Yesterday my husband got the news that one of his first Mentors Danny Goodman (seen above on the left) had passed away suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 40. It’s really wrecked Dave and as his wife I just sit back and don’t know what to say to comfort or challenge him. We’ll be heading to NC tomorrow to attend his funeral. Dave is not a blogger (although he should be) he is posting his thoughts on the Wayfarer site but I wanted to include them here as well. I only met Danny a few times. But I will always be so thankful for the investment he had in my husband. Our family is doing what we are doing today because of him.
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 buy 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,