Friday, July 18, 2008

"Growing in Grace...MEETING ANTICHRIST"

JULY 14, 2008

Chicago via Houston to Halifax

I am sitting in the Chicago United executive lounge listening to “Endless Boundaries” podcast (check it out on ITunes) listening to a great jam by Particle featuring Joe Satriani of all people…carrot sticks, white wine, grapes, processed cheese, and my thoughts on one of the most bizarre experiences of my life! Let’s rewind….

We landed in Houston Texas Friday night, rented our vehicle (Dodge Nitro, not really the best vehicle I have ever rented) and headed through the city to a southern commercial strip just outside the city of Sugarland…I absolutely love the name Sugarland for a city…anyway, we pull into our strip motel that just happens to share a parking lot with 2 of the biggest symbol of the great nation and empire of the Unites States of America…a Waffle House and the biggest monolithic Wal-Mart I have ever seen in my life…ok, picture the widest store front you can imagine, multiply it by 3, and extend the same length in its depth, this Wal-Mart is probably bigger…and even more iconic than the Pentagon. I smile…I am truly in America. There are no signs of suburbia, just miles and miles of commercial strip real-estate. One of these pieces of concrete jungle commercial property is a complex that was most likely used for commercial space in the past, but has now been over run by low income faith organizations…including the topic of this blog, our friend Luis de Jesus Miranda’s church, Growing in Grace. More on that soon, I promise.

Our night was pretty chill, we grabbed some $4.00 six packs of Wal-Mart discount beer, some Tostitos, a new bathing suit with cool “camo” designs, and jumped into the pool to deal with the ridiculously hot and humid South Houston heat, which even in the evening was on the upper side of the 100 degree teeter totter. We had no idea really of what we would be getting ourselves into the next two days. The crew consists of producer / director Jenifer Ascott, Host / Director / Producer Michael MacDonald, Sound Master Steve Outhitt, and Director of Photography Greg Hemmings (pssst, that’s me). Already I realize this crew is going to click really well, we are all on the same page and certainly think the same way about production, and having fun, I have a good feeling about this crew of cats. Anyway we finished our bargain basement beers (triple B’s) and hit the sack to get a good night sleep for what I consider the most bizarre production shoot of my life. I say bizarre not out of disrespect, just out of a complete feeling of awe that there are people that have the power on our earth today to sucker so many poor and needy people into what I consider destructive and profit making theologies. Trust me, I know what many of you are thinking right now…don’t all theologies today revolve around a money making scam taking advantage of the most vulnerable? Well in my opinion I do not believe that is the case, but stick with me, I want to address these issues as I put my thoughts into this blog/

Saturday morning the four f us starting the morning with a wonderfully greasy and tasty breakfast at the Waffle House complete with butter drenched grits, biscuits, bacon and eggs. Viva America! I pulled out my new Letus lens adapter, threw on the Nikon 85mm and shot our fearless host Mike as he came out of his motel room preparing to meet the man who claims he is “Jesus the Man” and also the “Antichrist”…big day! Anyway Mike looked great with the new lens, experimenting with depth of field is refreshing, something we can’t manipulate with video typically until now! Anyway its bringing me back to the film days, its nice to get back into the groove of using your brain to compose decent shots, missing apertures, shutter speeds, filters and lenses to determine focus…ok, focus, back to the day, sorry…

After our prelim shots at the motel, we travelled a few miles through more slightly depressing commercial strips until we ended up at the “spiritual” strip mall I mentioned earlier. It was interesting to see all of these vacant office spots converted into the venues of such diverse religious groups from a small mosque to southern black Baptists, to Pentecostal, to the gathering room of the subjects of our documentary, the “Growing in Grace Ministry. We met with Dr. Miranda’s PR girl, an extremely attractive Puerto Rican girl named Axel, in fact all the women in this religion are extremely attractive come to think of it…hmmm?!? Axel was very friendly and extremely helpful to us, knowing very well that any press negative or positive is good press for their organization, hence her being very accommodating to us as we got some shots of their church as they prepared for the next day’s big national convention where Jesus himself would grace a few hundred of his millions of followers in Southern Houston to reveal the next set up secrets and commands to help the followers become enlightened…his followers by the way are mostly lower income Latin Americans who mostly reside in South and Central America, with a movement ting grip in the U.S. and Canada.

