Why democracy will always fail us

I am sat in Cambodia, seven hours ahead of the UK, watching the general election results roll in. I’m also hovering on social media watching responses to exit polls and election predictions. Having been in Cambodia for the run up to this election and having not been living in the UK for quite some time, I’ve been really surprised by the intensity of people’s social media posts. They speak of depression, despair, broken friendships, lives changed irreversibly for the worse. Now, I’m not saying these elections are not significant, but I’m really shocked at the emotional weight of yesterday. I perhaps understand it from my friends who are not Christians, but I’m probably seeing it more from my Christian friends. They’re writing about dashed hopes and painful fears of what these results will mean.

Before I go further, I want to deflect the potential barrage of complaints and questions and accusations. I do believe Christians should be involved politically. I do think we should exercise our right to vote. (I had to organise a proxy vote to get my ballot in the box.) I do think that Christians should speak God’s truth in the public sphere. I do think we should fight against injustice and fight for mercy. And here’s the massive “but”…

Christians should not misplace their hope in political systems.

There will always be blurred lines between political ideologies and faith. But we should not get the two confused. Faith is for our belief in Jesus. Do not put faith in the people and the powers of this world. There are a few interesting reasons for this.

The knowledge of good and evil

In the Garden of Eden, there were two fruit trees. One was the tree of life. The other was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The former, humans could eat from; the latter would result in certain death. It’s interesting to think that before Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, they were innocent of the distinction between the two. God had that knowledge. (He had called his creation “good” after all.) Man did not.

A lot of our political intentions or ideas are born out of our view of what is good and what is evil. Yes, we can believe we have a biblical perspective on our politics, but our wisdom is limited. It was the arrogance that man can be like God and that they could possibly know what is truly right that led Eve to reach for the fruit. It is the same arrogance today that is dividing friends and communities. Despite having tasted the fruit, we will never know good and evil as God does and we should humble ourselves and remember this. Furthermore, partaking in the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil only heaped calamity and despair upon humanity. Why, then, are we so surprised that our political attempts to discern good and evil result in much the same?

Human sin

After the fall, sin entered humanity. Every heart is full of it. We are all destitute and depraved. As a result, every human system, institution, ideology is flawed. Sin runs through it like a seam through marble. Sin, therefore, invades our politics and parliaments, our chambers and churches, our banks and our ballot boxes. No where and nothing is free from the blood-red stain of sin.

We can see how sin is infiltrating our politics each day. Deceitful campaigns, Russian hackers, sleazy candidates all point to a fallen humanity. This is by no means a new thing in politics.

Just take a look at the Old Testament leaders: Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon. Each of these people were sinful and flawed. They lied, murdered, jealously clung onto power, and had multiple sexual scandals. If the Twitter witch-hunt existed back then, they would have descended on them like a pack of ravenous vultures. Even though many of these people were seen as good, God-honouring leaders, they still had massive moral failures. If the Israelites could not place their certain hopes on these political leaders, how can we be expected to do the same to the leaders of today?

Saul, perhaps, is the most obvious example where political hopes fell gravely short. The Israelites were desperate for a change in their political system. They wanted a monarchy, just like all the other countries around them. God gave them what they wanted; he gave them Saul. Saul was a cowardly, insecure, jealous, bumbling fool of a man. The hopes of the Israelites were gravely misplaced.

The Christmas Story

So, what then do we do with this? Where do we place our hopes? Well, as the UK prepares for Christmas, they need to look no further than the story it celebrates.

Jesus, the King of kings, was not born into a palace (like the Magi assumed he would). He was born into a dirty stable in some provincial backwater. Jesus, vulnerable and lowly, was twice victim of the political world around him. First, he had to flee to Egypt in his infancy; second, one of the world’s greatest political machines churned him up and spat him out in a humiliating and horrific death. Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem on a warhorse, victorious and glorious. Instead he trotted in on a juvenile donkey. Jesus did not challenge Caesar or bring an end to the oppressive rule of the Romans. Instead, he ushered in a mustard-seed kingdom, no bigger than a widow’s coin.

Jesus’ kingdom is political but never in the way that we imagine it to be. It is subversive and upside-down and defies systems and party lines.

So, rather than putting your hopes in an election, or dwelling on fears caused by the future government, remember the Christmas story.

Remember the lines from O Little Town of Bethlehem:

The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.

