By the time I met Earl, a lifetime around farm machinery had taken his hearing. The only way I could communicate was by shouting. I can picture him slowly nodding off during my sermons. We did not know each other well. So why did I like him so much? Why did he like me?
I grew up in the wheat country of Eastern Washing-ton. Farm houses with red barns and rusty machinery were scattered up and down the gravel road. The men who ran these farms made a deep impression on me.
One of my earliest memories is of sitting in the hopper of a combine with my friend Mike as wheat and grasshoppers rained down on us from above. I do not remember Mike's dad saying a single word to me but a smile was a permanent part of his face.
Down the road in the other direction lived Jim Braden. When Jim spotted you, he would stand on his tractor and wave with such enthusiasm that you wondered how it didn't knock him off. Jim had an allen wrench I needed to tighten the kickstand on my bike. I was welcomed to walk into his shop and use his tools anytime I pleased.
In high school I hauled hay with Mike Boone, a direct descendent of Daniel Boone. One day I popped the clutch on his hay truck and sent him flying off the back. I put on the brake and rushed around to see if I had killed him. I will never forget him lying on the ground, his face twisted in pain, rubbing his knee, laughing uproariously.
So when Earl came to church it was like seeing a childhood friend. Earl was one of a rare breed: farmers. I loved the lines on his face, put there by hours of squinting in the sun. His sideways smile made me feel instantly accepted. It did not surprise me when one day he brought me a box of the sweetest peaches I have ever sunk my teeth into.
I devote my life to the study of God. But every farmer I have known is a better theologian than I am. Theirs is a theology that does not reduce God to an abstraction. They meet him in the soil. They have a silent communion with a God who is a farmer, a God who planted his son like a seed in the ground and watched him rise up in a great harvest of souls.
Maury Robertson is a writer who lives in Yuba City. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.