The home of the Catholic Diocese of Oakland is a beautiful structure, inside and out. Designed by architect Craig W. Hartman, Cathedral of Christ the Light is a new landmark to Oakland (in that it changed Oakland’s skyline and the tableau of buildings that surround Lake Merritt) and the world: it is the first Cathedral built entirely in the 21st century (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craig_W._Hartman). I have always thought of the design as an abstract representation of hands clasped in prayer, but according to Wikipedia:
“Hartman’s vision for Christ the Light was likened to the image of a bishop’s mitre, shaped by steel and filled with glass frit.
“The worship space in Christ the Light is a vesica piscis shape (translated into English means fish bladder), the shape formed by the intersection of two circles. The walls are composed of overlapping panels of wood and glass rising skyward to form the vault, much like the scales of a fish. The design is inspired by the miracle of the loaves and the fishes in Christian tradition, among other motifs.” (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathedral_of_Christ_the_Light)
If you haven’t been inside, please drop in. The sense of space in the worship area is awe-inspiring. The mausoleum underneath the worship area is a quiet, dignified, and reflective space. The medieval-looking, glowing, watermark-esque Christ figure that looms above the congregation is impressive, both spiritually and technically. The ushers present near the front doors at the start of services are kind and welcoming; even to a curious and hesitant visitor who happens to be wandering by, like myself. Did you know that there is a small garden dedicated as a place of healing for survivors of sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy? Or a health clinic for those of us without insurance? That’s pretty cool.
But I’m not Catholic.
Now, just because I’m not of the Catholic faith does not mean I wish the cathedral wasn’t there. It doesn’t offend me and I’m not calling for some kind of secular rebranding of the structure. I’m playing pretend here; imagining what the building might have been used for in an alternate timeline; imagining that the same care, capital, inspiration, and devotion might go into all public buildings.
A Community Center of a New Breed?
What if Oakland built a great structure for its citizens on the same scale as the cathedral? Of course, as project housing has taught us, huge public institutions built by government don’t often turn out well, but let’s forget that for now. Or perhaps, taking inspiration from the private patrons of the cathedral (and ignoring the deep pockets of the Catholic Church), we can imagine that this new public structure is funded by Oaklanders, like you and me, who are devoted to Oakland and its citizens with a fervor that is on par to that of Christians to Christ! Instead of a gift shop, offices for church staff, a mausoleum, a house of worship, and other things on the more religious end of the spectrum, what could go in such a building? The cathedral covers about one large city block. So let’s see:
- A Low-Cost or Free Food Dispensary
- Let’s take a page from the cathedral and put in an expanded health care facility for the uninsured.
- Workout Facilities
- A ‘Hall of Humanity” available for use by any secular or spiritual group (perhaps a “keep your hands to yourself, do unto others” policy should be in place).
- Disaster Preparedness Facilities held by the public to supplement what the city has in place.
- A Free School for all age levels and cognitive abilities operated on a skill-sharing model.
- A Volunteer Bank with a system in place for redeeming hours worked.
- Basically everything to everybody who needs anything!
How is it funded? A voluntary contribution of 10% of the incomes of those who can afford it. I know, it’s crazy, right? But it is common practice in many religious circles. Sound too much like Socialism for you? Maybe I’m a socialist, I dunno. It’s an investment in ourselves, in this imaginary building and the services it provides.
And, of course, this is just a game.
As I write this, it seems like I’m just dreaming up a new age church. Well it turns out that churches, on a good day, often provide services that are lacking in the communities they serve. The fact that those services fall within the sway of a particular religious doctrine could be seen as a barrier by some potential recipients of those services. Why not use the church model in a less dogmatic way? Sort of take the church out of it. Replace and/or augment a belief in a deity with a belief and desire for the good of us all as living beings on a wet rock hurtling through the universe?
Alright, I saved Oakland. You’re welcome!