You may be thinking that the dominant religion in my part of America is Southern Baptist. Afterall, the Southern Baptists and the Roman Catholics often combine forces in the state legislature and elsewhere in the political arena to wreak havoc on the rest of us.
But really the national religion of the southeastern United States is....American Football!
Rock 'em, sock 'em, stomp 'em, single-finger-wavin' FOOTBALL.
It has a ritual of tailgating, half-time shows, and dumping of Gatorade on the winning coach. There is the liturgical calendar for the weeks of fall and early winter: Friday night is high school football;Saturday is college football; and the pros play on Sunday and Monday. Occasionally, there are lesser saints days in college football where the network television companies anoint two teams to play on Thursday night.
And then there is Super Bowl Sunday...the Easter or Yom Kippur of all football days. The streets are empty beginning at about 5pm as the congregations gather in front of the wide-screen television. Every Episcopal Church I've ever been in has made a point of acknowledging that there is this ummm...cultic occurence that will likely mean the congregation is itching to get home and make preparations to place on the altar of chips and dip, so don't blather on too long about all this God stuff, 'kay?!
Oh, yes, the apostle Paul can say all he wants in First Corinthians about "food sacrificed to the idols". But many a southerner will gladly fry up some chicken wings, and open the ranch dressing as a food offering to the gods of (insert your favorite team colors here). Because these devotees to the gods of the gridiron know that the last time they ate chicken wings, their team won!
They even have their own prayers, as evidenced by this one sent to me by my dear friend, Diana the Steelers fan, pictured at the left in her vestments in preparation for this Sunday's service...I mean, game:
Who Art in Pittsburgh,
Rooney be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
5 Super Bowls won,
on turf as it is in Heinz Field.
Give us this day a Super Bowl victory,
and forgive us our penalties,
as we defeat those who play against us.
And lead us into a victory,and deliver us to Number Six.
I took part in the cultic practice of watching the Super Bowl, and was quite pleased with the outcome, and the game was exciting to watch (especially since my gods had had their wings clipped early in the season when the prophet Tom Brady was knocked out with a knee injury). And I am amazed that I not only had correctly predicted that the Pittsburgh Steelers would win, but I also almost got the final score correct (I guessed it would be 27-24...and it was 27-23!)
And so now the Church of Football closes down and enters the "off-season"...just in time for the National Religion of the North to call on its saints of bats and balls to report to spring training!!
Let us go forth and rejoice in the spirit of sport!