Archive for ‘Excellence’

July 12, 2012

Absolute Beauty

 In Theory

 Have you ever been delighted at having your mind stretched quite unexpectedly?  I was having this experience as I sat and listened to my photography instructor over lunch.  I was tired of learning about photography in a secular environment, where pornography was “artistic nudes” and relativism was the worldview.  I needed more instruction but didn’t want to sacrifice my convictions at its expense.  So I joined a Christian photography school.  I thought it would simply be photography instruction without the trash.  It was more than that.  After our intense instruction and daily devotionals I was feeling like there was nothing more I could handle learning that week.  And then my instructor started talking to us about absolute beauty.  I was intrigued.  Christians can pursue art, and delve into a philosophical world unbelievers cannot fully go: 

 Light and shadow.  Black and White. Beauty and Ugliness.  Philosophy, Photography, Art, and…GOD.

 After I came home and began to discuss absolute beauty with others I got a wide range of reactions, from interest to complete rejection.  I realized I needed to clarify. What it is: just a theory – a philosophical concept that helps you in your pursuit of art as a Christian.  What it’s not: a standard or measure for outward physical appearances. 

 It’s so much more than that

 The best place to begin is with Him, who is absolute beauty,


I know absolute beauty exists because HE is most beautiful.  He is the definition of beauty.

 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets.  From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.”  Psalm 5:1-2

 God is the origin of beauty, is the Designer, and is the ultimate creative Artist.  His character is perfection and never changing.  He is Holy. 

 Flawless. Beautiful.

Everything around us is created by Him and for Him.  It is a reflection of who He is.

Creation sings of a Creator. 

 “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”  Romans 1:20


 (Copyright Kathleen Shook.)

We are created in His image.  Out of all creation we are the greatest reflection of Him. 

 “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  Genesis 1: 27

 I don’t believe this verse is referring to a mere physical similarity.  No, it’s who we are, our inward man.  We were designed to love what He loves, and hate what He hates.  We were designed to worship Him.  We were created sinless and designed to be holy.  The fall produced inherited sinfulness but…

 Christ redeemed us when we still hated Him. We can now be holy through Him.

 What is beauty? Truth is beautiful.  Every Christian whose Christ-like character and holiness points us back to Him is beautiful, and that beauty radiates through their eyes and smile.

I know I can’t quantify absolute beauty, but I can clearly declare that God is perfect beauty and anything that reflects Him is beautiful.  Beyond that there is no clear cut line spelled out in Scripture.   But, there are examples within nature of organized beauty created by God that gives us models to follow.  (For a complex example of composition naturally found in creation look up fractals and be prepared to have your mind blown!)

 Another way we use creation’s example is to approach our art in an organized way.  When I teach photography I always teach about composition “rules.”  Composition rules are taught in every art school.  They are universally acknowledged to produce a more pleasing picture or piece of art.  It is understood that only those who really grasp the rules can properly break them. 


(Copyright Kathleen Shook) 

The first picture lacks two major compositional rules.  It falls flat and is uninteresting.  The second picture has depth and follows the “rule of thirds” and immediately we can see the difference in the two images.

 A flower is almost always described as gorgeous, while an “Orc” from the movie, “Lord of the Rings,” never gets that praise. The “Orc” (in its fictional story) is a human/elf hybrid who has been tortured and mutilated.  He is evil to the core; a distortion of what is good and natural. 

(Copyright Kathleen Shook) 

What do these examples tell us?  Beauty (and dare I say, art?) is not purely subjective, as others would like us to think.  There are objective realities to our art.   Since God is the ultimate Creator can we ever say His untarnished work is subjective and that some of it is good and other parts of it are not?  We do not have that authority!

 “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.  And there was evening, and there was morning…” Genesis 1:31


 In Application

 I began to realize that if I was created in His image and am now an heir with Christ then my art must reflect this.  My goals in photography began to take shape and I began to form my personal convictions. At what point does my photography cross a line and is no longer beautiful?   Beyond building my business and taking pictures for my clients that they can enjoy, I began to have personal goals and ambitions every time I picked up my camera.

 1)      Focus on Portraits.  People are beautiful, created in God’s image.  Because of this, my favorite subject is people.  I earnestly want to take pictures of more than the outward appearance and capture who they really are: what’s inside.   Portrait photography can get so external and so vain.  I don’t want that to be my focus, my focus is on the eyes, the window to the soul. 


