Sam Harrelson

Oh Captain, My Captain: Prof Dan Goodman

I’m still in shock, angry at God and trying to come to terms with the sudden and tragic death of my close friend, advisor, professor, and mentor.

I saw Prof Dan Goodman’s email signature on a daily basis. We, along with my pal and fellow student (and Goodmanite) Thomas Whitley, would trade emails on the subjects of religion, politics, movies, music and the meaning of life on what seemed to be a nonstop conversation. Thomas is the guy on the left in the picture above, then Prof Goodman then myself.

Here’s a glimpse into my email inbox when I search for “Goodman”:

Prof Goodman’s email signature said he was the Bob Shepherd Chair of New Testament Studies at Gardner-Webb Divinity School. That was true, but he was much much more than that to many of us who called Gardner-Webb our place of study and our home away from home.

After a semester at Gardner-Webb in the Fall of ’06 (during which I got to experience the legendary “Parables” class that is still the stuff of legend at GWU Div), I left the school the following Spring due to an overwhelming sense of urgency to ramp up my marketing business since Anna and I had just found out we would be having our first child in the Fall of ’07.

This past summer, I decided to pick up my studies at GWU and finish my Masters of Divinity. I wasn’t sure what the future held, but I was hoping for PhD work. My primary reason to return to GWU was to study another year or two with Prof Goodman. He took me back in with open arms, reintegrated me back into the school, allowed me to speak freely about my own struggles with faith in our Formations group and encouraged me to seek out questions rather than answers. And he kept sharing good music with me. Perhaps most important, he saw the connection I would have with Thomas and encouraged us to become friends. I don’t think I could get through this without Thomas and our fellow friend Keely.

Having traveled to Washington DC, Savannah and Charleston with Prof Goodman, Thomas, Keely and six other GWU Divinity students this past Fall to take part in an investigation of Jewish-Christian relations, I immediately became interested in the topic because of Goodman’s passion about the subject. Over the next few months, I would find out more and more about this passion and his expertise as he shared his own visions for the future of Jewish-Christian dialogue and relations (and worship). It is a trip that has forever changed me and will continue to impact my own faith and studies.

Yet, it is the times Prof Goodman and I (or we) spent outside of class that I’ll always take with me. From a Conor Oberst concert here in Asheville when Goodman tried to get Thomas and I to mosh (moribdly enough to the song “I Don’t Wanna Die in the Hospital“) to Goodman stopping random fellow Steeler fans on the streets of DC to talk football to Goodman giving me advice about my future over a pizza at Subway, I don’t think I’ve ever met a more genuine person.

It’s not fair. He was supposed to live long and prosper. He was supposed to finish the books on Jewish-Christian relations he was writing this semester in order to change the world of worship and theology. He was supposed to be there when I needed a smile, or an email or a suggestion for a new album to listen to on the long drive from GWU to Asheville. I know fairness, like tomorrow, isn’t guaranteed, but I need some way to channel this frustration that I feel.

Larry McGehee passed away just a few short months ago. And now Prof Goodman. Selfishly, I feel like I’m without a mentor in this world. I’m without a guide. I’m not ready to go out into this world without a guide. I’m not ready for the “they are watching you from heaven” speak, as if they were corporal glowing entities like Obi-Wan and Anakin at the end of Return of the Jedi. I’m not ready for that. Goodman was the only person I learned something earth-shattering from during every single class (even if it was about Paul). I need that. I’m not ready to let go of that.

That is completely selfish of course, but that is how I feel at the moment and probably will for the foreseeable future. Goodman was much bigger than that. He meant so much to so many different people and he accomplished more in his short time here than most of us could ever hope to achieve. But I need to be selfish and come to grips with this.

Prof Goodman loved the line “victory is sweet even deep in the cheap seats” in Oberst’s song Cape Canaveral. I’ve listened to that song a good deal over the last 24 hours. It’s taken on a new meaning for me and I hear something reminiscent of Goodman every time I listen. I think it is through our shared love of music that I’ll continue to grieve and somehow process this failure of reality.

Love you much, Prof Goodman. Thank you for being you. You and your work will always live on in my memory and in the stories I tell to my children when they ask me who I looked up to and why I do what I do.

Posted: 01.14.2009

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