Grinnell church of Christ in Iowa
A derecho is like a tornado minus the spin, and although Derechos are almost always very brief, they still do a lot of damage. On August 10, 2020, twenty days before our stay with our friends Mike and Pencie King, the derecho they survived across central Iowa lasted for 45 minutes. The gusts near Cedar Rapids exceeded an insane speed of 140mph.
Clean-up had been in full swing for almost three weeks when we hopped in the King’s car to drive 60 minutes to worship with a congregation that meets at the Ahrens Family Center in Grinnell, Iowa. On the way, we passed piles of debris that had once housed crops or people, uprooted trees, flattened corn fields, and metal grain bins that looked like tin foil that had been stepped on by a giant. The wind even threw 2x4 beams of wood straight through the sides of houses like javelins piercing through flesh.
Mark preached for the friendly little flock, and they welcomed us warmly expressing their gratitude for Mark’s lesson, lingering after worship to exchange stories with us. Afterward we enjoyed a nice German lunch at the Amana Colonies and wandered around the quaint shops there before heading home for a quiet afternoon.
Early evening, Mike suggested we drive about an hour northeast to Dryersville to the site of the movie “The Field of Dreams” and we eagerly jumped at the opportunity. On the way, I played some of the soundtracks from the movie Field of Dreams, and read aloud off the internet the plot of the movie to refresh our memories. Prompted by the plot of the movie, we each talked a little about our relationships with our dads. As we got closer, the sun was getting low enough that it was starting to make the tops of the corn fields glow, so I took a chance and hung my phone out the window to take some video. Most of the time I’ve found life becomes richer, broader and deeper when you take a chance.
We pulled in.
“The first thing about it — and this seems so obvious that maybe we overlook it — baseball is a beautiful thing. It’s more beautiful in an old park that’s asymmetrical and quirky, but even, and I hate to say this because it might encourage them, but even in a dome with artificial turf it’s beautiful; the way the field fans out, the choreography of the sport, the pace and rhythm of it, the fact that that pace and rhythm allows for conversation and reflection and opinion and comparison...” Bob Costas
I love the sound of baseball. I could listen to it all day. I love the smell of baseball and the dry, powdery dirt that kicks up around the vibrant green fields, and how the lights shine down on the field as it starts to get chilly. I can relate the Bryant Gumble’s hyperbole: "Other sports are just sports. Baseball is love."
This sensory experience, like nothing else, takes me back to childhood when my dad was the president of the Salem Softball Association. I spent my childhood at the baseball parks of Salem Oregon while he spent decades in hot pursuit of three-foot-high stacks of plastic glory.
As I wandered alone just before sunset around and behind the buildings at The Field of Dreams, it made me think about my dad and the special closeness we had in my early childhood --- the comfort of having my ear against his chest to hear the deep tones while he sang during public worship and the satisfaction of how proud he was of me during my teen years and his expressing appreciation for my not breaking his heart.
"There’s so much about the game that appeals to the intellectual and to the psyche, the symmetry of it. The orderliness of it. The justice of it...In the other sports, you have time. You have to play against the clock. And when the clock runs out, your chance is over. No clock in baseball. You play until you lose, and if you can keep that rally alive, if you can keep going, if you can keep getting hits, you can play until a week from now. Nothing stops you. There is no parameter that makes it impossible for you to perform still more excellently.” Mario Cuomo
The memories of childhood were followed by a recalling of the personal events in his last few decades of life that resulted in my begging him to “go the distance” --- to finish strong. How I wish that I could have eased his pain. I believe I eased some of his pain. He would say so. I know this because he gifted me something grand, straight from his grateful heart, just one week before suddenly falling backward to the floor, dead. My prayer is that God is now easing the rest of his pain. "The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces..." (James Earl Jones as Terence Mann in The Field of Dreams)
“Perhaps one reason why pain exists is so that we can ease one another's pain,” I thought to myself as I wandered the perimeter of the corn fields at dusk. After all, easing one another's pain grows love and love is the reason for life. "It is a community activity. You need all nine people helping one another. I love bunt plays. I love the idea of the bunt. I love the idea of the sacrifice. Even the word is good. Giving yourself up for the good of the whole. That's Jeremiah. That's thousands of years of wisdom." Mario Como
The Field of Dreams is, at best, a work of art with a baseball backdrop, but in reality, was no more than a fantasy film. Here’s the thing. In reality, we are building something much more grand than a baseball diamond. In fact, get this: we are using a holy, ancient pattern to help build the single most beautiful temple that will ever exist. Again, if you are a Christian, do you realize we are accomplishing no less than using a holy, ancient pattern to help build the single most beautiful temple that will ever exist?
