Book Reviews

Access Bible Study: Living Life with Corage and Fire

Rev Sue Scott
Publisher: UnitingCare NSW.ACT

This 6 part study series invites us into the lives of those who live with disabilities. Through the telling of first-hand stories we are given honest insights into what it is like to live in our communities with a disability. We are also given a glimpse into the world of those who offer care to these people, both family members and community service deliverers with the church.

This study series challenges us to consider the right of  people with disabilities to live authentic lives in the wider community and the church.

The study topics are:
1. Finding Courage
2. Sharing Insight
3. Perseverance
4. Healing and Hope
5. Courageous and Gracious
6. Courage and Grace for the Journey

To purchase, contact :UnitingCare NSW.ACT: Communication Coordinator on 8267 4358
DVD costs $10 + postage and handling ($3) including GST.
Spare copy available for loan from the editor.
Further info, and study series material, available at:

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Adam: God's Beloved

Henri Nouwen

In his final book prior to his death Henri Nouwen, Dutch priest and pastor of the L'Arche Daybreak community in Toronto, Canada, describes his experience of becoming a carer for Adam, a young man at the Daybreak community with severe physical and intellectual impairments. For months Nouwen assists Adam with his most basic and intimate daily needs, caring for someone so seemingly incapable of helping himself.

Over time Nouwen is transformed in his theological thinking, moving from seeing himself as a servant to Adam, to seeing the Incarnate Christ in Adam who reaches out to him. Along the way he is challenged to see that he shares with Adam in the brokenness of humanity and the beloved nature of all God's creatures.

A simple yet profound biography that invites the reader to consider the sense in which we all share in that broken yet beloved relationship with God.

HarperCollins Publishers
Blackburn, 1997
available through Pauline Books & Media

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Becoming Human

Jean Vanier

Vanier describes this book as being about "the liberation of the human heart from the tentacles of chaos and loneliness, and from those fears that provoke us to exclude and reject others (p.5)." In speaking of those who are marginalized by society, including those who have disabilities, as "the excluded", he makes a case that as a society we become truly human when we overcome our fears and embrace those we would otherwise choose to keep at a distance. As Vanier states, "the excluded ... live certain values that we all need to discover and to live ourselves before we can become truly human (p.84)."

Such values include a call away from individualism and prejudice that serve to create exclusionary practices, towards qualities that embody a sense of community, such as mutual trust, forgiveness, and a capacity to listen to each other.

A very thoughtful and readable book for those prepared to journey from exclusion to embrace.

Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd
London, 2001
available through Angus & Robertson bookstores


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Between Remembering and Forgetting: The Spiritual Dimensions of Dementia

James Woodward

Whilst disability is often discussed as regards to its economic and emotional effects it is rarely discussed for its spiritual implications. This book invites us to understand that even people with severe levels of dementia can still share in communication, have spiritual longings and can, with imagination, be related to as spiritual persons.

In an age when more and more people are living longer the issue of ensuring holistic quality of life for those who develop dementia comes into sharper focus.

A very thought-provoking and readable book.

London & New York, 2010

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Dancing with Dementia: My Story of Living Positively With Dementia

Christine Bryden

Christine Bryden was a top Canberra civil servant and single mother of three children when she was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 46.
This book is an intimate first-hand account of her experiences of living with this progressively degenerative condition. She explores the effects of memory loss, difficulties with communication, and the growing challenges presented by seemingly simple tasks. Through such exploration we are able to appreciate someone who has sought to not just live, but indeed, in her own words, "dance with dementia."
Through her own experiences she offers suggestions as to how carers and professionals can, in practical ways, assist those struggling with this impairment.

Her insights are telling, such as, "As we become more emotional and less cognitive, it's the way you talk to us, not what you say, that we will remember (p.138)".

Her awareness of her own self-identity is remarkable. This book will be of much assistance to all seeking to relate as meaningfully as possible to someone living with dementia. It offers much practical wisdom for pastoral carers. A most helpful and insightful read.

Jessica Kingsley Publishers
London, 2005
available through Dymocks Bookstores

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Dancing with disabilities: Opening the Church to all God's children

This book invites the reader to dream of a church where people with a disability and those considered able-bodied can see themselves as people of equal regard.

The author relates many stories of struggle and success  concerning people with a disability, giving a human face to their daily lives and aspirations, and challenging the church to seriously consider what it means to welcome all God's children into the life of the church.
Various areas of the church's life form the backdrop for making the case for the full inclusion of people with disability in the life of the church. These include liturgy, the sacraments, pastoral care and children's ministry.

Challenging issues are raised with insight and honesty, such as the spiritual abuse of people with disabilities, and the capacity of wider society and the church to dehumanise. Furthermore, the church is called upon to consider the acceptance of those who, through their cognitive impairment, compel us to consider ministry as more than that which can be principally defined in terms of intellect.  The church's symbols, gestures and rituals remind us that there is so much more to the Word of God than that which can be understood with our minds.

The church is also challenged to throw off those labels, such as "disabled," that can so limit the capacity of others to be fully accepted. It is also called to see identity within the church as not simply defined in terms of what we do, but, most importantly, in terms of presence and being. As such life in the church is seen as being shaped fundamentally by God's grace.

This book boldly invites the church to hear a God-given music  that invites  people, including those with disabilities, to respond to a creative tune which is inclusive of all. Well worth a serious read.

Brett Webb-Mitchell Wipf & Stock Publishers
Eugene, 2008

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Human Disability and the Service of God

Nancy Eiesland & Don Saliers

In this volume Nancy Eiesland and Don Saliers (eds) seek to counter "the prevailing sentiment that the religious practices of the able-bodied constitute the only relevant spiritual pulse and that whatever is outside this ambit is of little if any religious significance (p.15)". One of the fundamental questions this varied collection of writings seeks to address is: What implications are or ought to be raised by the full participation of people with disabilities in the life of the Christian church? (p.16) Further to this questions is the issue of how theological reflection could be advanced if people with disabilities were at the centre of theological education rather than at the periphery. Issues covered include the historical, cultic basis for exclusion; the liberation found in truly mutual friendship; reinterpretation of the healing narratives; and church litury that excludes, and the recovery of a redemptive narrative.

This is a veritable pot pourri of writings that challenges the reader to reflect seriously on the inclusive or exclusive nature of theirs and the church's theological thought and practice.

Abingdon Press
New York, 1998
available through Angus & Robertson bookstores


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In the Shelter of Each Other

South Australian Council of Churches Task Group on Disability Issues

This 5 part study was produced in 2002 to celebrate people with disability.
It has been developed by the South Australian Task Group on Disability Issues and is a product of the South Australian Council of Churches.

Week 1: Encouraging a deeper understanding of all people - made in God's image.
Week 2: Together as brothers and sisters in Christ - relationship with Christ.
Week 3: Together as the Body of Christ - the faith community.
Week 4: Together as partners in God's world - the wider community.
Week 5: Together as partners in God's word - the journeying community.

It is designed to inspire a vision about people with disabilities as being essential to the wholeness of the Body of Christ.

A good small group discussion starter.
Study book $5 Video (one / group) $10
Copies available from S.A.C.C.
GPO Box 2106 Adelaide 5001
Phone (08) 8221 6633
Fax (08) 8221 6644

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Let All the Children Come to Me: A Practical Guide to Including Children with Disabilities in Your Church Ministries

MaLesa Breeding, Dana Hood & Jerry Whitworth

This practical text is aimed at the teachers of children engaged in congregational ministry, and rightfully stakes a claim for the full inclusion of children with disabilities in the church's ministry. It provides valuable information for all church leaders especially those engaged in teaching Christian Education programmes such as in Kid's Clubs and Sunday Schools, as well as children's input in worship. Along with the plentiful use of biblical, contemporary and personal stories, there is a lot of good advice as to how to construct learning experiences that take full account of the needs of children with disabilities. Issues covered include that of labelling, inclusive attitudes, effective communication, managing difficult behaviours, as well as addressing common concerns held regarding children with disabilities. There are also loads of resources to help the concerned teacher, including kid's books, adult texts and videos,  of a general nature, as well as detailing valuable information concerning specific impairments such as ADHD, autism and vision impairment.

