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Ware Lecture by Dr. Mary Pipher, General Assembly 1999

General Assembly 1999 Event 458

We regret that our contractual arrangements with Dr. Pipher's representatives do not allow us to reproduce her Ware Lecture address in any form.

The 1999 Ware Lecture was presented during the General Assembly by Dr. Mary Pipher to a full house of over 3,000 attentive and enthusiastic audience members on Sunday, June 27, in the Grand Ballroom of the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.

A clinical psychologist in private practice in Lincoln, NE, and a Unitarian Universalist, Dr. Pipher has been doing family and individual therapy for over twenty years. She is the popular author of the 1994 best-seller, "Reviving Ophelia," a book about the very serious culturally-based problems facing teenage girls in our country today. In her most recent book, "Another Country," she finds and reflects on the wisdom that our elders have to offer our youth and us.

Dr. Pipher was given an enthusiastic introduction by Mimi LaValley of the Youth Caucus, who testified to the powerful influence "Reviving Ophelia" had on her. "I had tears of recognition streaming down my face as I read it," she said.

Pipher's delivery was at times serious, and at times humorous. Her presentation knit many ancient and modern cultural critics to support her own arguments. But it also effectively knit her own anecdotes to make her points.

Margaret Nemode Harris, Pipher's aunt, and a Unitarian Universalist (UU) from San Luis Obispo, CA, was credited with exposing Pipher to many diverse and new experiences. Her Aunt Margaret valued people who were "green on top"—dedicated to lifelong learning and on the cutting edge of things. When Aunt Margaret's husband accused her Unitarian-Universalism of having no answers, she replied, "We don't have answers, but we have freedom." Aunt Margaret stood to receive the author's affectionate recognition, and received much applause from the audience.

Dr. Pipher said that she was continually pondering how the world has changed, and that she "can't leave that alone." She was raised in small Nebraska town with a population of four hundred, and recalls a time that's very different from today.

She began the main part of her presentation by defining family: it requires sacrifice; it stays together in spite of disagreements; it matters to your family if you're sick; they'll visit you in hospital; they will loan you money to pay rent if you lose your job. In summary, to be a family member is an ascribed not an achieved position: there's no need to earn it. It's committed and above all, it's inclusive. As the quote goes, "When you go there, they have to take you in." She likened her definition to the old Buddhist saying, "A family has 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows."

Dr. Pipher then turned to her main theme: how to succeed in making healthy families in this culture. Symptomatic of the problems are several facts:

  • 80% of americans feel our lives are more stressful than 5 years ago.
  • 45 million americans are taking nerve medication.

She said that adults recall three things when they think back on the quality of their childhood: meals together, vacations together, and time outdoors together. But these days, very few families have a daily family meal together. We need to make time for those things that are memorable.

Further, Pipher said, in apparent agreement with Hillary Rodham Clinton, that children can only be raised by groups. In such groups, children are exposed to diversity in experiences, orientation, background, and age. "Each generation has its own gifts to give," she said.

Turning to the impact of media on our children, she quoted cultural critic David Denby, who said that "we are buried in an avalanche of junk." In particular, she feels that young people are bathed in a constant stream of junk sexuality. "'Education is teaching our children to find pleasure in the right things,' said Plato, but advertising leads us away from everything that's important. We need to connect kids to beauty."

Finally, she turned to offering some solutions. "In this culture," she said, "we are taught that we are bad parents in a good community, but actually most of us are good parents in a sick community." She urged us to work to offset as much as we can of the cultural messages we are getting. To build strong families, she said, we should:

  • Protect ourselves and our children from that which is noxious.
  • Connect to what is good and beautiful.

Further, we need to craft a new definition of wealth, based not in finances, but in experiences: How many sunsets will we see together? How many meals will we share together? How many weeks will we take for vacation?

Dr. Pipher said that churches can and should teach kids to find connection in the right things. "Collective action isn't taking Prozac at the same time," she said, to the audience's amusement.

She ended by quoting Gandhi's famous saying: "We must be the change we wish to see in the world." She was rewarded by a lengthy standing ovation.

Reported by Gina Whitaker and Dwight Ernest.