Voice for the Minority

Want to ignite a lively and spirited conversation with another individual or a group of people?  Start talking about God.  Perhaps one of the most debated, most mysterious, and most widely misunderstood topics of all time revolves around who God is, what God is, where God is, and what God wants.  And many conversations, as well-intentioned and even like-minded as they may be, have a difficult time sustaining themselves in light of the differences that inevitably arise.

So I would like to open the conversation up to all of you and invite you to share your thoughts and ideas and perspectives surrounding God.  Your God.  My God.  Our God.  No God.  This is not an exercise in making anyone wrong or making anyone right, but rather an opportunity to share and explore what is true for you.  Why do you have those deeply held beliefs?  Where do they originate?  How have they changed throughout the course of your life?  Are your understandings open to adaptation or change?  Or are they firmly etched into the part of you which drives your thoughts and choices?  Do you hold a set of beliefs as true now which at an earlier time in your life you did not?  Why is that?  What caused you to change?

I often hear people talking about “my God” or “your God,” and it causes me to pause and want to know more about that.    I also on occasion hear others who say there is no God.  I want to know more about that, too.  How is it that there are so many diverse and deeply held beliefs about God?  If it has taken years and years for humanity to splinter off into so many unique ideologies, where does it go from here?   Further separation?   Reunification?

Could it be that the greatest opportunity for all of us to cohabitate more peacefully in our world might begin by just creating a space for larger understandings to grow into?  Might it be that our own innate desire to be heard might only truly occur when we allow ourselves to hear someone else?   Do you oftentimes feel like you are talking but nobody is listening?

If somebody was listening — intently listening — to your thoughts about God, what would you say?

I invite you to share them here.

(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida.  To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

If, as Conversations with God says, “love is all there is,” why is our planet experiencing so much “hate”?

This question came up for me as I stared at a map of the United States created by the Southern Poverty Law Center which calculated the number of active “hate groups” existing in this country, state by  state, in the year 2013.  I also noticed, as I perused the map, that Florida, the state within which I currently reside, is documented as having the second-highest number of actual chartered groups of people who use “hate” as their platform.  The state in which my son lives, California, is number one.  You can view their map here.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website, they have used the definition of “groups who have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics” as the basis upon which to collect their statistics and generate their map.

Typically, at least for me, when envisioning what has been labeled a “hate group,” there are certain sects of people that jump quickly to the forefront:  Ku Klux Klan, Westboro Baptist Church, white/black supremacy and anti-LGBT organizations.  Yes, these are the obvious ones, the ones we see in the news, the ones who we quickly identify as members of our community who have publicly announced their intolerance and separatist belief systems to the world.

But how far-reaching are the tentacles of the ideologies that support and innervate these factions?  How deep do they flow into our own personal relationships?  How are they impacting the thoughts and perspectives of the people who we find ourselves interacting with on a day-to-day basis?  And what exactly constitutes “hate”?  Do the recent racist comments of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling fall into such a category?  Do Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of a bakery in Oregon, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, who refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple based upon their Christian beliefs fall into such a category?  Do the people who post humiliating and derogatory pictures of overweight people and children in Wal-Mart on Facebook even fall into such a category?

Conversations with God tells us that even the most egregious behaviors and actions are always rooted in love, that each and every choice we make, as distorted as it may be, is an outgrowth and expression of love.  Even a child on the playground might take a ball or a toy away from one classmate with the intention of sharing it with his/her best friend.  A single mother whose bank account has a negative balance may steal food from the local grocery store in order to feed her children for the day.  And, yes, even in the taking of another life, underneath the violence and conflict, somewhere deep beneath what is readily visible, exists a complex, albeit convoluted, experience of love.

Perhaps “hate” is a strong word.  Maybe the use of it rubs up against you in a coarse and uncomfortable way or it feels unnatural or in opposition to who believe yourself to be.  If so, the next time you encounter someone, or even yourself, engaging in a behavior or using language that might have previously fallen under the umbrella of “hate,” what might happen if you ask yourself the question that began this whole conversation we are having here:  Where is the love?

Yes, truly, where is it?

(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida.  To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

Two weekends ago, 9 people died in car crashes in the Central Florida area.  9 people in one weekend.  A spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said that most of the accidents were caused by aggressive or distracted drivers.

And while it is shocking to hear that 9 people died in car fatalities within a two-day period of time in a single metropolitan area, it is not altogether shocking to hear the reasons why.

Our roadways have become a dumping ground.  Not for our trash or unused items — well, there is that, too — but for our energy and emotions.  Whatever semblance of kindness and compassion we claim to feel towards each other seems to mysteriously vanish the moment we place ourselves behind the steering wheel of our cars.

But why is this?

What is this phenomenon?

When we gather in a shopping mall, we do not behave this way.   Do we?

When we pass people on the sidewalk, we do not behave this way.  Do we?

When we attend functions our local communities, we do not behave this way.  Do we?

So why are we engaging in the kinds of behaviors in our vehicles which contributed to 9 people no longer being on this planet with us?

