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Within Your Neighborhood
A Review of
Next Door As It Is in Heaven:
Living Out God’s Kingdom in Your Neighborhood
Lance Ford and Brad Brisco
Paperback: NavPress, 2016
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Reviewed by Ashley Hales
A year ago, a moving truck pulled up just ten miles from where my husband and I grew up. In the heat of summer, we moved boxes and unpacked: we were moving “home” to plant a church. A few months later, we invited neighbors and new friends to a huge Christmas party with food, good wine, and a hip jazz band. One of our neighbors, a bit incredulous about a church throwing a party with no strings attached, asked what our plan was to start a church. My husband floored him, saying, “I think we’re going to start by throwing good parties.” As we’ve met over small dining room tables and in local parks, hired a taco truck for a nearby neighborhood, and opened up our lives and homes, our little church has begun to grow into a generous and vulnerable community that is learning how to live out the Kingdom of God, even in the mecca of materialism in suburban, southern California. So it was with much excitement that I agreed to review Next Door As It Is in Heaven: Living Out God’s Kingdom in Your Neighborhood by Lance Ford and Brad Brisco.
We all care deeply about where we are placed, and we all long for home to feel like a firm foundational place of belonging. The problem is that we elevate the nuclear family and our physical houses instead of concomitantly seeking the good of our neighborhoods, cities, and world. Authors Ford and Brisco are desperate to recover a sense of the neighborhood as the space of connection, where the gospel takes on flesh.
The premise for Next Door As It Is in Heaven is simple: we are disconnected in our modern age of so-called connectivity, yet being a good neighbor is at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. It is a book that challenges the reader to do what David Brooks wrote about in an op-ed for the New York Times: “We need to be more communal in an age that’s overly individualistic; we need to be more morally minded in an age that’s overly utilitarian; we need to be more spiritually literate in an age that’s overly materialistic; and we need to be more emotionally intelligent in an age that is overly cognitive.” We tend to think of emotional, spiritual, moral, and communal development as happening in classrooms or churches. But each of these areas Brooks highlights can be found by faithfully and intentionally practicing presence in your own neighborhood. Neighborliness matters. It is, after all, the basis for Jesus’s most famous parable of the Good Samaritan.
Living out the Kingdom of God then is not something professionals do with fancy words; it is, instead, patterned in our small moments of noticing others. The first several chapters of Next Door As It Is in Heaven lay out the importance of place and neighborhoods. Examining the centrality of neighborhoods and how to be a good neighbor, by using examples from history, personal stories, biblical exposition, and sociological data, Ford and Brisco assume their reader knows the importance of neighborliness. What their reader lacks is the practical implications to make next door part of the Kingdom. Next Door As It Is in Heaven brings back the gospel to day-to-day life. Rather than living self-sufficient, “container lifestyles” (50), the authors advocate a “getting to know” your neighborhood that largely follows a shift in perspective.
The book hinges on the fourth chapter, moving from scarcity to abundance. Fighting back shame and scarcity are themes we hear throughout the modern self-help works from Brené Brown, Glennon Doyle Melton, and Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s an attractive message. But Ford and Brisco plug in abundance right to its source: the Kingdom of God. Caring for your neighborhood happens as we shift our relationships: as we “value stewardship over ownership” (71). Abundance-thinking is an overflow of Kingdom life as we practice sustained attention to the small and mundane as vehicles for grace.
The most exciting section of the book for me was on hospitality, the importance of eating together, and the value of third spaces. Pushing us gently out of our container lifestyles, the authors write: “We wrongly assume that one of the greatest needs in our lives is safety. But what we need most is connection and acceptance from other human beings” (99). This connection can be found in ordinary days, with ordinary elements—as we share food and time with our neighbors, and especially as we seek to meet the needs of those who can’t return the dinner invitation. Because purchasing is not the answer , but rather generosity, our neighborliness can actually make the gospel enticing to those who aren’t part of the family of God.
In this book, I had hoped for a grand, captivating vision that would propel me to not only help facilitate a more flourishing neighborhood where I live, but also give me practical tools to teach others. It is, of course, a rather tall order for any book. Next Door As It Is in Heaven is a book that veers to the practical. Ford and Brisco’s book is thorough—every chapter is well-researched and in dialogue with many others on Christian neighborliness. It’s accessible: its tone is familiar, as if you were sitting down in a local coffee shop with the authors discussing the gospel and neighborhoods. With so much research and so many topics the authors covered—from the importance of place, to incarnational living, to land development, to hospitality, to biblical exposition, for instance—the book did lose me a bit. Not that it was unappetizing, but it was as if I stared blankly at all the options at a buffet and didn’t know where to start. With so many good dishes to stew on, the defining arc of the book and its narrative trajectory were a bit elusive (other than the importance of the neighborhood itself for a Christian life). This aside, Next Door As It Is in Heaven might just help us leave the page long enough to imagine, like Brooks wrote, what being more communal, moral, spiritual, and emotionally intelligent look like in our neighborhoods.
Ford and Brisco’s book got me thinking about easy ways I could intentionally invest in this little suburban tract where we are placed, not just the hip church Christmas parties. I had visions of ordinary events: summer barbecues, holiday gatherings, and sharing yard tools. Next Door As It Is in Heaven may not be the book that changes your world, but it may be the book that gets you off your couch and gets you thinking creatively about how to incarnate the Kingdom within your neighborhood. It may be the book that validates your faithful presence to stay, put down roots, and seek the good of your city, wherever you are placed. I’m planning to move past the pleasantries and cross the street to re-introduce myself to neighbors I’ve been waving at for a year. And that is an excellent start to seeing how next door fits with the Kingdom of God.
Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. But she spends most of her time chasing her four children and helping her husband plant a church. Her writing has appeared in Books and Culture and ThinkChristian, and she is a regular contributor at The Mudroom. Ashley writes at www.aahales.com and is a member of Redbud Writers Guild.