In the small room which is one of many churches set up in the Southern States we filmed kids, teens, and adults as they prepared for the following day’s convention, and revelation from their god on Earth, Luis de Jesus Miranda. WHOA…THEY LL HAVE 666 TATOOED ALL OVER THEIR BODIES!!! On their wrists, on their necks, on their backs, and who knows where else…most of the little kids re wearing t-shorts and caps with 666 written all over them, the church has large photos of their leader hung on the otherwise bland white walls illuminated by fluorescent lights hung off the drop ceiling, in all his pictures Miranda has 666 and SSS symbols behind him, on him etc, as he looks very proper and business like with his hand saluting the people with two fingers pointing to his temples, a greeting that I noticed many of the “flock” used to greet each other. Even the young kids at the age of 5 and 6 where greeting me this way, this along with the 666 symbology wrapped around them all made me feel slightly out of place for some reason! Stop me if I m wrong, but 666 is the number of the Beast is it not? It is the number of the Antichrist and represents the end times, maybe this is something that little kids might not really need to wear on their t-shirts and ball caps? Maybe it’s just me!

E-Talk from Hollywood sent a crew as well, they where the other production that was covering this weekend. I sat in on their interview with Axel and learned a lot about their theology, here are the basics

  • God is man and he lives on Earth, he is an x-convict, x-heroin addict names Luis de Jesus Miranda, and he is from Puerto Rico
  • Miranda is not only the second coming of Christ, he is also the Antichrist, talk about a conflict in personalities!
  • Miranda will never die, after the transformation of his body he will be the leader of the global one world government, this will happen within the next few years, all of his followers will have eternal life as well right here on earth which is actually heaven.
  • There is no sin, when Miranda was here 2008 years ago, he dies on the cross and destroyed sin
  • There is no devil, there was one once, his name was Adam, but he doesn’t hang out anymore
  • There is no Hell, like I said, Heaven exists not in the afterlife, but on this physical earth
  • His followers proudly tattoo 666 on their bodies and wear the shirts and caps in public including school because the number 666 represents Miranda and it’s a beautiful number.
  • Persecution is a blessed thing
  • Celibacy is evil…whatever evil is? I lost her on that one!
  • The Catholic church is the whore of Babylon, then the evangelicals, then any other religion of course his is the only right religion.
  • They do not pray or study scripture, however their gospel of grace are the letters of the apostle Paul only, the rest of the letters where written by Jews and re therefore not valid…quite a claim.
  • The primary political goal is to completely shut down the Catholic church, then see Miranda rule all the nations of the world as the one world government of 666.
  • The followers will do anything the “dictator” s she called him, tells them to do, because he is God, and God knows best, like etching yourself with number of the beast, still can’t figure that one out
  • He has a few names that his followers call him other then Luis de Jesus Miranda including “Daddy, Dad, Pappy, The Man Jesus, Jesus Christo Hombre, Jesus, The Antichrist, The Beast, and so forth.”
  • There is a lot more I took in, but I will stop there… my plane is about to land in Toronto, I’ll continue on my last leg to Hali

I am back, ok so we all got pretty good idea about what Luis de Jesus Miranda and his Growing in Grace church is all about, unfortunately our schedule interview with him didn’t happen…from the words of his PR woman, “well we can’t really call God and ask him where he is…he does things on his time, we just have to wait.”. I am not sure that would fly well with the production company and the broadcaster if we came home without the interview because the Antichrist wasn’t ready to talk. She promised us that the next day she would be sure that de Jesus would be available to us, and also to the E Talk crew.

We ended up following the flock over to the hotel where most of them where congregating, in fact I actually met de Jesus’ daughter (she is also the organization’s accountant). Extremely lovely girl, very beautiful and soft spoken. It was a reunion of sorts, after everyone hugged each other and did some catching up, I was able to grab a few interviews and shots, one shot I got was the tattoo of one guy’s wrist, but when I started shooting everyone in the room gathered around me to get in on the filming, I did full 360 degree pan reveling at least 30 666 tattoos.

The weirdness escalated when big black Texan cowboy hats where handed out to all present, each hat a large felt cut out of 666 smack dab in the middle of the hat….you could see it a mile away I’m sure! It was really kind of disturbing seeing the young kids running around with these cowboy hats on, but weirder still was the unashamed conviction the followers had about their faith, their God (they call him “The Man Jesus”) and the importance of wearing 666 with pride. So we went to a mall and filmed them as they went around the parking lot handing out propaganda literature stating that the current pope is the most evil terrorist on the planet and that the Catholic church must die…all of this in the Bible best of America. It was really trippy to see people of all ages wearing these big black 666 cowboy hats, it was something I would expect to see in a Monty Python or Kids in the Hall sketch. So yeah, I filmed them give literature to confused and sometimes angry shopping mall customers. The members of Growing in Grace are known for this sort of public engagement, in fact there are many cities and even countries that have banned the organization from meeting in public places. Luis de Jesus is literally banned in 14 countries, they see this as a point of pride mind you.

