Posts tagged ‘Excellence’

July 12, 2012

Everyone’s A Critic

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

~Theodore Roosevelt


I honestly don’t care about Miley Cyrus’ newest tattoo, but it did get me thinking about Theodore Roosevelt’s The Man in the Arena speech and how incredibly easy it is to criticize.  Pointing out others’ flaws and shortcomings – in their personal lives, in their ministries, in their art. With online social media expanding, anybody can be a critic. In fact, most people are. Including me.

The problem with criticism is exactly as Mr. Roosevelt says: many critics aren’t actually out there making their own mistakes … just criticizing the people who are brave enough to go out and try, come what may.

With almost every film I analyze, I analyze in terms of how it deals with gender. (Just go look at our Artist’s Picks and you’ll see what I’m talking about).  Most of the film theory classes  I took in college dealt with gender on some level, but it was always from a humanist perspective. At the same time, God was dealing with me personally on His ideas about gender, and I became extremely dissatisfied with how men and women are portrayed in movies. I genuinely believe there is reason to be concerned with these portrayals.

However, if you watch the movies I’ve made, none of them address gender issues. I have a lot of thoughts on how I would approach gender in my movies, but I haven’t actually put them into practice yet. That has to change.

I’m really excited about the launch of FortyOne20 Ministries’ Video Production division because I’m really hoping to change not just the way we analyze movies, but how movies are made. After our introductory project we have plans to produce a fiction miniseries for the Internet that will address some of these gender issues. Maybe once I’m in the trenches I’ll have a different perspective, not to mention critics of my own.

Now I’m not suggesting we don’t need to be analytical of the art we’re observing, because we should be. We should consider it through the lens of God’s Word and be discerning about the art we’re consuming. Additionally, God tells us to “think about how we can spur each other on to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24), and I believe this includes art consumption.

We also need to be practicing the standards we apply to others’ art when creating our own art. We need to have grace with other artists who maybe do things a little bit differently than we think we would in their situations. And as artists, we should put ourselves out there, even when it means opening ourselves up to the critics.


Lydia holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of North Texas where she studied film theory and video production. She is passionate about reaching and equipping artists for Jesus Christ.

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 18, 2012


“Lord, I know this is going to hurt, and so I hesitate to ask it – but Lord, I ask that You will make me an artist of deep character and high integrity for the cause of Christ.”

And from this prayer, along with many other things, FortyOne20 Ministries was born.  Asking for integrity is like asking for patience: God is going to put you in situations where you are tested and grown. I asked anyway, and whenever I will catch myself in a situation that’s particularly challenging and asking why, God? Why?, God points me back to this prayer. This is exactly what you asked for. Humph.

Integrity.  It’s a loaded word. Most people have heard of it at one time or another, but very few people have a clear concept of it. Webster’s defines integrity as “uprightness, soundness of character, moral wholeness; the condition, quality or state of being complete or undivided.” When I worked as a cashier, the company explained that integrity is being who you are whether or not someone is watching.  That may be stating it simplistically, but it’s to the point: hypocrisy cannot exist with integrity. Pretense destroys integrity.

When I think of a person without integrity, I think of the storefront facades in old wester towns: ornate and elaborate on one side, but not much of anything on the other. They appear to have great character, but it’s all an act.

Integrity is a struggle for me as an artist. (I can’t say whether it’s a struggle for all artists, but I’m betting there are at least a few others like me, so I’m going to share it anyway). You see, I want to be liked.  I want my art to be liked.

When I am making a movie, writing a poem or story, or singing, the end result is the overflow of my heart. I literally put myself into what I create. When it comes time to share my art with other people, I am putting pieces of myself “out there.” So every time I sit down and create, I make a choice: I can either put myself “out there” the way I want to be seen (or the way I think people want to see me) or I can put myself “out there” the way I actually am.