Whilst the language is specific to an American readership (e.g. the use of 'mental retardation' instead of 'intellectual disability'; 'bible class' instead of 'Sunday School' etc.), nonetheless this is a helpful book built on the premise that we are not fully the Body of Christ until we welcome all people into the church, including children with disabilities.

Colorado Springs, 2006
available online & through religious bookstores

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Marathon Wheeler: Living with Physical Disability

Heather S. Coombes

Westbow Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 2016

In this memoir Heather Coombes details a committed life lived with cerebral palsy.

She was born into a Christian family in India in 1954. In searching for a meaningful direction to her life she undertakes tertiary study which leads to a librarianship position. Following further studies in theology she is ordained as a Uniting Church minister where she serves for many years as an aged care chaplain. Retirement, brought on by increasing pain, followed many years of devoted ministry. Woven into this personal narrative is the story of someone determined to live life well despite the constraints created by her physical disability, along with the demeaning attitudes of others – “If you had more faith, you would be healed.” In detailing her life in the church she serves to affirm the right of people with disabilities to serve the church in professional and volunteer roles.

An extensive series of appendices covers practical topics such as guides for welcoming people with disability into the church, coping with pain, humour, and nurturing relationships. Valuable, first-hand insights that can assist in the rightful  welcoming of people with physical disability into the life of the church.


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Naked Before God - The Return of a Broken Disciple

Bill Williams, with Martha Williams

Speaking through the mouth of Nathaniel, an imaginary disciple of Jesus, Williams writes as one who is in the end stages of living and dying with the suffocating effects of cystic fibrosis. Like Old Testament Job he wrestles wretchedly with intellectually unanswerable questions, such as how a loving God can allow such awful suffering. He takes on board the words of the abandoned Jesus, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" As his body falls apart we are graphically taken along on his search for healing, until we hear him utter words of reconciliation: As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be: the love of God is more powerful than death.

This disability narrative, written in poetic prose, is at times harrowing to read, but is also utterly compelling for those prepared to engage with Williams' world of suffering and struggle with God. Whilst written in a confronting style Williams laces his narrative with a humour and grace that makes this book a joy to read.

Note: Williams died a few days after this book was published in 1998, aged 38

Morehouse Publishing
Harrisburg, 2001
Paperback $29.95
Available online from Angus & Robertson bookstores
2nd hand copies from


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Our Life Together: A Memoir in Letters

Jean Vanier

For the past 45 years Jean Vanier has devoted his life globally to the care  of the poor and, in particular, those with an intellectual disability. In this impressive memoir that takes the form of myriad letters he writes to colleagues and friends over this time, he details his devotion for and ministry with those he refers to as "the excluded." Vanier's younger years betray his eventual calling and passion. Born in 1928 of devout Catholic and comfortable French-Canadian parentage, he served in the navy. But he yearned for more. As he says, " ... my deepest desire was to be a disciple of Jesus and live the Gospel message..."(p.3).

In 1964, through the mentoring of a Dominican priest, he moved to Trosly, France, where he established his first faith community for adults with intellectual disability. He named the community L'Arche after the ark Noah built to save God's creatures from the Flood. Over the following decades he established 130 of these communities in 30 countries on all continents. As an adjunct to this ministry he established 1400 support groups for the families of people with disabilities called Faith and Light.

In the slums of Calcutta, the ghetto communities of Sao Paulo (favelas), in maximum security North American prisons, and in places of dictatorship and asylum  in Africa and Asia, we see Vanier's faith and vision forged through deep engagement with the poor and needy of these places.

In 2008 Vanier celebrated his 80th birthday, his role in the communities he created now figurative rather than hands-on. But his legacy of devotion to people with intellectual disability expressed through faithful community lives on as a profound testimony to the God who comes to the poor and neglected.

This memoir is a fitting tribute to a deeply faithful life and an all-embracing and welcoming God.

Darton, Longman & Todd, 2008

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Rowing Without Oars

Ulla-Carin Lindquist

Ulla-Carin Lindquist had so much to live for. She had a devoted husband, four adoring children, and a successful career as a newscaster. Yet, as she approached her fiftieth birthday she began to notice small muscular failures, including strange numbing sensations in her hands and arms. Soon she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease, an aggressive form of Motor Neurone Disease. Ulla-Carin begins to chronicle her failing health, her grief, her family relationships, and, ultimately, her acceptance of dying. In the face of this incurable, degenerative disease that leads to ever-increasing dependency upon the help of others, we become privy to personal phone calls between mother and daughter, afternoons with husband and sons, the valuing of loved smells, and, of course, the horror associated with every discovery of muscular deterioration. And amidst all of this we hear Ulla-Carin and other family members articulate the fragility and preciousness of life.

This book beautifully and very personally articulates the universal themes of love, life, death and those relationships we hold dearest, especially family. The chance to hear a first-hand account from someone who is living and dying with such an aggressive disease is a rare privilege.

John Murray (Publishers)

London, 2005
Hardcover $21.95
Available through all good bookstores

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Spirituality and the Autism Spectrum: Of Falling Sparrows

Abe Isanon (Book)

Defining spirituality as "the spirit with which we confront reality (p.98)", this book focuses on the spirituality of people with autism spectrum disorders.

The author makes the point that we can only gain insight into the spirituality of those with such disorders if "such insight is grounded in the experiences of the sufferer and referenced in the reality of autism-related problems (p.55)." With that in mind Isanon, whilst avoiding stereotypes, begins with helpful information concerning the type of cognitive and emotional impairments, as well as sensory and behavioural considerations, that a person with autism, in one of its manifest forms, may experience.

Through the narratives of three people living with different forms of autism we are shown how spirituality is interpreted from the perspective of those living with autism.

We are invited to consider forms of spiritual understanding that may challenge the spiritual perceptions of some who live without such a disability. For example, Adam invites us to consider a spirituality that values experience and isolation above the rationality of church dogma, and gives priority to images that reflect mystery.

This readable book provides valuable insight into how an autistic person interprets spirituality from their perspective and, in doing so, may challenge the reader to expand their own notions of spirituality.

Jessica Kingsley Publishers
London, 2001
available through


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The Broken Body

Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier examines the roots of brokenness within Jewish and Christian traditions. He invites us to face the fear we can feel when we are confronted by the outcast, and the threat such a marginalised person can pose to our sense of social cohesion and conformity. The reader is challenged to confront the darkness that accompanies the fears and prejudices that exclude those who suffer. They are also invited to come closer to such people, to embrace the light and forgiveness that can be theirs when barriers to inclusion are overcome. Such is the path towards true community and humanity.

The meditative style in which this volume is written enhances its readability.

St Paul Publications
Homebush, 1992
available through Angus & Robertson bookstores

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The Disabled God - Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability

Nancy Eiesland

Speaking from the perspective of liberation theologian, as well as someone with a lifelong disability, Nancy Eiseland draws on the themes and advances of the disability rights movement to identify people with disabilities as members of a socially marginalised minority group rather than as individuals needing to adjust to preconceived social norms. Along the way she highlights the hidden history of people with disabilities and their relation to the church and points to a more inclusive vision of humanity and justice. In reinterpreting Christ as the disabled God Eisland enables people with disabilties to experience an emancipatory theology, and the church to gain access to the lived experience and humanity of people with disabilities.

By speaking of God in terms of disablement we are challenged to consider the level of incarnation we are willing to attribute to Christ.

Abingdon Press
New York, 1999
available through Angus & Robertson bookstores

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The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

Henri Nouwen

Following a desire for a more grassroots type of ministry and a more communal lifestyle Henri Nouwen finds himself introduced to L'Arche, a network of communities for people with mental impairments. In the oldest of these communities in Trosly, France, he spends a year of his life in relationship with the people who live there. Writing in the style of a daily journal he describes his experience of living in this community, with his accompanying struggles and self-doubts. However, it is amidst his struggles that his understanding of faith and vocation develop to the point where he feels he can accept a call to Daybreak, a L'Arche community in Toronto, Canada.

Written with honesty and vulnerability one can find oneself drawn into the stuggles that accompany Nouwen's journey and growth in faith.

Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd
London, 1997
available through Angus & Robertson bookstores

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