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The Pilgrimage of a Former “Yuppie”

DRAWN TO THE SACRAMENTAL MYSTERIES

By Peter K. Weiskel | June 1986
Peter K. Weiskel works in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as an administrative assistant to Henri J.M. Nouwen. In the fall Peter will enter Boston University as a graduate student in geology.

When I was first asked to tell the story of my spiritual pilgrimage in the pages of the NOR, I was filled with foreboding. Knowing how this magazine thrives on controversy, I was reluctant to expose myself to the firestorm of criticism which, I was certain, would break out no matter what I might write. Nevertheless, encouraged by St. Peter’s ex­hortation to “always be ready to give an account of the hope that is in us” (1 Pet. 3:15), I offer this account of my hope and how I came to it.

I was born the son of a Congregational minis­ter and raised in the fold of New England Protes­tantism. My earliest years were spent in a white clapboard parsonage in southern New Hampshire; when I was six we moved to the Boston suburb of Newton. My parents, as I now realize, were (and are) people of extraordinary integrity and Christian commitment. Having come to maturity during the pit of the Depression in the 1930s, they knew the reality of suffering and injustice, and learned early to trust God for everything. My two older brothers and I grew up knowing God’s stern and tender love, and the story of our salvation in Christ. We learned as well that the poor have a claim on our time and talent. I can still hear my parents repeat­ing Jesus’ admonition, “from those to whom much has been given, much will be required.”

However, several other powerful creeds com­peted for our allegiance during the self-confident era of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Chief among them was the suburban gospel of success, which de­clares that success and failure are meted out in this life to the hardworking and the lazy, respectively. The short form of this gospel reads: “God helps those who help themselves.” Subscribing to the academic interpretation of this gospel, my brothers and I firmly believed that eternal happiness would be ours if we applied ourselves at school, impressed our teachers, and gained admission to the Ivy League college of our choice.

Though I cannot speak for my brothers Tim and Tom, each of us has stories to tell concerning how we lost faith in this simple creed. My story be­gins in 1966. As I said, my parents had a deep sense of social responsibility. It was rooted in their own experience of hardship, and nurtured under the influence of my father’s teachers Douglas Steere of Haverford College and Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Seminary in New York. Dad was also greatly moved by the witness of Martin Luther King Jr., and in the mid-1960s made some modest attempts to engage his congregation in the civil rights movement. They rewarded him for his ef­forts by (very politely) throwing him out of the parish.

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