Can I be honest for a minute? The way I actually am is not usually pretty.  Until about a week ago, I had kept up a personal blog for about three years. It was mostly my thoughts in response to a trial I was going through at the time. Anybody who read it can tell you that there were days when it was encouraging and uplifting, but there were also days when it was hurt, sad and angry. It wasn’t an outlet, wasn’t even me processing, it was just me.  About a year ago, the tone of my blog changed because I suddenly felt like some people didn’t like the real me. So the real Lydia took a blogging vacation, and happy/joyful/positive/fine-just-fine Lydia started writing. My readers may not have noticed, but I sure did. Suddenly, there was immense pressure to perform. I had let go of my integrity.

Before graduation last summer, I remember crying out to God in pain – many times. I remember the day I had a breakthrough. Very clearly, I felt the Holy Spirit convict me: Why are you deriving your worth from what people think and say about you? Why do you need their affirmation? Let Me affirm you.

And I began to slowly to tear down some of the walls I had built.  I think it had been going well – not too easy, not to hard (haha) – when I asked God to make me an artist of high integrity. (What was I thinking???) As a result, the old struggle of performance over reality especially in creating art has popped up again.

I want me art to be God-honoring and excellent, but I also want it to be honest. I don’t really have a solution, but I do believe it is possible to create God-glorifying, excellent and honest art. God is still teaching me how. I think I need to begin with honesty – being real before God and others – and pursue excellence from there. But it’s a journey.

“The integrity of the upright will guide them…”

Proverbs 11:3

No challenge with this one, folks. Just think about it… 🙂


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

May 3, 2012

Setting the Standards… and Keeping Them

I cannot count the number of times that I have heard phrases like “They’re just kids,” “His/her goals aren’t the same as yours,” “I don’t want him/her to be a concert pianist,” or “We’re just doing this for fun.” When parents sign their children up for piano lessons, they do not realize what exactly they are getting into. This causes trouble for us lowly music teachers, simpletons that we are, when it comes to *gasp and whisper this next bit* setting expectations for our students!!!! I plan to address each of these aspects in terms of how we can survive as Christian music teachers in this modern world.

 If we do not establish our belief system according to what the Bible says and hold fast to it, we will probably not be able to do the next portion. 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; called to show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” This is the center of our duty as Christians. So, yes, I am a piano teacher, but it is my duty to show forth God’s praise that those “who speak evil against you see your good works, which they will behold, glorify God in the day of your visitation.” (1 Peter 2:12). Will this strict adherence to my beliefs lose friends or even students? Probably. For my Savior, who suffered the wrath of God on the cross for my sin, I can withstand losing some income. Philippians chapter four makes it quite clear that no matter what our hardships, God will take care of us. We should not let our lack of faith keep us from doing what is right.

Now, once we have established these parameters as believers primarily and teachers of music secondarily, we should be able to tackle the massive topic that is setting standards for our students and being true to them.

Let’s start with this phrase that we’ve all heard and probably most of us have said: “They’re just kids.” I don’t know about anyone else but when I was “just a kid” (to some of you, I still am!) there was nothing that I hated hearing more than “you won’t understand, you’re just a kid.” And for some things, I know that was a true statement. However, if we were to encourage students to follow their curiosity and thirst for knowledge, they would be much more capable of handling heavier workloads. But we have brainwashed children into thinking that they cannot learn anything on their own, that they must be taught everything. This is unfortunate for us music teachers. I always make my students find out some things on their own… I do my job; I get their curiosity sparked, but then I send them out to figure out for themselves what they need to know. I don’t have any students that are slow or stupid. Some of them aren’t used to finding their own information but they sure get used to it. I explain the information to them and guide their musical education and I test them over their comprehension of what they’ve learned. They retain the information that they have to take the time to find and absorb. We need to discourage this tendency towards looking down on youths (1 Timothy 4:12) and their abilities. Don’t use the fact that they’re “just kids” as something to help propagate mediocrity. The next time you are tempted to ease up on your students because of their age, consider this: God made Josiah king when he was 8 years old (2 Chronicles 34:1)… KING. If the Lord can entrust the rule of his people to an eight year old child, we surely can ask our students to do the work that they are assigned.

 Perhaps even more frustrating to deal with are the people who are in it just to have fun. They don’t want it to feel like a task or learning. There’s one small problem with that mindset: music is not for people to just have fun with. There is a time and place to have fun with music, but it comes after months of practicing and perfecting. To truly make music, one must have a thorough knowledge of the theory behind the piece, the time period/style in which it is written. And how do you teach all of these things to your elementary aged students? After all, they are only kids 😉 !  You have to find a way to help them make excellent music. Some teachers are willing to let it go once the notes and rhythm are achieved. Some will go a little further and make their students add some of the expressive marks indicated in the music. But how many of us, myself included, are truly willing to go through the process step-by-step, week after week, drilling these concepts on one piece until it is polished and then starting the process over on another. Most of us (again, myself in this group) reach a point where we are so frustrated that the student will not get it right, that we just move on. You see, people, have this misconception of music (and the arts in general), that it is something that we do to have fun. WRONG. This is our livelihood and, as Christians, our calling. What does it say to our commitment to accomplishing the will of the Lord when we compromise standard of excellence for our students, teaching them how to just get by without really learning anything? The Bible does not tell us that we will have “fun” doing what we do; it does say that whatever we do should be done “heartily, as unto the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23) and that “whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your strength” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

 This is tied closely to another little treat that parents like to drop: “I don’t want him/her to be a concert pianist.” Even though a statement like this usually comes from a parent attacking our teaching methods, we do not need to attack back. You can simply keep your calm and tell them that you are not preparing concerts pianist, but you are upholding musical integrity. This will usually bring you to the “in this for fun” statement which has been addressed.

 I always like to save my favorites for last but I do promise to those of you who have made it this far with me that after this, I will rest my case! It’s yet another quote that many of us have heard many times: “His/her goals aren’t the same as yours.” If you have not heard those exact words, you have probably heard something to that effect. I don’t set goals for my students. When they are preparing for a festival, I always ask what rating they intend to earn. Invariably, they tell me that they want the highest one they can get. I tell them that this is their giving of permission to me to push them as hard as necessary to achieve the goal that they have set for themselves. I will often offer incentives for the students to set and keep goals but I myself never make the goals for them. However, I do set standards, which are often mistaken for goals. Webster defines “goal” as “the end toward which effort is directed” and “standard” as “something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example.” My standards ensure the protection of my integrity as a teacher of music: the higher the standards, the better the students. But beyond that, my standards of excellence are not random; they are based off of what is generally considered excellent in music… in other words what other music teachers will see and judge, in part, my teaching on. My students are a reflection of me, and if they reflect me poorly, it does not help me to produce the best students that I can (as an aside, that is a goal, but one that I have set for myself).

If I have no standards by which I expect excellence, then my students have no accountability. Just as I will be held to others’ standards in my teaching, the career of my choice, so will my students be held to other people’s standards in whatever career they choose for the rest of their lives. So, yes, they are “just kids”; that means that they are still trainable, there is hope for them. But if we disregard their abilities and refuse to set standards and hold to them, we are helping to shape a generation of people that will not even bother to think about what excellence is. Join me in molding a generation that is responsible and accountable and that knows how to set the standards and keep them.


Seth is a pianist, piano instructor, piano performance major, but a believer in Jesus Christ first of all. Seth was raised in a family of eight children and was homeschooled from Kindergarten through twelfth grade. From the beginning, he had a love for music and specifically for the piano and organ. At the age of seven, hebegan playing piano and taught himself for four years. When he was eleven, Seth began piano lessons with Thea Hoekman in Fremont, Michigan and started playing the organ at his church in Newaygo, Michigan. When he was thirteen, Seth’s family moved to Texas and he began his studies with Carolyn Steinberg in Celina, Texas and continued studying with her throughout high school. These formative years were essential to his growth not only as a pianist but also as a believer. When he was 16, Seth began his private piano studio under Mrs. Steinberg’s helpful guidance. Seth has developed many ideas about teaching that are his own and has grown as a teacher for the past several years.