'Calvinist Farming' in Purpaleanie and other Permutations, Sietze Buning (Stanley Wiersma), (Middleburg Press, 1978) ISBN: 0-931940-00-1
Our Calvinist fathers wore neckties with their bib-overalls
and straw hats, a touch of glory with their humility. They rode
their horse-drawn corn planters like chariots, planting the corn
in straight rows, each hill of three stalks three feet from each hill
around it, up and over the rises. A field-length wire with a metal knot
every three feet ran through the planter and clicked off three kernels
at each knot. Planted in rows east-west, the rows also ran north-
south for cross-cultivating. Each field was a checkerboard even
to the diagonals. No Calvinist followed the land's contours.
Contour farmers in surrounding counties
improvised their rows against the slope
of the land. There was no right way.
Before our fathers planted a field,
they knew where each hill of corn
would be. Be ye perfect, God said,
and the trouble with contour farmers
was that, no matter how hard they worked
at getting a perfect contour, they could
never know for sure it was perfect -- and
the didn't even care. At best they
were Arminian, or Lutheran, or Catholic,
or at worst secular. Though they wore bib-
overalls, they wore no neckties, humility
Contour field resulted
from free will, nary a conrnstalk pre-
determined. The God contour farmers
trusted, if any, was as capricious
as their cornfields. Calvinists knew
the distance between God and people was
even greater than the distance between people
and corn kernels. If we were corn kernels in God's
corn planter, would we want him to plant us at random?
Contour farmers were frivolous about the doctrine of election
simply by being contour farmers.
Contour farmers didn't control
weeds because the couldn't cross-cultivate. Weed control was laid
on farmers by God's curse. Contour farmers tried to escape God's curse.
Sooner or later you could tell it on their children: condoning weeds
they condoned movies and square-skipping. And they wasted land,
for planting around the rises, they left more place between
the rows than if they'd checked it. It was all indecent.
We could drive a horse cultivator -- it was harder
with a tractor cultivator -- through our checked rows
without uprooting any corn at all, but contour farmers
could never quite recapture the arbitrary angle, cultivating,
that they used, planting. They uprooted corn and killed it. All
of it was indecent and untidy.
We youngsters pointed out that the tops
of our rises were turning clay-brown, that bushels of black dirt
washed into creeks and ditches every time it rained, and that
in the non-Calvinist counties the tops of the rises were
black. We were told we were arguing by results, not
by principles. Why, God could replenish the black
dirt overnight. The tops of the rises were God's
Our business was to farm on Biblical principles.
Like, Let everything be done decently and in good order; that is
keep weeds down, plant every square inch, do not waste crops, and be tidy.
Contour farmers were unkingly because they were untidy. They could not be
prophetic, could not explain from the Bible how to farm. Being neither kings
nor prophets, they could not be proper priests; their humilty lacked defi-
nition. They prayed for crops privately. Our whole county prayed
for crops the second Wednesday of every March.
God's cosmic planter
has planted thirty year's worth of people since then,
all checked and on the diagonal if we could see
as God sees. All third-generation Calvinists
now plant corn on the contour. They have the word
from the State College of Agriculture. And so the clay-
brown has stopped spreading farther down the rises
and life has not turned secular, but broken.
God still plants people on the predetermined check
even though Calvinists plant corn on the contour. God's
check doesn't mean a kernel in the Calvinist's cornfield.
There's no easy way to tell the difference between Calvinists
and non-Calvinists: now all plant on the contour; all tolerate
weeds; between rows, all waste space; all uproot corn, cultivating;
all consider erosion their own business, not God's; all wear
overalls without ties; all their children go to the same
movies and dances; the county's prayer meetings
in March are badly attended; and I am improvising
this poem on the contour, no checking it in rhyme.
Glad for the new freedom, I miss the old freedom of choice
between Calvinist and non-Calvinist farming. Only in religion
are Calvinist and non-Calvinist distinguishable now. When different
ideas of God produced different methods of farming, God mattered more.
Was the old freedom worth giving up for the new? Did stopping the old
erosion of earth start a new erosion of the spirit? Was stopping old
eroision worth the pain of the new brokenness? The old Calvinists
insisted that the only hope for unbrokenness between the ways
of God and the ways of farmers is God.
A priest, God wears
infinite humility; a king, he wears infinite glory. He is even
less influenced by his upward-mobile children's notions of what not
to wear with what than our Calvinist fathers were in neckties with bib-
overalls. Moreover, a prophet, he wears the infinite truth our Calvinist
fathers hankered after to vindicate themselves, not only their farming.
Just wait, some dark night God will ride over the rises on his chariot-
corn planter. It will be too dark to tell his crown from a straw hat,
to dark to tell his apocalyptic horses from our buckskin horses or
from unicorns. No matter, just so the wheels of that chariot-corn
planter, dropping fatness, churn up all those clay-brown rises
and turn them all black, just as the old Calvinists predicted.
Lord Jesus, come quickly.
transcribed by Loren Harsma