Gabe and Rebekah Lyons were just like any other young, expecting parents.They were excited about the potential about their new, little bundle of joy that they were planning on welcoming into the world. They walked into that doctor’s office that day expecting the news that a healthy baby boy was developing inside of her. But that’s not the news that they were given.
They were told that their unborn son, Cade, was in all likely-hood, going to have Down Syndrome, and their hearts sunk. Now in their own words, they’ve learned a lot about how great a life with a child with this particular syndrome can be. But on that day, they were devastated. And they were immediately presented with the option of terminating the pregnancy. Most babies with Down Syndrome aren’t born. The majority of parents (90%) when given this news, choose to end the pregnancy. Here’s how Gabe Lyons talks about this:
“No matter where you come down on the abortion issue, that number is staggering. Unfortunately, when parents are faced with this diagnosis, everything in the culture points them toward the baby’s extinction. Insurance companies don’t’ want to pay the long-term health care bills, the government ins’t eager to carry the weight of future expenses, and doctors want to avoid malpractice suits at all costs.”
Now the Lyon’s went on to have Cade, and he’s been a joy to their life ever since. They could’ve just ranted and raved about how their doctors tried hard to steer them toward terminating the pregnancy, but they chose another route. Instead of just protesting about how bad the current culture was, they decided to create some more of it.
They got some other people involved, some photographers who took pictures of children with down-syndrome, they did some research with families who had these children, discovering the joys and privileges that come along with raising children with this particular diagnosis. And then they published a book, replete with a balance of artistic pictures and information about family life after this kind of diagnosis.
And today, in almost every Doctor’s office in America, if you are given the diagnosis that your child has Down’s Syndrome, you are almost immediately also given this book.
There is a time in Acts 17 where Paul is walking around the city of Athens. His entire life has turned into one long mission trip, and so now Paul is in the center of Greco-Roman thought wondering around, trying to figure out how to communicate the Gospel to this culture. But what a lot of us might not know about 1st Century Athens, is just how pagan it really was. The late John Stott says about Athens:
“Many of the idols and shrines were elegantly made by skilled artists, and filled Athens to the point that Xenophon spoke of the city as ‘one great altar, one great sacrifice.’…The stone pillars that adorned the city wall were roughly fashioned with phallic attributes [that] stood as protecting talismans at every entrance in the city.”
For most Christians today, this city would be immensely offensive. The art, the visual aspects and the entire orientation of Athens would be the exact opposite of what you hold dear. If the missionaries of the Poisonwood Bible would have been here, they would have tried to burn Athens to the ground. But…
Was Paul really that different? He’s been raised up as a strict mono-theistic Rabbi. He’s got Deut 6:4 tattooed on his heart, and he knows that you shouldn’t make graven images of God…especially those kinds of images. But Paul responds brilliantly.
He engages their culture, on their terms. He goes to their cultural center and gives one of the more brilliant cultural speeches of the New Testament. He doesn’t let go of the Gospel, but he recognizes that the Athenians are after something bigger than their themselves. That they are pursuing something transcendent, and he starts to tap into that.
I spent the last week of July in California, I actually got to hang out with some people who are deeply involved in creating culture among some of the world’s best artist’s. And they are having to wade through a lot of grey areas as they collaborate with people who don’t think or believe like they do. They are trying to have a gospel-centered presence in an area of the world that has started to assume that Jesus followers believe God created, but not that God creates. Everyday they are presented with a hundred opportunities to be offended by people’s language or morals. They could judge the people around them (who don’t believe what they believe), but that’s not what they do.
Instead, the choose to be provoked to create something better. They choose to lay down the offense, even when something is offensive. And instead they use it to spur themselves on to contribute something better. In the words of Gabe Lyons, one more time:
“When a community is provoked, the assume a proactive poster; when a community is offended, they assume a reactive posture.”
Because the best way to change culture isn’t to critique it. It’s to create more of it.