Oakland last night: “ethnic” food, architecture, and a gigantic Jesus

Oakland Cathedral of Christ the Light 02

No mundane baptismal font will do.

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.

Oakland Cathedral of Christ the Light 01My 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 mausoleum, where contestants begin, and end.

The mausoleum, where contestants begin, and end.

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.


It's a little hard to see the image of Jesus at night, but I'm assured it's stunning by day. You can also barely see the pipe organ's forward-projecting pipes.

It’s a little hard to see the image of Jesus at night, but I’m assured it’s stunning by day. You can also barely see the pipe organ’s forward-projecting pipes.

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.