I used to go to church. Not sure why really, except that it was the easiest way to meet gay choreographers and have big women think I was cute. Since about 12, though, I've approached religion with the same giggled-up anxiety that accompanies my stumbles into Fairvilla MegaStores, i.e. writhing uncomfortably and having to pee.
So it's no surprise that my hands are clammy and my bladder full when I meet Holy Land Experience marketing guy Gregg Halteman at the entrance to the theme park. I'm here to cover the unveiling the park's centerpiece, The Scriptorium, and experience the glory of the Lord. Heh, heh.
"The Jerusalem street market that you enter through is sort of a decompression zone to help you suspend your disbelief so that you can kind of go back," excuses Halteman, obviously aware of my compression. "Because once you enter here, everything has been carefully designed to really shield all 20th-century trappings."
The prevalent view of Interstate 4 from the park ensures that Halteman is lying, which is fine. If they try to burn me at the stake, I'll have an escape route.
For now, I'm on a calm-voiced guided tour with Halteman draping nice-guy rhetoric over the horribleness of the park. I'm the devil, you know.
"It's all about biblical history, Christianity, the foundations of it. There's no hidden agenda," he hides. "It is what it is. And folks have a hard time, I guess, because it is a different kind of museum experience."
Talk of "taking it to a new level" necessarily follows as I search for an ashtray. Instead I find the real holy land, in miniature.
"This is the largest indoor model of the ancient city of Jerusalem in the world," my guide boasts. (And presumably not an ashtray.) "`Jerusalem` was only a mile across, and there were a 100,000 people living there. You could literally walk from one end of the city to the other without touching the ground."
What does that mean? This is religion. I'm just supposed to make like Cher and "Believe."
"And this over here would be like the MetroWest of the city," he chortles, pulling comparative relevance out of seemingly nowhere. "The Greek influence was very high here. It's MetroWest."
What does that mean? Cher?
Anyway, seeing as I'm about 30 minutes early (a half-hour B.C., I figure) for the event at hand, I'm left to wander the Holy Land alone, frighteningly enough.
Dazed and giggling I stumble upon a life-size replica of Jesus' tomb. Here I learn that the Lord might have been embalmed with 100 pounds of aloe. Sticky! And a loincloth draped across a stone bed represents what might have been his last sarong. Sexy!
Meanwhile, back at The Scriptorium, the press conference is getting under way. As each of four speakers goes deeper and deeper into religious heavy handing, the skies grumble with barometric discontent. The local press corps and I start to worry about our hair.
"What are you doing here?" winks Fox 35's Melissa Ross.
"Proverbial whore in church," I light up and grumble.
"This morning you will witness the simulated special effect of William Tyndale burning at the stake," warns our final speaker. "While people were burning to death, a persecuting bystander would take their Bible, dip it in their blood, and hold it up as a warning to all carrying the scriptures, then throw it into the fire."
Only Tyndale's Bible survived and is the main attraction here at The Scriptorium. Blood stains and all. Simulate special effect here.
And oh, dear reader, if only I could simulate the sheer hilarity of the tour that follows, the absurdity of journalists being pressed through cheaply rendered 16th-century religious persecution while taking notes and trying not to laugh. How I wish, how I wish you were here.
"Run! Run! Run with the word of the Lord!" urges an animatronic Tyndale. "Run through the fireplace before they catch you!"
Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle go the journalists as the fireplace opens to reveal a secret cavern. Oooooh!
"Look over here," beams a voice from above (Charlton Heston?) in the next room. "The stains on this Bible are the stains of real human blood!"
Outside a fake window, Tyndale burns at the stake. It's an unimpressive sight; think neighborhood haunted house, only self-righteously Christian, and you're halfway there.
By the time we hit the finale, I'm half dead, laughing, shaking and covering my face as a Hall of Presidents-style apostle review gives way to the voice of God Himself delivering a pyrotechnic reading of the Ten Commandments filled with scorn for those who fail to heed them. All hope is lost (sniffle, sniffle).
Except there's a totally cute monk whose been towing behind the tour. We exchange glances, and my faith is instantly renewed. Just like a prayer.