Filming God's Footprints | An Interview with Steve Ray | Valerie Schmalz
Almost since its inception, the Footprints of God DVD/video series has been lauded for excellence. Just this month the Telly Awards -- the "Oscars" of the home video industry -- honored the newly released installment, David and Solomon, with a first-place award in the religious documentary division.
Steve Ray, the creator and host, designed the series around ten individual movies, each of which tell a portion of the history of salvation from Abraham to St. Augustine. Ray is the author of three Ignatius Press books and it was that connection that led Ignatius to embark on a collaboration with Ray and his wife Janet.
Ray, with his wife Janet, converted to Catholicism in 1992. They have four children, two of whom still live at home and two married children who have made them proud grandparents six times. They live in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ray, an independent businessman (www.dmigroup.com), also leads pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Rome (www.SteveGoes.com).
IgnatiusInsight.com recently caught up with Ray (no easy task!) and spoke with him about the series and its genesis.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What are the Footprints of God videos?
Ray: The Footprints of God video series is an attempt to put together a documentary series covering the whole span of salvation history from Abraham to Augustine. So we are covering the whole story from the beginning of God's working, the covenants with his people all the way through the life of Christ, all the way into the early Church with the Apostolic Fathers and Doctors of the Church. This project is a collaboration between my wife Janet and I, along with Joe Reynolds of Skyline Production, and with the advice and support of Mark Brumley (president) and Tony Ryan (marketing director) of Ignatius Press.
IgnatiusInsight.com: This is an unusually ambitious venture -- to cover the whole span of salvation history on DVD. How did it come about?
Ray: I got the idea because about nine years ago I took my family to Israel to visit the Holy Land. My two older kids were in their middle teens, pushing 16, 17 years old. When they came back they were fundamentally changed. I was amazed at how they conducted themselves, their attitude about life, their attitude about going to Mass, and so on. I asked them, "What made the change in your life?" And they said, "Well Dad, we always believed Christianity was true, we have always believed what the Church teaches is the truth. But, when we went to Israel, and when we saw it with our own eyes, the place where Jesus was born, and we touched the place where the cross was placed in the ground, when we saw the very grotto where the angel came to Mary to make the announcement -- when we saw this with our own eyes, it became true with a capital 'T' and it just sunk in for us."
My immediate thought was, "Wouldn't it be wonderful to take every Catholic over to the Holy land so they could have the same experience of holy ground, the ground that was sanctified by Christ?"
IgnatiusInsight.com: But the inspiration for the Footprints of God series actually came about in an unusual way. Can you tell us that story?
Ray: I had this idea; I don't know if it was a vision, a revelation, a dream, or even an angel. But, at two o'clock in the morning I was sound asleep and then I woke up wide-awake and I knew what I had to do. I shook my wife awake and said, "Janet, Janet wake up." And she said, "What, what...?" She thought the house was on fire or someone was breaking in. I said, "Janet, we have to do a ten-part video series on the history of salvation from a Catholic perspective." Her eyes got big and she looked at me and she said, "You woke me up in the morning to tell me that? You are crazy, go back to sleep." She said, "We can't even take good pictures, how are we going to make videos?"
But I was wide-awake. I got up and I typed up the whole outline for this series the way it was, just as clear as a bell in my head. I knew it had to be titled the Footprints of God because I knew it had to be the story of God's merciful involvement with his people. He became flesh and he walked on the very ground of the Holy Land and I wanted to tell that story so people would realize that this is not a myth, it is not just a fun fairy tale or some religious book we're reading. This is real history. This is real stuff of the cosmos. God is actually involved in the nitty gritty of human history.
IgnatiusInsight.com: When people see the videos, what will they see? Is it a documentary? Is it a re-enactment?
Ray: What I wanted to do was a documentary. I wanted to do biography; I wanted to do a travelogue. Part of my intent was we take people to the Holy Land, that they see these sights, that they somehow experience them vicariously through my eyes and the medium of video. So, it's a travelogue where we actually show the places, we walk on the ground where events took place. For instance, I point out: "This was here 3,000 years ago. King David would have seen this." It's also a catechesis and an apologetic. I wanted it to be a catechesis for RCIA instructors, for CCD teachers, for seminaries and high schools. I wanted it to be a vehicle so that, for instance, by watching the story of Peter you will come away understanding why we believe in a pope, how the whole thing developed and evolved. I want people to not only understand why we believe what we believe, but to be able to defend it.
More than anything else, I wanted it to be a rollicking adventure. So, I wrestle with snakes. I ride stallions around the pyramids of Egypt. I'm riding camels through the desert. I'm falling in the mud to explain the miracle of the Immaculate Conception. In other places, I'm actually floating on driftwood on the Mediterranean Sea to show what it was like for Paul. I try to use some humor to make people laugh, make them cry.
I want it to be good for kids so they can enjoy it, and I want college professors and doctors of theology to enjoy it and learn from it. My target audience is the Catholic family.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Tell us a little bit about how Ignatius Press became involved.
Ray: I had already written several books for Ignatius, including the story of our conversion to Catholicism, Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church. The other books are Upon This Rock: St. Peter and The Primacy of Rome In Scripture and the Early Church and St. John's Gospel: A Bible Study and Commentary. So I had a relationship with Ignatius. When I first got this idea, I called (Ignatius Press founder) Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., and said, "I have this crazy idea." Over lunch, I discussed it with the folks at Ignatius Press. Within six weeks we were flying helicopters over Greece, Turkey, and Israel.
IgnatiusInsight.com: With four more Footprints of God DVDs still to produce, is there any point asking what your next project is?
Ray: A couple of books are in progress for Ignatius. I do have several other ideas, including a coffee table book, The Making of the Footprints of God . I also lead pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Rome. I would like to do an In the Footprints of God book with scriptural references where page-by-page the reader walks his way through the Holy Land. On a bigger scale, maybe when we're done with the Footprints of God series, we could do another ten part series on the Footprints of the Faithful that would be the whole story of the Church from the first century to Pope Benedict XVI today.
Editor's Note: Each DVD in the series comes with a study guide and the movies are organized so they can be viewed all at once or in "chapters" for study. So far six of the ten DVDs are available, with four more to be produced. David & Solomon: Expanding the Kingdom was released in March. Already produced and available are:
Moses: Signs, Sacraments and Salvation
Mary: the Mother of God
Peter: Keeper of the Keys
Paul: Contending for the Faith
Jesus: the Word Became Flesh.
Work on the next DVD, the Apostolic Fathers: Handing on the Faith is in progress and will be ready for release in the fall of 2007 , Ray said. Still to come are Abraham: Father of Faith & Works, Doctors of the Church: Defining the Faith, and Elijah & Elisha: Conscience of the Kingdom.
More information on Steve Ray and his work:
Website: www.CatholicConvert.com and Discussion Board and Steve's Blog.
Pilgrimages: Follow Steve Ray in The Footprints of Mary & Jesus and other trips .
Discount Bible Study & Catholic Software: Steve's new web store BibleTheology.com .
Video/DVDs: Moses, Peter, Mary, Jesus, Paul, & David/Solomon. Order today from On-Line Store.
Books:Crossing the Tiber, Upon this Rock, St Johns Gospel, and more.
Audio CDs: Men, Marriage, Sex & Heaven, Raising a Catholic Family , Searching Scripture , Sharing the Fullness of the Faith and more. Click here.
Ask Steve to Speak & Press Kit: Click here.
Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.
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