Sure, there are occasions in our lives when emergencies arise that cause us to feel rushed, stressed, hurried, pushed, and pulled.  But I am sensing that more and more people are living their lives as though the entire experience of their life is one big unsettled emergency.  We frantically scurry from appointment to appointment.  We enroll our children in more activities than they can reasonably enjoy or maintain.  We intrude on our much-needed hours of sleep to be more productive in our days.  We say “yes” when we really truly want to say “no.”  And then, when we can no longer sustain such a fever-pitch level, what do we do?  We flood our bodies with caffeine and sugar and other stimulants so that we can do more and more and more.

Like I said earlier, it is not shocking to hear that people are driving aggressively and distractedly, relying on the anonymity of their vehicles provide a place for the fallout of overloaded and hectic minds.

Why are we in such a hurry?  Where are we really trying to go?  Who are we actually trying to beat?  And if we think we know who it is we are trying to beat, what is it we are trying to beat them at?

And perhaps the most important question of all:  What does the long-term picture look like for our planet if we continue at this pace?

If life is not one big unsettled emergency, then what is it?

Your thoughts?

(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida.  To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

The internet, and more particularly social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, has become a cyber playground for people to connect and share and converse from all corners of the globe.  Millions of human beings every day are uploading photos of their children’s accomplishments, sharing nuggets of inspiration and wisdom, trading recipes with their circles of friends, and reuniting with high school classmates from days gone by.

However, there is a darker side to this vast cyber world.  As wonderful and informative and entertaining as the internet can be, there are people who have chosen to use this far-reaching resource to hurt and shame others in what has been labeled as “cyber bullying.”  This behavior is especially prevalent among young adolescents and teenagers, many of whom are moving through some of their most vulnerable and uncertain years in life.  The level of ridiculing and tormenting experienced by some of these teens has resulted in grave consequences – depression, loneliness, and even suicide.

But what is even more alarming is when bullying stories surface about people like Charles Fowler.  What makes this story especially disturbing is that Mr. Fowler happens to be an assistant vice principal in a South Carolina school, who, while at a neighborhood Wal-Mart store, snapped a picture of a young 6-year-old girl, a kindergarten student, uploaded it to Facebook, and captioned the unsolicited photo with these words:  “Honey Boo-Boo in Wal-Mart.”

Honey Boo-Boo is the star of a popular reality show on television which features a family who manages to encompass negative socioeconomic stereotypes, obesity, teen parenthood, large families, and child beauty pageants all in an exaggerated effort to “entertain” its viewers.  And Mr. Fowler’s attempts to draw some kind of crude connection between these two youngsters by posting this picture online has not only devastated and embarrassed this little girl and her family, it has also cost him his job.  He resigned after hundreds signed a petition for his termination and the school district placed him on administrative leave.

This particular story caught my attention because not a day goes by that I don’t see repeated examples of people making fun of others on Facebook, publicly ridiculing and taunting someone else because their clothes are too tight, their teeth are crooked, their body is too big or too small, their words are different, the color of their skin is too dark or too light, or simply because some aspect of who they are falls short of someone else’s idea of worthiness or acceptability.

Of course, there are those who think Mr. Fowler losing his job over this event is an overreaction, that his behavior does not deserve such a swift consequence.  What do you think?  Harassing and intimidating behavior or just good ‘ol fun?  Do we hold the people who place themselves in positions of leadership to a higher standard – teachers, principals, ministers, etc.?  Is that “higher standard” one we should all volunteer to be accountable for?  Why or why not?  What is missing in someone’s life such that they would actually engage in bullying a 6-year-old little girl for a laugh or two?  What is missing in a person’s life who thinks this kind of behavior is funny?   And while this may appear to be the act of one person, what responsibility do we all have for creating this situation?

What will it take to get to the point when people stop subscribing to exploitive tabloid magazines and “liking” the “People of Wal-Mart” Facebook pages and sitting in front of our television sets binge-watching episodes of “Honey Boo-Boo” and “Duck Dynasty”?   Will society eventually grow weary of emotionally capitalizing on other people’s differences?

Conversations with God says there is no such thing as right or wrong.  There is only what works and what doesn’t work, given what it is we are trying to do.

So my question to you is this:  Is this working?  And what is it we are actually trying to do?

(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida.  To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

In recent years, measles was virtually eradicated through the use of vaccines.  The same can be said for illnesses such as polio and whooping cough.  So why is it that within the past year we’ve seen diseases like measles suddenly reemerge – an illness which has been proven to be deadly in some children?

In recent reports, it is being suggested that the resurgence of these diseases is partially as a result of parents electing not to immunize their children.  It is suspected by some that vaccines may be the root cause of other life-affecting conditions, most notably autism.  And in an effort to prevent or minimize their children’s chances of experiencing a life with autism, some parents are saying no to vaccines altogether.

The debate is a heated one, and profound arguments are made on both sides of the fence.   Do we want to live in a world where our ability to choose is taken away or restricted?  How does the choice to not vaccinate your child affect the lives of those around them?  Whose choice does it become when the consequences, which can be deadly, are shared unknowingly by others?

Perhaps the ground-level consideration here for everyone to think about and talk about is what is our responsibility when it comes to the illnesses and diseases we are finding ourselves faced with.  There are some who believe that God intends for us to be subjected to painful life-threatening diseases and conditions, depending on how “good” or “bad” we are.  There are some who believe that the diseases we are experiencing are as a result of the way we interact with our environment with harmful chemicals and pollutants and the processed foods we place into our bodies.

