Review: My Vertical Neighborhood

My Vertical Neighborhood, Lynda MacGibbon (Foreword by Michael Frost). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021.

Summary: The author’s account of moving from a small eastern Canada town to a Toronto highrise and how strangers became neighbors that she learned to love.

Lynda MacGibbon transferred for work reasons from a small eastern Canada town to Toronto, moving into a highrise. She had wanted to learn how to love her neighbors but for months couldn’t get beyond brief greetings and small talk. Then she found a partner, a co-worker named Rachel who loved to cook, and after prayer, proposed that they host dinners in Rachel’s tiny apartment. They began with a party that turned into a weekly dinner. At first it was only the two of them, and then Elizabeth, and Fran, and Nicolai and Yolanda and her son Luka…and then Brian.

Brian lived large, loved food, and was a gay man with many lovers. He had strong opinions, that even turned some off. But Rachel and Lynda welcomed him, first to dinners, and then the Writing Group. And he kept coming, along with his parrot and made his way into their lives. They spent one day searching as a group of friends for that parrot when he was separated from Brian. Later, Brian went out for a day with Lynda–she thought an hour but he wanted a day, going all through Toronto.

MacGibbon tells a story of the power of a partner, of learning to love unconditionally even those with zero interest in their faith, of the joy of sharing good food, and the hard lesson of neighbors looking out for each other, when they had not heard from Fran for several days only to learn she had died in her apartment. She also discovered that loving means becoming vulnerable–opening up her own stories and pain and not just listening to others, or even going dancing for an evening with Brian in a nightclub. It meant getting hurt and learning to forgive.

This book is an invitation to become open to loving our neighbors, not just in theory but in practice–whether we live in apartment complexes, high rises, old neighborhoods with porches or those with attached garages and fenced in back yards. It’s an invitation to share food, to celebrate, and to begin to take the risk of not only opening our doors but our lives.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Stranger Danger!

Source: _chrisUK at Used under Creative Commons License.

Source: _chrisUK at Used under Creative Commons License.

From the time I was young, I was taught to fear strangers. “Don’t talk to strangers!”, “Don’t accept candy from a stranger”, and “Never get into a car with a stranger.” That was good advice then, and still is–at least for our children. But will the fear of “the stranger” govern all my relationships with strangers as an adult? Will that fear keep me from being a neighbor to a needy “stranger” and stand in the way of that stranger becoming a beloved neighbor and friend?

Those were the questions posed to me from the message this past Sunday on the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.  In case you are unfamiliar with the story, a man, presumably a Jew, gets mugged on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Both a priest and a Levite (really respected religious types) cross over to the other side of the road to avoid him. Even at best, this would make them late and “unclean” for their religious duties. At worst, it could be a trap and they could be mugged as well.

Then a “despised stranger”, a Samaritan comes along. In contrast to the others, he does seven things, at least whereby he becomes a “neighbor” to this Jew in distress: he takes pity on him (he sees his distress and allows it to move him), he goes to him (rather than crossing to the other side), he bandages his wounds, he pours on wine and oil to soothe and disinfect, he puts him on his donkey (which means the Samaritan walks), he cares for him at an inn (giving him shelter and time to recover), and he pays for an extended convalescence and guarantees his room fees. “Loving the neighbor” means sacrificing time, money, comfort and possibly putting himself at risk–and he does this for someone who, in other circumstances, may well have hated his guts!

It is interesting to think about who might the “Samaritan” be if Jesus were telling the story to us. I could easily envision this person being someone from the LGBT community. Perhaps Jesus would cast the person showing care as an undocumented immigrant. It might be that the person extending care would be a Muslim. Or maybe an atheist. Maybe it would just be that guy down the street who throws large parties attended by some unsavory folk. Would it change me to be on the receiving end of compassion from such a person?

Taking it a step further, does it required being cared for by the “Samaritans” in our lives to see them as beloved neighbors rather than hostile strangers? Must the “other” take the first step? Or might this story of Jesus challenge me as one of his followers to be the one who begins the “neighboring” process?

Doing this is scary. Our pastor spoke of the fact that this is risky business that involves courage. And it will change us. We could get hurt. We might be taken advantage of. And fellow believers might misunderstand us (“What, you are making friends with them?”).  What this calls us back to is the only safety any of us can really count on, the love of a God with whom we are completely secure.

We might also see a stranger become a beloved neighbor, if not a fellow believer. I have no idea where this can take you or me. What I do know is that if Samaritans can be neighbors, then anyone qualifies. Unlike the teacher of the law who delimited “neighbor” to his extended kin or maybe his own ethnic group, Jesus story breaks all the boundaries.

Questions for going deeper: Who is the “Samaritan stranger” in your world? Who are the “Samaritan strangers” for your church? What invitation might the Lord be giving you to be a neighbor and what practical step can you take?

This post also appears on our church’s Going Deeper blog.