Dan Erlander, the artist-author of MANNA and MERCY: A brief history of God’s unfolding promise to mend the entire universe, died last Sunday. I join many whose hearts are filled with grief and gratitude for his life-giving living.
I remember the first time I came across MANNA and MERCY. It was a ring-bound copy that my dad had been given in the early-to-mid 90s. I read it in one go and thought it was sheer brilliance and so I started using it in retreats from 1996. It was hands down the best thing I had ever read and I am convinced that it’s Jesus’ favourite version of the bible J. I am convicted and disturbed and inspired every time I open MANNA and MERCY – which is often!
All of Dan’s work reveals his astounding ability to draw the big picture of God’s dream for the universe small enough for us to digest. With clarifying and humorous simplicity Dan would hold the radical challenge of Jesus’ liberating ways before us – so simply drawn and described that none of us can ever use the excuse that we do not understand what Jesus is on about. Unlike much of what passes as “Christianity” today, Dan resisted the temptation to dilute Jesus’ message of ‘justice and mercy for all’ to make it more palatable for our individualistically indoctrinated lives and consumer driven society (and church) to swallow. Dan truly trusted that the so-called “hard sayings of Jesus” – the one’s we usually wish-to-God Jesus never said – about loving money too much and loving enemies too little – was not only good news but also the only way of living life that would save Life on planet earth.
In MANNA and MERCY we are called to face our “BIG DEAL” tendencies and our addiction to building our piles of stuff into bigger and Bigger piles of stuff. Basically, what the world calls success – the scriptures call suicide. In the space of just two simple drawings, Dan showed how the “Big DEALing” tendencies of our heart systematically shaped society and therefore Salvation demanded both confession on our knees and resistance on the streets to transform the hierarchical structures of privilege and power for a few into a banquet of fairness for all. Privilege and power that Dan showed was baptised by a type of religion that was in the pocket of the king and the supportive shadow of the military. True to his carrot (religion) and stick (military) analysis of what underpins oppressive power, Dan published BY FAITH ALONE – A LUTHERAN LOOKS AT THE BOMB in 1983, exposing the clear contradiction between the gospel and the “system called the arms race” and in which Dan humbly invites the reader: “As an American, I am part of a people who have been seduced into idolatry – we believe in the power of violence … and that is our darkness. Lord have mercy.”
As Dan calls us to break partnership with the BOMB (and all systems of violence in the world), he invites us to be YHWH’s Partner People. Fancy that – God decides to need us to bring healing and liberation in this world. What could be more humbling and affirming than this? What greater responsibility and privilege could there possibly be in this life?
And now I have really good news for you. Instead of a long sermon from me this morning, I will be reading a few short stories from another work of art by Dan – called: Tales of a Pointless People. Do I hear an Amen?
With gratitude for Dan – friend and teacher,