So how did we get to this juncture?  Are the immunizations hurting us or helping us?  Is the way we are polluting our air and water contributing to the ailments we are facing?  Are the foods we are ingesting clean and natural, or are they laden with chemicals and preservatives?  Are we moving our bodies and exercising our hearts or are we allowing our muscles to atrophy and our bodies to become overweight?

I don’t know who or what is “at fault” for polio or measles or autism.  I don’t know how the medicines we are injecting into our bodies are affecting us at other levels.  Right now, a mammogram is the best tool we have for detecting breast cancer; yet there are many who are convinced that mammograms are actually causing breast cancer.   Which is it?  How are we to know?  How are we to choose?

The messages of Conversations with God tell us that our bodies were designed to live “a great deal longer” than the 50 to 80 years we typically see….”infinitely longer.”   And when I think about the vastness and intricate perfection of the universe in which we live, I am convinced that this is so.

My son is a young adult now, and, yes, he is vaccinated.  And, I, too, am vaccinated.  But I am wondering if I were faced with the choice today, with a young child, might I choose differently?   What about you?   How does your spirituality interplay with modern medicine?  How does modern medicine interplay with your spirituality?  When it comes to making important life decisions like this, what do you draw upon for your wisdom?  I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this.

(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida.  To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

Fred Phelps is dying.

Who is Fred Phelps?  He is the founder of the highly controversial Westboro Baptist Church, a man who is known for protesting high-profile funerals with signs that read “God Hates Fags.”  The church is widely known for its extreme positions against gay marriage and offensive demonstrations interrupting the funerals of dead servicemen.  And as you read these words, he is reported to be lying on his deathbed at a hospice center in Kansas.

And I am wondering how the world feels about his imminent passing.  Okay, on the surface, perhaps that seems a tad bit obvious.  It does not require a stretched imagination to think that many people will not be too entirely sad or disappointed to no longer see him physically be a part of our society, given the number of individuals he placed himself at odds with for one reason or another.  But I am also wondering if there is anyone anywhere who will be able to celebrate his passing not because of his discriminatory and intolerant behaviors here on earth and they will simply being glad to see him go, but because his soul, too, carried gifts and opportunities and remembrances for us all to experience.

How can intolerance be a gift?  How does discrimination provide opportunity?  What remembrances could possibly be had under the guise of hatred?

Fair questions.

It is one thing to say we believe something.  It is another thing entirely to implement those beliefs into a way of living, to actually incorporate them into the day-to-day choices and actions and events of our lives.

I may claim to believe that we are all one.  But am I able to live from that place of believing in the most challenging situations and am I able to apply that way of thinking in the most difficult relationships I find myself involved with?

I may claim to believe in a God who does not judge.  But am I able to afford that same understanding to ALL human beings, even those whose lives create pain and hardship for so many others?

I may declare myself as someone who loves unconditionally.  But am I truly capable of removing the conditions from my loving someone who, from outward appearances, is virtually unlovable?

Just as the little angel in The Little Soul and the Sun agreed to do, perhaps Fred Phelps chose to experience this lifetime as someone who would stand in darkness so that others may stand in the light.

So I am wondering how you feel about the Soul called Fred Phelps as the moment where he takes his last breath on earth draws closer and closer with each passing minute.  What are your thoughts about what his life meant to you and to our world?   Will you be celebrating that moment for one particular reason or another?

(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida.  To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

Texas death row inmate Ray Jasper is scheduled to be put to death on March 19 for his participation in the 1998 robbery and murder of recording studio owner David Alejandro.  He was a teenager at the time of the crime.  In an open letter to Hamilton Nolan at Gawker.com, Ray Jasper shares what he says “could be my last statement on earth.”

Jasper was first invited to communicate with Nolan as part of program “Letters from Death Row,” where all U.S. inmates with execution dates in the upcoming year were sent letters in an effort to give a voice to people who are sitting on death row, human beings who are not often heard and not often understood, to which Jasper responded.  His first letter can be read here:   First Letter from Ray Jasper.

Hamilton Nolan, Gawker.com, wrote back to Mr. Jasper, inviting him to correspond once again and to share his thoughts and feelings.  Jasper replied with a second letter (see below).  At the conclusion of his letter, Ray Jasper asks for forgiveness for being “longwinded,” as if we could ever place boundaries or limitations around this man’s gift to us all, as if his thoughts and perspectives could be contained in some abbreviated composition, as if we could truncate his most sacred ideas about life itself – even though we, as a society, have chosen to do exactly that with his physical life on earth.

I can’t help but wonder what my last statement on earth would be, what message I would desire to send into the world, what expression of Who I Am I would place before Humanity.

How about you?  What would your last statement on earth be?   What most deeply held beliefs about the death penalty, about life, about God, about humanity would you share with the people on planet earth if your last breath — at least in this lifetime — were scheduled to occur in less than a month, on the day of your execution?

(The following text is reprinted in its entirety from the website Gawker.com)

“Mr. Nolan,

When I first responded to you, I didn’t think that it would cause people to reach out to me and voice their opinions. I’ve never been on the internet in my life and I’m not fully aware of the social circles on the internet, so it was a surprise to receive reactions so quickly.

