True conversation is so much more than words. Authentic exchange creates connection, imparts wisdom, provokes thought, and inspires action. This weekend Joe and I had the pleasure of this experience with a small group of folks from our parish, convened by another parishioner, a religious sister seeking input on behalf of her community in preparation for their quadrennial assembly this summer. Ranging in age from late 20s to early 70s, the group’s responses to her questions about how we envision the world and religion/spirituality over the next ten years and what suggestions we would offer to their community pointed to strong awareness of division and polarization, as well as heartfelt desire for understanding across differences, especially among Catholics of varying viewpoints.
Strikingly, this discussion mirrored very closely what transpired during the gathering that I helped convene back in August under the theme “Re-Visioning American Political
Leadership,” at the impetus of Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run, which I introduced in a previous post. Over the past several years, she has been exploring ways to address the partisanship and polarization in national politics, a project that led her to embark on a month-long cross-country driving trip — called the “Red Boot Tour” — to talk with people about the situation. (Why red boots? Molly once received a pair and discovered that wearing them lent courage and confidence, a sentiment others have since shared with her.)
Though familiar with Girls on the Run, I had not heard of Molly Barker until spring 2013 when my friend, a GOTR coach, shared Molly’s “Letter to Congress” TEDx talk on Facebook. I seldom watch videos on Facebook, but for some reason that day I watched through the whole 18:16. Tears spilled down my cheeks as Molly shared her heartfelt vision of authenticity being realized even in the political world. I began following her on Facebook and read with interest of her evolving efforts to bridge divides. I felt this bond with her and harbored a secret hope to meet her someday. When the Red Boot tour was proposed, uncertain of how much time or effort it would require and whether I could pull it off, I tentatively replied, “We would welcome you in Cincinnati.” Less than a month later, she was right here in my neighborhood leading meaningful conversation.
The Red Boot Coalition 11 Steps for dialogue and/or personal reflection emerged from what Molly heard from people while on the tour. Engaging the 11 Steps creates an inner peace that can only ripple out to positively impact any setting of which we are a part. Integral to the movement is ongoing Red Boot meetings where people discuss one step each time, creating safe spaces for genuine interaction. In addition to the several such weekly meetings in Charlotte that Molly has started, they are also underway in Winona, MN; Columbia, MO; Chicago; Payson, AZ; and Winston-Salem, NC. This Thursday, Jan. 15, the first Cincinnati Red Boot meeting will take place at Pleasant Ridge Montessori school with Molly here to help us kick it off! All are welcome.
In the face of so much violence, fear, and division, the Red Boot Movement provides a way to “do something” right where we are.