Remember what that little baby came to do. For it is not the cross on a voting slip that can save the world. It is the cross on which Jesus died that has already accomplished this.

Let us pray:

Our Father who is in Heaven,

Your name is holy; you alone are good.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We do not rely on earthly kingdoms or pledge allegiance to human flags. Instead, we humbly kneel by a lowly manger and declare we will follow you and your ways.
We come now to adore you. We place our hopes in you. We give our fears into your hands.
Forgive us, Lord, for the times we have been arrogant. Forgive for when we desired to taste of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Forgive us when we have been unkind in our words and deeds. Teach us your ways. Help us discern your plans in all this.

In Jesus’ name,
Amen.

Khmer Sing-Along – ដើរនៅក្នុងពន្លឺនៃព្រះ – Walk in the Light of God

I’ve been trying to learn new Khmer songs, especially ones that I sing at church each week. I’ve started off simple, often with children’s songs and ones with familiar tunes. This is because it’s hard enough trying to learn the words in a foreign language, let alone learn unfamiliar tunes that a culturally different, with unexpected trills or chord sequences.

Christian songs provide quite a good opportunity as often they are closely translated and keep the original tune. So that makes it easy for me to understand and to learn the new vocabulary!

I’ll provide a video, the Khmer script, then a Romanised version, then the IPA for linguistic nerds. If you want to find out what system I used or why I made the choices I did in transliteration or transcription, see my Khmenglish page. I will also provide a link to a pdf of all versions side-by-side, as well as a list of each of the words and their meanings.

ដើរនៅក្នុងពន្លឺនៃព្រះ – Walk in the Light of God

Get the video in a new tab.

Khmer and English

១.
គឺជាការល្អដែលសរសើរព្រះ
គឺជាការល្អដែលសរសើរព្រះ
គឺជាការល្អដែលសរសើរព្រះ
ដើរនៅក្នុងពន្លឺនៃព្រះ

Chorus

ដើរ ដើរ ដើរ ដើរ ក្នុងពន្លឺ
ដើរ ដើរ ដើរ ដើរ ក្នុងពន្លឺ
ដើរ ដើរ ដើរ ដើរ ក្នុងពន្លឺ
ដើរនៅក្នុងពន្លឺនៃព្រះ
២.
គឺជាការល្អដែលស្រលាញ់ព្រះ
គឺជាការល្អដែលស្រលាញ់ព្រះ
គឺជាការល្អដែលស្រលាញ់ព្រះ
ដើរនៅក្នុងពន្លឺនៃព្រះ
៣.
គឺជាការល្អដែលបម្រើព្រះ
គឺជាការល្អដែលបម្រើព្រះ
គឺជាការល្អដែលបម្រើព្រះ
ដើរនៅក្នុងពន្លឺនៃព្រះ
1.
It is good to praise the Lord,
It is good to praise the Lord,
It is good to praise the Lord,
Walk in the Light of God.

Chorus

Walk, walk, walk, walk in the Light, 
Walk, walk, walk, walk in the Light,
Walk, walk, walk, walk in the Light,
Walk in the Light of God.
2.
It is good to love the Lord,
It is good to love the Lord,
It is good to love the Lord,
Walk in the Light of God.
3.
It is good to serve the Lord,
It is good to serve the Lord,
It is good to serve the Lord,
Walk in the Light of God.

Romanisation and IPA

1.
kueu chea ka l’a dael sasaeu Preah
kueu chea ka l’a dael sasaeu Preah
kueu chea ka l’a dael sasaeu Preah
daeu nov knong ponlueu ney Preah

Chorus

daeu daeu daeu daeu knong ponlueu
daeu daeu daeu daeu knong ponlueu 
daeu daeu daeu daeu knong ponlueu 
daeu nov knong ponlueu ney preah
2.
kueu chea ka l’a dael sralanh preah
kueu chea ka l’a dael sralanh preah
kueu chea ka l’a dael sralanh preah
daeu nov knong ponlueu ney preah
3.
kueu chea ka l’a dael bamreu preah
kueu chea ka l’a dael bamreu preah
kueu chea ka l’a dael bamreu preah
daeu nov knong ponlueu ney preah

1.
kɨ ciə ka lʔɑ ɗael sɑsaə preah
kɨ ciə ka lʔɑ ɗael sɑsaə preah 
kɨ ciə ka lʔɑ ɗael sɑsaə preah  
ɗae nɨw kʰnoŋ pɔnlɨ nɨj preah

Chorus

ɗae ɗae ɗae ɗae kʰnoŋ pɔnlɨ
ɗae ɗae ɗae ɗae kʰnoŋ pɔnlɨ
ɗae ɗae ɗae ɗae kʰnoŋ pɔnlɨ
ɗae nɨw kʰnoŋ pɔnlɨ nɨj preah
2.
kɨ ciə ka lʔɑ ɗael srɑlaɲ preah
kɨ ciə ka lʔɑ ɗael srɑlaɲ preah
kɨ ciə ka lʔɑ ɗael srɑlaɲ preah
ɗae nɨw kʰnoŋ pɔnlɨ nɨj preah
3.
kɨ ciə ka lʔɑ ɗael ɓɑmrə preah
kɨ ciə ka lʔɑ ɗael ɓɑmrə preah
kɨ ciə ka lʔɑ ɗael ɓɑmrə preah
ɗae nɨw kʰnoŋ pɔnlɨ nɨj preah

Get the pdf version of the lyrics here.

Khmer Sing-Along – ព្រះចាត់បុត្រា – God Sent His Son

I’m trying to build up my repertoire of Khmer songs. Christian ones are particularly helpful: I know the tunes and I can get the gist of what they are singing as it’s pretty close to the English. Therefore, I’ve been using simple and rather repetitive songs to build my knowledge of Khmer words and phrases.

Again, I’ve transcribed it and transliterated it twice, using two different systems. Read (or don’t) about some of the thought processes behind how I’ve done it here. It goes some way to explain why what you read might not be exactly what you hear, especially in songs.

ព្រះចាត់បុត្រា – God Sent His Son

Khmer and English

ព្រះចាត់បុត្រា នាមថាព្រះយេស៊ូវ
យាងមកស្រលាញ់ ប្រោះ និង អត់ទោស
ទ្រង់រស់ និង ស្លាប់ ដើម្បីលោះបាបខ្ញុំ
ឯផ្នូរទទេ នោះបញ្ជាក់ថា ព្រះខ្ញុំទ្រង់រស់



Chorus

ដោយព្រោះទ្រង់រស់ ខ្ញុំមិនខ្លាចទេថ្ងៃស្អែក
ដោយព្រោះទ្រង់រស់ ក្តីខ្លាចរលាយ
ដោយខ្ញុំដឹងថាដឹងថា ទ្រង់ជ្រាបអនាគត
ឯជីវិតខ្ញុំមានតំលៃ ព្រោះតែទ្រង់នៅរស់


 

God sent his son,
They call Him Jesus,
He came to love,
heal and forgive,
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there
to prove my Saviour lives.

Chorus

And because He lived, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives all fear is gone,
Because I know, I know,
He holds the future,
And life is worth the living
just because He lives.

Romanisation and IPA

Preah chat botra niam tha Preah Yesu
Yeang mok sralanh braoh ning attouh
Troeung roeuh ning slab
    daeumbe luoh bab knhom
Ae phnuo tote nuoh banhcheak tha
    preah knhom troeung roeuh

Chorus

Daoy pruoh troeung roeuh
    knhom min khlach te thngey saek
Daoy pruoh troeung roeuh
    ktei khlach roleay
Daoy knhom doeng tha doeng tha
    troeung chreab aneakot
Ae cheivet knhom mean tamley
    pruoh tae troeung novroeuh
preah cat ɓotra niəm tha Preah Jesu
jiəŋ mɔk srɑlaɲ ɓrɑh niŋ aʔtoh
troəŋ roəh niŋ slap
    ɗaəmɓəj luəh ɓap khɲom
ʔae phnu tɔte nueh ɓɑɲciək tha
    preah kɲom troəŋ roəh

Chorus

ɗaoj pruəh troəŋ roəh 
    kʰɲom min kʰlac te tʰŋɨj sʔajk
ɗaoj pruəh troəŋ roəh
    kʰdəj kʰlac rɔliəj
ɗaoj kʰɲom ɗəŋ tʰa ɗəŋ tʰa
    troəŋ criəp ɑniəkɔt
ʔae ciʋit kʰɲom miən tɑmlɛ
    pruəh taj troəŋ nɨwroəh

Get the pdf version here!