I learned that some of the responses on your website were positive and some negative. I can only appreciate the conversation. Osho once said that one person considered him like an angel and another person considered him like a devil, he didn’t attempt to refute neither perspective because he said that man does not judge based on the truth of who you are, but on the truth of who they are.

Your words struck a chord with me. You said that my perspective is different and therefore my words have a sort of value. Yet, you’re talking to a young man that’s been judged unworthy to breathe the same air you breathe. That’s like a hobo on the street walking up to you and you ask him for spare change.

Without any questions, you’ve given me a blank canvas. I’ll only address what’s on my heart. Next month, the State of Texas has resolved to kill me like some kind of rabid dog, so indirectly, I guess my intention is to use this as some type of platform because this could be my final statement on earth.

I think ’empathy’ is one of the most powerful words in this world that is expressed in all cultures. This is my underlining theme. I do not own a dictionary, so I can’t give you the Oxford or Webster definition of the word, but in my own words, empathy means ‘putting the shoe on the other foot.’

Empathy. A rich man would look at a poor man, not with sympathy, feeling sorrow for the unfortunate poverty, but also not with contempt, feeling disdain for the man’s poverish state, but with empathy, which means the rich man would put himself in the poor man’s shoes, feel what the poor man is feeling, and understand what it is to be the poor man.

Empathy breeds proper judgement. Sympathy breeds sorrow. Contempt breeds arrogance. Neither are proper judgements because they’re based on emotions. That’s why two people can look at the same situation and have totally different views. We all feel differently about a lot of things. Empathy gives you an inside view. It doesn’t say ‘If that was me…’, empathy says, ‘That is me.’

What that does is it takes the emotions out of situations and forces us to be honest with ourselves. Honesty has no hidden agenda. Thoreau proposed that ‘one honest man’ could morally regenerate an entire society.

Looking through the eyes of empathy & honesty, I’ll address some of the topics you mentioned. It’s only my perspective.

The Justice system is truly broken beyond repair and the sad part is there is no way to start over. Improvements can be made. If honest people stand up, I think they will be made over time. I know the average person isn’t paying attention to all the laws constantly being passed by state & federal legislation. People are more focused on their jobs, raising kids and trying to find entertainment in between time. The thing is, laws are being changed right and left.

A man once said that revolution comes when you inform people of their rights. Martin Luther King said a revolution comes by social action and legal action working hand in hand. I’m not presenting any radical revolutionary view, the word revolution just means change. America changes as the law changes.

Under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution all prisoners in America are considered slaves. We look at slavery like its a thing of the past, but you can go to any penitentiary in this nation and you will see slavery. That was the reason for the protests by prisoners in Georgia in 2010. They said they were tired of being treated like slaves. People need to know that when they sit on trial juries and sentence people to prison time that they are sentencing them to slavery.

If a prisoner refuses to work and be a slave, they will do their time in isolation as a punishment. You have thousands of people with a lot of prison time that have no choice but to make money for the government or live in isolation. The affects of prison isolation literally drive people crazy. Who can be isolated from human contact and not lose their mind? That was the reason California had an uproar last year behind Pelican Bay. 33,000 inmates across California protested refusing to work or refusing to eat on hunger-strikes because of those being tortured in isolation in Pelican Bay.

I think prison sentences have gotten way out of hand. People are getting life sentences for aggravated crimes where no violence had occurred. I know a man who was 24 years old and received 160 years in prison for two aggravated robberies where less that $500 was stole and no violence took place. There are guys walking around with 200 year sentences and they’re not even 30 years old. Its outrageous. Giving a first time felon a sentence beyond their life span is pure oppression. Multitudes of young people have been thrown away in this generation.

The other side of the coin is there are those in the corporate world making money off prisoners, so the longer they’re in prison, the more money is being made. It’s not about crime & punishment, it’s about crime & profit. Prison is a billion dollar industry. In 1996, there were 122 prisons opened across America. Companies were holding expos in small towns showing how more prisons would boost the economy by providing more jobs.

How can those that invest in prisons make money if people have sentences that will allow them to return to free society? If people were being rehabilitated and sent back into the cities, who would work for these corporations? That would be a bad investment. In order for them to make money, people have to stay in prison and keep working. So the political move is to tell the people they’re tough on crime and give people longer sentences.

Chuck Colson, former advisor to the President once said that they were passing laws to be tough on crime, but they didn’t even know who the laws were affecting. It wasn’t until the Watergate scandal and Colson himself going to prison that he learned who the laws were affecting. Colson ended up forming the largest prison ministry in America. He also foreseen in his book THE GOD OF SPIDERS & STONES that America was forming a new society within its prisons. Basically, that prison would become a nation inside this nation. He predicted that over a million people would be locked up by the year 2000. The book was written in the 8O’s. Now, its 2014 and almost two million people are locked up. It’s not that crime is the issue. Crime still goes on daily. It’s that the politics surrounding crime have changed and it has become a numbers game. Dollars & Cents. You have people like Michael Jordan who invest millions of dollars in the prison system. Any shrewed businessman would if you have no empathy for people locked up and you just want to make some money.

