Driving back from the 2010 Central Midwest District Assembly - UUA on Sunday before last, I read from a Meg Barnhouse book I had picked up at the assembly book store at Wheeling, Illinois. Meg, a long time UU Minister and host of "Bubba Free Radio" on North Carolina Public Radio has incredible insight and a sense of humor that in her telling makes ordinary things have special meaning and import.

The book, Did I Say that Out Loud? Musings from a Questioning Soul literally fell open to a short reading called "Brick by Brick." I read as the miles toward Springfield melted away.

Meg had been driving by a brick wall job in her hometown, Spartanburg, and observed a suntanned man in his 70s who appeared to be the job supervisor. He watched and smiled as young brick layers buttered and stacked brick, he coached, laughed, talked and encouraged others on. He, Meg concluded, seemed to enjoy his work, but she began to wonder what about it made him smile. Was it the idea of interacting with and teaching young wall builders the tricks, the techniques that form a good wall? Or was it the process? Was it the idea of finishing a long job or did he even notice how long it was and simply take joy in the day to day work? She concluded that he probably didn't even think about the end product or about the space between this job and the next, but enjoyed the process of on-going work.

The district assembly themed "Becoming the Religion of our Time," seemed much like the on-going work of building a long brick wall.

Future congregation presidents or treasurers joined the lunch tables on Saturday whose announced subject interested them. Others opted for workshops about congregational growth, social justice ministries, building multi-generational, diverse communities and adult faith development.

Starry eyed musical-types sequestered for three rehearsals over the weekend and one performance with the funny and generous Marty Swisher, Choral Festival director from Unity UU Temple in Oak Park. After the performance all were invited to Marty's hotel room for an "M & M party"! It was the first District choral fest and some opted out of the rest of the weekend to join the choir for rehearsals and performance on Saturday evening at the banquet.

Others with serious furrowed brows and questions joined in conversations about finances, governance, social outreach, programming and more. Still others like Diana and I set up vendors tables. We came to promote the UU Women's Connection and celebrate Margaret Fuller's 200th birthday by serving birthday cake after lunch. Other organizations... humanists, Channing-Murray, Women and Religion committee, etc. came to promote their causes and programs too.

I chose the Youth Service after choir practice on Saturday, because I heard one of the choir soloists singing "Imagine" by John Lennon as I walked by. His voice and guitar drew me in. These youth are always so full of hope and ideas. But this year they asked participants to pipe up with ideas about becoming the faith of our time. UUs are never without ideas and shouted out many suggestions. But that brings me back to Meg who encourages me to think about just enjoying the process and keeping up the work.

Becoming the faith of our time seems all process. Building a connecting wall, teaching others how to mortar up the bricks of raising consciousness, money and fun, taking care of business, providing programming for our congregations and taking up opportunities to seriously practice the pluralism our principals encourage us to strive for. It is what builds the wall for me...the sought after Holy Grail of being the faith for our time is already in place and we need only keep on keeping on.

Rev. Shirley RanckUU Rev. Shirley Ranck hits the nail on the head in her rewrite of the popular feminist Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, -- " Perhaps our most important religious task of the 21st Century will be learning to take pluralism seriously." This you can find in her essay "A Statement of Feminist Thealogy."

The chance to be with such creative and dedicated women leaders at the March 20th celebration of UU Women as leaders, as Agents of Change has given me an opportunity to think more on the challenges of our diverse faith practices under one roof. Today I am noticing our difficulty in living up to "true religious pluralism." Other days there seems to be movement. Recently I had a Wisconsin woman at ask how to attract people of color, another from Chicago how to attract Caucasians to a Kwanza celebration African American film series.

Ironically, in one salon I learned about another prejudice I hadn't recognized or thought much about before -- an atheist/humanist expressed concern about the lack of respect and sometimes disrespect for Atheists/humanists. Incredulous, she explained that humanists made important contributions to UU's Seven Principles which call us to religious pluralism.

Emily Meter, CMwD's shining star of a leader, passed quietly in December 2009 with friends singing to her and holding her hands. Frantic e-mail exchanges in December brought sad news finally.

Her memorial and 75th birthday celebration in Deerfield on March 13th closed with the song and comment about Emily: "This little liberal light of mine," A UU or maybe, Emily-adaptation of the sweet song taught in Sunday school when I was growing up. Filled to capacity, the Deerfield sanctuary rang with exuberance at the idea that hiding our lights would simply no longer do. Emily was a "liberal" of the quietest kind. Not brassy, like me, but she stood her liberal ground and offered you a cookie, too. She was the quintessential nurturer. She could "hear" any awful thing and make it seem bearable though her quiet, thoughtful ways. She just listened so completely. "Some times," as the Buddhist saying goes, "all a person needs is a good listening to."

I met Emily at the CMwD-UUWF Lake Geneva Retreat for women at Williams Bay, Wisconsin. Emily was Chair of North Shore's planning committee in 2000. I had been introduced to this retreat the year before and had anticipated that weekend on the lake and the ingenious theme: "The Femillinium." What sure confidence she had as she introduced the in-gathering speaker as a "regular renaissance woman." Emily would later travel with her committee to Starved Rock to meet with our 2001 planning committee from Springfield and Peoria. Always helpful and willing to step up, she was also an expert planner and detail person. Her confident and unassuming leadership was a thing of wonder; the "spiritual" part of her style that inspired me and still does. She was the Renaissance woman for me.

I was once at North Shore for a UUWF board meeting before the Connection was born. It was my first tour of the artistically inspired building studded with unusually shaped stained glass windows into molded stucco and giant ROCK for an altar that inspires the feel of a cave, as I have overheard it described. But it seems more like a womb to me. While we had our board meeting, women quietly worked in the kitchen to prepare our lunch and left without notice. Miraculously a wonderful meal had been set. I like to think that was my introduction to Emily. I don't know for sure that she was there, but the spirit of her nurturing work was certainly there and has left its indelible mark on this congregation, so many in the CMwD and certainly, UU Women's Connection, and our predecessor the UU Women's Federation. All have been blessed and nourished by who Emily was in far too many ways to count.

* Emily's e-mail sign off.

Part of the spiritual practice of tonglen is to go to places and have experiences that scare you as a way to open and begin to feel comfortable with the uncertainty of life. Driving from my Springfield home to Janice Bailey's condo in Chicago, then on to tour an historic UU church in Oak Park; then onto Madison, Milwaukee, back to Chicago in two days -- seemed to fit the bill for understanding experimenting with this practice.

Road trips are an adventure, but I usually let others do the driving. I am more "comfortable" just being a passenger instead of being the driver, uncertain and uncomfortable trekking off into the unknown of triangular three-city trip of many miles.

Walking the Edge: Deepening Our Magic The Madison workshop title and description came a month before: