UPDATE: I should also note that when I originally wrote this review, I was actively involved in a small Baptist church in South Carolina. At the present time, I am actively involved in a large Presbyterian (PCA) church and am also serving as pulpit supply in another small Presbyterian church in Alabama. I edited this post, ever so slightly, before re-posting it, but I retained the references to the needs represented in the small church in which we were attending in SC. What I have found over the past few years is that every church has an opportunity and obligation to address "special needs" whether it is a big church or a small church.
Stephanie O. Hubach. Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006. Paperback, 234 pages.
(Review copy courtesy of P&R Publishing)
ISBNs: 1596380519 / 9781596380516
Subject: Disabilities; Church & Ministry
Listen to an interview with the author on the “Joni and Friends” radio program. Look for the “Stephanie Hubach interview” program dated September 7, 2006.
Stephanie O. Hubach (M.A., Economics) and her husband Fred lead the disability ministry at Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. They have been married since 1983 and have two sons: Fred and Tim, who has Down syndrome. Stephanie has served as chairperson of the Lancaster County MH/MR Advisory Board, as a board member of the Arc of Lancaster County, as board president of the Infant Evaluation Program in Centre County, and as a member of the Lancaster County Respite Coalition. She currently serves as the Director of Special Needs Ministries, an Outreach Ministry of Mission to North America (PCA). Stephanie frequently speaks at conferences, special events, and churches.Every time I see a child or adult with Down syndrome or some other physical or intellectual disability, I think immediately of the Stepping Stones. Stepping Stones was the name given to a Sunday school class my dad worked with and taught for about 15 years. The class was an outreach ministry to those with intellectual disabilities.
Well, I thought I had it all figured out—how I am supposed to respond to people with disabilities. After reading the first chapter of Same Lake, Different Boat, I quickly realized that I have a lot to learn. As I continued to read the book, I took note of how many people connected with our little church are touched by some form of disability. We have one who has both physical and emotional instability, others who have troublesome limbs, one who has a form of autism, others who have suffered strokes, another who has a form of Lou Gehrig’s disease, another who deals with seizures, and others. I’ve been scratching my head in some of these situations, wondering, How am I to be thinking concerning such and such a person’s situation? What can I do? And what can I say?
Same Lake, Different Boat is a biblically grounded, readable, and entertaining book addressing this vital issue of church life, namely, responding rightly to disabilities and to those touched by them. Stephanie has written to the church with the purpose of equipping God’s people with a biblical view of disabilities, of informing God’s people about the needs of families touched by disabilities, and of suggesting plans of action for each member of the body of Christ to help those touched by disabilities. I am amazed at how much I enjoyed and have learned from this treatise.
By way of addressing this subject, Stephanie relies upon the Word of God, which has molded her perspective. Her many years of dealing with disabilities within her immediate family, within her church family,
and in her local community have also provided ample experiences of trial and error. She first unwraps her presentation by laying down a theological foundation for understanding disabilities, then by building an awareness of the realities families face as they deal with disabilities, and finally by detailing ways the church can effectively minister to all of its own special needs.
The first major point of this book is the distinction between three prevailing views “as to what is true about the nature of disability and about the nature of the world at large” (p. 24). She calls the first view “The Historical View” and defines it as holding that “Disability Is an Abnormal Part of Life in a Normal World” (p. 24). This is the view that considers disabilities as problems, defects, and nuisances. This view underlies the historical records of neglect, discrimination, hatred, abuse, and even extermination.
She identifies the second view as a reaction to the historical view, namely, “The Postmodern View: Disability Is a Normal Part of Life in a Normal World” (p. 25). This view is what began the re-introduction of some disabled peoples back into society within the last half-century. Those who hold and promote this view want to clean up the terminology. Gone are the days of derogatory words and classifications. Rather, they speak of celebrating disabilities. Disabilities, they claim, are no different than “any other human characteristic” (p. 26). Finally, after showing the deficiencies of each of the previous views, she introduces “The Biblical View: Disability Is a Normal Part of Life in an Abnormal World” (p. 27). These last four words make the difference. This is so because of The Fall.
For the first time in human experience, brokenness and difficulty were introduced. This marring of creation permeated not only the spiritual but also the physical, the intellectual, the emotional, the psychological, and the social. . . . For some people, the effects of brokenness are more noticeable or more dramatically experienced in one part of life over another. . . . However, all of us face the slow, incremental process of inching toward death on a daily basis. It has been said that “Health is just the slowest form of dying”—and so it is! (pp. 28-29)From this cornerstone of truth about our common disability because of the fall, the proper response is to learn to identify with our brothers and sisters in Christ who have more pronounced forms of disabilities. Our usual posture is that of fear and/or awkwardness around those with disabilities. My mom just recently shared with me that some of the people in her church had commented with surprise that she seemed so comfortable speaking with and responding to a visitor who was wheelchair-bound with a physical disability. She gave him eye contact and told him she was glad he had visited. Since he couldn’t shake her hand, she at least knew to place her hand on his arm—a sign of identification and acceptance similar to that of handshaking. He received her greeting and that of others and happily stated that he wanted to return next Sunday because he had been made to feel welcome.
Chapter 2, "On Identification,” is the source of the book’s title. Stephanie recalls some of the slogans we use and shows how they have been altered over time and corrects them. One is the common expression, “We’re all in the same boat.”
