What “Field of Dreams” Taught Me about Church
“If you build it, he will come.” It’s the iconic line from one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams. As my wife and I were watching an outdoor screening a few weeks ago a less noted line jumped out at me, a line that is repeated several times throughout the movie: “Is this heaven?” As I thought about Ray Kinsella, the main character of the story, I began to see similarities between his incredible journey and the path where we find ourselves as residents of the Kingdom of God. Did you hear that?
Ray is a reluctant Iowa farmer. One evening as darkness approaches, he hears a voice while walking in his cornfield: “If you build it, he will come.” He is confused not only by the cryptic message, but by where the voice is coming from. What is this “it” he is told to build? And if he builds “it,” who is it that will come?
Ray’s experience seems very familiar to us, doesn’t it? We sense a voice within us calling us to take action, and yet the message is equal parts clear and cryptic. What are we to do? For whom? Like Ray, we go through a period of discernment, seeking to discover the source of this prompting. Ray’s period of discernment led him to plow up a good chunk of his corn field…to build a baseball field. He literally bet the farm on the voice that was speaking to him.
Too often, this is where our experience differs from that of Ray. This farmer plows under a good portion of his crop to build a baseball field, despite the fact that there are no players to use it! His brother-in-law tells him he’s crazy, the bank tells him they will foreclose after he falls behind on his mortgage, and yet he stays his course. Why? Because a voice told him to do something that makes no sense to most of the people around him.
Wouldn’t it be great if we were so locked in to the guidance of the Spirit that nothing could persuade us to cease in our effort to follow where it leads? When we are convinced to abandon the path the Spirit is calling us to follow, it’s seldom by some explicitly evil force, but rather by the seemingly good things in this world that have become too good in our eyes. It’s the earthly responsibilities—the mortgages, car notes, sports schedules, and parent-teacher conferences—that sap us of the ability to follow the Spirit’s leading. We want to build the baseball field, but we have to pay the mortgage.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). A natural person, a person of the world, is going to call you crazy for following a voice that they can’t hear. Don’t listen to them, because it might be your listening to the voice is what will allow them to eventually hear it for themselves.
Is this heaven?
Ray gets this question a lot, to which he normally responds, “No, it’s Iowa.” What is it about a random baseball field in Iowa that would cause people to mistake it for heaven? To put it simply, this baseball field offers a chance at redemption.
One of the reasons Ray builds the field is for disgraced former major-leaguer Shoeless Joe Jackson and several other former players to come and play ball. Shoeless Joe and several of his teammates were banned from professional baseball after allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series in what would become known as the Black Sox Scandal. And yet, each day they magically appear out of Ray’s corn field to play the game they loved so much. To them, this was another chance. A chance to not be defined by what they had done, but to be who they truly wanted to be: ball players.
Could it be that the Spirit is leading us to build churches where people can come for redemption? What if our churches were places where people were seen not as the world sees them, but as God sees them? One of the reasons Paul gets so angry about how the Lord’s Supper is observed in Corinth, is because they are importing the views of the world into their worship. They are stratifying the church based on society’s standards, and Paul will have none of it!
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part. (1 Cor 11:17-18)
The world doesn’t often given second chances, but since when were we called to be like the world? Wouldn’t it be great if people could walk through our doors, sense the love and acceptance, and be prompted to ask “Is this heaven?”
In what is probably my favorite scene of the movie, Ray’s daughter falls off the bleachers and begins to choke. A ball player by the name of Moonlight Graham crosses the threshold of the field to administer first aid. Moonlight is at the field because his major league career consisted of a single inning in the outfield, without a chance to ever bat. Sensing his career in baseball would never amount to much, Graham had given up the game to become a doctor. While he never doubted his calling in medicine, he also always wondered if he would have been able to hold his own at the plate as a big leaguer. Now, having had his chance to hit on the “Field of Dreams,” Graham gives up the rest of his time playing ball to help someone in need. Graham’s selfless act is inspiring, but the really amazing part of the story is the response it provokes from Ray’s militantly cynical brother-in-law Mark. Because of Graham’s selflessness, Mark’s eyes are opened to a reality that he could never see before. The field that was empty is now full of players from baseball’s past, and Mark urges Ray to keep the farm with the same passion with which he had previously insisted that he sell it.
The truth is, the only chance others may have at hearing the Spirit’s voice and seeing the deeper realities of the Spirit, is if we are willing to leave the confines of the field and enter the world. Mark doesn’t see the players by going to them. To him the field is nothing but a waste of money. It takes a player leaving the field to act with compassion “in the world” to open Mark’s eyes to a reality that he had never been able to see previously.
I pray that our churches are like Field of Dreams. I pray that they are built in response to the Spirit’s prompting. I pray they are known as places of redemption, where second chances are far more common than they are in the world. But most of all, I pray that we are moved to leave those fields and enter the world with a compassion that opens the eyes of others to deeper reality that have been missing all this time.