A Cambodian Christmas

It’s 30˚C, it’s hot, it’s sticky, but it’s also Christmas. This time of year, I feel a little bit disorientated. The calendars say it’s December but the weather outside is not exactly frightful. I actually enjoy Christmas here in a way. Apart from shops having some decorations, it passes without too much attention. There’s no pressure to cook the perfect turkey, to buy the perfect presents and to make sure that you’ve sent out cards before the last post. Ironically, the lack of celebration perhaps allows more focus on what the story of Christmas is about.

After my Khmer lessons in the evening, I will often drive (well, get driven) down a long road that passes behind the international airport. It’s called Street 2004. In the day, it seems to be mostly metal workshops. However, when the evening comes, the metal workshops are mostly closed and the street is transformed. Karaoke bars turn on their bright lights and restaurants start blaring music.  There must be at least twenty karaoke bars along this street. It’s amazing that the workshops seem to wholly disappear (they are just tucked away in the darkness) and that the bars were there all along during the day.

Karaoke seems like an innocent enough past time. However, these bars often act as brothels or at least where girls get paid to entertain and host men. Each bar has a row of chairs outside, seating about a dozen girls, all in glamorous dresses and makeup, just waiting. Sometimes, these are school girls, pressured by family members – even their own parents – to earn extra money by selling themselves. Abject poverty can lead to terrible choices. Sometimes the eldest daughter, for the sake of her siblings or perhaps someone struggling in the family, is forced into prostitution. There is no free NHS, there is no social welfare, there is no bursary to fall back on. There is only sexual trafficking, petty crime or begging in order to survive.

So, at least twice a week, I am confronted by the brokenness of this country and the sin of this world. Cambodia provides a lot of opportunity for this type of wakeup call: the victims of mines begging at tourist sites, young children pulling rubbish carts and collecting cans and wires and anything that can be stripped and sold for a few riel. Cambodia’s beauty and vibrance is also mixed with sadness and hardship. Sometimes they are so intermingled its hard to know where one ends and the other starts.

My heart breaks to see the rows of girls; or the begging children; or the trash collectors sitting in among bags of rubbish searching for scraps; or the victims of the legacy of the Khmer Rouge still forty years on. Where is God in all this? Where can I find the Merry Christmas, or joyful tidings or season’s greetings in the dirt, destitution and degradation? It’s near impossible to reconcile a Cambodian Christmas with the picturesque Victorian images of Christmas the UK has inherited: a plump baby Jesus asleep in the serene manger, while the silent stars looked on over a quiet, orderly and clean Bethlehem. It seems so wrong and confusing.

But I think that the Cambodian Christmas is more akin to what actually happened in first century Palestine.

Jesus came to this damaged world. He didn’t arrive to live a life of cozy Christmas cards, tacky tinsel and steaming stuffing. Nor did he come to reject the poor, condemn the prostitute (or even the pimp) or to hang out with the rich and powerful. Nor did he, perhaps which is most confusing to us, come to wave a magical omnipotent wand and clean up the mess. That would just be sanitising the world, much like our cute version of the nativity does.

No, instead, Jesus (who had, for eternity, been dwelling in heavenly bliss) stepped down into the hurt and pain and hardship of this world. He visited the dead and dying, he invited the rejected, he blessed the outcasts. Jesus – the refugee, the carpenter, the rabbi from the backwaters of Galilee, the trouble-maker – had came to heal, to transform and to restore. Jesus, that little baby, had come to die so that a world reeking with death and decay could come alive once more. 

Simply, Jesus came because God’s heart broke.

God saw the pain and suffering far more than my fleeting glimpses as my tuk-tuk trundles along Street 2004. God knows everything from time’s beginning to time’s end. He sees the whole of humanity’s pain. God knows it and God’s love for his children and his creation surpasses anything that we could ever reach. 

And so he sent his son.

And because of Jesus, everything changed. We live in a changed and new world.

We live in the promise that we can be reconciled to God, our Father and creator. We live in the promise that Jesus can indwell within us and can provide us with the peace and the strength and the wisdom to navigate the hardships of this world. We now live in the promise that one day all tears will be gone and the world will be renewed.

This is the gift of Christmas. This is the good news. This is the news available for all, those at home and those in Cambodia. The priest, the prostitute, the pimp can all receive this gift. Not one person is too far gone or too broken or too unsightly that God’s love cannot reach them. For, the Bible tells us, whoever calls on the name of the Lord, can be saved. 

So I wish you all a happy Cambodian Christmas.