into the cave. I wouldn’t say I was the ring-leader, but I was in front with one of our two flashlights. Someone in the back had the other flashlight.

I don’t remember the cave having much length, and as I recall it had a shallow spring that seeped from under a dead-end wall. When we reached that point, I switched off my flashlight. The girls screamed. (And probably some of the guys, too). Then the flashlight in the back went off.

I started the praise chorus, “Alleluia.” That was the first verse. Just “alleluia,” sung to very simple, harmonious chords. Second verse was “I will praise him, repeated eight times, following the same simple chords. Third verse was “He’s my Savior.”

Back in Warrensburg, I’d auditioned and was selected for “Testimony,” the BSU’s touring music group. I never was sure whether to sing bass or tenor – or just carry the melody. One of my group-mates, Elaine Black, had one of the most effortless soprano voices I’ve ever heard. She was somewhere in the group of singing Christian rebels that bathed the limestone cave walls and ceiling with rich harmony.

Gently powerful.

We finished the song, I think someone probably prayed – we’d have lost our Baptist cards if someone hadn’t prayed – and just as I flipped my flashlight back on, the applause of one person approached from the entrance.

The night watchman.

As he wiped tears from his eyes, he whispered, “You kids get to your bunks.” He thanked each of us as we walked past him, following his quiet order.

“Testimony” was a musical experience I had from the fall of 1981 to the spring of 1982, maybe eight or nine months. We sang in all corners of the state, visited every group member’s home church (mine was Faith Baptist in Belle, Mo.), and sang at every nursing home or veterans home in the western half of the state.

My hands-down, favorite piece we sang was a chorale, “Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All”  — a capella, of course. It was the most challenging piece in our repertoire, so naturally we worked on it the most. And we performed it exceptionally well. I loved the bass line and even though I haven’t sung that song in almost 30 years, the memory is crystal clear. We had quite a few upbeat songs and my group-mates teased me – kind-heartedly, of course – about my preference for more sacred, slower pieces, such as “Jesus My Lord …”

We sang at a nursing home – in Clinton, I think – and the scene, as it is in most nursing homes, was just sad and depressing. That particular performance was especially uncomfortable and awkward. You could say we just weren’t “feelin’ it.”

That changed when we sang “Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All.” As we sang the final measures, one old woman with a walker slowly made her way to the front. She stood in front of us, stepped away from her walker, and motioned to our director, Jon, to have all 10 of us kneel in a circle. In complete silence, she shuffled from person to person, placing her hands on each of our heads. Jon said she was praying. I didn’t hear it.

But I could feel it.

So I leave you with a treasure I found early this morning on YouTube: Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All.

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Filed under Inspiration, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion