The Psychology of the Good Samaritan

O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8).

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While attending a legal ethics seminar last Saturday, I surprisingly had the most spiritual moment of my year.  A speaker there relayed the story of From Jerusalem to Jericho, an (apparently famous, but I had never heard of it) psychology study from 1973.  (A more readable journalistic summary is here.)  The authors specialized in research regarding what conditions prompt bystanders to help ailing strangers, rather than to ignore them.

The set-up was simple. At Princeton Theological Seminary, 40 theology students were assigned to prepare lectures as part of a final exam.  The exam occurred in a tight time frame: in 15-minute increments, instructors told individual students they needed to either leisurely wend their way across campus, or rush across campus, in order to make it to the building where their graded lecture would be recorded.  Half of the students were specifically assigned to speak on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

But the lecture wasn’t the real test.  The real test was that as they darted across campus, each student would encounter a sick and distressed man, lying in their path. [Read more…]

Challenges of Vocation in Mormonism

It’s a commonplace to note that in the Church nobody chooses her calling. Rather, God, through the mediation of priesthood leaders, calls us to serve, typically only for a limited time, in any of a wide variety of capacities. There is much to be said for this approach: sometimes, by doing things we never would have chosen for ourselves, we, like Moses, learn things “we never had supposed.” Having this potential for divine surprises built into the system is a good thing.

Still, this approach comes at a price: we lose the concept of vocation—the idea that God calls us individually to walk a particular path of divine service. (See Angela C’s excellent post about this.) To be sure, patriarchal blessings can provide something like an individual call, but in most cases there are not formal institutional venues for performing the things that we in the depths of our souls feel that God has called us to do. If a person in another denomination feels called to the ministry, in many cases there are formal processes of discernment and training to guide that person in working out whether this is really what God wants him or her to do. In Mormonism a person who feels so called must either wait for a formal calling or figure out some less formal way of acting as a minister. This latter option can mean “doing much good of [one’s] own accord,” but it can also lead to tensions with the institutional Church. [Read more…]

Challenges of Vocation in Mormonism

It’s a commonplace to note that in the Church nobody chooses her calling. Rather, God, through the mediation of priesthood leaders, calls us to serve, typically only for a limited time, in any of a wide variety of capacities. There is much to be said for this approach: sometimes, by doing things we never would have chosen for ourselves, we, like Moses, learn things “we never had supposed.” Having this potential for divine surprises built into the system is a good thing.

Still, this approach comes at a price: we lose the concept of vocation—the idea that God calls us individually to walk a particular path of divine service. (Angela C recently wrote an excellent post about this.) To be sure, patriarchal blessings can provide something like an individual call, but in most cases there are not formal institutional venues for performing the things that we in the depths of our souls feel that God has called us to do. If a person in another denomination feels called to the ministry, in many cases there are formal processes of discernment and training to guide that person in working out whether this is really what God wants him or her to do. In Mormonism a person who feels so called must either wait for a formal calling or figure out some less formal way of acting as a minister. This latter option can mean “doing much good of [one’s] own accord,” but it can also lead to tensions with the institutional Church. [Read more…]