Field of Dreams

Well, apparently there is crying in baseball, contrary to Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own. Like every other Phillies fan around the globe this past Sunday night, I watched Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Diego Padres. As you may have heard by now, the Phillies won that game 4–3, and in the process, they also won the pennant. I may have gotten a little choked up during the post-game celebration. Raise your hand if you did, too. Be honest.

Now, I realize baseball is not everybody’s cup of tea, so this post is a personal reflection that goes beyond the world of sports. It’s more about those occasional flashes of joy that make our journeys sparkle once in a while, and for which we can be both happy and grateful. It’s about “high hopes” and learning how to wait patiently until those hopes are realized. (Thank you, Harry Kalas). Until a few weeks ago, it had been over a decade since the Phillies were involved in any postseason play. Now we’re in it to win it.

Sunday night: The Phillies had just surrendered a one-run lead in the seventh inning to put themselves on the brink of having to go back to California for the rest of the series. Nobody wanted to play Game 6 on Monday night at Petco Park. Not only would that squander our home field advantage, but it would also drag us right into the crosshairs of the Padres’ best pitchers. So, “the Phitins” wanted to clinch a World Series berth right here. Right now. This inning. Easier said than done.

Standout catcher J. T. Realmuto started the bottom of the eighth with a single to left field against right-hander Robert Suarez. That turned out to be huge, given what was about to unfold. The tying run was now on base, and the go-ahead run was coming to the plate. But who would be the next man stepping into the batter’s box? None other than our star cleanup hitter and likely Hall-of-Famer, Bryce Harper. 

Everyone was thinking the same thing. A two-run bomb would put us back in the lead and on the verge of clinching. Harper certainly has the guns to do it (even to the opposite field), not to mention the drive, the talent, and the history to do so—but how much magic can we expect from one player? He had already done so much for the team in the postseason, along with Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Zach Wheeler, and several others. But #3 lives for moments like these, and this was his moment.

Harper showed good discipline at the plate, laying off Suarez’s bread-and-butter pitch out of the zone. He then threw a 2-2 sinker toward the outer half of the plate. The location was good from a pitcher’s perspective, but somehow—with his trademark “violent swing”—Harper muscled the ball over the outfield wall and into the left-center-field seats for a two-run shot to take the lead. If you didn’t get to see it, take a look:

Fans at Citizens Bank Park went ballistic. Viewers at home went ballistic. I went ballistic. It was storybook stuff to be sure, and no one could have written a better script. It’s what every little boy dreams about from the time he can swing a whiffle ball bat. This dramatic video clip will be shown for decades to come. 

It was another milestone in the history of the club—a team I’ve been cheering for since I was a little boy. That’s why I got choked up Sunday night. Not just because we held on in the top of the ninth to win the game, but because it brought back some truly precious memories. The last time we won the World Series was in 2008 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Before that it was in 1980 against the Kansas City Royals. Before that, it was—well, there was no before that. 

The Phillies have won the World Series only two times since becoming an MLB team in 1883. Back then they were known as the Quakers. They became the Phillies later in 1890. For most of those 139 years, it’s been phrustrating to be a phan. I’ve often said that the Phillies are always good enough to give you hope but bad enough to break your heart. That’s been the story for most of my life, with a few notable exceptions. 

Why then do I keep cheering for them? Three words—family, friends, and memories. My dad took me to Veterans Stadium for the first time when I was about six or seven years old. It’s a memory that finds deep lodging in my heart, even to this day. 

I remember holding my father’s hand walking out from under the shadowy concourse into the bright, shining seating area. The sun sprayed the radiant green AstroTurf with a brilliance that illuminated a perfectly manicured ball field, dazzling this little rookie into silence. I was in awe at the sight of it. And the sounds of it. And the smells of it. It somehow felt like I belonged there. At that moment I fell in love with baseball in general and the Phillies in particular. I’ve been a “Phanatic” ever since.

I also remember my dad getting me a dish of vanilla ice cream poured into in a little red plastic Phillies helmet—my very first baseball souvenir (and one that may still be boxed away somewhere in my attic). We also got hot dogs, French fries, and Cracker Jacks that day, purchased from the vendors walking up and down the aisles hawking their treats. Dad was happy, and I was over the moon. I didn’t understand the game very well back then, but the Phillies won, and that resulted in a lot of loud cheering—something I had never experienced before at that level of intensity.

My family, friends, and I went to many more games over the years, and we got many more souvenirs. Of course, we watched more games on TV than we attended in person, but we always wanted to know how our Phillies were doing. We could catch the nightly news, or read the box scores and standings in the paper the next day if we missed a game on TV. (I had to share the tube with my dad since he was a Yankees fan. Obviously, I’m adopted.) My heroes back then were Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Dave Cash, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton, Bob Boone (who autographed a baseball of mine), Greg Luzinski, Gary Maddox, and Bake McBride. 

I got to watch the second World Series victory in 2008 on the big screen with my church family. Several parishioners still remember the final out of that game—a strikeout by closer Brad Lidge—and they wrote us messages this week recalling that wonderful time of fellowship and celebration. Some of the kids were even at church in their pajamas that night.

Oddly enough, the Christian message is another good reason to stay with the Phillies through all their peaks and valleys. As Jesus sticks with those of us who keep striking out spiritually until we become more healthy, stable, and productive, so I can stick with the Phillies through tick and thin, regardless of their winning percentage. The theological word for that is “grace.” We all desperately need it, so we should all be willing to give it.

Having become a baseball junkie early on, I tried out for our middle school team and made the roster. By the start of my second year, I had worked myself into a starting position in the infield, and I loved every minute of it. Game days were always the best days, even when we lost. There’s nothing like going home tired, sweaty, and dirty after a game, knowing you did everything you could to help your team win. If you fielded well and got a hit or two, so much the better.

As life would have it, I was better at swimming than baseball, so that’s where I put my athletic energies in the years to come. I made it to the NCAA Division 1 Nationals, twice, and it wound up paying a big chunk of my college tuition, so that was the right call. But deep down, baseball was always my favorite sport. There’s just something about the game that captivated me as a little boy, and it’s never let go. Over time I learned that every pitch has a strategy, and every strategy has a counterstrategy. So, the issue is always one of anticipation and execution. Good teams do both well.

Back to this past Sunday. Right after preaching the morning service at our church, I came home and lost my voice. Laryngitis set in a few hours before the game, so, I couldn’t even yell for my team during that amazing come-from-behind, pennant-clinching victory. But I sure did grunt and snortle like a muffled rhinoceros a few times. 

Then there were the silent but exuberant gesticulations of this little boy in a man suit whenever the Phillies put runs on the board. Sonya now knows how Michal felt when David danced before the Lord (cf. 2 Samuel 6:14–20), though I didn’t actually do anything that could remotely be called dancing. I just lumbered around the living room like a drunk baboon looking for a lamppost to lean on. (I’ll blame it on the meds I was taking.) In the end, though, myriad expressions of delight found ways to ooze out of my body from other portals besides my pie hole.

What will happen in the 2022 World Series? I have no idea, and I make no predictions. Houston has a great team, and I have a personal no-trash-talk policy. Athletes at this level are so good, any team can beat any other team on any given day. It’s just a matter of who’s clicking and who’s finding their groove in the moment. I never expected the Phillies to get this far, and I suspect very few other people did, too. So, even if they come up short at the end of this round, I’ll still be proud of them.

In the end, the best of our sports heroes are just human. They have good days and bad days. They have moments of great accomplishment and moments of great disappointment. They have seasons of good health and seasons of nagging injuries. They have big dreams and big hopes, just like the rest of us. Let’s let them be human and have some fun together, regardless of the outcome.

One dream I’ve had for a long time is to see the Phillies play in a World Series game—in Philadelphia, the city of my birth. I am blessed beyond measure to share with you that this longstanding dream will finally come true.

As of now, it looks like I’ll be going to Game 3 (Monday, October 31) or Game 4 (Tuesday, November 1). Look for me on TV. I’ll be wearing red and white. And if I get my voice back, I’ll be cheering as loud as everybody else, too.

I plan to buy myself a little red plastic Phillies cap filled with vanilla ice cream (yes, they still sell them!), and I’ll think of my dad while I’m eating it. I’ll no doubt revel in the magical atmosphere again, just like I did my first trip to the ballpark. Just like I did on Opening Day this year, which was another first for me. Yes, I was there when Kyle Schwarber started the season off with a first-at-bat home run, something now known as a “Schwarbomb.”

And, like everybody else, I’ll be waving my red “rally towel” for the Phillies, grateful beyond measure that my father introduced me to this wonderful sport all those years ago. While I’m there, I’ll be keeping the seat warm for little Samuel. Maybe someday day he’ll want some ice cream in a red helmet, too.

Family Update: Just a Handful of Nice, Nutty People on the Journey of Life

The Six

Tim, Sonya, Andrew, Bethany, Micah, and Samuel. That’s our immediate family for now, and we’re exceedingly glad that God has decided to put us together for this life. We’ve had plenty of good times over the years, and a few challenges, too. But through it all, we’ve loved each other without limit and have encouraged each other always to make Christ our highest treasure. We’re not batting a thousand on that, but we’re still in the game.

We like to think of ourselves as just a handful of “nice, nutty people on the journey of life,” though lots of people probably think we’re more nutty than nice. We’re not inclined to argue the point. We just soldier on, trying to answer the call that God has placed on each of our lives as best we can. Our extended family is likewise precious to us, though they’re far too numerous to mention here.

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Tim Valentino

I was born in Philadelphia, PA and adopted 13 months later by Carl and Cherie Valentino, of Reading, PA. Dad was a blue-collar worker for the Reading Eagle newspaper, and mom went to work for the same company after all three of us kids started junior high. Our parents provided us with something of a lower middle-class upbringing, and our youth was filled with myriad sports, school activities, and trips to the emergency room.

In earlier days, my brother called me, “Harry Homework.” The nickname was well deserved, though I didn’t like it very much. (I wanted to be cool, not geeky.) Our challenges were many, but we pressed on together when life was tough. Today I’m a grace-loving husband, father, pastor, seminary professor, conference speaker, swimmer, and incurable Philadelphia Phillies fan. I have an odd sense of humor. You can read more about me on the About Page.

Sonya Valentino

I was born in Marietta, OH and spent much of my young life in that state, where mom and dad served as church planters with the Southern Baptist Convention. My siblings and I moved around a lot, helping our parents start new churches in new towns. On several occasions we served as the nucleus of a new children’s ministry or youth group, learning to do Christian ministry firsthand from mom and dad. Eventually we wound up in West Virginia, where I went to college on a music scholarship.

My school days were filled with lots of joy, laughter, music, church activities, and homework. Mom and dad taught me to love God and put him first in my life, which was easy to do since they didn’t just preach the Christian faith, they lived it in front of us. Today I’m a faith-filled wife, mother, ministry leader, and development assistant in Christian higher education. I also provide daily care for my mother, who has stage 4 dementia. Unlike Tim, I have a normal sense of humor. You can read more about me on the About Page.

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We have two adult children, Andrew and Bethany, and a son-in-law, Micah, whom we claim as our own. We also have a grandson, Samuel, who was born in 2021.

Andrew Valentino

Our son Andrew holds a film and media arts degree from Temple University and worked for eight years as a videographer for WFMZ-Channel 69 in Allentown, PA. He now runs Andrew Valentino Media, which provides voiceover work, photography, videography, film editing, documentaries, and other related services. An Emmy-nominated photojournalist, Andrew enjoys film, anime, screenwriting, science fiction, apologetics, philosophy, and music. For better or worse, he looks like Tim and acts like Sonya.

Bethany White

Our daughter Bethany holds a speech language pathology degree from Bloomsburg University and worked for seven years as a psychiatric assistant at Pennsylvania Counseling Services in Lebanon, PA. She is now a stay-at-home mom and administrative assistant for her parents’ ministries. Her interests include worship, dance, discipleship, and sharing her faith. For better or worse, she looks like Sonya and acts like Tim.

Micah White

Bethany’s husband, Micah, holds a psychology degree from Kutztown University, and a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy degree from Evangelical Seminary. He currently works as a therapist at Salisbury Behavioral Health in Wyomissing, PA. His interests include music, worship, guitar, computers, woodworking, and car repair (thankfully). For better or worse, he doesn’t look or act like Tim or Sonya at all. Yeah, that’s probably for the better.

This New Life: A Website Devoted to Biblical Hope and Radical Grace

Welcome to This New Life, a website devoted to biblical hope and radical grace. Thanks for stopping by. We’re Tim and Sonya Valentino. We live in Myerstown, PA, a small town halfway between Reading and Hershey. Both of us are into family, nature, hiking, music, art, history, museums, Christian ministry, theological education, and the Philadelphia Phillies. We’re also into coffee. The darker the better.

We’re on the journey of life with the Author of life. Let’s walk together and marvel at the scenery. As we go, let’s “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). We’ve created This New Life as a resource to help with that endeavor. We also write to clarify our own thinking. And laugh at ourselves.

On this site we try to provide a balance of content creation and content curation. Creation refers to the materials we generate ourselves. Curation refers to the materials that other people publish and we repost. Our goal for This New Life is simply this: Creation + Curation = Inspiration + Formation. It’s a digital journal, of sorts, chronicling “our life in God’s light,” with others welcome to look in from time to time.

For more information on who we are—personally, vocationally, educationally, theologically, politically, and relationally—check out the About page. For the rest of this post, we’d like to share why biblical hope and radical grace are so important to us.

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In some ways we’ve lived a privileged life. But in other ways we’ve slept in the emotional gutter from time to time. Life can be challenging like that. One moment things are delightful; the next they’re devastating. Today everything is beautiful; tomorrow everything is broken. Disappointment gives way to disillusionment, and rank cynicism tries to move into the attic of our minds. “Vanity, vanity,” says the Teacher. “All is vanity” (cf. Eccl 1:2).