I don’t agree with the death penalty. It’s a very Southern practice from that old lynching mentality. Almost all executions take place in the South with a few exceptions here and there. Texas is the leading State by far. I’m not from Texas. I was raised in California. Coming from the West Coast to the South was like going back in time. I didn’t even think real cowboys existed. Texas is a very ‘country’ state, aside a few major cities. There are still small towns that a black person would not be welcomed. California is more of a melting pot. I grew up in the Bay Area where its very diverse.

The death penalty needs to be abolished. Life without parole is still a death sentence. The only difference is time. To say you need to kill a person in a shorter amount of time is just seeking revenge on that person.

If the death penalty must exist, I think it should only be for cases where more than one person is killed like these rampant shootings that have taken place around the country the last few years. Also, in a situation of terrorism.

If you’re not giving the death penalty for murder, then the government is already saying that the taking of one’s life is not worth the death penalty. Capital murder is if you take someone’s life and commit another felony at the same time. That’s Texas law. That makes a person eligible for the death penalty The problem is, you’re not getting the death penalty for murder, you’re actually getting it for the other felony. That doesn’t make common sense. You can kill a man but you will not get the death penalty……if you kill a man and take money out his wallet, now you can get the death penalty.

I’m on death row and yet I didn’t commit the act of murder. I was convicted under the law of parties. When people read about the case, they assume I killed the victim, but the facts are undisputed that I did not kill the victim. The one who killed him plead guilty to capital murder for a life sentence. He admitted to the murder and has never denied it. Under the Texas law of parties, they say it doesn’t matter whether I killed the victim or not, I’m criminally responsible for someone else’s conduct. But I was the only one given the death penalty.

The law of parties is a very controversial law in Texas. Most Democrats stand against it. It allows the state to execute someone who did not commit the actual act of murder. There are around 50 guys on death row in Texas who didn’t kill anybody, but were convicted as a party.

The lethal injection has become a real controversial issue here of late because states are using drugs that they’re not authorize to use to execute people. The lethal injection is an old Nazi practice deriving from the Jewish Holocaust. To use that method to kill people today, when it’s unconstitutional to use it on dogs, is saying something very cruel and inhumane. People don’t care because they think they’re killing horrible people. No empathy. Just contempt.

I understand that it’s not popular to talk about race issues these days, but I speak on the subject of race because I hold a burden in my heart for all the young blacks who are locked up or who see the street life as the only means to make something of themselves. When I walked into prison at 19 years old, I said to myself ‘Damn, I have never seen so many black dudes in my life’. I mean, it looked like I went to Africa. I couldn’t believe it. The lyrics of 2Pac echoed in my head, ‘The penitentiary is packed/ and its filled with blacks’.

It’s really an epidemic, the number of blacks locked up in this country. That’s why I look, not only at my own situation, but why all of us young blacks are in prison. I’ve come to see, it’s largely due to an indentity crisis. We don t know our history. We don’t know how to really indentify with white people. We are really of a different culture, but by being slaves, we lost ourselves.

When you have a black man name John Williams and a white man name John Williams, the black man got his name from the white man. Within that lies a lost of identity. There are blacks in this country that don’t even consider themselves African. Well, what are we? When did we stop being African? If you ask a young black person if they’re African, they will say ‘No, I’m American’. They’ve lost their roots. They think slavery is their roots. Again, its a strong identity crisis.

You take the identity crisis, mix it with capitalism, where money comes before empathy, and you’ll have a lot of young blacks trying to get money by any means because they’re trying to get out of poverty or stay out of poverty. Now, money is what they try to find an identity in. They feel like if they get rich, legal or illegal, they’ve become somebody. Which in America is partly true because superficially we hail the rich and despise the poor. We give Jay-Z more credit than we do Al Sharpton. What has Jay-Z done besides get rich? Yet we see dollar signs and somehow give more respect to the man with the money.

A French woman who moved to America asked me one day, ‘Why don’t black kids want to learn?’ Her husband was a high school teacher. She said the white and asian kids excel in school, but the black and hispanic kids don’t. I said that all kids want to learn, it’s just a matter of what you’re trying to teach them. Cutting a frog open is not helping a black kid in the ghetto who has to listen to police sirens all night and worry about getting shot. Those kids need life lessons. They need direction. When you have black kids learning more about the Boston Tea Party than the Black Panther Party, I guarantee you won’t keep their attention. But it was the Black Panther Party that got them free lunch.

People point their fingers at young blacks, call them thugs and say they need to pull up their pants. That’s fine, but you’re not feeding them any knowledge. You’re not giving them a vision. All you’re saying is be a square like me. They’re not going to listen to you because you have guys like Jay-Z and Rick Ross who are millionaires and sag their pants. Changing the way they dress isn’t changing the way they think. As the Bible says, ‘Where there’s no vision the people perish’. Young blacks need to learn their identity so they can have more respect for the blacks that suffered for their liberties than they have for someone talking about selling drugs over a rap beat who really isn’t selling drugs.

They have to be exposed to something new. Their minds have to be challenged, not dulled. They know the history of the Crips & Bloods, but they can’t tell you who Garvey or Robeson is. They can quote Drake & Lil Wayne but they can’t tell you what Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton has done. Across the nation, they gravitate to Crips & Bloods. I tell those I know the same thing, not to put blue & red before black. They were black first. It’s senseless, but they are trying to find a purpose to live for and if a gang gives them a sense of purpose that’s what they will gravitate to. They aren’t being taught to live and die for something greater. They’re not being challenged to do better.

Black history shouldn’t be a month, it should be a course, an elective taught year around. I guarantee black kids would take that course if it was available to them. How many black kids would change their outlook if they knew that they were only considered 3/5’s of a human being according to the U.S Constitution? That black people were considered part animal in this country. They don’t know that. When you learn that, you carry yourself with a different level of dignity for all we’ve overcome.

Before Martin Luther King was killed he drafted a bill called ‘The Bill for the Disadvantaged’. It was for blacks and poor whites. King understood that in order to have a successful life, you have to decrease the odds of failure. You have to change the playing field. I’m not saying there’s no personal responsibility for success, that goes without saying, but there’s also a corporate responsibility. As the saying goes, when you see someone who has failed, you see someone who was failed.

Neither am I saying that advantages are always circumstancial. Sometimes its knowledge or opportunity that gives an advantage. A lot of times it is the circumstances. Flowers grow in gardens, not in hard places. Using myself as an example, I was 15 when my first love got shot 9 times in Oakland. Do you think I m going to care about book reports when my girlfriend was shot in the face? I understand Barack Obama saying there is no excuse for blacks or anyone else because generations past had it harder than us. That’s true. However, success is based on probabilities and the odds. Everyone is not on a level playing field. For some, the odds are really stacked against them. I’m not saying they can’t be overcome, but it’s not likely.

I’m not trying to play the race card, I’m looking at the roots of why so many young blacks are locked up. The odds are stacked against us, we suffer from an identity crisis, and we’re being targeted more, instead of taught better. Ask any young black person their views on the Police, I assure you their response will not be positive. Yet if you have something against the Police, who represent the government, you cannot sit on a trial jury. A young black woman was struck from the jury in my case because she said she sees the Police

as ‘intimidators’. She never had a good experience with the Police like most young blacks, but even though she’s just being true to her experience, she’s not worthy to take part as a juror in a trial.

White people really don’t understand how it extreme it is to be judged by others outside your race. In the book TRIAL & ERROR: THE TEXAS DEATH PENALTY Lisa Maxwell paints this picture to get the point across and if any white person reading this is honest with themselves, they will clearly understand the point. I cannot quote it word for word, but this was the gist of it…

Imagine you’re a young white guy facing capital murder charges where you can receive the death penalty… the victim in the case is a black man… when you go to trial and step into the courtroom… the judge is a black man… the two State prosecutors seeking the death penalty on you… are also black men… you couldn’t afford an attorney, so the Judge appointed you two defense lawyers who are also black men… you look in the jury box… there’s 8 more black people and 4 hispanics… the only white person in the courtroom is you… How would you feel facing the death penalty? Do you believe you’ll receive justice?

As outside of the box as that scene is, those were the exact circumstances of my trial. I was the only black person in the courtroom.

Again, I’m not playing the race card, but empathy is putting the shoe on the other foot.

The last thing on my heart is about religion and the death penalty. There are several well-known preachers in Texas and across the South that teach their congregations that the death penalty is right by God and backed by the Bible. The death penalty is a governmental issue not a spiritual issue. Southern preachers who advocate the death penalty are condoning evil. They need to learn the legalities of capital punishment. The State may have the power to put people to death, but don’t preach to the public that it’s God’s will. It’s the State’s will.

If God wanted me to die for anything, I would be dead already. I talk to God everday. He’s not telling me I’m some kind of menace that He can’t wait to see executed. God is blessing me daily. God is showing me His favor & grace on my life. Like Paul said, I was the chief of sinners, but God had mercy on me because He knew I was ignorant. The blood of Abel cryed vengeance, the blood of Jesus cryed mercy.

There are preachers like John Hagee in San Antonio who have influence over thousands of people, who not only attend his church, but also watch his TV program, and hear him condoning the death penalty. Hagee doesn’t see his Southern mentality condones the death penalty, not the scriptures. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that condones the way Texas executes people today.

Southern preachers use scriptures like God telling Noah, ‘Whoever shed’s man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed’. ‘That’s murder. Under Texas law, you cannot receive the death penalty for murder. There is no such thing as capital murder in the Bible, where murder must be in the course of another felony. Yet, they preach capital punishment is God’s

will. Even if you’re guilty of capital murder in Texas, it doesn’t mean you’ll receive the death penalty. People get the death penalty when a jury has judged them to be a ‘continuing threat to society’. ‘That means they are deemed so bad that they have no hope of redemption or change in their behavior. That is the only reason a person gets the death penalty. They are suppose to be the absolute worse of the worse, so terrible that they cannot live in prison with other murderers.

That in itself is contrary to the whole Christian faith that believes no one is beyond redemption if they repent for their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ. For a Christian to advocate the death penalty is a complete contradiction.

As easy as it is for a preacher to stand up in the pulpit with a Bible and tell thousands of people the death penalty is right, I challenge any preacher in Texas, John Hagee or any others to come visit me and tell me that God wants me to die. Martin Luther King said, ‘Capital punishment shows that America is a merciless nation that will not forgive.’

Again, Mr. Nolan, this is only my perspective. I’m just the hobo on the street giving away my pennies. A doctor can’t look at a person and see cancer, they have to look beyond the surface. When you look at the Justice system, the Death Penalty, or anything else, it takes one to go beyond the surface. Proper diagnosis is half the cure.

