Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas

It was 1864, the American Civil war dragged on. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was in no mood for Christmas. His beloved wife Fanny had died in a fire in 1861. His Son Charles was a second Lieutenant in the Company G of the 1st Massachusetts. On November 27, during the battle of New Hope Church, Virginia, he was shot through the left shoulder. The bullet nicked his spine, and exited under his right shoulder. His father was nursing him back to health. He wrote the following poem, which later was set to music as a Christmas Carol.

Christmas Bells
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(The original poem, complete with all seven stanzas)

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

This is an interesting time we live in. The war in Iraq is officially over. Our troops there are in the process of leaving.  The Phrase Peace on Earth, Good Will to men, according to Luke, was sung by angels announcing the birth of a baby in the little Judean Hill Country town of Judea. It was the last place people would expect to find a Messiah. So, what did these words mean? They were supplied by a more mature Yeshua, as he stood and read from the scroll of Isaiah:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
   because he has anointed me 
   to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
   and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to set the oppressed free, 
   19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

'We have much to relate to with the poet. Two Thousand years later, the world is still at war. We look with uncertainty at North Korea, and Iran, and their leaders. We still have men and women in harm’s way in Afghanistan. But even more disturbing, is the bitter political wrangling which seems to paralyze our government.

As I reflect on Peace and Christmas, I ask a most fundamental question, How am I adding peace to the world? I reflect on the words attributed to Francis of Assisi.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

So, this holiday season, we greet each other, Happy Holiday, Merry Christmas, or Happy Chanakuh. Underneath all of that, I ask, am I an instrument of Peace? 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Merry Christmas

In Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, two men unsuccessfully attempt to solicit funds for the poor from Ebeneezer Scrooge during Christmas. They tell him, “We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.” This is a season where we pay attention to the stunning disparity between haves and have-nots. Children’s Medical Center, recently reported there are 192,502 children in Dallas County that live below the poverty line. About twenty-eight percent of Dallas County children, or more than 183,000 suffer from food insecurity and inadequate nutrition. Worldwide, 1 billion children live in poverty  640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health services. 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (or roughly 29,000 children per day).  The Director of North Texas Food Bank, Jan Pruitt says, “So what they give us is how we respond to hunger and is the community’s statement of how they feel about hunger.’
            There lots of things we can do to relieve hunger. First of course we can contribute money to those who feed the hungry.  North Texas Food Bank feeds three people for every donated dollar. But there are also new strategies on how to combat hunger. Social entrepreneurs are  using the proceeds of their business towards hunger relief.  I can help a local business and feed hungry people. For every bag of granola sold by Impact Foods, they feed a hungry child. They do this by purchasing  Ready To Use foods. They are typically peanut-based and are blended with micro- and macro-nutrients to take a child from severe malnourishment to a healthy weight in 4-10 weeks.  Nammi Truck, a local food truck donates a portion of t-shirt sales to local food banks.
There are political answers to hunger relief. The best way  to combat hunger is to combat poverty. One way to do this is encouraging local agriculture in developing countries. Bread for the World, a hunger advocacy group touted by Rick Steves, the NPR travel expert, writes that US farm subsidies make it impossible for farmers in third world countries to compete. Reducing poverty therefore requires improving opportunities for small-scale farmers to sell their products at a fair price. So it is crucial to have fair global agricultural trade rules. This isn’t charity, it’s fair policy. We should tell our elected representatives we want fair food policies. We should also tell them that even in this down economy we want to continue to prioritize direct aid for hunger relief.  
Finally, there are ways to relieve hunger that are sustainable. My wife and I have given gifts through Heiffer International. The founder, Dan West, came up with the phrase "not a cup, but a cow." They concentrate giving on livestock, training and extension work, and organizational development, which includes planning, management, record keeping, reporting and evaluation. They are helping people feed themselves.
There’s no end to the demands on our money. Like many small businesses, my income was down this year. Still, despite the current financial crisis in our country, I have plenty. We need to ask ourselves, how do we feel about children that are going to go hungry this Christmas? And then, what are we going to do about it? Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Powers of Attorney.

Well, I've been poking these Interwebs for many years now. I mostly write about nature and local arts. Periodically I run across interesting legal stories. I'll begin to post those here, as well as some general legal information. This is not intended as legal advice, because that requires more conversation that can be done on a blog.

Recently I've run across people who are asking for legal recommendations for lawyers that do wills and powers of attorney. I've been doing those for many years. There are products that you can purchase online. However, you need to be really cautious about that. While it is true that the forms are relatively standard, this does not replace the sound advice of a good lawyer.

What are these things anyway?

A power of attorney is a document that authorizes another person to act in your behalf. It should only be given to someone you trust absolutely. If you have a question about it, don't do it. It can save thousands of dollars if you are incapacitated. Without a power of attorney, you would need a very expensive procedure called a Guardianship.

There's another document called a power of attorney for health care. This is exactly what it sounds like.

Finally, there is a Directive to Physician. This only applies if you are in a terminal state and contains a directive to your physician about the procedures you do or do not want.

You may have heard horror stories about probate, but the fact is that Texas probate is relatively simple and does not have to be costly . Most problems can be avoided by having a simple will.

It really is important for people to have durable powers of attorney, durable powers of attorney for health care, and advance directives (sometimes called living wills). These documents will avoid the vast majority of problems you can have in an estate in Texas.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Law Man Walking at Front Burner