“...you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:20-22.
“...if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ...Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”” 1 Peter 2:3-6.
“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.” Revelation 3:12
It is mindboggling to think about the fact that all that Old Testament history about building a physical tabernacle and then the building of a temple according to God’s instructions for the purpose of worshipping Him, is said in the Book of Hebrews to be simply a pattern of the New Covenant building of God’s spiritual house: The church. The Temple. And God stresses emphatically that Moses “make all things according to the pattern…” Hebrews 8:5-6
This is why the church of Christ looks for God’s patterns in every aspect of Christianity, and rather than announcing willy nilly which aspects of the New Testament patterns they’ve decided God cares about, and which ones He does not. Instead, they make the more historically wise assumption that if God commands it, if He approves it, or if it is obvious from Scripture that it meets His approval, it MUST be part of His “pattern” and they go about God’s work of building this temple with caution and precision to make sure “all things" are built "according to the pattern”. They do this even if, like Mike and Pencie King, they have to drive an hour to find Christians like those at the Grinnell church of Christ, with that kind of dedication. They realize they are a “temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in” them. 1 Corinthians 3:16
“Ease His Pain”... “Go the distance” were both whispered throughout the movie The Field of Dreams. It had another repeated phrase “If you build it, they will come”. This again reminds me of the real temple we are building: The church whose foundation was laid in the exact place (in the city of Jerusalem) that this prophecy predicted it would be laid --- a jaw-dropping prediction that was made over 700 years before it happened! Turns out, truth is, indeed, sometimes stranger and more jaw-dropping than fiction.
Truth: “The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Fiction: "...Ray. People will come, Ray. They'll come ...for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. "Of course, we won't mind if you look around", you'll say...And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray…”
When I was playing as a child around those dusty baseball fields, the world was of course, as it has always been, filled with both good and evil people. But fifty years ago there was still a common understanding in our culture of what was a virtue and what was a vice. Then some set themselves up as the intellectually elite and lead the charge in popular culture to let personal fulfillment become God. So rather than a general interest among the populous in spiritual development by seeking “His ways… that we may walk in His paths”, everyone was made to feel good about following their own heart. “If it feels good do it.” “I’m okay. You’re okay.” “I’m enough.”
Moral darkness beyond imagination is mainstream now. In fact, it is cheered. Even funded, Whether 62,000,000 babies must die or America’s most liberal cities must burnt to the ground, somehow the guilt-free sex is worth anything and everything. The resulting chaos we could literally see and smell when we parted with Portland, Oregon several weeks before we visited Grinnell, Iowa was a moral derecho we could no longer live near, and it is going to take a lot to clean up. But be sure of this: there is no physical clean up without first a moral one. What a project. And where do we even start? We start in the same place God’s people have always started:
2 Chronicles 7:12-16 “Then the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that My name may be there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.”
When we “go the distance” in the building real thing we are here to build, the difference we make along the way is our most relevant mark of our lives because it not only makes this world a better place, it can change the eternal destination of the souls around us. The coronavirus pandemic, the political unrest, the schools shutting down, the businesses closing, the economy tanking, the wildfires burning vast forests in the West, these events and others have caused some honest hearts to reassess what matters in life. Humble people are again seeking the face of God and His favor, so that “all that once was good and that could be again.” The sheep, during this present distress, are finding their place on the right, and the goats to the ever-darkening recesses of the left. It’s time to take our places again.
“America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh...people will come Ray. People will most definitely come." James Earl Jones: Terence Mann
If you live near Grinnell, Iowa, I hope you will visit this lovely congregation. They will welcome you just as warmly as they did us to “..the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths”.
Grinnell church of Christ
1402 Third Ave.
Grinnell, IA 50112