I’m a father. My daughter was six weeks old when I got locked up and now she’s 15 in high school. Despite the circumstances, I’ve tryed to be the best father in the world. But I knew that her course in life is largely determine by what I teach her. It’s the same with any young person, their course is determined by what we are teaching them. In the words of Aristotle, ‘All improvement in society begins with the education of the young.’


Ray L. Jasper

Ps: Forgive me for being longwinded, but I was speaking from the heart. Thanks for the opportunity.”

(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida.  To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

There existed a period of time in the United States of America less than a century ago when human beings who happened to be African American were denied access to the same establishments and amenities as Caucasian Americans.  An owner of a restaurant or a movie theater or a neighborhood bakery could, and did, refuse to serve people based on one factor, skin color, even long after oppressive segregation laws changed.

Thankfully, there was a percentage of the population, both black and white, which shared a different perspective, a growing number of forward-thinking people who chose to courageously commit their lives to creating changes in the way people with diverse backgrounds and appearances interact with and relate to each other.  Activist groups such as the Freedom Riders, with a mere 13 members to begin with, were among the many who were not only determined to end segregation, they were willing to actually die to make it happen.  And that is exactly what they did.

Fast forward to 2014, and here we are again staring in the unforgiving face of discrimination and experiencing the stinging divisiveness of belief systems which are supported by ideas of separatism as the State of Arizona attempted to pass the Religious Freedom Bill recently.  Senate Bill 1062, if passed, would protect businesses, corporations, and people from lawsuits after denying services based on a “sincere religious belief.”  However, opponents of the bill fear that the legislation would lead to businesses discriminating against people, such as those in same-sex unions, based solely on the owner’s religious beliefs.

Over the last several years, Christian photographers, bakers, florists and others in wedding-related occupations have faced lawsuits and criminal penalties all across the country for declining to provide their goods and services for same-sex wedding ceremonies and receptions.  And according to Nate Kellum, Chief Counsel for the Center for Religious Expression, these actions have cost people their livelihoods as they face daunting court costs, fines, negative press and even boycotts for refusing to compromise their faith.

After both chambers of the state legislature approved S.B. 1062, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, claiming it “could divide Arizona in ways we could not even imagine and no one would ever want. The bill was broadly worded and could result in unintended negative consequences.”

What does the passing, or not passing, of a bill like this mean to you?  Do we want to live in a world where business owners are selectively serving people who walk through the doors of their establishments based on sexual orientation or skin color or socioeconomic status or political preference?   Are a conservative Christian’s religious beliefs being compromised if they bake a cake for a same-sex couple?  If a restaurant owner serves a meal to a gay couple, is he or she being deprived of the opportunity to “live out their faith”?   Should a hairdresser be able to turn away someone who has had an abortion or refuse to cut the hair of a person who has given birth to a child outside of marriage?  Do we want to see the day (again) when a realtor won’t sell a house to an interracial couple?

Conversations with God invites us to consider the possibility that some of our greatest gifts and remembrances are provided to us within the context of the exact opposite showing up in our lives.  Just as we declare ourselves to be loving, someone who is perhaps more difficult to love appears.  Just as we declare ourselves to be patient, someone who requires a higher level of patience arrives in our experience.  Just as we declare ourselves to be kind, someone less-easy-to-be-kind-to will be placed before us.  It is one thing to declare ourselves as loving, patient, or kind; it is another thing to be provided the opportunity to actually experience and know ourselves as loving, patient, or kind.

So what might happen if a person were provided the opportunity to express the depths of their faith and love with somebody who stood before them in a different form, perhaps challenging their current viewpoint?  What then might they be allowed to know about who they really are and the capacity of their ability to love?

We may observe some of these laws get pushed through the political system, perhaps by influential groups with deep pockets, and some of these kinds of laws already exist on the books.  But regardless of what words get etched into the voluminous pages of our law books, what is the society we truly desire to experience and live in?  Do we want to exist in a world where a list of “suitable” or “unsuitable” patrons is tacked to the front door of the places we frequent?  Who is truly free in that kind of system?

It only took 13 people back in the 1960s to ignite a social revolution by forming the Freedom Riders.   What will it take now?  And where will you choose to be?

(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida.  To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

In the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark, several school children and families gathered around to watch the body of a perfectly healthy baby giraffe named Marius be skinned and chopped up before being fed to the lions.  According to the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, Marius was genetically too similar to the other giraffes in its breeding program. Because captive animals are bred from a limited gene pool, zoos are monitored to prevent inbreeding and ensure the health of future generations.


Despite protests, online petitions, rescue offers, and tenders of up to $680,000 from outside sources hoping to spare Marius’s young life, this peaceful 18-month-old giraffe was deemed “surplus” by the zoo administrators and sentenced to death with a bolt gun.   Lethal injection would have contaminated the flesh, making its carcass unusable and inedible.

A spokesman from the Copenhagen Zoo said parents were given the option to decide whether their children should watch what they have labeled “an important display of scientific knowledge about animals.”  Many parents thought the butchering of this baby giraffe was an experience that their children would benefit from watching.  And just as families are known to gather alongside the street to watch a parade, these parents gathered together and encircled the horrific event with their kids at their sides, some grimacing, some taking photos.

