Five years ago, for a now-defunct religion blog published by The Washington Post, I wrote an essay for the 25th Anniversary of Field of Dreams. It was titled, “Why Field of Dreams Is the Best Christian Parable in Movie History.”
Today, in 2019, an online link for the piece no longer exists so I’ll re-publish it here (with slight, minor tweaks to update) for the film’s 30th Anniversary. Is this essay Heaven? No, it’s just the internet. But I’ve built it, you’ve come, and so I hope it inspires you to watch and experience this classic in a richer, deeper way, especially if you’re a person of faith.
Why Field of Dreams Is the Best Christian Parable in Movie History
If someone were to ask me how God speaks, or how He guides and leads His followers, I wouldn’t exegete Scripture, unpack theology, or even offer up my own personal experience. Instead, the best answer I could give would be to simply say:
Watch Field Of Dreams.
That classic baseball fantasy from 1989, starring Kevin Costner at the peak of his career, is the greatest Christian parable in movie history. At least from where I’m umping.
On the occasion of its 30th Anniversary, it’s a perfect time to reflect on the ways that The Voice parallels The Spirit, and how it actually stands in contrast to the “follow your passion” dream-chasing that has become a common theme in so much of American Christianity and culture at large.
Jesus often talked in parables. These stories — while not narratively about Him, His Father, or His Kingdom — were used to reveal His Father’s nature, and how He relates to humanity. Christ’s parables showed us how The Kingdom of God works, and how God works in it.
By that definition, Field of Dreams plays like the kind of parable Jesus would tell if He were a filmmaker.
While it’s not explicitly about the Holy Spirit, it shows us how that Spirit works; how it speaks through vague and mysterious impressions, ones that move us to respond in faith but then test that faith once we do. Sometimes, the test even feels like a betrayal, leading us down a path that confuses and frustrates long before it clarifies, requiring things of us that we never initially signed up for.
Field Of Dreams is the story of a Ray Kinsella, a humble Iowa farmer with a loving wife and young daughter. One evening, while strolling through his cornfield, Ray hears a whisper from out of thin air: “If you build it, he will come.” The Voice repeats itself, quietly but firmly, confirming its presence.
The Voice does more than grab Ray’s attention; it stirs Ray’s soul.
This leads to an exchange between Ray and his wife, Annie, one all-too-familiar to anyone who’s felt that they’ve heard the Spirit speaking:
ANNIE: What else did he say?
ANNIE: I hate it when that happens.
RAY: Me too.
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 to pursue instead.
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 that 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. It’s a decision he must continually resubmit to in the face of mounting reasons not to, including his own bitterness about how things are working out (or aren’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 a time I’m ready to hear it (though likely not understand it). Every time I watch Field of Dreams and see how The Voice speaks to Ray, and how Ray responds (both in compulsion and frustration), I recognize it thinking, “Yep, that’s exactly how God works.”
Like The Voice, The Holy Spirit often leaves us guessing. He leads people not by convincing but rather provoking, to do things that make no sense…like build a baseball diamond right in the middle of a cornfield. The Spirit doesn’t merely point us in the right (albeit bizarre) direction; it also gives us the courage to go there. Or, as Ray puts it, “Until I heard The Voice, I’d never done a crazy thing in my whole life.”
One key lesson for Ray is that his journey is not just about him reaching his necessary healing; it’s also about helping others reach theirs. I’ve often found that the only way God can get me to help others is to cause me to initially think that these people were meant for my journey, rather than me for theirs. We each love to see ourselves as the lead in Our Story, but The Voice likes to cast us as the supporting catalyst in others.
The Voice doesn’t call you to your bliss; it calls you 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, a holy vocation, one that your passions and reason are quite possibly (even likely) distracting you from, not pointing you towards. That’s why it takes supernatural guidance, a kind beyond one’s own understanding, to lead you there.
Much like Ray, one of the biggest struggles we have is in wondering why The Spirit doesn’t speak more clearly. Why can’t God just make his desires and intentions plain? In Ray’s case, had The Voice laid out the path upfront, it’s likely that Ray wouldn’t have even let him finish explaining it. The Voice’s authority and purpose can only become clear in the context of the pursuit, not prior to it. In the experience of it, not merely the explanation.
Yet perhaps the biggest frustration for many Christ followers is this: despite sincere faithfulness to walk the journey, and to sacrifice, they still haven’t received what they believe that God has promised them…but seemingly, everyone else around them has. That’s what’s happening to Ray.
For the people that Ray has been led to help, they end up receiving the very benefit of the field’s mystical powers that Ray has longed for. But he hasn’t. He’s left in the bleachers — not even on the bench! – watching, not participating. When he’s not invited to join the others on the field, his anger and frustration explode at Joe, one of the field’s beneficiaries:
RAY: No, wait, I have done everything that 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?
This is Ray as Jacob, wrestling with the Angel and demanding his blessing. This is the struggle of many Christians. They’ve been faithful but don’t have the spouse, the kids, the family. Their hard work has not resulted in a lucrative career or the fulfilment of dreams. They find themselves asking, “Why them and not me?”
But the Spirit then softly asks us the same question that Joe asks of Ray: Is that why you did this? For you? The Voice knows what we need more than we do. That’s why we should trust it.
And of course that final shot – from who Ray is with on the field, to then what sprawls out from it deep across the horizon – is the image of what ultimately happens when we listen to The Voice, and obey. It’s what reconciliation looks like. It’s an image of what The Voice has done with Ray’s life, and it’s a vision of what God wants to do with ours.