Tending the "great world house"


"All that I have said boils down to the point of affirming that mankind's survival is dependent upon man's ability to solve the problems of racial injustice, poverty, and war; the solution of these problems is in turn dependent upon man squaring his moral progress with his scientific progress, and learning the practical art of living in harmony. Some years ago a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a list of suggested story plots for future stories, the most prominently underscored being this one: 'A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together.' This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a big house, a great 'world house' in which we have to live together - black and white, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Moslem and Hindu, a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and interests who, because we can never again live without each other, must learn, somehow, in this one big world, to live with each other."

Martin Luther King Jr. The Nobel Peace Prize 1964 From his Nobel Lecture: The Quest for Peace and Justice December 11, 1964

Dear Elder Brother Gil,

The above quote by Martin Luther King Jr. was pointed out to me recently, and it's caused me no end of frustration. Mostly because I've been drawn to following news stories more often about violence, hatred, and abuses rather than ones that reveal acts of compassion and kindness. It is true that we live in this world together, we have no other choice; but I find myself more and more in grief about what we do to each other and less and less positive about our ability to live together in peace. The gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey in India; the shooting of Malala Yousufzai, the 15-year old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for speaking out about the right to an education; warring religious extremists around the globe; mass shootings here in our country; and issues (a few among many) of poverty, hunger, sexual violence, reproductive justice, and child abuses. Malala Yousufzai

I admit, I'd like to have these problems magically swept away and everyone be afforded safety from violence, food on their table, and peace in the "world house." At the same time, I know that will never happen. The best we can do is to tend our part of the house, clean and polish, mend and love. However small or mundane that may seem, doing what is set before us has a profound impact. Small acts of showing respect for those around us, honoring each other's dignity, and looking through our differences can have a lasting impact --even when doubt prevails. There are people so filled with hate and evil intent that I truly can't conjure up respect for them; but this isn't about emotion or feeling, it is the awareness that we are, indeed, all in this together. And when we can do something for anyone in need, we raise the level of love in the world.

King goes on in his lecture to say,

"This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men... When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response which is little more than emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life... We can no longer afford to worship the God of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. Love is the key to the solution of the problems of the world."

Furious DancingGreat masses of women and men in India rose up in righteous rage against sexual violence after the rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey. A group called "One Billion Rising" is calling for a global dance on February 14 to end violence against women. A dance is in the "world house!"

Malala Yousufzai has become a symbol of courage and fight.

And I believe that wherever their is injustice, there are people who are working to counter it; we just don't always hear their stories.

King ends with this:

"In spite of the tensions and uncertainties of this period something profoundly meaningful is taking place. Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away, and out of the womb of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. Doors of opportunity are gradually being opened to those at the bottom of society. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are developing a new sense of "some-bodiness" and carving a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of despair. "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light." Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future.One Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms, painful threats of death; they will still be battered by the storms of persecution, leading them to the nagging feeling that they can no longer bear such a heavy burden, and the temptation of wanting to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life's restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men."

The "kingdom of God," in a broader sense, which connects us all --religious, non-religious, and atheist-- is the principle of love. If we each tend to love rather than hate in our lives, we can "carve a tunnel of hope through the darkness of despair."

Truly yours, Younger Sister Marilyn

Click here to listen to a two-minute audio recording excerpt of Martin Luther King's Nobel Lecture (paragraph 18-19)

Click here for the full text of King's lecture.