(Copyright Kathleen Shook)

I traveled to Peru a few years ago and, even though the landscapes were breathtaking, it just wasn’t my niche.  I made it a personal challenge to take a portrait of a Peruvian every single day.  To show the world people who often get forgotten, like a street child or an old man sitting on a bench.  They are valuable in God’s sight and, therefore, in mine.

(Copyright Kathleen Shook).

2)      Because I view the body as beautiful and as God’s creation, I honor it and the privacy it deserves. The undressed body, while special, is valued most when kept within its beautiful role in marriage.  I will not include undressed or half dressed people in my photographs. 

3)      To capture real, raw moments and to tell a story.  I know my pictures won’t always be pretty  – but sometimes telling the truth is beautiful and that is what I respect about photojournalists who get in the middle of wars and tragic events.  They tell the truth.  I never want my photography to be so abstract that most people can’t interpret what I’m trying to say.  Abstract art that has no message is bordering on relativism and should be used with caution.  

4)      My photography shouldn’t always have a price.  Volunteering your services for a good cause is an exchange for something that is infinitely more beautiful and valuable than riches. 

5)      Taking portraits of those who are overlooked in our communities: the disabled and disfigured.  They defy the world’s terms of beauty but not mine, and not God’s.  Because I believe in absolute beauty I want His beauty to shine through me and in everything I do. 

(Copyright Kathleen Shook).

In your artwork are you focusing on the beautiful or ugly in this world? Does your artwork reflect that you are created in God’s image and that Christ has redeemed you?  Pursue excellence.  Pursue absolute beauty.  Pursue Him.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  1 Corinthians 10:31


Kathleen Shook is a professional photographer in the North Texas area and is also a private piano teacher.  She has been married to her husband, Blake, since 2011.  She is also involved in her local church in young women’s ministry.  If anyone is interested in having a professional photographer take photos for their ministry free of charge, please contact Kathleen at   You can see some of her most recent photography work at her Facebook page:


*****EDITORIAL NOTICE: The photographs included in this article (“Absolute Beauty”) are the property of Kathleen Shook. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Kathleen Shook is strictly prohibited.  

Used by permission.*****






June 7, 2012

Great Literature

Five or so years ago, I was standing in a small bathroom stall, up on top of the toilet lid, being as quiet as I could be.  My hand was stretched all the way up and I was feeling for the top of a ledge that ran around the ceiling for decoration.  Seeing that I could reach it and that it would be wide enough to suit my needs, I picked up the book I had left on the toilet bowl and, gingerly, with two fingers, as if the cover could burn poison straight into my blood stream, I hastily flipped it up over the ceiling molding, only to feel it leave my fingers and drop into a recess I hadn’t known existed.  The ledge was hollow!  Even better.  I could not have been happier.  Exiting the rarely-used second story library girls’ bathroom, I wickedly laughed to myself a few times as I feigned innocence and hurried down the stairs to leave.

The title of the book isn’t important – I’d hate to have anyone look it up on account of me – but it was a young adult novel written the previous year that I had stumbled across when searching for other works by an author I thought I had liked.  The morally depraved work of fiction, with its evil young people whose minds are full of all sorts of sexual perversions, had stopped me cold just after a few chapters.  I remember not even being able to sleep the night I threw the novel to my bedroom floor and kicked it under my bed, not wanting even the cover to haunt me.  Quickly gaining number one on my mental Most-Hated-Books-Of-All-Time list, the thought of returning the thing to the library, where other young people could stumble upon it and be educated of its horrors, made me angry enough to wish I could seek out the author myself and give her a thrashing.  Feeling completely incapable of preventing such a travesty as others reading it, I felt like burning the book or tossing it deep into a dumpster.  However, the library would then call me and have me pay for it.  Knowing my money was going into that author’s pocket angered me even more.  Therefore, I came up with this juvenile plan to hide it within the library itself so it would never be found, never be checked out, and thus never be read.  It isn’t something I’m necessarily proud of doing, and I have to laugh at the righteous indignation and passion that lead me to act out such a scheme, but I learned a valuable lesson from that experience.

The powerless feeling I had felt turned into a desire to do something for others to spare them, especially for parents of children who don’t know any better and whose minds are soft and pliable and easily led astray.  I came up with a book review website, after much thought and conviction, a few years later.  This website is currently only in a newborn stage, but is steadily growing, when I have the time to spare from my own fifteen-month-old daughter and preparations for another daughter due this summer.  However, I want to have a comprehensive site ready for them by the time they get around to visiting our local library and spending any time reading anything other than Goodnight Moon.

I also continued my own writing, self-publishing two novels for Christian young people, and finishing up an evangelistic novel for the unchurched and unsaved only a year and a half ago.  I wanted to write something good.  Something that would bring God honor and would shine like tiny lightning bugs amidst the large and seemingly insurmountable darkness that sat all around my little inspirations on the library shelves and book-selling websites.

What is good literature?  Since only God’s Word is inerrant, it’s hard to call anything else truly good.  It’s no wonder that some of our forefathers, people who founded this country, refused to read anything other than the Bible.

However, I have been astounded by adults, young people, and readers alike who jump into the latest craze of fiction without stopping to consider the Christian principles behind it.  I’m not going to name all of the book series that have hit the bestseller lists lately, but we all know what they are.   Would Christ call them “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy”? (Philippians 4:8)  It is commanded that our thinking be on things of that nature.  Would reading about kids killing each other while selfishly trying to keep themselves alive and a few they’ve, in a God-like way, deemed worthy fit the bill?  Would lying nonstop to your parents and keeping a boy in your bedroom, a boy who wants to kill you, has killed before, and says is going to hell for a lack of a soul, be something God would want young women to dwell on?

There are some Christians who agree on the above books, but there are harder ones that people don’t think about.  What about the Newberry Medal winner, Bridge to Terabithia, where a little girl denies her need for believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection, rejecting what Christ did for her because she thinks God is too busy with all of creation to bother punishing people for sin?  When this girl dies in her unbelief, her grieving best friend, who is rightfully afraid for her eternal state, is told that “God won’t send her to hell.”  Where do we see that in Scripture?  She was clearly old enough to have heard the gospel and choose to turn her back on it.

I think that Christians fall prey to “The Emperor’s New Clothes” mentality far too often where they don’t even stop to think that a worldview, often a false one, is being poured slowly into their minds like acid.  It’s easier to be swept away with a writing style, fast plot, juicy romance, or the mere fact that their child is enjoying reading (“Look, honey!  She picked up a novel all by herself!  I don’t care if it’s called The Killer Angels From Hell Reject the Cross!  She’s reading!”  – I have heard parents use this argument before.)  Flashy worldly things can suck us in as easily as it can children (“Twi-moms”?) and can blind us to the lies satan is feeding us.  Instead, we should shove every book under a detailed microscope that exists through the Holy Spirit living in our soul.  Focus that lens over and over on every page, evaluating whether what is being taught is a false gospel or a direct line from the devil.  The Precious Moments book, Heaven’s Little Helpers, may be adorable, colorful, and as G-rated as you could get, but I’d rather have heard that my kids stumbled upon Lord of the Flies.  In one, “uncorrupted” children in a “perfect” environment show innate sinful nature and consequences are portrayed accurately, whereas, in the Precious Moments book, we are taught that pretty babies with wings created the earth.  It’s all about the worldview.  Not to say that everyone needs to read the aforementioned violent book or that some things aren’t age appropriate, but at any age it could possibly be highly detrimental to expose oneself to untruths according to Scripture.

Jesus charged us to “Beware of false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”  (Matthew 7:15)

Jeremiah said something that is exactly true of many authors today: “And the Lord said to me: ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in My Name; I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them.  They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.” (Jeremiah 14:14)

“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24)

Could they be leading astray with literature?  Our culture deems a best-selling book series a great “wonder.”  It’s entertainment, people.  It’s not like you’re going to the mission field and have to be tough because of the sin you’ll be exposed to there.  There is no need to sacrifice your soul and expose your heart to sin and wickedness for entertainment.  We’re commanded to be holy.  That’s first priority.  I think that we, believers, should put aside our longing for entertainment, and take every thought captive unto Christ.  We live in a world where peers skip around from relationship to relationship, where everyone is sleeping with everyone else, where violence has hit new creative levels or become commonplace (like abortion), and where families are devoid of communication, love, and respect for each other.  They did not learn all of this from TV and movies.  Much of it comes from the books that line the shelves, some of which turn into the movies and TV shows.  This stems from the idea of the authors wanting to be their own gods and live their lives “finding themselves” and “needing no one,” especially an all-powerful Creator God who tells them what holiness is and that they fall short of the mark.

And artists, we have a commission to write the books that are true, noble, excellent, and pure!  We need to portray principles that line up with Scripture and who God is.  We need to show consequences for sin and the fact that there is a God all must answer to.  May we always line up our thinking with God’s Word so that we do not lead others’ astray.  When we know that our inspirations will reach many, God holds us even more responsible.  It would be better that a millstone be tied around our neck than we let a little one stumble.


RJ Conte is the creator of the book review website: She is also the author of three young adult novels: Dashwood Avenue, The Hero of the Wars of Mougle and Angel-Lover. She is currently writing a children’s picture book that will share the gospel with very small children in a way they can understand.

May 25, 2012

Composition of a Good Film: Honoring God

The questions I’ve been wrestling with over the past several months are these: Can art be God-glorifying without expressly mentioning God? Can an artist glorify God in a secular art-producing environment without expressly mentioning God? Can art and artists unintentionally glorify God?

Sherwood Pictures, division of Sherwood Baptist Church. You’ve probably heard of them at some point, and if you haven’t heard of them you’ve probably heard of their movies: Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous. However you may feel about them, if you’ve seen any of their films you cannot deny that they clearly show Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth,  and the Life. They show Him as the One who heals and makes right.  Their films are obviously, expressly, intentionally God-glorifying.

I’m thinking about some of my favorite movies: The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Little Women, Stardust, Anne of Green Gables, The Sound of Music, and I could probably go on for days. Some of them I like for their stories and some I like for overall art direction. Thematically, these movies present good and evil, love and hatred, lust and fear, positive femininity, growth, and (for the most part) wholesome humor. None of these movies mention God, unless its in a generic way. Certainly they don’t portray Jesus and being the Way, the Truth and the Life.  In fact, some of them draw from other philosophies. And yet, I would say all of them are good movies, even excellent movies.

I’ve come to the conclusion that when a movie is composed in excellence, that is it follows or intentionally manipulates the rules of film theory, is thought out and thought-provoking, it can still be God-glorifying. I feel like that just has to be one of those God things that will completely blow my mind if I think about it to hard. I do accept it, though.

Similarly, I think believing artists who go into “non-sacred” art can also glorify God – in the way they conduct themselves and in the way they produce art.


Excellence is an emerging topic on this blog. It’s been an emerging topic in my life.  Excellence in the movies we observe is just a starter topic. In the coming weeks and months we will be hearing from various artists on excellence in literature, photography, and music, as well as art in the local church. We are excited to share it all with you!


Lydia holds a Bachelor of Arts in Radio, Television,  and Film.  She is passionate about reaching artists with the good news of Jesus Christ. She is also incredibly thankful for the artists who have stepped up to the plate to help in this ministry. You are all a HUGE blessing!

May 25, 2012

Composition of a Good Film: Moral Excellence

Not many people like Hollywood. Conservative Christians don’t like Hollywood. Liberal Christians don’t like Hollywood. Film critics and theorists don’t like Hollywood. Film scholars don’t like Hollywood. Independent film-makers don’t like Hollywood. Film-makers from other countries and cultures don’t like Hollywood. I don’t like Hollywood. (Did I just make a bunch of generalizing statements? Yes).

Hollywood is one big, fat movie-making corporation. They are able to knockout movies faster than you can blink an eye because they recycle stories, characters, and production processes for greater profits. For this reason, the films they produce are generally not thought out nor thought-provoking. Hollywood movies are far removed from moral excellence. (I am just full of generalizing statements today).

I should probably stop now, before somebody gets the impression that I don’t watch or even enjoy Hollywood movies.

I am a girl. I like a good romantic comedy – applying the term “good” very loosely. Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl and girl falls for boy, some circumstance threatens to rip them apart, boy and girl get together anyway.  My favorite romantic comedies are probably Katherine Heigl movies – yeah, she gets her own subcategory. Bad boy meets uptight good girl, both seem to hate each other at first, both realize they are in love with each other (usually in a dancing scene of some sort), a circumstance threatens to rip them apart, they end up together (usually after yelling about all the things they hate about each other).

I don’t know why I like this particular plotline so much. I guess it resonates with my personal history. (Not that my personal history has turned out the way a Katherine Heigl movie does, nor do I want it to, but I digress). I really kind of hate that the good (but uptight) girl must be loosened up by a bad boy. Along the way, she reforms him from a commitment-phobe to a semi-nice guy.  It’s a really bad model of relationships.  (A really, really bad model of relationships). Not to go all Dr. Lydia on everyone but a good relationship is not about reforming the other person, but in helping the other person become who God wants them to be (and that doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships).

Just so you know, this whole deal about movies – I’m not exactly trying to tell you what you should or shouldn’t watch. That is most definitely between you and God. I’m just saying that we need to be critical consumers of movies: that is, we think about and analyze what we are consuming. What do these movies say about society? Cultural issues? How do these movies affect the way I see things, if at all?

Most importantly, and to be continued…

What do movies say about God?


Lydia holds a Bachelor of Arts in Radio, Television, and Film. She is passionate about reaching artists for Jesus Christ!

May 25, 2012

Composition of a Good Film: Following the Rules

I know, I know.  When you think of the word “composition” your mind probably goes to an essay or a piece of music.  Because of my film theory background, however, my mind goes to the rules of composition applied when making or analyzing a film for its goodness or badness.

Last weekend, Kathryn and I were watching a movie of her choosing. The first ten to fifteen minutes of the movie consisted of multiple bombings and fist fights between lots of different characters who all had some mysterious (but deep) connection. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out what the story was. Kathryn insisted that I should just ride it out, saying that it would all come together eventually, and that it really was a great movie. (Uh-huh). I responded that if a movie’s story hadn’t emerged within the first ten to fifteen minutes, it probably never would, and therefore it couldn’t be a great movie. (I should mention that the last time I waited for a movie’s story to begin was when I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. And I know that as a film major I am not supposed to knock this fine specimen of film-making history, but that was several hours of my life I will never get back … simply waiting for the story to start). Kathryn berated my taste in movies, saying I couldn’t possibly know a good movie in the first ten to fifteen minutes. After some debate on the topic, I watched The Sound of Music and she went to bed.

How is it that my sister and I, who were virtually raised the same way (she is the baby, so some concessions must be made) and come from the same background, have such different opinions on what a good movie is? At the risk of sounding a bit elitist here (but believe me, that’s not my intent), the biggest difference in how we determine what makes a good movie stems from the fact that I studied film theory for two years. I know the rules that a good film-maker follows. (One of the rules is that you have to set up the story and characters within the first ten to fifteen minutes of the movie).  I also know that you can’t just break the rules to break the rules – you must have a reason for breaking the rules, and that reason must be related to the story or point you are trying to get across.

This has nothing to do with my degree, this has to do with me studying and understanding an art form I am passionate about. In order to create excellent art the artist either must follow or purposefully manipulate the rules of his or her chosen art form. In order to follow or purposefully manipulate the rules, the artist must first know those rules inside and out.

One movie that exemplifies manipulation of the rules for visual intent is The King’s Speech, based on the true story of King George VI and how he perseveres through a speech impediment. When you listen to the actual tapes of the fictionalized speech at the end of the movie, it is incredibly hard to listen to because of the stammering and stumbling. The task the film-maker must have had was, “How do we translate this discomfort visually?” 

As I said earlier, in film-making we have rules and a lot of these rules dictate how a shot should be framed. When framing a person, the shot must observe proper headroom and leadroom. And then there is the rule of thirds: objects should be framed on one of the two horizontal lines or at one of the four points of intersection. You may be reading this and have NO idea what I’m talking about, but I promise you if I showed you a movie where these rules are not followed, you would notice. We were created to observe art a certain way, and so when something isn’t right with a shot, our eyes tell our brains. (That of course, is the non-scientific explanation). It causes us discomfort.

So we have a movie where we are visually trying to portray the awkwardness the character is going through. How do we do that? Awkward shot composition. In many situations the film-maker breaks leadroom  and headroom rules to give the viewer a sense of awkwardness.

Speech therapist should be to the left and back some, if our film-makers weren’t trying to get a visual message across.

So I suppose the movie Kathryn and I started watching this past weekend could have had some reason for taking longer in setting up its plot and characters. I just wasn’t going to stick with it to find out.

To be continued…


Lydia holds a Bachelor of Arts in Radio, Television, and Film. She is passionate about reaching artists with the good news of Jesus Christ. (Also, she has been wanting to analyze The King’s Speech for a very long time because it was the first movie she watched where manipulating the rules really “clicked”).