First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
From a series of lectures given by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), an outspoken foe of Adolf Hitler. Niemöller spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
How did we become a country of self-absorbed complainers?
No it’s not the fault of US President Trump, nor jailed former Panama President Martinelli, nor Odebrecht bribes. The fault lies within ourselves.
Forget about our glass being half-full. Today, we see our glass of justice and opportunity shattered lying on the ground. Gone is Tom Brokaw’s observation in The Greatest Generation of returning soldiers and post-World War 2 idealists who did their own shattering—breaking the back of racism, sexism, and pessimism. In less than a decade, leading up to the 60s, they made America TRULY great, again.
I think back to the 60s, when my college History Professor, Doctor M. Putney, told this discouraged college newspaper editor and leader of a student boycott of classes, seeking the ouster of her college president after 24 years in office:
‘I can’t take sides, young man, but sometimes you have to blow that trumpet a little harder before the walls come tumbling down. But I’m not taking sides, you hear’ (smile).
Doctor Martha S. Putney
I heard. And that was one of the most important lessons taught me by First Lieutenant Martha S. Putney, my teacher, and one of the first Afro-American WAAC officers to command a hospital unit during World War II (1939-45). I learned to have faith, followed by persistent action.
Incidentally, Bowie State College’s President resigned a month later; just as my classmates were released from the Maryland police stockade/jail, when classes resumed.
I am telling you this story because we have lost the trumpet of faith and courage our forefathers carried.
We sing “We Shall Overcome” in church, but then cower in the corner when our friends are abused. Panama calls it juega vivo (a self-serving mentality).
I call it the cowardice of “me, myself, and I”.
We have become an angry, scared, and selfish society. Unending wars in Asia and the Middle East, barbaric acts of terrorism, the shooting of pastors and politicians (Arias, Kennedy, King, and Scalice, among many), unpunished corruption, poisoned cough syrup, and city buses morphing into infernos has worn us down.
Tragically, one of the worst evils is that victims often become evil-doers themselves, out of fear, anger, or hopelessness.
Remember, the ‘Gold’ and ‘Silver’ rolls Canal paymasters used to justify unfair wages for Panama workers? Well, not a lot has changed. For many Panamanians today the practice continues with the ‘donut’ roll—a paltry salary composed of a bit of dough with a hole in the center.
So, how do we blow the trumpet for social justice?
Faith and action is a starter.
Faith is encapsulated in the Apostles’ Creed which is being celebrated this Trinity Week. It shows there is a light—a holy trinity of light and hope—that shines throughout our journey for justice.
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
There is much good to believe in. We are living longer, and many terrible diseases have been conquered, like polio, smallpox, child leukemia, Ebola, and HIV/AIDS. The problem with the AIDs miracle, though, is that people are no longer afraid of the disease, and many no longer take precautions or seek treatment.
And, the world’s oldest disease, leprosy, cited 40 times in the Bible (Numbers 5:2) and which leads to amputation, blindness, and death, is also now curable. History tells us lepers couldn’t live with their own people; couldn’t walk within six feet of any other human; nor, walk within 150 feet of anyone when the wind was blowing.
Now here’s a shocker.
In 1961, I visited Palo Seco, Panama’s own leper colony and hospital six miles from our church off Farfan Beach under the Bridge of the Americas. It was an oasis of faith and action.
Panamanian doctors, nurses, and administrators lived in the colony composed of nine wooden and cement buildings, several dormitories, a dining hall, and a garden for fresh vegetables. Never have I seen so much joy in the midst of a horrible affliction.
The 100 or so lepers are now cured, a Biblical scourge has been practically eliminated. The shuttered wooden barracks give mute testimony to the power of faith, courageous doctors and the use of powerful antibiotics and sulfonamides.
We did overcome.
Faith without action is an airplane without wings. Action is faith on steroids.
Jesus acted out the Gospel by example. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and, yes, cured lepers.
You can follow Jesus’ example. All it takes is your signature on an organ donation form when you renew your license or Panama cedula. Your organ transplants can cure 58 people, using both eye corneas, your two kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas, intestine, bones, skin, and other organs and tissues.
Last year only 29 Panamanians donated organs for transplants. That is from a population of about 4 million. This means of the almost 300 patients awaiting a kidney transplant, most will die needlessly.
Think, God gave his Son to save mankind; you can donate your body to ‘save’ 58 sick people. Surely, your gift won’t go unnoticed, come Judgment Day.