Sunday, August 24, 2014

Idaho Statesman 20th Anniversary column

With this piece, I mark my twentieth anniversary as a Statesman columnist. When I joined the paper’s rotation of clergy writers, shortly after moving to Boise in 1994, I could not have envisioned that I’d still be doing it two decades later.  I’m deeply grateful for this opportunity, and to all of my editors, who have been, without exception, wise and very patient.  It has been a great pleasure to work with them all.  Through this experience, I have gained enormous respect for all of the professional op-ed writers, national and local, who somehow manage to publish two or three articles every week—my bi-monthly deadline is more than difficult enough for me!

I am taking this milestone as an occasion to look back at my collected columns and try to discern some running themes.  Although a lot has changed since I started writing in an age before internet and email, I do find some common leitmotifs.

 I’ve dabbled a bit in the expected religious topics: debates over doctrine and practice, biblical interpretation, Jewish theology and tradition, God and prayer.  I’ve shared personal stories about growing up as a rabbi’s kid and raising my own family, confessed my ambivalent relationship with Facebook and social media, and offered tributes to some of my personal heroes: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, musicians Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, and my father, Rabbi Arnold Fink.  I’ve written dispatches from distant places while on sabbatical, from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Ronda, Spain, and even sent one in from a month-long trek in Nepal.  And, of course, I’ve done numerous stories from Israel, our Jewish homeland, where I have lived and worked on several occasions.  Many of those focus on the normalcy of daily life, which is rarely portrayed in the media, but I’ve also addressed the critical issues of war and peace from my perspective as a proud progressive Zionist.  This can be tough going; as I re-read my 2009 column on war in Gaza, I was struck by how little emendation it would need to speak to the situation now, five long years later.   That breaks my heart.

But the vast majority of my columns over the past twenty years deal with issues at the intersection of faith and politics: stewardship of God’s creation, separation of church and state, hunger and homelessness, religion and reproductive rights, economic justice, gun control, health care as a human right, feminism, education reform, and the battle for full equality for the LGBT community.

Above all, I see that I have returned, again and again, to the question of how our culture cares (or fails to care) for its most vulnerable members: racial and religious minorities, the poor, immigrants, the elderly and the sick and handicapped, lesbians and gay men.  These matters cross the boundaries between religion and journalism because they are, in fact, the fundamental concerns of all human beings living in community.  It has been a privilege to be able to wrestle with—and write about—all of them, and to share my thoughts with you, my readers.  I look forward to continuing the discussion for many years to come.

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