Help Me Jesus

The Holy Land Experience is an Orlando Christian theme park run by the Trinity Broadcasting Network. It bills itself as a “living, biblical museum.” There are no roller coasters, but there is a Smile of a Child Adventure Land and a Theater of Life. Unfortunately, they recently suspended the live crucifixions.

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When I touch down in Orlando, I get the sense nothing is real here.

I have been to Miami several times.

I have eaten a Cuban sandwich, danced at the Versace mansion, and swam past a small shark. South Beach, while flashy and fake in its own right, seems more authentic than the sweaty families in flip-flops and mouse ears.

The airport terminal is filled with teenage dance teams in sparkly tank tops that say “Winner!” Several women are wearing neon shorts that could only have been bought off the children’s rack. Everyone is eating something off a stick.

I am the only person dressed in all black.

Outside of the airport, people look faded, their spirits washed out by the sun. Signs on the road advertise the basics: Pawn and Guns, Food and Drink, Lotto and Beer. A car wash tries woo business by listing services “gentle as a manatee.”

Everything in Orlando is flat and damp like crushed storage sheds.

***

I park next to the Jerusalem City Gate. Sprawled out on these lacquered lawns are Noah’s guests in life-sized ceramic. The animals mix and mingle in the park’s post-flood paradise. The lions look sedated. The pandas plead for a rescue. Even the zebras look embarrassed to be there.

A cutout of a fig-leafed Adam stands next to a kangaroo. They both point to the ticket booth. Adam is hairy and smiling. Eve is nowhere to be found. Across the lane is the nativity scene with the Baby Jesus and his extended family.

All are made of plastic.

A Japanese couple poses between the Wise Men as they hug the donkey.

Near the entrance, a marble statue of Jesus’ face looks like it was carved from a gigantic bar of soap. His eyes follow us “with love.” It is very quiet.

No screaming children, no broken parents, no sounds of fun.

I feel something but I know it is not the presence of God.