Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How This Came About

I first met Shane Sooter and Kevin Bryan of City on a Hill Productions at the 2004 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. They were screening their films, "Choosing Life" and "After Hours." I thought their work really stood out, not only in their production quality, but in their willingness to engage in deep issues. So, I was delighted when they asked me to have dinner with them the next day.

I remember being particularly struck by Shane saying that part of City on a Hill's mission was to challenge cultural perceptions of Christianity. That is exactly what I wanted to do with my own work, and I believe that is the first thing that has to be accomplished when Christian filmmakers try to reach a "Post-Christian
Culture." I had just never heard it put so succinctly. Between that and our shared backgrounds in Theatre, it became apparent that we were like-minded in many ways.

In early 2006, I had the privilege of visiting with Shane, Kevin, and Cassie Pelan on the Galveston, TX set of H2O. After observing their process and viewing clips of finished segments, I was blown away by what they had accomplished since we had last met. It was very clear that the series would have a powerful impact on viewers, and that God was blessing their endeavors.

That visit in Galveston was the first time Kevin mentioned the possibility of my coming to work at City on a Hill. That summer, Shane mentioned it as well. However, due to responsibilities owed to my own company and our film, "The Oath of Desormeau," I was not able to seriously consider the possibility of moving to Louisville.

Last November, Shane called me and asked about my interest in writing the script for an upcoming City on a Hill project. When I heard what the project was (sorry, can't tell yet), I was very interested and excited. During the process of discussing that, he once again extended the invitation to come join his staff. Recent developments in my life had made me more open to the idea than I had been before, and I believed that I was in a position to seriously consider it.

After a visit to Louisville in December followed by months of prayer, counsel, and numerous discussions with Shane, Kristina and I decided to accept. We're very excited to be joining the ministry of City on a Hill. We believe in it's mission to use the medium of film to edify the Church and evangelize the lost, while pursuing artistic and technical excellence. We are eager to experience what God has in store for us in "my other home state," and wherever City on a Hill projects place us.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Announcement (and Invitation)

After months of thought, prayer, and seeking counsel, Kristina and I have decided to move our family to Louisville, Kentucky where I will join the staff at "City on a Hill Productions" as a full-time filmmaker.

We are truly excited about this new endeavor and the opportunity to share (through discussion and film clips) with friends and loved ones about the content, quality, and purpose of the work we will be doing. So, if you can, we would love for you to join us at the Friendswood Friends Church Chapel on either Saturday, April 26th at 7:00 pm or on Sunday, April 27th at 1:30 pm.

I'd also love for all of you to meet my new boss, Shane Sooter. He is a gifted artist with an intelligent and inspiring vision of how filmmakers can edify the church, engage the culture, and evangelize the lost. Also, we'll finally be able to provide the inside scoop regarding our upcoming collaboration on a very exciting and potentially ground-breaking feature film about two of the 20th century's most famous Christian martyrs.

We realize that many of you will also have concerns and curiosities about us completely uprooting and moving half-way across the country. We have our concerns and curiosities about it as well. So, we will also be sharing our concerns and needs, some spiritual and some monetary, as my new position will involve my participation in raising funds for City on a Hill in general and a portion of my salary specifically. While I have (and have always had) some anxieties about fund-raising, it remains an essential element of missions and filmmaking. So, part of me, is actually excited and relieved that I now have to learn to face those fears.

Please know that one's ability to help with monetary needs is NOT a prerequisite for attendance on Saturday or Sunday. I do believe prayers are extremely valuable and that the "prayers of righteous people availeth much." So, if you can pray for us, you are giving a great and comforting gift. There are many prayer requests we would like to share in person, and I believe it would do Kristina and I a lot of good to hear your encouragement and prayers in person.

And, if none of the above info sufficiently excites you, there will be free food. Which reminds me: Please let us know by Wednesday if you can attend, and which day, so that we can make appropriate food preparations.

If you cannot attend either day, please feel free and encouraged to contact us before we leave for Kentucky in late June or early July. We'd love the chance to visit with you, and give our proper goodbyes.

Richard Ramsey

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Go See Expelled!

If you are one of the 90% of people in the world who believes in a higher power, or one of the 27% of Americans who believe that God guided evolution, or one of 55% of Americans who do not believe in evolution at all, then you need to get to a movie theater this weekend to see Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

Rotten Tomatoes, the internet's most famous film critic compiler, has given the film a 9% approval rating. This means only 9% of Critics have given the film favorable reviews. By contrast, Jesus Camp received an 86% approval rating. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 received 84%, and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth received 93%.

I am not commenting on the quality or accuracy of the favored films, since I have only seen one of them. Nor am I implying that being environmentally conscious or anti-war is inherently antithetical to Christianity. I am merely pointing out what is plainly obvious: critics give favorable ratings to films that agree with their own world view and poor ratings to films that don't.

The reason for this is also obvious. They want you to see the messages they agree with. The don't want you to see the messages they disagree with. They don't want you to watch Expelled. But, it is important that you do -and THIS weekend. Otherwise, Hollywood and other media will see poor opening numbers as vindication of their current content choices. For an example, read what famous Box Office examiner Nikke Finke has already said about Expelled's Friday Performance:
The only other newcomer in the Top 10 was conservative commentator Ben Stein's #8 documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed which makes the intelligent design argument. Playing in 1,052 theaters, the pic distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures earned $1.2M Friday for what should be a $3.4M weekend. But the per screen average was a feeble $1,130 (not the $3,000 erroneously rumored on the Internet), showing there wasn't any pent-up demand for the film despite an aggressive publicity campaign. So much for the conservative argument that people would flock to films not representing the "agenda of liberal Hollywood". (Just for comparison purposes: Michael Moore's most recent Sicko did $4.4 mil its opening weekend from only 441 theaters, and his Fahrenheit 9/11 did $23.9M its opening weekend from 868 venues.)
Finally, I want to share a troubling discovery. In following the debates over the film and its reviews, I have found that die-hard Evolutionists use the word "Creationist" as a pejorative to describe anyone who believes that a higher power had anything to do with the origins of life or the beginning of the universe. If you purport to be a Theist who believes in Evolution, then, to them, you are a Creationist because you, by believing that God had a say in the creation of the world, believe in Intelligent Design, which they say is "a front for Creationism." In the end, they say you must choose between belief in natural selection or supernatural guidance. Supernatural natural selection is an oxymoron.

While it may seem like bad news that they've drawn such a line in the sand, the good news is that ultimately 90% of the world won't cross it when asked to do so. So, it's 90 against 10.

You think we can take 'em?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Friendswood HS Theatre Department Featured In Houston News

For the third year in a row (eleven years in all), my former High School drama teacher, Kathy Powdrell, has led Friendswood High School's Theatre Department to the State AAAA UIL One-Act Play Contest. That's my youngest brother, Seth, in the black and red (You may recognize his chin and torso from "The Interrogator"). He plays the Knight in their production of "The Canterbury Tales" (adapted by Michael Poulton). Congratulations to the cast and crew! Break a leg next weekend in Austin!

BTW, this is not the aforementioned big announcement. Sorry. BUT, the announcement IS coming soon.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Proverbs 3:1-6

My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; For length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Flying Spaghetti Fallacy

In 2005, a guy named Bobby Henderson founded The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to protest the Kansas State Board of Education's decision requiring schools to give Intelligent Design Theory representation along with Evolutionary Theory. Henderson wrote an open letter to the education board sarcastically asserting that the "Pastafarian" belief that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe should also receive equal representation in the classroom.

Get it? Believing in God is like believing in a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Ah ha! It's superficially clever, so it must be true.

Since then, the Flying Spaghetti Monster has become a media sensation and an icon frequently used by Atheists/Agnostics to mock Theism. Apparently, what passes as an argument with Atheists these days is replacing the main character of a narrative with the words "Flying Spaghetti Monster" and laughing at how absurd the altered narrative sounds.

Can I try too? In 1860, a Flying Spaghetti Monster was elected President of the United States. A bloody war between the Southern and Northern States ensued. The Flying Spaghetti Monster eventually saw the restoration of the Union, emancipated America's slaves, and was shot in the back of the head at Ford's Theatre by John Wilkes Booth.

Wow. I had no idea it was so easy to disprove the existence of Abraham Lincoln.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Break a Leg, John!

Thanks, Wil

I'll read it.
"Perhaps my method of writing may seem not only different, but even contrary, to that which is commonly used by the men called divines, with which I am not concerned: in as much as I confess myself to be not only no imitator and admirer of the school-men, but an opposer and despiser of them as such, by whose labour I judge the Christian religion to be so far from being bettered, that it is rather destroyed. Neither have I fought to accommodate this my work to itching ears, who desire rather to comprehend in their heads the sublime notions of truth, than to embrace it in their hearts: for what I have written comes more from my heart than from my head . . . for I act not here the Grammarian or the Orator, but the Christian."
-Robert Barclay
Forward to An Apology for the True Christian Divinity

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Christian Street Cred

While I think many of us would agree that different Christian filmmakers (or filmmakers who are Christians) are, and will be, led to create different films, I think it is important to note that the focus of Christian filmmakers (or FWACs) will and should vary from one generation to the next. I have a firm belief as to what this focus should be in our time.

Currently, we are in a post-Christian (or even more specifically, post-Evangelical) culture. This means that a great many people in our culture are either nominal Christians or simply non-Christians who feel they have rejected Christianity after an objective and well-informed hearing. Consequently, the vast majority of people in our culture have at least a passing familiarity with basic Christian beliefs and ethics. In other words, in America, your initial attempts at evangelism are never (at least not for a while) going to be met with the response, “'Jesus?' Who’s that?”

