Suffering and Sensibility

Rebekka Gondosch | Reporter

An Interview with Dr. Naaman K. Wood

For as long as I can remember, there has always circulated a popular myth amongst students of all ages that teachers eat, sleep, and live at school. I am still not completely convinced that this speculation is false. As often as the student body is busily working away at assignments, balancing school work with real life, socializing and getting involved in their various communities, so too are our professors a part of this great balancing act. In each upcoming issue of The Crown, it is our hope to introduce you to some of the remarkable scholars who share this learning space with us. Whatmotivated them to pursue a career in education? What are some of their academic accolades? How do they spend time outside of school with family and friends (granted they actually do leave the school premises)?

This month's interview is with Dr. Naaman K. Wood, a new professor in Redeemer's Media and Communication Studies Department. After meeting with Dr. Wood it is hard to believe that he has been teaching at Redeemer for only two weeks; the corner of his office is already stacked high with books, and Dr. Wood seems at ease being interviewed on the heels of a squash practice. In addition to becoming accustomed to a new school environment, Wood is also delving into life in a new country, having just moved to Canada from Durham, North Carolina.

From the onset, our conversation is steeped in critical inquiry. From discussions of violence in Grand Theft Auto to the question of empathy in Game of Thrones, a conversation with Dr. Wood evokes exciting, relevant possibilities for the merging of media with theology. 

When asked what began his interest in merging these two disciplines, Wood highlights the complexities and brokenness of his own encounters with the world, saying that his “attempt to think theologically about media and communication is my attempt to try, from a Christian perspective […] to name the world as it actually comes to me, as it actually comes to us.” Through an emphasis on the Prophets and a “prophetic ethic,” Wood feels that this lens provides students with, “the best biblical window onto brokenness and suffering.”

I questioned Wood about where elements of joy might be found amidst this weighty outlook. Our conversation led to an analysis of the HBO series Game of Thrones and the multitude of reactions and impulses viewers face as a result of the show’s content. Wood finds these reactions helpful in naming how we feel, offering “confessional” moments which encourage self-reflexivity. “That’s the kind of sensibility I want to cultivate in students,” Wood asserts, a sensibility which “cultivat[es] empathy” when watching a show like Game of Thrones.

Wood continues to make connections between media and his experience with the world, sharing how media has the possibility of both fostering an empathy toward global issues (as was the case with his experience watching the show Russian Roulette) and of perpetuating harmful ideologies (such as gendered objectification found in certain video games). It is Wood’s hope that student graduates look at film and filmmaking not through a preoccupation with arbitrary camera angles or lighting but rather through the question, “How does the God who died on the cross see this particular thing?”

Toward the end of our interview, I was itching to know what Wood’s recommendation of a 'must-see' film would be. After a few moments of contemplation, Wood named Wes Anderson’s latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, pointing out the “outmoded forms of cinematic technique” the director uses in “delightful” and “relevant” ways. He relates this experience to a Christian perspective in which things that might seem “dead to us” can be revisited with purposefulness and renewed insight.

When asked to share his feelings toward lecturing in the classroom, Wood admits that lecturing can be quite stressful, and preparation a challenge. Despite the pressure and anxiety, he acknowledges that some of his best insights come from lecture preparation.

And what does a typical Friday evening look like for Dr. Wood? “Over the last year I’ve taken up rock climbing,” Wood shares. Rock climbing is usually followed by dinner and an outing with his wife (recently to Supercawl and to Toronto International Film Festival), or staying in and watching TV. “Is that relaxing for you?” I wondered after our critical conversation about media. “It’s a skill, I have to turn it on and turn it off,” he admits; an ability many of his students will surely have to acquire after insightful lectures with this exceptional scholar. Welcome to the Redeemer community, Dr. Wood!