Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, July 21, 2014

Thank God for the “disinterested” of this world.

The plaque in the ruined Church of Holyrood in Southampton. "The Disinterested"

A man was telling us all the “beautiful” places in the UK we ought to have been visiting. We listened but we have not really come here for natural scenery. To be honest, if natural scenery is what we want to see, we would not have to move from NZ. I look at some of the photos by my facebook friends of NZ places and I am astounded again at the amazingly beautiful country we live in. We are not travelling looking for beauty, though there are nice spots in the UK.  No, we have been enjoying looking at old buildings, reading up on history and catching a feel of the movements of time that led to the society we enjoy today. It has been fascinating and each place we visit opens up new understandings.
In Southampton we came across this plaque. There had been a deadly fire in the Parish and a group of men had rushed in to save the people, but they were killed or mortally injured in the attempt. When the Church was rebuilt the grateful town placed a memorial plaque that was headed up;
“Sacred to the memory of twenty two brave and disinterested men … who in attempting to check the ravages of a calamitous fire in this parish … perished in the flames etc…”  When we first read it we thought “disinterested”? What do they mean, “disinterested”? These guys got involved? How could they be described as “disinterested”?  What it means, it seems, is that they got involved, but they didn’t have to. It wasn’t their responsibility. It wasn’t their families burning! They could have been spectators.  Saving the fire would not have brought reward or return to them.  They were “disinterested” but they were still prepared to get involved. That was why they were valued so much, they went above and beyond what could be expected of them to help their fellow humans. 
There is a second thing that I have noticed.  As I have learned about the movements and events of history there has been some horrible times for people. Economic systems, feudal ways of running society, changes in farming or industry, disease and such like have brought miserable times, poverty and hardship for people. But alongside that I have found that there have been a few people in each age who have felt called to be there and provide help for the poor. A rich Lord in North of Scotland employed proud poor people on a project just to give them some money to live off without making them feel like charity cases. The structure they were building he did not need, and he even got some to pull it down regularly so that the work would still exist. He had made money elsewhere but felt the need to share it when he saw the poverty back home. In Scottish cities there were often church based groups who reached out to the poor and vulnerable in the midst of times of hardship and change. Sometimes enraged preachers would provide programs, but also bravely preach against injustice.  In Southampton in the 1200’s Franciscan Friars set up accommodation, hospitals, gardens and markets for the poor. Again in Southampton in medieval times Church sisters set up a hospital and community for leprosy sufferers. Thank God for disinterested people of ages past who have gone the extra mile to help fellow humans when they did not need to.
I am thankful for those who do the same today. The people with me on the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. They needn’t worry about the running of a night shelter, fund raising, employing, providing a facility, but they feel compelled to be involved. In my St John chaplaincy there are many volunteers who give hours and hours for their community. They share themselves in compassion.  Thank God for the “disinterested” who nevertheless are prepared to get involved when they don't have to. Great stuff! 


Keith Harris said...

This is a good example of the evolution of language. A word is used in a different way to that in which it has been used traditionally. The new way becomes popular and eventually replaces the original meaning, the latter almost becoming archaic.
Perhaps the best clue to the original meaning of "interested" is when it precedes "party" or "parties".
Sorry to use your blog for my personal musings, Dave! I guess I should use my own blog page!

Dave Brown said...

:-) That's fine...