"If you build it, he will come"
I figured I was either a genius or a fool. I felt like Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams. He built a baseball field in his corn field in Iowa. It was daring, risky, and completely illogical. In 2003, I had left a full-time ministry and I was taking a little time while looking for the next full-time ministry. I chose to spend that time in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and it seemed like fate or providence that I was given a chance to lead worship for a brand new church. I had a passion for just that kind of ministry ever since I helped start a new church in Texas in 1995. Earlier in 2003, I had been praying about moving back in that direction. Like Ray, I didn't know completely how I was going to do it. "Until I heard the voice, I’d never done a crazy thing in my whole life." It wasn't long before this new ministry was the place I thought I should be. Because this type of ministry is not always so well funded, I was taking a risk. When I committed to stay, I was all-in. All of my chips were pushed to the middle of the table.
I always believed that God would take care of my needs when I put his Kingdom first. I really didn't worry much for a while. I kept at it, trying different career paths in marketing, teaching, and banking and a few other things. But I enjoyed that ministry. It felt like it fit me. It was a chance to do some things I had not done before, push the envelope, be on the cutting edge. More than ever, I felt like I was at my best. Some time after Ray had built the ball field in his corn, Shoeless Joe Jackson and several other deceased ball players showed up. Everybody was having a good time...
"Ease his pain"
Then the voice came back. Ray was enjoying playing baseball with these legendary players. He was smiling, getting ready to head back to the house when the voice gave him another non-specific message he could not ignore. It quickly changed his whole demeanor from joy to frustration. "I was having a good day, a fun day!" He wasn't 100 percent sure that it was all about the author Terrance Mann (if you don't know the movie, it's a long story), or why him, but he fired up the VW bus and hit the road to find him anyway.
By the spring of 2006, I was burned out. In every possible way, I had given all I had to give. I had nothing left spiritually, emotionally, or financially, and this sense of urgency led me to change direction in a big way. I saw the opportunity to invest in a stable career path in the area through a one-year degree program. The time commitment meant that I would have to give up my ministry, but my desire was to get this job on track so I could then be free to lead and serve regardless of whether I was being paid.
The new plan was exciting for while, but it was a lot of change in a relatively short time. Life would only get harder from there. I initially enjoyed the break from ministry responsibilities, but then I resented having to give it up. Even more, I resented the fact that I had given so many years to education and ministry only to find my life so drained, wondering if there was anything to show for it.
I had pursued my ministry with abandon, believing that God would meet my needs along the way. I thought I had already made all the big sacrifices and investments. I thought it was going to work just fine from here. But God would once again kick me out of my comfort zone. If these beliefs - and this circumstantial faith - was the last rope I was holding onto, it broke.
From my perspective, I could only conclude that God had not lived up to his promise to take care of me. When I looked at what he asked of me, what I did, and what I believed he would do, it looked like I had given my best to God, and he left me with nothing. I thought that if my needs were going to be met, I was going to have to do it myself. I always believed that God could do anything for me, it just didn't seem like he would. It's not so much that I stopped believing in God, I just didn't trust him anymore.
"Go the distance"
At Fenway Park, at exactly 10:35 p.m., Ray got his final message from the voice. He feverishly noted the name Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, Chisolm, Minn., and the details of his blink of a Major League career: One inning, zero at bats.
So Ray and Terry go to Minnesota to look for a man who had passed away 16 years before. A good man who made a difference to his community as a beloved doctor. After driving back to Iowa and mysteriously picking up the young Archie Graham along the way, it seemed that everything was going right again.
But then comes a scene that always gets me. Ray's little daughter falls off the top of the bleachers and stops breathing. Archie's been playing, and he runs over to the edge of the ball field, drops his glove and steps across the line, only to again become the aged Doc Graham. Doc dislodges the hot dog that had gotten stuck in her throat. After saying thank you, Ray realizes that Doc cannot go back. Doc smiles and says its okay. His response to Ray was, "No… thank you." Once again his playing days were cut short, but the smile on his face shows no regret, and no resentment. As he walks through the field, toward the cornfield, past the players paying respects and thanks to him, it becomes apparent that for him, having your dream cut short is a small price to pay in order to bring healing to many or to one.
As Doc is about to pass into the cornfield, Shoeless Joe calls out, "Hey rookie! You were good." I don't think he just meant that Moonlight Graham was a good ballplayer.
At the end of that day - not even very far removed from this moment - comes yet another frustrating moment for Ray Kinsella, one that I most identify with in the movie. As the players are calling it a night, Shoeless Joe calls over to Terry and invites him to go off into the cornfield with him and the guys. When Ray asks to go too, Joe simply says, "You're not invited."
Ray: Not invited? That's my corn! You guys are guests in my corn!
(Terry tries to speak up to calm him)
Ray: No, wait. I have done everything I’ve been asked to do. I didn't understand it, but I've done it. And I haven't once asked what's in it for me.
Joe: What are you saying, Ray?
Ray: I'm saying… what's in it for me?
Joe: Is that why you did this? For you?
I didn't have an answer either. Why did I do it all? Start with the years of trying to please God as a teenager, through the years of education to prepare for ministry, all the way up to laying it all on the line.
Why did I fly in the face of financial prudence and normal career advancement? So God could give me something? Truth is, God didn’t owe me anything, and I could never present him with a bill for services performed (see Job 41:11). God let his son die so that I could be rescued from my sin and myself—my condition that kept me from knowing him, and my ignorance and inability to live my life well. If not for that, then there is no ministry. No purpose to serve, no calling, no point. Why did Ray do what he did? Baseball had been a huge part of his consciousness, and he had done a lot of it with the thoughts of his father in the back of his mind. All the stories of the all time great ball players, the games of catch, and the distance that came with disagreements and time.
What was the point of investing the years of my adult life in ministry, only to put it on the line and lose it? It could be because building it and going the distance would eventually lead to easing his pain. At the end of the movie, Ray sees that this whole process was a way to bring him back to his father. To really connect, and to play catch.
Maybe it was God's pain that my heart was too far from him, and he just wanted to get my attention away from working for him, trying to please him. Maybe God would just want to show up and be a dad to me. Where I could see him simply, the way he wants me to see him. To see how much he loves me. Where I could just play catch with him.
These days, restoring my trust in God - and a simple game of catch with him - has been my greatest desire. I wouldn't put anything ahead of it. You've probably thought about what it would be like if Jesus appeared in the flesh to us. I used to imagine him in his white robe, blue sash, long hair and beard, stoic expression, British accent, like in all the movies. But if God was going to appear to me tonight, I think he might look like the young John Kinsella did at the end of the movie. A look on his face that longed to know his son. And if I asked, "Dad, you wanna have a catch?" He would say, "I’d like that."
Although of course, God would not have to ask, "Is this Heaven?"...