The parking lot fun all ended when the cops showed up and tried to move them along, then the cop told me to shut the camera off…so I did, only for a minute though, the scene was so incredible I had to turn it back on, the cops trying to make sense out of this group of “new world orderites”. Then the police officer saw me still filming from a distance and he raced over to me in his buggy and angrily pulled out his cuffs and said “I’m going to have to arrest you, I asked you once to turn that off”…so as he reached for his handcuffs I passed the camera to our host Mike and said “Make sure you film this”…I was stupid and ready to be arrested, but the officer realized that it would be an unfounded arrest and with a camera filming the action he let me go. He told us to leave and never come back. We got some good footage. Then we went to our swimming pool and cooled off from the 40 degree muggy heat, and to kind of get back to a certain feeling of normalcy, even if it where for a few hours.

Next morning started at our favorite Waffle House, I put a dollar in the jukebox and played some Hayseed Dixie, Johnny Cash, and some other Waffle House song classics…this truly is Americana. We shot some scenes of Mike doing some commentary about yesterday’s weirdness. But alas it only gets weirder. We arrive at the Civic Center where the National Convention is going to be held, it’s a real nice theater, but only has about 500 seats, its weird, this guy broadcasts over the internet and on radio and TV channels around the world and has millions of devout followers, but at his USA national convention there where only a scattered 2-3 hundred followers, but this didn’t stop them from coming out in full glory.

We where ushered in by de Jesus’ security team, I’m sure he had 15 security officers with him, all standing with open eyes and ear comms making sure their master was well protected….protected from what? Well he has had many death threats, but he told us later in the interview that he is never going to die and the security is mostly to keep him protected from smotherings of love from his devote flock. It was interesting to hear the head security guard ask one of the other security guys “Has DAD arrived yet?”…everyone is on board with this guy!

He finally shows up, I sit in on the E Talk interview and learn far more right from the mouth of the Beast. He really thinks he is the second coming and that he has taken all sin away…sounds to me more like an open ticket for him and his followers to do and get away with anything they please…but that’s just my opinion. When it came our turn to interview him I realized that this guy is such a deceiver that it isn’t even funny, its just sad. He uses scripture to convince these pour souls that he is the answer, and then he takes their money…yes I filmed the gift giving ceremony where all the congregation gets to go up to him and get a hug and kiss from him, and they have a chance to shower him with gifts, most of them came in these little pre prepared and pre distributed envelopes with 666 printed on them…I doubt there are letters inside.

The event was typical of any church convention, except for the fact that the rolling podium with the massive 666 on the front of it. They took care of business affairs, took collection, then the real tight latino band got up and grooved out 4 or 5 songs written for de Jesus that the whole congregation knew passionately word for word. There was even a ballerina that got up for the talent show and gave it her very best to impress her “Daddy”, I am not writing this with sarcasm, please do not think this, I in no way want to disrespect these people, they are just people who in my opinion have been overly taken advantage of and are incredibly misled. The real humdinger for me was when a group of 15 young cute kids ranging from 4 years old to maybe 10 came out on stage dressed in cute little farmer boy outfits complete with little cowboy boots, overalls, red hanky, plaid button up shirts and most importantly the real big black 666 cowboy hats. They came out o do a line dance, hoe down thing for de Jesus who was sitting in the front row with wife and daughter and security.

These poor kids where up given’r as hard as they could to do what they have been told is right, it was really heart breaking and awkward. It reminded me of when Jess and I watched Jesus Camp and all the young kids where mimicking the political-religious actions that their parents and leaders brainwashed them into adopting. It makes me very aware that when I bring my kids up I want them to find the Spirit in their own way and in their own time I feel that it is so dangerous to throw your children into fundamentalism, they will grow up with early persecution, kids aren’t supposed to go through that, some will continue in their fundamentalism, others might realize that they where lied to and will be completely broken and confused. I am not helping the cause however because I filmed these poor kids. If they make it into the edit the whole world who watched this will see how misguided they are and when they get older they will have a big challenge to deal with. Anyway I can go on forever about the ethics of being a film maker, when to draw the line, when exploiting people is valid, and when it is purely selfish. The documentary Jesus Camp really made me think about this, I was mad at the filmmakers for exploiting these poor kids (if you haven’t seen this film go check it out) but I was also upset at how religion and politics where forced into the lives of the kids…anyway, certainly conflict within my soul, but at the same time I feel that revealing this might not be a bad thing? I don’t know.

We filmed all the action, de Jesus got up and spoke to his flock, they cheered, they chanted, they cried, they riled, they inspired. They love this man. He is the man that will give them eternal life here on Earth. How disappointed they will be when he actually does die after promising the world that he will never die and will rule the earth with them at his right hand for the rest of eternal bliss. We left. We jumped into the pool. We drank some beer. We went to the Waffle House for a midnight snack. We went to sleep. Someone broke into Mike’s room while he was sleeping, turned the light on, and stole his GPS, cell phone and I-pod. This was our 2 days in Texas…priceless.

