New Article in The Badger: Words Create Worlds, Part 2 Rebecca Solnit and Calling Things by their True Names

My next article in this series on words creating worlds, fascism, and spirituality is out in The Badger online magazine! It can be found on pages 52 – 60.

This article focuses on Rebecca Solnit’s latest book, Call Them by Their True Names (2019). Here are a few excerpts from the article and accompanying photos from the Olympic Peninsula.

“Words create worlds,” said Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.[i]

What we call things creates not just discourse, but reality. The words that we use and the words that we do not use lead us in certain directions and have different effects. Words are not just words, they are tools that shape, and give expression to, reality.

Words create our reality and our current reality is in crisis.

Across the world, in many different countries, politicians are rising to power using words of separation rather than words of union. This political crisis is a spiritual crisis because using words to create reality is a spiritual act.

One of the Crises of the Moment is Linguistic

Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them by Their True Names (2018) examines the uses and abuses of language in politics, stating that “one of the crises of this moment is linguistic.” The linguistic crisis confuses us about what is real, what is true, about who we are, and about our relationships with each other and the natural world. “Calling things by their true names,” Solnit writes, “cuts through the lies that excuse, buffer, muddle, disguise, avoid, or encourage inaction, indifference, obliviousness. It’s not all there is to changing the world, but it’s a key step.” “Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides brutality.”[ii]


Sun through the Rain Forest, near Sol Duc River, Olympic Peninsula (D. Kopacz, 2019)

The Deregulation of Meaning

"If you begin by denying social and ecological systems, then you end by denying the reality of facts, which are, after all, part of a network of systematic relationships among language, physical reality, and the record, regulated by the rules of evidence, truth, grammar, word meaning, and so forth. You deny the relationship between cause and effect, evidence and conclusion; or, rather, you imagine both as products on the free market that one can produce and consume according to one’s preferences. You deregulate meaning. . . . And this is how the ideology of isolation becomes nihilism, trying to kill the planet and most living things on it with a confidence born of total destruction."[iii] 

A Storytelling Work that Matters

"This work is always, first and last, a storytelling work, or what some of my friends call ‘the battle of the story.’ . . .  To sustain it, people have to believe that the myriad small, incremental actions matter. . . . To believe it matters—well, we can’t see the future, but we have the past. Which gives us patterns, models, parallels, principles, and resources; stories of heroism, brilliance, and persistence; and the deep joy to be found in doing the work that matters. With those in hand, we can seize the possibilities and begin to make hopes into actualities."[iv]

Doing “the work that matters,” this is what we are called to do. Joseph Rael reminds us that “work is worship,” so this work of activism, this work of story, this work of loving our neighbors, is a sacred work that we are called to do and that we are called to put into words so that we can create, instead of a world of hate, separation, and war, we can create a world of love and peace.

Sun through the Trees, Mt. Muller, Olympic Peninsula

Next issue: Rob Riemen’s To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism

Throughout 2019, I will continue to write about some of these topics of how our “words create worlds.” In working with Joseph Rael, writing our next book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[v]


[i] Life Between the Trees blog, https://lifebetweenthetrees.com/2012/08/06/words-create-worlds-monday-morning-parable/. I first came across a shorter instance of this quote in the Omid Safi reference below.

[ii] Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names, 4, 1, 4.

[iii] Ibid., 50.

[iv] Solnit, 184-185.

[v] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, (106).

Words Create Worlds – new essay in The Badger

“Words Create Worlds,” my new piece in The Badger, Year 5, Volume 1, is available now through the link, page 47. The title is taken from a quote by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:

“Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness — or evil — into the world.  He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda.  Words create worlds he used to tell me when I was a child.  They must be used very carefully.  Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn.  The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue.”[1]

Heschel points to the power of words to create good or evil in the world. My article is a meditation following the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand and the increasingly disturbing words of separation and “othering.” I have a special connection with Christchurch, having lived in New Zealand for 3.5 years and having visited Christchurch a few days prior to the second devastating earthquake in 2011. These words that separate us from each other are earthquakes and weapons, in and of themselves, and these words pave the way for future violent actions. You can read the full article in The Badger through this link (scroll to page 47)

In writing Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), I have felt obligated to write about “spiritual democracy” and the responsibility to act in ways that increase, rather than decrease, our inter-relatedness and oneness. A living spirituality is a call to action. Joseph Rael has been working for world peace for decades now, and working with him, I have taken on this responsibility as well. I plan to write more on the power of words, the ways that they can divide or unite us, and the disturbing trends towards fundamentalism and fascism in our world today. Here is the last paragraph from my essay in The Badger:

Over the next year, I would like to write about some of these topics of how our “words create worlds.” In working with Joseph Rael, writing our next book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[2]


[1] Life Between the Trees blog, https://lifebetweenthetrees.com/2012/08/06/words-create-worlds-monday-morning-parable/.

[2] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.

Red Begonias, Christchurch Botanical Gardens, 2011

New Article in “The Badger”

“The End of E pluribus unum?

The De-evolution of “Out of Many, One” to ME First!”

My new article in The Badger examines the national and international movements away from seeing all people as interconnected (as One) to the separation of nationalism, racism, and xenophobia (fear of the “other”). The motto of the United States on the Great Seal is e pluribus unum, which means “out of many, one.” However, more and more, we are seeing an attitude of “ME first” which promotes bullying and selfishness above our motto of seeing unity within diversity.

Badger.3.2

Becoming Medicine in The Badger

The Badger is an on-line magazine on spirituality and the arts out of Italy published by Antonella Vicini. Antonella has worked with Joseph Rael in the past and I will be writing a quarterly column in the magazine under the title, “Becoming Medicine.”

year-2-vol-4-cover

Click on the Badger link to check out the column which talks about how Joseph and I met and came to write our first book together, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD.