Writings by Cole Huffman

A Prayer of Thanks in Times Square

This last weekend I was in New York City (NYC). Saturday night we rode the subway from Queens to Times Square in Manhattan. You can now count me among the teeming masses who've sojourned that wonder of the media world. I was with another pastor from Memphis and our host, a NYC pastor. Times Square is to kilowatts what the North Pole is to snow. Flying out of NYC the next night, seated in a window seat, Times Square was so bright I thought I could make out an ad or two at 15,000 feet and climbing—without my glasses.

The New Years’ Ball drop happens there. I usually catch it on TV and tried to imagine the million people who'll press into those few city blocks precisely thirty days after my visit. The Ball on its permanent perch was pointed out to me. I took pictures of that and other things most everybody else takes pictures of there. Immense Mormon ads the LDS church paid Moroni-knows-what for were prominent. But then Broadway placed an ad for their satire musical, the "Book of Mormon," higher above the church's ads, which we three evangelical ministers found humorous.

Our host told us Times Square has been cleaned up through the years. NYPD officers are so highly visible now that prostitution and drug dealing moved out. I'd say they just moved up onto all the moving billboards and screens that vie to hook the heart through the eyes. As Jesus said, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). It's as if Times Square gives that one big Bronx cheer: "Fuggedaboutit!"

What I'll remember the most about Times Square, however, is the statue of Father Duffy, a World War I Army chaplain, Catholic, beloved by the NYC regiment he served in war and the NYC church (somewhere in the vicinity) he served in peace. The statue of Father Duffy is an eight-foot version him in uniform instead of vestments, holding a Bible. A seventeen-foot Celtic cross is behind him.

The statue, there since 1937, was a complete surprise to me. As a minister it was heartening. In a place doing its best to call attention to itself stands in sculpture one who did his best to call attention to Another. And that's what I'm doing in the world too, simply put. Like how Eugene Peterson once put it when he wrote the most essential thing a pastor does is stands before a people—a distracted, mesmerized, consumer-driven people—and says let's worship God.

And so I stood under the statue on a clear, cold night and looked around me: People everywhere. The lights of a thousand ads reflected a full spectrum of colors off the bronzed visage of Francis Patrick Duffy, and I was prompted to thank God not pharisaically but gratefully for placing me in the vocation He has. I want to be remembered for drawing people's attention to Him, most especially in just those "Times" and places when He seems to be the last thing on anyone's mind.
Posted by Cole Huffman at 7:16 AM
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