One doesn’t have to experience much of life to recognize that this statement is an oversimplification of reality. A more accurate statement would be same lake, different boat. It reflects the truth that, as human beings, we share a common story, but the details of our experiences and life circumstances may vary significantly. (p. 37)We tend to see ourselves not in the same boat with our neighbors but in different lakes altogether. Identification with someone goes beyond understanding who and where they are but associating with them. “If God, who, in all his splendor and transcendence can choose to be immanent to us,” she argues, “shouldn’t we, who are clearly not transcendent, strive for association with our fellow human beings?” (p. 38).
From “Identification,” Stephanie turns to “Respect.” Respect in relationships is first rooted in the acknowledgment that we all are created in the image of God.
Consider it this way: the image of God within each individual can be likened to a mirror that reflects God’s glory, in part, to others. Unmarred at creation, what an incredible and awesome reflection that must have been! In a world now impacted by the fall, each person’s mirror is cracked, yet all reflects a distorted view of God’s glory—but it remains a partial mirror of him just the same. Our struggle enters in because we find it so much easier to identify the cracks in the mirror, and so we miss the image entirely. It takes a conscious effort for us to concentrate on the most fundamental blessing of creation—that we are all created in the image of God—and to gaze speechlessly at his goodness, truth, and beauty in others. (p. 46)Second, respect in relationships is rooted in grace. “[G]race-based relationships,” she explains, “impart respect to others in our path. Whenever we encounter brokenness in others we do not judge it, but we meet it—just as God meets us” (p. 48).
The benefits of following God’s pattern to building respectful relationships are, at least, fourfold: (1) the powerful message of the gospel is demonstrated, (2) our perspective is corrected, (3) our motivation to be involved in the lives of others is properly grounded, and (4) the value of human life is protected.
In chapter 4, Stephanie addresses the all-too-real issue of the “Relentlessness” of life—when difficulties don’t quit, cannot be beaten, and cannot be escaped. She identifies three responses to the relentlessness of life: “The first one is to develop a victim attitude. The second is to attack it with an ‘I will beat this’ attitude. The third is to engage reality with a perspective that is honest and God-reliant” (p. 57). In fleshing out these responses, she draws upon the biblical example of Joseph showing how he had to work his way through these options and chose to rely upon God.
Chapter 5, “On Restoration: Thy Kingdom Come,” is an excellent display of how good theology ought to impact daily life. Throughout the book, Stephanie points out the fact that she is a member of Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA). She refers to things she has learned from her pastor, anecdotes from church, and aspects of her and her husband’s involvement in the ministry. It is also clear that she is not only well-taught but also well-read in Christian literature and theology. In this chapter, she turns our attention to a practical out-working of the theology of the Kingdom of God.
“There is . . . ,” she explains, “a kingdom to be experienced whose substance is not ‘magical’ or ‘come and gone.’ Nor is it tied to the ‘compensation of all things.’ Instead, it is ‘real’ and ‘already, not yet.’ And it promotes the ‘restoration of all things.’ It is a partially present reality with a future, consummating hope—it is the kingdom of God.” (p. 69)This theology of the kingdom impacts our lives when, having identified with the kingdom of God through salvation, we become . . .
instruments of the kingdom of God—vehicles through whom the loving power of the King flows into the lives around us through our voluntary, obedient service. God’s love displays its power of restoration in and through the powerful, active presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. . . . One way of looking at how God delivers his restorative power is through healing, help, and hope. Think about the ‘already-not-yet-ness’ of the kingdom being reflected along a spectrum of expressions of restoration. Healing is the fullest and most present expression of restoration, hope is the most future-oriented expression, and help is in the continuum in between. (pp. 70-71)“Part Two, About the Families” is a must-read for pastors and parishioners alike. We know what issues we face and often consider them to be unique. Do we really understand what families touched by disability have to deal with? I trembled at many points in this section considering what those I know might be dealing with—things I have never considered. She walks the reader through the process of “Coming to Terms with a New Reality,” “Negotiating a Path to Acceptance,” “Living a New Normal Life,” and “Grappling with the Great Opportunity.”
Sprinkled throughout Part 2 are tips and bits of advice for church leaders and members to consider when trying to reach out and help individuals and families touched by disabilities. In Part 3, Stephanie addresses “Facilitation in the Church.” In this section, she deals with “Hospitality,” “Belonging,” “Wisdom,” and “Change.”
All of the stories are well-written, pertinent, and memorable; but the story she uses to begin chapter 10, “On Hospitality,” was shaking. She makes her segue from the story to the main point about hospitality by insisting that “the essential characteristics of what the church is called to be—a hospital for sinners, as opposed to a country club for members only—can be found in this passage [Matt. 23:23-24]: justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (p. 154).
It is true that “the mere mention of ministries of justice or mercy can be met with raised eyebrows” but, as she rightly concludes, “the church must practice one without neglecting the other, for the true gospel in word and deed is one integrated gospel” (p. 154). The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. We must never neglect to preach the gospel, calling men to repentance and belief, but we must ensure that we do not invalidate the very message we are preaching by dealing unjustly, unmercifully, and unfaithfully. This section was especially challenging to me.
Stephanie concludes her book with a chapter “On Wisdom” and a chapter “On Change.” These chapters are very helpful in that they help us begin to figure out ways to act upon the issue at hand. In the chapter “On Wisdom,” she addresses questions, such as, “Whom Do We Help?”, “How Much Do We Help?”, “When Do We Help?”, “From Where Do We Help?”, and “With What Attitude Do We Help?” In the final chapter, “On Change,” she addresses the questions “Do You Want to Change Your Church?” and “Revolution or Reformation?”
In conclusion, I would like to encourage everyone who loves the church of Christ to prayerfully read this book. It will equip and encourage you to take up the challenge of loving and ministering to all of God's children.