“A Field of Dreams” has long been my favorite movie, but probably not for the reason you think. I’ve seen it so many times, I can practically recite it for you, word for word. Most people think of it as a baseball movie about a man’s relationship with his father. Much of the main character’s motivation is to “prove he’s not like his father.” The two suffered an emotional detachment, manifested in Ray’s refusal to play catch with his father. The emotional climax of the movie for Ray Kinsella is when he sees that among those that have come back from “the corn” to play baseball is his Dad. Ray then introduces his Dad to his wife and daughter, and the tears begin to flow freely when he says, “Dad, Wanna have a catch?” I still get choked up whenever I see this part of the movie.
While reconciliation and healing is one of the primary themes of the movie, another is vocation. Ray’s pursuit of the mystical inner voice telling him “if you build it, he will come” drives the story. His ability to pursue his own dream over the demands of society, bills, and culture provide the primary conflict. Vocation is also the primary theme for two other characters: Moonlight Graham and Terrance Mann.
Archibald “Moonlight” Graham was a ballplayer that got into one major league baseball game as a late-inning defensive replacement. He never got to bat. Through the movie’s strange turn of events Ray finds Moonlight Graham as an old man. Moonlight Graham is now “Doc” Graham, the doctor in a small Minnesota town. Ray tries to convince Doc Graham to come with him to Iowa, but Graham refuses. He knows his place is in Chisholm, Minnesota. Exasperated, Ray says, ” Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came within… y-you came this close. It would kill some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. God, they’d consider it a tragedy”
“Son,” Doc says, “If I had only been a doctor for five minutes, that would have been a tragedy.” Later in the movie Graham appears as a wide-eyed youth, getting to play baseball with his heroes on Ray’s magical field in the corn. Once again, he chooses to be a doctor over a ballplayer and saves Ray’s daughter.
The Terrance Mann character is loosely based on JD Salinger. During the movie he is described as “the voice of his generation… He coined the phrase ‘make love, not war.'” As an adult, Mann becomes a modern-day hermit. After being on the cover of Time, and hanging out with the Beatles, Mann withdraws from the public eye. He grew weary of everyone looking to him for answers. He became burned out by “leading the cause.” Kinsella pursues him, and takes him to Iowa. It is Mann that recites the famous “People will come Ray” monologue. It is a beautiful ode to baseball, and the character’s deep love of baseball is clear. All through the movie though, Mann’s role is unclear.
Finally, after one of the games between the All-Heaven’s All-Stars, Joe Jackson invites Mann to come with them “out there.”
In the heated exchange between Ray, Joe, and Terrance, the three come to realize why Terrance was there. Terrance, who hadn’t written a book in twenty years says that he will write a story about it. “You’re going to right about it?” Ray says, with not a small hint of hope in his voice. “It’s what I do,” Terrance replies.
“It’s what I do.” Mann was a writer. Moonlight Graham was a doctor. These were not just the things they did, these things are their vocation. It is who they are. The entire movie is about a search. It is about a man with a mid-life crisis, trying to discover who he is. He discovers that he is a husband and a father and that is enough. A doctor relives his boyhood dream, but knows that in the end he is defined by being a healer, not as an outfielder. A burned-out activist remembers what is deeply inside him, and he promises to write again.
This week’s study on Journey to Hope is about work. Do you find hope in your work? I think there is an important distinction between work and vocation. I have had a lot of jobs. I’ve been a painter, a gas station clerk, a coach, a sportswriter, a bag boy, and many more things. All of those jobs paid me, but only some of them fed me.
My hope is not in my work. Though this is easy to say as one that is gainfully employed. I understand that to some, finding work would be a great source of hope, but I’m talking about something deeper than a paycheck. My hope is in my vocation. It is in knowing that God has created me with a mission. God has gifted me with talents, but more than this, I have been given a reason for living. My vocation is writing, preaching, and teaching. These are the things that feed my soul. These are the things that feed my fire and passion for God. They are more than the things I do. They are a part of who I am.
I am lucky because my job aligns closely with my vocation. I am able to be compensated for doing those things that I would be doing otherwise. I think it was the football player Ray Lewis that said, “They (the team that pays me) get Sundays for free. They pay me for the rest of the week.” That is similar to how I feel. I worship, preach, and teach for free. It is the other stuff that the church has to pay me for.
When you think about your job and your vocation, how are they related? Spending time and energy in pursuit of things that are not your vocation will lead to tiredness, exhaustion, and burnout. If your job and your vocation are closely aligned, then you can count yourself blessed. If they are not, then you need to be extra vigilant. I would suggest to search deeply for what feeds you, and pursue that in addition to your job. Sabbath rest becomes crucial when you are spending energy in places that do not feed you. Sabbath provides a time and space for you to be refilled by the Spirit. It gives you a chance to discover your vocation through prayer and quiet time.
Hope is eternal. A job isn’t, so if your hope rests in your job I pray that you will find something else more eternal in which to place your hope. Seek out your vocation. Remember that it is “not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.” (Parker Palmer, “Let Your Life Speak”, p. 10)
Listen to your inner voice. It might be telling you to build a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield. The neighbors, the bank, and the rest of society might think you’re crazy. Pursue your vocation anyway. Be who you were called to be.