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Sorry, but God isn't a Ravens fan

Prayers for a football team are fine, but what about praying for those who are most in need of blessings?

By Melissa Otterbein

3:05 PM EST, January 22, 2013

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One of my favorite views of Charm City right now is entering into the downtown area from the 395 off-ramp. Our city is painted with Ravens spirit — purple lights dancing on skyscrapers, "Go Ravens!" posters taped to city windows, and my favorite: the billboard that simply said "WOW" after the Ravens' win Sunday over the Patriots. In fact, as I sit down to write this at the Towson Public Library, a woman just pointed out that the bookshelf next to me contains an entire collection of books with purple covers, complete with a border of purple stars cut out of construction paper.

Purple has become a unifying topic, bringing complete strangers together in conversation. All week at work, I've asked patients, "Did you see the game?" or I'd see someone wearing a purple scarf and fist bump in the air an amiable, "Go Ravens!" I think this is one of the beautiful things about sports: its ability to bring people together irrespective of socioeconomic status, race or political beliefs.

But I can't help but notice something else about all this celebration — something that disturbs me.

When did "football" become so intertwined with "God," like "God" and "America?" Faith and football, faith and flag. Is this what God is all about? Online comments sections are full of statements such as, "God was with our team" and "God blessed our team."

Is God not with the team that loses? Is God not blessing the teams that fall short? Is God up in Heaven writing out the play by play of who will pass to whom, and who will miss the ball, to make that person score, to make this team win?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying people shouldn't pray or talk about their faith in the arena of sports. We are all entitled to free speech.

But what if we had murals about praying for peace rather than praying for football? What if we talked about God in correlation with social justice as frequently as God is connected with America and sports?

Thousands of prostitutes will flood into New Orleans next week — many of them children. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has called the Super Bowl "one of the biggest human-trafficking events in the United States." Something tells me we are off kilter when we pray for our team to win the Super Bowl but don't spare a prayer for the 14-year-old girl being sold online as a "Super Bowl special."

It's not just football. We print "In God We Trust" on our currency, and loudly proclaim "God Bless America" at our public speeches and events. But when you look at Jesus' priorities, nationalism and public displays of religiosity were shunned.

So on Super Bowl Sunday, bring on the purple. Pray or meditate about the things that move your heart. But let's realize that God is much bigger than football. God is much bigger than America. God cares about more than blessing our "side," whether in sports, politics or world affairs. Let's remember that God loves and blesses all people, and for those who do not experience such blessings due to poverty and war, let's be conduits of peace and justice. And win or lose, let's remember how deeply God loves our opponents and our enemies as well as ourselves, showing no favoritism, as we are all equals in the eyes of our creator.

Melissa Otterbein, a research assistant at the Johns Hopkins University, blogs at http://melissaotterbein.wordpress.com/. Her email is melissaotterbein@comcast.net.

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