But there’s one thing that has always kept us going—one thing that has always been an anchor for the soul in troubled times: our unshakable hope in the grace and goodness of God. Jesus is risen from the dead, and that changes everything. Hope refuses to die in a world where Christ has conquered death.

Hope refuses to die in a world where Christ has conquered death.

Ask the average Christian why Jesus came to earth, and you’ll get a variety of answers:

  • Jesus came to die for the sins of the world.
  • Jesus came to reveal the heart of the Father.
  • Jesus came to destroy the power of death and hell.
  • Jesus came to heal, teach, and forgive.

These responses are all accurate. Still, there’s another color on the palette to paint with. Jesus himself answered the question this way: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). That’s a beautiful, hope-filled statement, and it thrills the heart of anyone who’s ever been able to say, “I once was lost but now am found.”

We can say it. Jesus came to seek and to save the two of us. We revel in this good news—and the new life it brings. “Because I live,” said Jesus, “you also will live” (John 14:19).

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But how did Jesus go about seeking the lost? What was his approach? Luke 7:34 says, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” That’s a fascinating statement. How would you have filled in the blank? The Son of Man came ____________ and ____________.

  • Teaching and preaching?
  • Healing and forgiving?
  • Loving and restoring?
  • Dying and rising?

Again, all true answers, but the text says, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” Fellowship and hospitality were his modus operandi. In fact, a major feature of Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus is usually going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. Every time we turn the page, we smell another dish from the kitchen. Markus Barth has said, “In approximately one-fifth of the sentences in Luke, meals play a conspicuous role.”

A major feature of Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus is usually going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. Every time we turn the page, we smell another dish from the kitchen.

But does that sound like a holy man to you—more feasting than fasting? More parties than protests? What kind of a rabbi is this? Indeed, the rap on Jesus was that he was “a drunkard and a glutton,” a man more into parties than piety, or so it seemed to the religious crowd (cf. Luke 7:34b).

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A drunkard is someone who drinks too much alcohol. A glutton is someone who eats too much food. Jesus was neither of those things—the Bible says he never sinned—but apparently he gave his enemies enough ammunition to make the charge stick.

It stuck, not because he was eating and drinking per se, but because he was eating and drinking with all the wrong people—the blind, the lame, the diseased, the prostitutes, the thieves, the criminals, the tax collectors, the unfaithful, the ceremonially unclean—“sinners” who were as low as you could go on the religious food chain.

Not only that—and we may need to swallow hard on this—there’s no record that these folks ever had to “repent” before they could come and eat at Jesus’ table. The fact that they came at all, and ate and enjoyed his welcome, apparently was repentance enough for him. Many of them changed after eating at Jesus’ table—precisely because they had had a life-transforming encounter with him.

There’s no record that these folks ever had to repent before they could come and eat at Jesus’ table. The fact that they came at all . . . was repentance enough for him.

The word for that is grace. Amazing grace. Radical grace. Scandalous grace. Even Peter—the lead disciple who had walked with Jesus for three years and received the keys to the kingdom—needed a lot of it. Over and over again.

Even after the great day of Pentecost, when he was filled with the Holy Spirit and preached to thousands of people, Peter blew it. Again. For example, Peter once broke fellowship with people whom God had accepted—a clear denial of the gospel—and it needed to be corrected lest the good news become ugly news (cf. Gal 2:11-21; 1:6-9).

Thankfully, Peter never gave up. Throughout his life and ministry, Peter received grace every time he needed it. Such is the ministry of reconciliation that Jesus came to bring. Religion parcels out grace in teaspoons to those it perceives to be worthy. Jesus lavishes it on those who know they need it.

Religion parcels out grace in teaspoons to those it perceives to be worthy. Jesus lavishes it on those who know they need it.

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But the grace that Jesus gave to people was a little too much for the religious bureaucrats in the first century. Tim Chester has said, “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus got himself killed because of the way he ate.” It’s true. Before Jesus ever picked up the cross, he picked up the fork. In fact, the one led to the other. Jesus died, in part, because of grace. For some folks, his grace was a little too amazing.

Before Jesus ever picked up the cross, he picked up the fork. In fact, the one led to the other.

Grace means that no believer can ever feel smug. Every time we take Communion, we sit at Jesus’ table, too. Do we deserve to be there? Of course not. Like Mephibosheth at King David’s palace (cf. 2 Samuel 9), we come to Jesus’ table as guests, and by invitation only. All are welcome there, and none are excluded unless they refuse to come by faith.

And that’s why the two of us are really into biblical hope and radical grace. We need it. We love it. We want to share it. It’s changing our lives, and it can change yours, too. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life” (Acts 5:20).

Sure thing, Lord. The privilege is ours.

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