Unfinished business

Peace Park Ashbury

2023 is finished, but it turns out to be a year of unfinished business.

On a high point of inner-western Sydney, Peace Park surrounds a water tower – looking south is the valley of the Cooks River.
A plaque in the park tells you that is what was called Canterbury Vale – the land given to Richard Johnson, the first colonial chaplain and a hero to evangelical Christians in Sydney. But recently, a friend said something to me about our local park that made me think.
“The middens are still down there along the river. There would have been lots of people there. What happened to them.”
Like me, my friend is an evangelical Christian. He is a Presbyterian, and I am a Sydney Anglican.
We occupy a land, suburbs, once inhabited by others. It is especially painful that the coming of the gospel to this land immediately and directly impacted the Wangal people.

This year, I spent two or three weeks working for something that never happened – the Yes vote for a First Nations voice. Long hours at the pre-poll. A Longer day as a booth captain.
But whatever the vote, there is still unfinished business as we live in a haunted land.


There were wonderful moments in the two weeks I spent seeking “yes” votes. The elderly Chinese man who beamed at me – he would have beamed at anyone, including those handing out for the other side if they had been there – and said, “Freedom!”. Maybe for the first time in his life, he had a free vote and could vote any way he liked.

And the day after, we had a barbeque around the corner for the disability sports club for which I volunteer. Around the corner, that is, from the polling place in the local school where I had been campaigning. And some of the regulars for Saturday tennis had spotted me. How could they not – that “Yes” tee shirt stood out. But that day, we were all mates, although I had been sprung. And even though we had a campaigner who had handed out how-to-votes for the other side.

I am still sad at the result. But I am pleased to live in a country where we can vote on a really important topic, and life can go on.


And then came along another conflict, marked by life not going on for thousands.

Two other people groups in our land are greatly affected – the Palestinians and other Muslims, and the Jews by the war between Israel and Hamas. I have written in The Other Cheek that this was the year the progressive paradigm of “oppressor” and “oppressed” was broken, with both sides having a claim to a just cause.

(That’s different from any argument that either side engaged in a just war – a good topic this column won’t quite get to.)

Haviv Rettig Gur of The Times of Israel has an interesting take – that there are two sides that regard themselves as vulnerable – and their vulnerability drives their need to engage in violence – when the intifadas and other attacks, some horrific, some terroristic by the Palestinian side, and the strong military response, some brutal, by the Israelis. Gur believes that this mutual vulnerability has seen the breakdown of peace negotiations decade after decade.

So this leaves our year of 2023 with unfinished business.

These are but two examples of unfinished business – large-scale unfinished business. In our personal lives, for some 2023 will have been the same on a personal level. i sincerely hope not, but enough people will read this that i can be sure that prayers and tears would have marked this year.

2023 has been a distressing year of division and uncertainty. Every year, though, is a year of unfinished business. It is a more than usual savage reminder that we live in “the time between,” when we await the fulfilment of the ages when Jesus returns. We have been promised strife and confusion on the earth until he comes again.

Sometimes the fulfilment of a promise is not about something that brings joy.

2023 has been a year to shock us out of the complacency of drifting through the years. What some have called a new normal is actually the normal. Our reserves of compassion have been tested this year and will continue, it seams to be tested as we start a new year. But normal, is well, normal.

Correction: Richard not Samuel Johnson