"Halifax to Houston 666"

JULY 11, 2008

Halifax to Houston

Has it been almost a month since we where in BC? Man time flies way too fast when you are having fun! I’m at the Toronto airport Maple Leaf Lounge en route to Houston Texas for this series for Vision Television called “Do you believe?” We are doing 3 episodes, Do you Believe in Life on Other Planets, Do\ You Believe in Chaos Magic, and this weekend, Do You Believe in the Antichrist…umm, yeah…well I could write lots about this one! This is a series that I am shooting with Ocean Entertainment out of Halifax.

Ok, to rewind…lots of stuff going on in Halifax, like its getting hotter and muggier everyday, Jessica’s best friend Van and daughter Sophie came to stay for a while, my friends Jody and Maura from way back came for visits (Jody was helping us a few years ago on the Singapore potential co-production for Eco 4 the World), I bought a bike, I put up a clothes line (my part to help the environment!), I drank lots of great local wines and beers, Nova Scotia has a great selection of both believe it or not, I’ve spent time at our families cottage in West Lahave, I developed my business plan into what I consider a masterpiece (just kidding), and I just bought something that will revolutionize Hemmings House Pictures as we know it…a Letus Extreme 35mm lens adapter!!! If you know anything about depth of field you know that video just can’t produce it like film can, its really the main characteristic difference between film and video cameras due to the glass and the limitations of the chipset inside the video camera…this has all changed. This adapter is AMAZING! I just bought it for our Sony Z1U…I cant wait to get the new EX3, or even the EX1 to try it on with the slow mo, but for now the Z1U looks wonderful with this, all I have is a Nikon 85mm and 50mm, but dang! This is the shit! I am shooting this Vision series with this lens, I really feel that the results will be extraordinary…I’m pretty stoked.

Oh wait there’s more I should write about…one of my best bros ever Chris Gorman came up on his Harley from Portland Maine and hung for a few days…a good friend of his named Deb stayed with Jess and I in Halifax as she attended a pretty cool conference at Mt. St. Vincent. She just came back from Israel and Palestine on a leadership mission of some sort, it sounded very cool. Listening to her stories inspired me to focus my sites on getting to the Middle East in the near future to shoot a doc, not sure the theme yet but the two of us discussed ideas. There are so many deep threaded and emotionally charged stories on both sides of the conflict there…what am I going to do about it? Not sure…but I feel that the Spirit will guide me to wherever I can be used as a filmmaker and someday if it is right I will find myself in that area of our world. The arctic was another place I longed to experience and I did. The Middle East is next I think, not sure though. Anyway Chris was over I was visiting Saint John and was crashing at my folks house. Friday night was a River Boat cruise with the guys from Slowcoaster doing an acoustic set as we sailed up the beautiful Saint John River…man what a prizes possession we have…that river is so incredible. In fact we sailed past my 2 cliff side properties that I bought a few years ago that are kind of useless but are extremely beautiful. Later the next day I walked my cliff properties with some folks and have some ambitious floating community plans for the area in the future…stay tuned. Anyway, the boat docked at the Saint John Marina, right down the street from Acamac. Outdoor stage, great bands, Slowcoaster headlining the night, everyone was on their boats, dancing, having fun, for me it was a reunion with friends of a life past…it was really nice and refreshing to see all these folks I used to go to shows with and party with. The show on the boat inspired me to produce a concert DVD for a band with the same theme….I shouldn’t tell too much at this point, but I want to present a couple bands with a DVD concept that involves taking their live show to remote communities via boat…yes this is fully inspired as well by Sigur Ros’ DVD Heima…have you seen this? If not go buy it as soon as you can, or check it out on YouTube….search HEIMA and see what comes up, it is the most inspiring, tear jerking even, and beautifully shot music film I have ever seen.

On the business note, here are a few point form “wins” we had in the last month

Attracting potential investment partner

Potential strategic merger

New Strategic Partners

Bringing on marketing department with Jay MacLean

Interns kicking ass

2 great coaching sessions helping us focus on our goals, yay Dave!

Gig with ocean on the Vision series

New Website rollout (

New marketing campaign almost ready to rock

My brother Mark and Lauchlan taking students to Hungary under Hemmings House Pictures on a filmmaking / photographic trip

Possible office in PEI

Developing a foothold in NS

Music video production confirmed for country music legend Chris Cummings


Ok, now I have to catch my Houston flight…all I can say is as a “spiritual Christian” it’s going to be very interesting to spend tie with Luis de Jesus Miranda…he is the cult leader of the church “Growing in Grace”. “Jesus” claims to not only be Jesus “The Man” he also claims to be the Antichrist…poor guy, kind of a duel personality I fear. Anyway check him out on YouTube as well, he has well over a million followers and most of them have tattooed “666” on their bodies to symbolize their allegiance to “Jesus the Man…AKA the Antichrist.

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