All posts by karentay

I live in Stanford, CA with my husband and daughter. I work at the intersection of Government and technology, and love meeting new people.

Government, sin, redemption

Almost four years of working in the Government. Why did I choose to work here? Back when I was 18, I believed it was the best way to “help” the ill, the poor and the excluded in our society. I (thought I) had great ideas for what should be changed, and signed on for a free university education, in exchange for 6 years of working for the Government. 4 years of school + 6 years of service – I’m nearly at my 4 year mark.

How has it turned out, looking back? How does the gospel impact how I see and do the work that I’ve been called to do here? The understanding of sin helps me face realities and understand my role in the government.

Face realities: men are inherently inward-looking; they elect governments to pursue their interests on their behalf. In the course of my work, I often think about a text by Hobbes – the state of nature is the state of war. As a society, we wish to be kinder, gentler, more compassionate. But when a nursing home is built right next to our apartment block, we cry foul. We want quick, cheap housing, but we frown at those who labor for hours on end in the hot tropical sun, and are only seeking some solace from the sun as they hang out at the landings of our apartment blocks. This happens so often, that we even have a term here – the “not-in-my-backyard” syndrome.

There is growing distrust between government and citizens. The gist is that government consists of “rich people paying themselves highly while the rest of us suffer!” It can be demoralizing, to be honest.

How do these affect how I think about my work? I first have to realize the limits of any human institution in curbing this fundamental human nature. Then, I choose not to by cynical, but to hope. Daily, I am reminded that so much is not in my hands, nor any man’s hands (those “perfect solutions” I once dreamed of were not so perfect once I understood the range of perspectives, operational issues & sometimes, the problems of legacy and ego that get in the way. Real problems, mind you.). Only God can address the fundamental issues at play – fundamental issues of the heart.

And he does; he can. I am encouraged to see that men also have an innate sense of justice, which shapes their idea of what a country should be. Critiques of our welfare and healthcare systems come from the desire to have a society where justice prevails – where the widows, orphans, the elderly and ill are taken care of. Where we do not leave the market to assign value to people based on traits that we win through the genetic lottery. This is something to celebrate. One of the goals of government is not to shut down these critiques, but to cultivate them and create the space for people to take action together.

Knowing that we have a God who works on our behalf and cares about justice far more than we do, I’m freed up to think hard about what it is that I can do. Within my sphere of influence, can I speak up for those who do not have a voice? In my first job, it was on my heart to speak up for equality in treatment of kids with special needs (and do the analysis needed to support my proposals). I was given many opportunities to do so. I also think about what we can do to restore trust with the people – be more open about the facts, even if we don’t look so good; be vulnerable and admit that we don’t have it all solved, that some things really do take five or ten years to achieve – even in super-efficient Singapore.

It’s about creating authentic relationships between government and people, the space for us to build something together. That is, in itself, redemptive.

Let’s end with that for now 🙂

Gospel and Government

I’m Karen, and I work in the Singapore government. I’ve done so for about three and a half years now. Right out of school, I returned home to serve a six-year bond to the Government, which graciously paid for my colleague education. I’ve spent two years in the Treasury, and just over one and a half in the Education Department. It’s been a ride, and contrary to expectations of public service, there’s never a dull day. I’ve been part of pre-school reform in Singapore, major shifts in Singapore’s welfare system, setting up a new university, setting up a new division to strengthen the Government’s engagement with our people in policy-making etc. I’ve also been disappointed by systems, people, institutions, and most of all, myself.

I’ll probably get the chance to write more about how the gospel shapes & redeems Government work, but before that, I wanted to share one thing that has stood out most pertinently to me as I dived straight into the working world – where one is introduced to (to a larger extent than ever before), the messy randomness of life.

Isaiah 66:1-2

 Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?

 All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.

 But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.

Let us not have too high a view of ourselves and what we can do with our lives (for God, or for ourselves). It is the Lord’s work we are participating in, wherever he has placed us. And what is his command to us? To be humble and contrite in spirit. To tremble at His word. To treasure Him above all else and to move towards greater dependence on him, not greater control of our lives.

I believe that the business of Government is steeped in opportunities to seek justice, to speak for the oppressed, to create conditions for human flourishing & strong relationships, and to seek transparency in how institutions relate to individuals (and vice-versa), just to name a few. I have many examples, and I will find a later date to elaborate. But for now, I want to leave you with Isa 66:1-2. I have lots of hopes and dreams for how things should be in the Government, and I will strive to achieve it. All of us have those ideas in our field of specialty.

But I know that attaining these outcomes is not my primary calling. My primary calling is to sit at his feet in humility and contrition and to do all that he lays out before me for the day. From the mundane of clearing things through the huge bureaucracy, to the opportunities to speak to authority, to the quiet moments where I am at my desk, contemplating how to respond to an email from one of my officers. We live for Him in each moment, not just in the big bold things we do. And he died for us, so that we may live for him.