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A pilgrimage of education and enrichment

Seminary-sponsored international trips provide nourishment to the mind and the spirit

Two professors from Luther Seminary will bring their theological expertise to bear as they lead tours to the Holy Land, Greece, and Turkey in the coming months.

David Fredrickson, professor of New Testament, will team up with Father John Kostas, a Greek Orthodox priest, for the fourth time to lead a tour titled “Sacred Spaces in Greece and Istanbul [Turkey]” May 13-24, 2010. Kostas formerly served St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis and now heads a parish in Knoxville, Tennessee. Fredrickson, who holds a Ph.D. in religious studies from Yale University, has been on the Luther faculty for 23 years.

In March 2011, Diane Jacobson, professor of Old Testament at the seminary, will lead “A Lenten Journey” to the Holy Land. The tour is one of three linked to the ELCA’s Book of Faith Initiative (BFI), of which Jacobson is the director. She has been a member of the Luther faculty for 28 years and holds a doctor of philosophy degree from Union Seminary in New York City.

Fredrickson said his tour, which takes in Istanbul and five stops in Greece, is not the usual “footsteps of Paul” trip. “We are after the sacred — what makes a place holy, either to Christians, Jews, Muslims, or Hellenistic religions, or any combination of these,” the professor said. “Our destinations have been selected for their importance as pilgrimage sites or centers of religious life.”

Some of the Christian sites his tour will include, like Philippi in Greece, were sacred prior to Paul’s preaching there, Fredrickson said. That raises such questions as whether Paul’s presence enhanced the already sacred character of these sites, he said.

While participants in the tour will visit a number of locations associated with Paul’s missionary journeys, those who will benefit most, Fredrickson said, are people who are curious about how religion works, what Christians of one denomination might share with those of another, and what Christians might share with other religions.

Fredrickson said he and Kostas have been engaged in a Lutheran-Orthodox dialog for 10 years. They’ll be continuing that discussion during the trip and will include tour participants in the conversation, he said.

The professor anticipates that up to a dozen tour participants will be Orthodox Christians. He hopes the trip will provide the Orthodox and Lutherans an opportunity to engage in conversation like the two leaders. “Lutherans, whether they know it or not, have deep, deep theological ties with the Orthodox,” Fredrickson said. “But there are real and interesting differences, too,” he added.

Touring with the Book of Faith Initiative

Professor Jacobson’s tour of the Holy Land will be the second of three travel seminars connected with the ELCA Book of Faith Initiative. Guy Erwin, professor of religion and history at California Lutheran University, will lead the first tour in the series this October to Turkey. Mark Tranvik, professor of religion at Augsburg College, will host the third tour, in the fall of 2012, to Germany and Prague, in the Czech Republic.

Jacobson said her BFI tour of the Holy Land will be more like a pilgrimage than an academic course. It will be very much centered around scripture and the study of scripture in the places where the events chronicled there took place, she said.

“It will be a trip both for Christian education and spiritual enrichment,” Jacobson said. But, she added, “I see it much more as a spiritual journey.”

Whether tours led by academics come down more heavily on the intellectual side than the devotional is a question that’s sometimes raised. Those involved in planning the tours led by Luther Seminary faculty don’t believe participants will be short-changed spiritually.

“Certainly there’s a greater pool of knowledge that’s shared,” said Lori Moline of CrossingBorders, the Bloomington travel agency that is organizing both the Fredrickson and Jacobson tours. But, she added, “Depending on the professor or scholar, the devotional, spiritual aspect can certainly be the same or even more than the intellectual.”

Said Jacobson: “I’ve been immersed in scripture for a long time. What all three of us [leading the BFI tours] share is a love of Scripture and a deep knowledge; and it’s that combination that, I think, can be really beneficial. … It’s both devotional and intellectually inviting.”

Fredrickson said he and Kostas believe the intellectual and spiritual aspects of a tour don’t have to be separate. They can function together in a way that is thought-provoking if not always comfortable, Fredrickson said. “Both John and I are committed to the idea that the more you know the more you can feel,” Fredrickson said. “We’re trying to bring those two together.”

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