Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

You know how sometimes there’s a moment when everyone
In the moment is startled by what happened without warning?
This morning I remember an evening when this happened, at
The Lutheran minister’s enormous dark echoing old mansion
Just across the street from the Catholic church and the Jewish
Temple; our main road must have been zoned Major Religion.
I was a Cub Scout, huddled by the fireplace, ready for the test
That would advance us Wolves to Bears. This was a big event
In our lives, don’t laugh; it was perhaps the biggest thing ever,
Even bigger than First Confession for us mostly Catholic kids,
Because you had to earn Bear, whereas you couldn’t get away
From First Confession, during which we admitted to sins we’d
Borrowed from older brothers, often in exchange for cold cash,
Which makes you wonder. Anyway there we were, in uniform,
Ready for the exam, lined up by height by the fire, the minister
Prepared to proctor, our glorious new badges waiting on a desk,
When we realized that one among us was not prepared for Bear.
We stared at each other. I think now we were all quietly hoping
To be saved by somebody else. The reverend led us in the Oath.
But when the questioning began we all deliberately made errors
So as not to advance. The reverend, God rest his soul, could see
That something was up, but he had the wisdom to leave it alone.
A graceful man, as I remember, with a bristling russet mustache.
I suppose our den meeting was over soon after that, bear badges
Sitting untouched on the reverend’s desk. I suppose we did earn
Them eventually, and then earn our Arrows of Light, and so on.
The minister’s house was eventually sold to a Catholic religious
Order which arose in India from the missionary muscle of Saint
Thomas, who fled to the far corners of the earth after examining
The Christ. Another quiz by a fire long ago, with quiet epiphany.

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift