By Mel Damski
We always go to Christmas Mass wherever we are. This year we were in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and there are so many Catholic Churches here that we went looking for one church, couldn’t find it, and ended up driving by another one that was beautiful and had very few cars is the parking lot.
What the hell. Bad choice of words. What the heck, we decided to give it a try.
It was a old mission style church, Cristo Rey, with thick adobe walls and beautiful timbers on the ceiling. My wife went right towards the front and I sat in the back row, as I always do, because I’m Jewish and Jews aren’t supposed to kneel.
Apparently Moses knelt for 40 days and 40 nights when he climbed Mt. Sinai, but after the breakaway Catholics adopted kneeling as an integral part of their service, a Rabbi forbade the Jews from worshiping in that manner. The only exception is on Yom Kippur, the very holy Jewish Day of Atonement.
So I can’t kneel, and I don’t want to block the kneelers behind me, or make a big show of not being a kneeler, so I sit in the back.
The problem is you can’t see from the back of a church, or a synagogue for that matter. Unless there is a very high altar, you can hear the Priests and the choir but you can’t see them. There’s often a great stereo sound system but poor sight lines.
I’m a director. Sight lines, or in my case, camera angles, are my bread and butter. So I’m trying to see what the Priest looks like and who actually is in the choir and that old lady reading responsively sounds nice, I can actually see a piece of her red hat.
I want to yell “cut”. Really loud. Stand up in the back of the church and start barking orders. Have my construction department raise the altar. Get a couple of apple boxes under the podium to raise everyone up even higher. Have all the shortest people move to the front row and then we will seat the rest of you, row by row, by height, tall people in the back.
But my wife wouldn’t appreciate this and they probably wouldn’t listen to me anyway, even though it would be hard to argue my point.
My point being that you should construct churches and synagogues so that the people on the altar can be seen from all of the seats in the chapel. They got it right when they constructed the coliseums and arenas in ancient Rome. You could see every gory detail of the slaying of the lion or the goring of the gladiator from every seat in the house.
Why is this so obvious to me and not to the people who design and build these houses of worship? I understand that there might be some tradition involved, but would it really offend anyone if they added at least a little slope to the seating area. If that’s too hard to engineer, then at least raise the altar. Better yet, re-design it like an arena or a modern movie theater with festival seating.
You might be wondering at this point why I even bother going to church with my wife when I’m Jewish. It’s because we have a perfectly ecumenical marriage. We both totally respect each other’s religious beliefs and we have never tried to convert each other.
This makes for a good marriage but also serves as a very good model–people of different religions can peacefully co-exist and live in harmony, even under the same roof. Susan loves going to synagogue with me and my mom and my sister and I love going to church with her. She doesn’t wear a hat or prayer shawl at temple and I don’t kneel or take communion.
Two of our kids are Jewish and had Bar Mitzvahs. Those are the boys from my first marriage. Our two kids from Susan’s first marriage were baptized and had their first communion. Our youngest, Charley, our joint biological child, was baptized because my wife teaches in Catholic school and we both thought it would be great for him to go to the school where his Mom teaches.
One day I was driving Charley to school, he was in third or fourth grade, and he asked what the difference was between what Mom believed in and what I believed in. I told him that his mother and I agreed on everything that happened up until Good Friday. Then we had some differences in opinion about what exactly happened next, but we ultimately both believed in the Ten Commandments, in the power of prayer, and in peace on Earth, good will to Mankind.
As long as we both shared the same values, we didn’t think it was important to impose our own unique relationship with God on each other. In fact, there would so much less hatred, so much less violence, so much less mistrust between people if everyone felt the same way.
Originally published in the La Conner Weekly News
By Mel Damski, Producing-Director of the TV series “Psych” and winner of the Best General Interest Column by the Washinghton Newspaper Association.