It was a last minute and very fluid situation when our son determined to make a job-related move to Denver. He flew and asked us to drive his car. Since the moving van was delayed a bit, we took three days rather than the two we’d originally thought. We spent the second night in Dodge City, Kansas where I got to visit the Old West Museum, remembering how as a boy my family used to watch “Gunsmoke.”
Then I persuaded my wife that we ought to stop a few minutes in Garden City—about an hour away, but in route—to pay respects to the Clutters.
Herbert, Bonnie, Nancy and Kenyon Clutter lived in nearby Holcombe where they were murdered on Nov. 15, 1959. It was later revealed that the killers thought Mr. Clutter kept a lot of money at his farm, but they left after their grisly crime with less than $50.
Novelist Truman Capote read about the crime and became fascinated with it. He worked several years on the story, visiting Kansas many times along with his Alabama friend, Nelle Harper Lee (who published “To Kill A Mockingbird” in 1960). “In Cold Blood” was published in 1966. Capote called it a “nonfiction novel.” It became the second best-selling true-crime book in history behind “Helter Skelter” chronicling the life and times of Charles Manson.
The tragedy of “In Cold Blood” continued with the decline of Capote. He never wrote another novel and died after many years of drug use and alcoholism.
The Valley View Cemetery in Garden City is beautiful and well-maintained, though I expected the Clutter burial site would be more ornate. Instead there are three simple headstones as one might see in any community cemetery.
I have conducted almost 400 funerals over the years. I try as all pastors do to offer comfort to broken families. We read about the resurrection of Christ and his promise that “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19).
But a Christian funeral is also a time to challenge the living about a day that is sure to come. As I often say, “There’s a red letter day on God’s calendar as far as you’re concerned. This is the day you will step into eternity and give account to the God who gave you life.”
Our deaths may not be as notable as the Clutters, but death is certain.
I remember often while growing up seeing crosses alongside the Alabama highways with the words, “Prepare to meet God.” I later learned this is a word from the ancient prophet Amos. Though hundreds of years old, this exhortation is yet timely.
Today is, indeed, a day of preparation to meet God.
“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster, Alabama. The church website is siluriabaptist.com.