A Pattern of Learning, Teaching, and Love of God and Creation
Thursday, 10 October 2013
It is the same nearly every day.
Dr. Brad Breems, professor of sociology, walks along the Trinity Trail that winds through trees and brush and along the creek. The walk is no mere respite from classes or sociological research, but something more intentional.
At different points, he faces each cardinal direction, beginning with the East—where the sun rises—and his Adoration of God. This ritual prayer continues with Confession (North), Thanks (West), and Supplication (South). Although the thoughts, words, and even the setting are fluid, the pattern never changes.
Patterns, especially in societal structures, are an aspect of culture that Breems, who will retire at the close of the academic year, has studied for many years and in many places. Teaching at Trinity since 1988, he emphasizes a Christian perspective on sociology and asserts that the discipline provides people with a deeper understanding of humanity’s relationship with God—a God of order and structure who desires harmony with a disharmonious people.
As a professor, Breems notes that students function differently within the classroom structure. He explains to his students the importance of structures, such as those in government or in a campus community, and how they relate to freedom and personal choices.
In that classroom setting, he also shares with his students what he has learned through his research and travels. That research has focused on the relations among God, God’s Law-Word, normative principles, and human structural responses; the nature of ethnicity; urban development patterns, particularly the relation between industrial manufacturing and regional and neighborhood prosperity and stability; and the formation and effects of social structure. The latter was conducted primarily in South Africa, a place where Breems said “a highly industrially developed culture and more traditional cultures mingle.”
In his personal life, Breems said patterns, such as “keeping Sunday as a day for worship and family dinners,” must be carved out in the context of contemporary culture. He intentionally practices meditation and prayer, disciplines he says are crucial to his personal well-being. Trinity has been a blessing in that respect, providing a special place along the creek on the Trinity Trail for regular meditation and close contact with elements of creation.
“I do it to find solitude and traces of a less constructed creation. I also do it for privacy and for contact with weather, ecology, and beauty of the area,” said Breems. “It allows me to do a structured-yet-flexible combination of analytic thought, mediation, renewal, and affirmation of belief and knowledge, and openness to God, prayer, confession, thanksgiving, praise, and personal centering.”
This year, Breems was the recipient of the Professor of the Year award. The award recognizes the achievements of a distinguished professor who has shown excellence in teaching or scholarship. The faculty development committee chooses from nominations submitted by students, faculty, and staff. The inaugural award was presented in 2012 to Dr. Robert Rice, professor of history.
In the spring semester, Breems will be on a final sabbatical and retire at the end of the 2013-14 academic year to spend more time with his wife Helen, his children, and grandchildren, and to continue his research and writing.
In His Own Words
You are often seen cycling to campus. Is it simply a form of exercise or do you use it as an exercise in meditation, preparation for class, etc.?
“[Cycling] remains my most common way and preferred way to commute. I have a relatively short ride. It’s 6 miles to Blue Island but, with a few avoidances of busiest thoroughfare stretches, my route is almost 7 miles. I do it for all the reasons most people do: exercise, saving fuel and reducing pollution, directly experiencing the weather, trying to encourage others to enjoy this way of living.
Do you have items that you would call symbols of your profession or yourself as a person?
“I like to sometimes effect the dress of the professoriate, although there is no standard for such. I try to buy the woolen coats with patched arms that hark back to a late stage of the … dark university buildings and a time that kept profs–so poor that they had to keep them until the elbows wore out and needed a leather patch–warm in still-unheated and drafty halls. I firmly believe that also today everyone should wear warm enough clothes in winter to allow us to turn down the building heat 20 degrees. The hand-rubbing would also keep some of us awake and our laptops cooler.
“As a nod to noble tradition, I also cherish my dear leather bag, for which some steer lent me his hide, on which I have sat and slept and in which the most precious tools of my trade–paper, books, pens, and toothbrush—dangle across my back and under my arm. If I don’t lose it–as I once did, only to be returned by an angel–it will likely outlast my own skin.”
Do you like the idea of retirement?
“Yes, I spend so much time at my office that it limits time with Helen and the rest of my family. I hope to make up lost time and to enrich my relations with family, fellow worshippers at church, and community events. In addition, I will continue my research and writing. Since my formal academic connection ends with a sabbatical, I will enter retirement with the completion of analysis and publishing of my research from South Africa and my interest in the effects of globalization in general.”