“I’m actually proud because I think we have given children a huge understanding of the anatomy of a giraffe that they wouldn’t have had from watching a giraffe in a photo,” Tobias Stenbaek Bro told The Associated Press.

Bengt Holst, the zoo’s scientific director, compared the situation to the way parks cull deer to keep the whole population healthy.  He said, “Giraffes today breed very well, and when they do, you have to choose and make sure the ones you keep are the ones with the best genes. The most important factor must be that the animals are healthy physically and behaviorally and that they have a good life while they are living, whether this life is long or short.”

According to Danish media, Copenhagen Zoo destroys 20-30 animals a year, including bears, tigers and zebras.  Elisa Allen, spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the U.K., said Marius’ case should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who “still harbors the illusion that zoos serve any purpose beyond incarcerating intelligent animals for profit.”

Undoubtedly, this story is stirring up strong feelings and igniting conversations around the world over whether the zoo’s actions were cruel, unnecessary, and inhumane, and also whether the young children who witnessed the slaughtering of Marius experienced it as an “educational opportunity” or something much more alarming and life-changing.

Within the messages of Conversations With God, we were told that “you shall know that you have taken the path to God, and you shall know that you have found God, for there will be these signs, these indications, these changes in you” – The 10 Commitments.  Number 5 in those Commitments is the following:

“You know you have found God when you observe that you will not murder (that is, willfully kill, without cause).  For while you will understand that you cannot end another’s life in any event (all life is eternal), you will not choose to terminate any particular incarnation, nor change any life energy from one form to another, without the most sacred justification.  Your new reverence for life will cause you to honor all life forms – including plants, trees and animals – and to impact them only when it is for the highest good.”

When we intentionally kill a baby giraffe – or any life form, for that matter – because it no longer enhances the gene pool, does that serve the highest good?  When we teach our children that some forms of life are more important or less important than other life forms, does that serve the highest good?  When we demonstrate to our children that “less valuable” or “surplus” life forms are easily and uncaringly disposed of, does that serve the highest good?  What is the highest good in this situation?   Are we able to stretch our spiritual understandings far enough and wide enough to see what that highest good or sacred justification may actually be?

Your thoughts?

(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida.  To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)

CVS Caremark Corp, one of the largest drugstores in the United States, stated that as of October 2014 it will no longer carry tobacco products in any of its 7,600 stores around the country, hoping its voluntary decision will have a ripple effect among other pharmacy chains.

Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, said in a statement, “Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health.  Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

President Barack Obama praised the pharmacy’s precedent-setting move and said in a statement, “As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, and today’s decision will help advance my administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs — ultimately saving lives and protecting untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come.”

CVS estimates that it stands to lose upwards of $2 billion as a result of pulling cigarettes and other tobacco products off their shelves.  But when weighed against a reported $123.1 billion in revenues in 2012, it doesn’t appear that CVS will be feeling much of a fiscal pinch.

Tobacco still remains the number one cause of preventable disease and death.  A U.S. Surgeon General report last month linked smoking to 480,000 deaths annually, up from a previous estimate of 443,000 deaths. It attributed at least $289 billion in annual costs from smoking, including $150 billion for lost productivity and $130 billion in medical care.

But CVS is not being hailed a hero by everyone.  Many critics are calling into question the mega pharmacy’s decision to pull tobacco products while at the same time continue to stock and sell unhealthy processed food choices and alcoholic beverages.  Others are disgruntled over the restrictions and regulations being placed upon them as they watch their freedom of choice being chipped away at by just another big corporation.

Perhaps the drug chain is just following the breadcrumbs on the money trail, keenly aware of the significant decline in the number of cigarette smokers over the years and a steadily rising number of prescription drug sales.  Stores like CVS and Walgreen’s are the gatekeepers to highly addictive and oftentimes abused prescription drugs like painkillers, tranquilizers, antidepressants, sleeping pills and stimulants, which can be just as addictive and potent as the heroin or cocaine sold on the street.  And with the surging number of “pain management” clinics and pill mills popping up around the country, the business of pedaling prescription drugs has turned into a multi-billion dollar racket.

Maybe a company’s decision to remove a product known to harm people is as a result of a new world attempting to emerge, a world where the multi-million dollar corporations are forced to make changes in response to humanity’s evolution.  Human beings are waking up and wising up to tobacco companies engineering addictive products and marketing them disingenuously as “cool” or “relaxing,” no longer willing to sit back and watch cigarette makers rake in billions of dollars at the expense of people dying from cancer, emphysema, and heart disease.

So what do you think?  Is CVS’s decision a step in the “right’ direction, a cause for celebration?  Or is it another slight-of-hand marketing ploy created to divert our attention from what is going on somewhere else in their stores?  How does their declaration of “helping people on their path to better health” feel to you?  Authenticate?  Genuine?  Promising?  Contradictory?  How long will financial benefit continue to be a dominating factor in the way people and businesses operate and function in our communities?  In our world?  Are we well on our way or at least beginning to see the day where the collective desires and longings for a better world, a freer world, a healthier and happier world, a more spiritually aware and conscious world, will produce and bring forth exactly that?

(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida.  To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)