Well, not really — it’s Bull Durham. But I like Kevin Costner’s second-best baseball movie well enough that I was all cued up to enjoy Jeffrey Huston’s recent On Faith post arguing that Field of Dreams — a quarter-century old this year — “is nothing short of the greatest Christian parable in movie history.” Why’s that?
If someone were to ask me how God speaks – how he guides and leads his followers – I wouldn’t try to exegete Scripture, unpack theology, or even offer up my own personal experience. Instead, the best answer I could give is four simple words:
Watch Field Of Dreams.
That Ray, the Iowa farmer played by Kevin Costner, responds obediently to a voice that simply repeats, “If you build it, he will come,” speaks powerfully to Huston:
For Ray, his actual mortgage hangs in the balance. To build a baseball field — that has no apparent purpose — on the very land he grows his crops is foolishness, and it’s certain to cost him the very land he feels led to transform. But he follows The Voice anyway, because it’s about what The Voice wants on The Voice’s terms. Ray makes a decision to submit, and it’s a decision to which he must continually resubmit in the face of mounting reasons not to, including his own bitterness about how things work out (or don’t).
This is how I’ve experienced God speaking and leading. He coaxes and compels, mystically and in mystery, not spelling out details but just giving the necessary morsel in a spiritually profound way, at the time I’m ready to hear it.
I need much less prompting than this to watch Field of Dreams for the umpteenth time. (If my adult son ever asks me, in my dotage, if I want to “have a catch,” I promise you that I’ll start bawling.)
But I wonder if readers agree with me that Huston pushed his argument about calling a step too far:
This stirring leads Ray on a journey that requires much more than a leap of faith; it mirrors the full extent of what Christians call the Walk of Faith. It’s a walk that does not call us to pursue our own passions or desires; rather, it calls us away from them. It calls us to mortgage those dreams, to sacrifice them, to risk them all for the sake of what The Voice would have us pursue instead….
The Voice doesn’t call you to your bliss, but to other’s burdens. It doesn’t call you to your dreams; it calls you to ministry. It calls you to your life’s true purpose — which, by the way, both your passions and your reason are distracting you from. That’s why it takes supernatural guidance to lead you there.
I absolutely believe that God’s calling is unfettered by reason, but it’s not necessarily antithetical to reason. In fact, I dare say that, in most cases, God speaks quite reasonably to us. (Which doesn’t guarantee that we’re likely to listen to reason, as it were.)
But even more so, I think it’s overreaching to argue that passion distracts you from “your life’s true purpose,” or that a true call “calls us away from [our own passions or desires].”
No doubt, the self-actualizing blather that Huston derides as “”follow your passion’ dream chasing” can be dangerous if it leaves you deaf to the hurts and needs of others. But as I’ve mentioned several times in the life of this blog, Frederick Buechner’s most famous maxim about vocation suggests a both/and rather than either/or solution:
To Isaiah, the voice said, “Go,” and for each of us there are many voices that say it, but the question is which one will we obey with our lives, which of the voices that call is to be the one we answer. No one can say, of course, except each for himself, but I believe that it is possible to say at least this in general to all of us: we should go with our lives where we most need to go and where we are most needed.
For Buechner going “where we most need to go” led not to the “bliss” that Huston contrasts with bearing “other’s burdens,” but to “gladness.” As I wrote in an earlier Buechner post, “Christianity does not teach the negation of the self, but the restoration of the self.” (After loving God, Jesus said, the greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”)
Indeed in Shoeless Joe, the W.P. Kinsella novel on which the film is based, when Ray first tells his wife about the voice and his plan to build a baseball field, she simply responds, “Oh love, if it makes you happy you should do it.”
Now, the first two words in that sentence are as important as the nine that follow. The voice speaking here is that of a woman whom Ray says “chose me as her occupation” when all of her college friends “were going to be nurses, teachers, pilots, or movie stars.” Annie went where she was most needed.
But perhaps Ray actually went where he most needed to go. And I have to admit: I’ve given “if it makes you happy you should do it” advice before, and I’ll do so again. To young people who are so fearful of the future that they turn away from any but the seemingly safest, most secure path available. And so they study things for which they feel no passion, in preparation for work in which they may experience no gladness.
This is the path bounded by concerns of “salary and status,” down which they’re beckoned by another Voice (“the great blaring, boring, banal voice of our mass culture,” said Buechner in 1969), and ending in “a life’s work in which they find no pleasure or purpose.”