Oakland last night: “ethnic” food, architecture, and a gigantic Jesus
The various houses of worship I have seen throughout the world have all impressed me in some way, with their assortment of characters, aesthetics, and iconography. From the Buddhist prayer flags of Myanmar to the cavorting Hindu gods of Sri Lanka. The studious silence of the synagogue in Jerusalem to the studious silence of the mosques in Malaysia. (It’s amazing how much we humans have in common.)
I have also enjoyed time in the cavernous cathedrals of Europe, though their proximity to my own cultural foundation leaves them more vulnerable to critique, and I have trouble looking at expanses of gold without imagining how much blood was spilled to put it there. But there is a unique sense of reverence in their stony sanctity and stained glass.
But I ain’t never seen a church like this one.
My corner of Oakland is an easy place to hibernate, which would be a waste in a city this diverse and vivacious, so last night I mounted my trusty green bicycle to explore beyond the boundaries of my neighborhood. I ate savory lamb samosas in Vik’s Chaat Corner then headed downtown, where I found a spaceship sitting opposite Lake Merritt.
The website of Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light tells of the demise of the previous church (a more conventional building) after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. But the juicier story I heard was that after the old church was destroyed, the insurance company refused to pay up.
The community came together and raised the massive amount of money necessary to build a new and improved cathedral, but then the insurance company kicked in after all. Now the builders had twice their required budget. The result sits on Harrison Street like an extraterrestrial cocoon, has a mausoleum underneath that could host The Hunger Games, and the actual worship area was like none I have ever seen, watched over by a towering, yet relatively subtle, image of Jesus more easily seen during the day, when sunlight pours through the holes of the screen. Jesus Ra?
But the most stunning aspect for me was the acoustics. In between the snippets of hymns from choir practice I could hear every softly spoken word the choir master said as if he’d been standing behind me, instead of way on the other side of the nave (if that’s even the correct term for a space like this). When they finished singing, the music continued for several seconds in the stunningly designed space. I thought Davies Symphony Hall was incredible, but this transcends even that acoustic marvel.
All that listening had made me hungry. Luckily Oakland is one helluva multicultural town, so a few blocks away I took a table near the window where ducks hung behind Chinese characters. To my left four old ladies debated something serious in Mandarin, behind me eight African American men knew the menu inside and out, and to my right three men conversed in the fricatives of Arabic.
Authentic Indian street food, a nice ride past Farmers Markets closing up shop, a tour of epic architecture, and now succulent duck and barbecue pork?
Yeah, I can live in Oakland.
You are getting your footing 😉
🙂 Indeed. And luckily, happily, it often starts with feet on pedals. I was feeling like this post was one of the least-personal I could write, but leave it to you to notice my presence in it! 🙂
Oh come on….lol… You were all over the post… Just kidding… But in a feel good way.. Observing and absorbing 🙂
“But the most stunning aspect for me was the acoustics. In between the snippets of hymns from choir practice I could hear every softly spoken word the choir master said as if he’d been standing behind me, instead of way on the other side of the nave (if that’s even the correct term for a space like this). When they finished singing, the music continued for several seconds in the stunningly designed space. I thought Davies Symphony Hall was incredible, but this transcends even that acoustic marvel.”
Or Carnegie Hall.
I haven’t been there yet, but I would love to someday. It’s amazing what science, musical artistry, and a pair of ears can accomplish. I’m all fired up for classical music now…something with lots of cello…
There are few man-made structures that emit such tranquility as a house of worship
I think you’re right (especially with the specification “man-made”). There is some sort of residual solemnity or sanctity in a place where people have practiced and celebrated their faith in the divine, whether you agree with the particulars or not. Do you have a favorite such place?
Having lived in Oakland, myself it is interesting to see it through someone else’s perspective–particularly someone else who has traveled the world. Seems even more ethnically diverse than when I lived there. But maybe that’s more reflective of the different ways we experienced the city.
I find myself debating whether the church should have given some of that money to the poor or invested it in the cathedral as they did. I suppose a cathedral like this one could be spiritually feeding in ways that a more modest architecture might not feed. And as Jesus says, spiritual feeding is more everlasting. Who knows.
: ) I know just what you mean on what the church could have done with the extra money. I’m reminded of a little talk I heard about Senegal where the guy basically said that concentrating on feeding people was the wrong approach, even though it was hard to ignore. He advocated building something of lasting benefit instead, although in his case he meant internet infrastructure and a news service, not a piece of architecture, but perhaps the needs of Oaklanders are different from Senegalese. I’m not sure how I would have spent those extra thousands (millions?) of dollars, but I doubt it would have included so much marble. But I’m utterly inexperienced about serving a community on those terms.