Honoring Caleb, Supporting his Family, Responding to Westboro
This morning was unique in Christ Community Church's history. The funeral service for US Navy SEAL Caleb Nelson was held in the Worship Center, with over 1,000 in attendance. The pageantry of the military funeral, and the veterans who came to line the road by holding American flags, was amazing and induced awe within me. Several media were in attendance to cover the service. While that was going on, down at the main intersection into Old Mill, you had a handful of individuals from Westboro Baptist picketing the funeral for their own reasons.
When I was driving into work, I wasn't sure what to expect. I pulled into the Student Center parking lot, and from there I saw the Patriot Guard Riders. Their motorcycles were lined up in the back parking lot. I think there was roughly 120 of them. Amazing to see. They started making their way to the front of the church and lining the road near the entrance of the church. They all had American flags and stood with dignity and respect before the service.
Staff were asked to serve throughout the funeral. I ended up opening the front doors for people entering and exiting. I stood outside and watched the Patriot Guard Riders, along with soldiers and military personnel, set up and set a respectful and honoring tone to the proceedings. It induced a sense of awe in me to see these military men and women rally around the memory of Caleb Nelson and be a loving support to his wife, two sons, and other family. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
I had to pull away for a short time for a meeting at the local Starbucks. On the way there, I saw the small group of Westboro protesters. Inconsequential to say the least. Two, maybe three people? I tried to comprehend why they do what they do, but that is an effort in futility. When your business plan is to bait people to attack you, so you can sue them, it's not something that makes a whole lot of sense.
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. -Proverbs 26:4-5
What would our response be to Westboro Baptist? Nothing. I know some churches and organizations have tried to engage them in dialog, but not on a day like this. This day was about honoring Caleb Nelson, not giving Westboro more attention. As a church, we asked that people just ignore them. They had their little protest far away from the church, nothing more.
What was cool was a group of people standing across the street to support the military, Caleb and his family. They were peacefully protesting Westboro. At the red light, I flashed them a thumbs up and got a smile from one of the individuals that saw me.
One of my friends, who fought in Iraq, was upset when I told him about the Westboro protest. However, he added at the end of his rant, we fight for their freedom to protest. He understood, even if he hated much of what they stand for as an organization.
When I came back to the church, the protestors were gone. (Good, no more talk about Westboro.) There were four huge groups of people lining the road with flags and signs supporting Caleb, his family and the military. Very cool to see. Just people wanting to show their support in some tangible way.
I went back inside CCC, and the Worship Center was packed. They were showing a video tribute to Caleb. Wonderful photos of him with his wife and two sons, his parents and fellow military personnel. After seeing one photo of him with his two boys, I found myself saying a prayer for them.
At the end of the video tribute was a passage from Isaiah.
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." -Isaiah 6:8
That was Caleb. He answered the call.
Outside in the hall, I was hearing from others what had been shared during the service. In summation, Caleb represented everything that is good with the military. He represented everything that is good with being a father, husband and son. He represented everything that is good with being a Christian.
Some of the staff knew Caleb when he was a kid, and the knew his family well. They were telling me more stories about Caleb. As one pastor put it, "Caleb was the kind of man you hope your daughter marries."
Caleb's father, Larry Nelson, led the service with grace. Well done by him. (He is the pastor at Millard Alliance Church.)
The overflowing attendance by family, friends and military speaks to the kind of man Caleb was. Some of the media covering the service exited in tears at the testimony of Caleb's life.
The closing song was "How Great Thou Art". The words rang true.
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in; That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin:
When Christ shall come with shouts of acclamation And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! Then I shall bow in humble adoration, And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee; How great Thou art, how great Thou art! Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee: How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
May God bless and protect Caleb's wife and two sons. May those boys know the kind of man their father was and be proud of him. May Caleb's life and story continue to be told, and may it be an inspiration to many and draw people closer to Jesus.
This story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered- We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition: And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day." -Selection from St. Crispin's Day Speech, Henry V (Act IV scene iii)