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Delusion at the Derby

Every so often you read something in the newspaper that initially strikes you as funny, then turns silly, then absurd, then obscene. It happened to me on Wednesday.

There it was on the front page of the sports section of U.S.A. Today. The headline read: "Sip slowly: $1,000 mint juleps at Derby." The Kentucky Derby is horse racing's most famous and lucrative event. I've often watched it on TV and wondered what it would be like to attend.

One of the things frequently mentioned during the broadcast of events leading up to the race is the traditional Mint Julep drink. I have no idea what a Mint Julep is or what it tastes like. But here is the article from U.S.A. Today. It was only one paragraph in length. Like I said, it first struck me as funny. That soon became silly, and eventually degenerated into absurdity and obscenity. Maybe I'm overreacting, but I'll let you be the judge. Here it is.

"As if custom-made hats, box seats and limo rides weren't enough, the Kentucky Derby will feature the $1,000 mint julep. The sweet cocktail will be made with one of the state's finest bourbons, Moroccan mint, Arctic Circle ice and South Pacific sugar and served in a gold-plated cup with a silver straw to the first 50 people willing to pay at the May 6 race. The pricey juleps will benefit a non-profit organization that provides homes for retired Thoroughbreds" (Wednesday, April 12, 2006, Section C, p. 1).

I've never drunk anything from a gold-plated cup or stirred it with a silver straw. Does that improve the taste? But that's not what bothered me. It isn't even the $1,000 price tag per drink. I could easily justify charging that much if it were for a worthy cause. And there are countless worthy causes that could use the $50,000 (or more) that will be raised.

What reduced this article from funny to obscene was that last line. "The pricey juleps will benefit a non-profit organization that provides homes for retired Thoroughbreds." Retired Thoroughbreds? That's right. Whatever else may be happening in the world, let's make sure 'ol Nellie has a never-ending supply of oats and green pastures and plenty of grazing space.

I'll be preaching in New Orleans later in May this year. My host plans on taking me on a tour of the lingering devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. From what I've heard and seen on TV, it's worse than a war zone. People are still living in indescribable squalor and poverty, but the folks in Kentucky are providing homes for "retired Thoroughbreds."

I don't know the poverty rate in Kentucky or the number of the homeless, but I can well imagine what $50,000 might do in some of the more economically strapped areas. Ah, but let us not forget the needs of "retired Thoroughbreds."

The effects of the tsunami more than a year and a half ago are staggering. So, too, the devastating earthquake that hit Pakistan. Children are left in abusive homes, the elderly are neglected, the hungry go unfed, but by golly we'll take care of those "retired Thoroughbreds."

$50,000 may not sound like much when compared to the massive needs in our society and in our churches. But you'd be surprised how far that kind of money might go and how much it might accomplish when placed in the right hands.

Missionaries are devoting their lives to spreading the gospel in countries that threaten them daily with persecution, if not martyrdom. Many of them are struggling to feed and clothe their families. Countless thousands go without proper medical care here in the U.S. (no doubt many in Kentucky) for lack of health insurance. But you can sleep at night and put your restless heart at east in knowing that some "retired Thoroughbreds" are receiving the best of care.

Some might think I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill. "Come on Sam, lighten up. It's only $50,000." Perhaps. But it struck me as one example of the perverted values of a society that has lost its moral compass.

I like horses. They should be treated with care and compassion. I've never been cruel to an animal (well, o.k., maybe a cat or two here and there). But selling drinks for $1,000 each to provide a comfortable retirement for race horses, while surrounded by so much human suffering, is nothing short of morally obscene. Shame on you Kentucky Derby. Shame on you.