for a beautiful derby day…

I’ve been promising my congregation a thoughtful editorial on “Creation Justice.” I keep postponing, not because it’s not important, but because I’m having a hard time knowing where to begin.

So, how about if I just ponder the bookends of my week?

Last weekend, Woodside hosted John Dorhauer, president and moderator of the United Church of Christ, one of our denominations. On Saturday, as an intro, I gave John a tour around Flint for a couple of hours. I give a pretty good tour – the one the Woodside search committee gave me more than 3 years ago, the tour that was a huge part of my being compelled to accept the call to come here. John said the only place he’d ever experienced anything that came close to what he saw here was Gaza. That’s a difficult comparison to forget.

This weekend, the Kentucky Derby will dominate the world of horse-racing and preoccupy many a Kentuckian, capping a two-week festival that began with the biggest fireworks show in the world. I will not be there, of course, but I lived in Louisville through 18 Derby festivals. Hundreds of thousands of people will sing My Old Kentucky Home, and they’ll listen to Dan Fogelberg’s 1981 tear-jerking song of baby horses, Run for the Roses. There will be myriad heart-warming stories told about the horses, plus the back stories of trainers, owners, jockeys, horse names, omens, coincidences. The favorite story this year — if not the favorite horse — is Patch, a horse with one eye.

But the stories less likely to be told are of the devastations of the racing industry: the over-bred horses that run on ankles like toothpicks, the 1-in-every-500 starts that ends in the death of a horse; the drugging of horses, or the panic in their eyes as ID numbers are tattoed on the inside of their lips; the jockeys’ desire for fair wages; the heightened fear among workers on the backside about immigration policy.

There is also the hideous story of the perhaps tens of thousands of economically valueless colts, bred and then sent to slaughter, to produce lactating mares who serve only one industry purpose, as wet nurses for more promising colts – those privileged weeks-old future racehorses who cannot stay with their own moms, because mothers who can produce winners are shipped off to be bred again almost immediately, after enduring an 11-month pregnancy. (You can read more about horse exploitation at PETA or The Horse Fund. If you think I’m wrong, give me better sources.)

Then, in Kentucky, there is the story of the sales tax-exemptions: racehorses and various aspects of horse racing (boarding, training, breeding) that could have provided millions of dollars to the state coffers, that is, the common good. Could have.

Saturday to Saturday. A tour of Flint, then the Run for the Roses.

In between, Monday I attended my partner’s swearing in as a new attorney, a member now of the Kentucky Bar. At the ceremony, the speaker was Allison Connelly, a law professor and former public defender. She riffed a bit on the 14th Amendment — the one guaranteeing every person due process and equal protection of the law. She talked about how our understanding of that amendment is continually evolving, a generally good thing; then, she called on all the new attorneys to stand on the side of someone, to raise their voices when they see injustice. In so many cases, in civil disputes, (like over water bills), she reminded them, there is no guarantee of an affordable attorney. So, they should offer themselves for free, to help make “equal protection” a reality for someone who has been injured or oppressed.

I thanked her afterward, and pondered how her work and mine are similar, how the call to all of us is really the same: to use our voices.

Flint’s devastation. The Derby’s exploitation. And a law professor’s invitation.

Creation Justice. In the church, it is what we might also call environmental justice. Or stewardship of creation. It might make us think of recycling or adjusting thermostats. But that’s not the whole story.

I don’t think of Creation Justice as having figured out the perfect way to participate in life on the planet. It isn’t simply zero carbon footprint or no cut trees or eradication of Styrofoam, although all of those are worthy goals.

Creation Justice is rather, for me, about equal protection for the whole creation, which is Micah’s reminder that we are to walk humbly with God, which is about remembering that the planet doesn’t belong to us.

It is about mindfulness, about us paying attention, being willing to see, about making connections, about noticing the impact we have and taking responsibility for whatever are the painful by-products and collateral damage of the things we do and make — like horse-racing and fireworks shows and coal-mining and fracking and palm oil and plastic water bottles by the gazillions. And like the way we use animals, what a Stanford Law online journal called “a leading cause of everything,” valuing their lives less than ours, raising them for their meat, their skin, their secretions, using them in laboratories or for our entertainment.

It’s about that, about all that.

And then it is about us raising our voices, calling out the injustices and unsustainabilities, and learning to live a new way — as partners, even as partners with trees, or rivers, or pigs — or horses that can’t yet stand on their own wobbly legs.

Happy Derby, y’all.


About Deb Conrad
I’m Deb Conrad, pastor, teacher, photographer, writer, antique-lover, cat-mom, wine-drinker and old-house-seeker. I have a bike by Burley and knees by Stryker. I play guitar marginally, bowl when I can. I live in Flint, Michigan, with previous lives in SC, NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC, TX, CA and KY. I founded and still help run UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville (link below), where I meet interesting people and try to do what I can to change the world. I'm pastor of Woodside Church in Flint, a groovy place if ever there was one.

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