Our culture not only thinks they know what Christianity is all about, they think they know what Christians are all about. By and large, most non-Christians view us as anti-intellectual, regressive, hypocritical, humorless, self-righteous busy-bodies, who like to go around meddling in other people’s affairs and telling them how to live their lives -not exactly "glorious infamy."

Debates about where they get this perception aside, the fact is that as long as people hold this view of us, then it does not matter what “good news” we bring them. They won’t listen. As long as people believe that becoming a Christian means that they have to conform to the aforementioned description, they will not want to become Christians. As Gandhi so famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Our culture has gotten into its head that Christianity is a certain thing, and that Christians are a certain way. Therefore, our culture feels justified in its rejection of the former and it’s marginalization of the latter. To sum up: our culture, as an institution, has established a prejudice about Christians and Christianity.

I firmly believe that Christian filmmakers hoping to reach this generation need to focus on the destruction of that prejudice.

I personally assess a Christian film’s effectiveness on how well it does this rather than how “boldly” or unequivocally it proclaims a Gospel or Christian message that will largely be ignored by a prejudiced audience, who thinks they’ve already know the message and the messenger.

We must also remember that it is not just the stories and characters of Christian films that can challenge prejudice, but also the quality of those films and the lives of their filmmakers.

When our work has literary and artistic merit, we cannot be so easily dismissed and marginalized as anti-intellectual. When our films are genuinely funny, we cannot be marginalized as humorless and out of touch. When our films creatively approach social justice issues, then we cannot be dismissed as archaic and regressive.

And, when our lives reflect the themes of our stories, we cannot be marginalized as hypocritical.

Perhaps one day future Christian filmmakers (or FWACs), will not have to work so hard to combat this prejudice in order to engage and woo the cultural at large with overt Christian messages in their films. I just have a difficult time seeing how that would be effective in a day and age when Christians no longer have "street cred."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

From abajournal.com

Austin Lawyer Gets Last Laugh in Tax Law Contest
Posted Apr 1, 2008, 05:21 pm CDT
By Molly McDonough

Austin lawyer John Ramsey is $10,000 richer, but he didn't get the money by bringing in legal business or winning a case.

Ramsey produced a three-minute YouTube skit in which he jokes about paying his taxes with Monopoly money. When the IRS threatens him with jail time, he says he knows he's in the clear with his get-out-of-jail-free card.

The routine tickled Intuit TurboTax, which sponsored the TaxLaugh contest, in an effort to make tax law seem funny.

Not only does Ramsey get a cash prize, he wins the honor of opening for TaxLaugh host Jay Mohr—who played Tom Cruise's rival agent in Jerry Maguire—April 4 at The Improv in Brea, Calif., Intuit notes in a news release.

Ramsey, who's been doing stand-up comedy since 2005, performs regularly in Texas.

As of the time of this posting, the YouTube video had received more than 19,000 hits.

From CNBC.com

Austin Attorney Wins TurboTax TaxLaugh Contest: Texas Lawyer John Ramsey Wins $10,000, Opens for Comedian Jay Mohr

SAN DIEGO, Apr 01, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- John Ramsey has heard just about every joke there is about lawyers, but the Austin, Texas-based attorney got the last laugh, winning the Intuit (NASDAQ:INTU) TurboTax(R)TaxLaugh contest by making taxes funny.

Click here for entire article.

From WebCPA.com

YouTube Video Wins TurboTax Laugh Contest
San Diego (April 2, 2008)
By WebCPA staff

Austin, Texas-based attorney John Ramsey had the last laugh, winning a $10,000 prize in Intuit's TurboTax TaxLaugh contest with a series of tax jokes.

As part of the prize, Ramsey will open for comedian Jay Mohr of the TV series "Last Comic Standing" at the Southern California comedy club, the Improv. Mohr hosted the contest, which solicited videos from aspiring comics. The contest received 125 entries. Mohr picked out Ramsey's as the best.

"John Ramsey separated himself from the rest of the comics by simply being the funniest," said Mohr in a statement. "I was thrilled to watch the way John put together his stand-up act for TurboTax. He is a really funny guy and I look forward to meeting him and seeing him perform live."

"When did my mom have time to write the Tax Code?" Ramsey joked in his video. "Her power has some limit, though, because I checked TurboTax and there's no deduction for picture frames and dachshund sweaters."

Ramsey was excited about the opportunity. "It's a great opportunity for me to meet and open up for Jay Mohr," he said. Ramsey has been doing stand-up comedy since 2005 and is currently performing regularly in his home state.

To check out the different videos, go to www.taxlaugh.com. Click on the image below to view Ramsey's winning video.