(Chris Brooks, Danny Goodman, Dave Rhodes)
(Dave Rhodes, Chris Brooks, Danny Goodman, Scott Hardin)
(Danny, Chris, Dave)
Yesterday, Dave and I got word that Danny Goodman, our beloved college professor, had died suddenly at the age of 40, leaving behind his wife Barbara and his two sons Daniel and Dylan. The past 24 hours have been a mixture of hope and rage, despair and triumph, weeping and celebrating, remembering and trying to forget. We are hesitant to put into words the powder keg of inspiration and impact that exploded in our lives in the person of Dr. Daniel Goodman, because to do so would be to admit he is gone. But we feel compelled to contribute, however feebly, to the community of friends, families, students, and co-workers who need to see through each other’s eyes just how far reaching the seismic impact of his life was on this world and in God’s Kingdom.
Please remember our words are but straw…
Parker Palmer wrote that “teachers and students are partners in an ancient human dance…it is the dance of spiraling generations, in which the old empower the young with their experience and the young empower the old with new life, reweaving the fabric of human community as they touch and turn.” If that is true, then Danny Goodman gave me my first pair of dancing shoes. He was only about 27 when he began teaching at PBA. Rhodes dragged me into taking some stupid religiously nerdy class called Hermeneutics. This skinny joker started mixing scripture with lyrics of some hard rock song and said things like “parabolic” and “is exegesis without presupposition possible” so easily and intriguingly that you could not help but be caught in the gravitational attraction of his relentless curiosity and furious intellect. He challenged us without making us feel stupid or talked down to. He had more conversations than lectures, and even though he gave us assignments fit for third year seminary students, he had faith in us that we could actually do it.
When we wrote papers for him, he would mark them all up and put great comments on them and then do something I will never forget. He would put our name on an envelope and write us each a letter, thanking us for our contribution, hard work, and effort. He would cite specific areas that he found remarkable (which was remarkable in of itself if you have ever read any of my work) and then spur us on to greater thought and critical thinking. I can tell you, that in retrospect, this would be the letter, this would be the classroom, and this would be the man that would change the trajectory of my life forever. Danny Goodman placed a ticking time bomb in our souls that set off a chain reaction of mind-blowing explosions that opened my and David’s eyes to the scandalous teaching of Jesus and the deeper and truer realities of the Kingdom of God. He was the first teacher to take me seriously as a student and He was the first teacher I was able to call friend.
Danny went to lunch with us even though he probably had more important things to do. He would come back to ghetto fabulous mango prom and hang out while we made him a turkey sandwich. He invited us to his house and gave me his old car on the spot so I could afford to go on a mission trip. He went golfing with us even though I sucked. And He stayed at PBA even when the administration sucked and failed to realize greatness was in their midst. After only a couple semesters at PBA they bumped him from just teaching and made him work in other areas. At the last chapel of the year, he was allowed to do the opening prayer, an honor bestowed upon faculty who are on their way. He got a standing ovation before he even uttered one word. I stood on a pew that day screaming at the top of my lungs,trying to make sure everyone saw what I saw when they looked at Danny Goodman. Last night I found myself crumpled underneath a pew, sobbing from the bottom of my heart from the gaping wound his early departure from this life has left. My greatest consolation is that I firmly believe he is receiving another standing ovation by all the great saints who have gone before us.
I miss you so much today, Danny.
It is with deep sadness, profound laughter and an inspiring sense of awe that I mourn and celebrate the life of my first mentor, Danny Goodman. Danny was the kind of guy who could mix parabolic interpretation with the lyrics of Natalie Merchant and Ten Thousand Maniacs and it just kind of made sense. He loved to laugh. He loved to learn. He loved to inspire. But mostly, he loved to do all these things with others. I will never forget when, as a 20 year old student, I entered a New Testament Hermeneutics class with a young 27 year old professor still awaiting the final stages of defending his dissertation and receiving his PhD. He was asking, “Is interpretation without presuppositions possible?” and I wasn’t sure about either of them. I was a kid who thought I knew a lot—a lot about God, a lot about life and a lot about purpose and meaning in the world. And then Danny, in a way that only he could, with index fingers and thumbs shaped in the form of an L, launched into a passionate dialogue that continues in my mind and heart until this day. In typical Jesus style, Danny unleashed a stick of dynamite in my soul that shattered my preconceptions and brought me to a Jesus that I had silently hoped existed but somehow in all my religious study had missed. And I loved it. In fact, I’ve never gotten over it.
The semester and years to follow were filled with classroom dialogue that often spilled over into lunches, and after that to the tables outside the student center. We signed up for more classes but really what we were signing up for was more conversations with Danny. In fact, I often found myself in classes that I was getting no credit for because I just had to get in on more of what this compelling and befriending mentor kept pouring into my life. He was my personal Howard Hendricks—breaking the rules of the normal teacher/student distancing and coming up close and personal with his friendship and encouragement.
I’ll never forget the first paper I handed in for him. We kept wondering why it was taking him so long to get our papers back to us. We wanted our grades and just wanted to know where we stood. And that’s about the time that Danny handed me back my paper with notes and comments scribbled on just about every line and a letter attached inside an envelope thanking me for my contribution to the dialogue, pointing out my significant insights, challenging and critiquing places that needed improvement and always inspiring me to continue to learn. Danny just felt that if we were handing in ten pages that it was appropriate for him to write us back a page or two. I had never, and have never since, heard of a professor doing anything like it. I was a twenty year old kid and he acted as if I had just posted the 95 Theses. I had no business critiquing Bultmann or Barth or whoever we happened to be reading, but Danny made me feel as if I too had something to contribute to the conversation and he seemed to read my work with the same fervor that he read theirs. He simply believed in what could be in my life and he refused to let me settle for anything less.
Years later, when I drove up to spend an afternoon with Danny to tell him how much his teaching and friendship had meant to my life, I happened to show him some of the things I was working on. And that’s when I saw once again that Danny was still doing what he does best—inspiring everyone around him with his passion, zeal, intelligence, wit and compassion. I had been given the opportunity to write a few devotional books, curriculum and other published pieces that I look back at now and laugh at. But Danny, of course, made me feel like I had surpassed his own scholarship and was really taking new ground in my subjects of study. He kept investing in my life—long after he was paid to do so.
Just before I learned of Danny’s death, Brooks and I had spent an afternoon in conversation about great preachers and the scholars and theologians that inspired them. It seems like most great communicators are just transferring ideas of another great intellect and putting them in a dialect others can hear. While Danny needed no interpretation, Chris and I had set it on our calendar to drive up and meet with Danny and ask him to be this kind of intellect and theologian to our ministry here at Wayfarer. While, I do not know whether he would have accepted this opportunity I do hope that he would be honored by it. His teaching simply deserves an audience. And now that he is gone all of us who learned from him I think bear that responsibility.
My brother says that from the way that I describe Danny that he seems like a professor worth imitating. It is true. Everyone who was around Danny wanted to be like Danny. In fact, I am pretty sure today that any gift, talent, ability, knowledge, or passion that people identify in me somehow makes its way back to something Danny said or did. You may have heard of six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Well, I’m pretty sure that much of the good in my life can be traced in some way within six moves of Danny Goodman. No mentor has impacted my life more. Thank you Danny for redefining normal, for making yourself available and inviting me in on your life. I will do my best to make sure your legacy lives on in my life and teaching.
Remembering you always,