Tag Archives: perseverance

Thinking about transitions

My name is Jojo and this is my first post to the GWBlog. Here I’d like to introduce myself and my areas of interest.

I am currently in transition right now: I was previously a math student at Princeton and I hope to be a med student in the future. We already have two resident mathematics academicians [1, 2] and three resident medical experts [3, 4, 5] on the blog, so as to not saturate this blog with lower quality content about maths and medicine, for now I will be blogging about transitions.

We usually say we are in transition when we are between two jobs, changing careers, or waiting for our next big “life stage” to begin. We often think of transitioning as the time we spend before the beginning of a state worth existing in. In my limited experience, this mindset tends to shift my life’s narrative from one that is Gospel-centered and driven by the good news to one more concerned about reaching the next milestone. Although all the eschatological hopes of the Old Testament and our personal yearning have been fulfilled in Christ and he is coming back to establish his visible reign, I become consumed with getting to the next destination. I am tempted to reduce life into several big goals, possibly subdividing these goals along the way: get into X college, land Y internship, get Z job. The change in thinking leads to restlessness that I’m not making progress towards the next goal. In college, the flags for this change in mentality were when I realized I was living problem set to problem set, or completing a term and feeling empty that I had arrived. I spent my energies anticipating completion or certain dates, but it failed to satisfy.

When I lose sight of the true destination worth orienting my life around, my sinful tendencies also start to reveal themselves. Slowly, I begin to focus more on the goals themselves and I assume an implicit purpose that my life should be optimized to reach these goals. I’ve noticed that I seem to undergo a type of transformation coined by sociologists P. J. DiMaggio and W. Powell as institutional isomorphism*. These sociologists noticed that there is a collective rationality that similar types of organizations share that makes them converge. They hypothesized that competing organizations tend to converge because they model themselves on more successful rivals, common consultants move between the organizations, and they must compete under the same laws.

Similarly, I tend to imitate successful individuals striving for similar goals, receive advice from the same counselors about these goals, and experience the same formative processes (classes, standardized testing, etc.) more than I imitate Christ, submit myself to his Word, and practice spiritual disciplines. I am trying to be careful not to dichotomize imitating good examples and imitating Christ; I just think we should be wary of normative pressures diminishing the way in which the uniqueness and surprising nature of the Christ-event shapes our lives. My own sinful tendency is to imitate those who aren’t imitating Christ (1 Cor 11:1) and my motivations start to shift towards selfish ambition, comfort, and prestige.

I’d like to briefly argue that life is all about transitioning and that it should be celebrated. Indeed, since the moment of our regeneration, we have become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), crucified (Gal. 2:20) and raised with Christ (Col. 3:1-3), but at the same time we are not yet perfected to our resurrection bodies:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep,but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Cor. 15:51-53)

God saw it fit that we were not immediately transformed at the moment of our conversion. Instead, we are tasked with the job of partnering with the Holy Spirit in our sanctification until that day. This tension is probably familiar to many readers of this blog as the “already, but not yet.” As good as our resurrection bodies may be, God’s plan for humanity is not an instant transformation but a gradual one. Sanctification is in fact the greatest transition we will make in our life and it is worth striving for.

I’d like to point out something I find interesting about New Testament encouragements: we are often spurred on to be more or do more of an ongoing action – be more loving, take up our crosses, persevere – rather than called to accomplish some task or reach a goal, since the greatest “task” has already been accomplished! Life does not begin at the next milestone, it began for us 2000 years ago; let us then press onward toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Php. 3:12-16).

Here are some questions maybe worth using for reflection:

  • Am I orienting my life around accomplishing certain goals more than becoming a type of person?
  • What are the tendencies of people who work in my major/profession or those who strive for the same goals? Similarly, how have I changed the more I’ve progressed towards these goals?
  • How do I feel after I reach the big goals or are hindered from achieving them?

*I would like to cite more things for you, but I don’t have access to a nice library right now.

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 🙂