Even if podcasts existed twenty years ago, I never would have imagined that Square Halo Books would ever have had enough contributors in its catalog to support a full season of episodes, and with many people left untapped. And the idea that I would be sitting down with a chunky black microphone between me and such amazing thinkers and makers, digging deeper into their ideas through such delightful conversations as I have had this past year, would have been something I couldn’t have even hoped for.
Yet such fantastic opportunities have almost been the norm for our little miracle company.
Square Halo Books, a small book publishing company dedicated to providing “materials useful for encouraging and equipping the saints,” was started with our friends Alan and Diana Bauer. The Bauers have known my husband Ned since he was 13 years old—when Alan was called to pastor his family’s church. To say they have been a steady flow of grace in our lives (and in our children’s lives) would be an understatement. And part of that constancy has been the work we have collaborated on for more than two decades: our beloved Square Halo.
Many have found the name of our company curious. In Christian art, the square halo has historically identified a living person presumed to be a saint. From the start, it was our hope that Square Halo would be able to publish works that would present contextually sensitive biblical studies and practical instruction from authors whose work was compelling but who might not have the “platform,” as they say these days, to get a publishing deal with the big publishing houses. Overall, we have wanted our books to be helpful for “ordinary saints,” beautiful or interesting to look at, and richly truthful.
In Christian art, the square halo has historically identified a living person presumed to be a saint.Leslie Bustard
To tell Square Halo’s story properly requires beginning at the end. By the time Ned and I were married, Alan was a seminary professor. Following a class on the writings of the Apostle John, his students encouraged him to get his work on the Book of Revelation published. After many rejections, he decided to self-publish. But his vivacious wife Diana usually has bigger ideas and greater vision than the three of us put together. After realizing that many good writers are never given the opportunity to get in print simply because they do not have a famous name, she decided that Alan should not just self-publish, but that we should create an independent publishing company. Ned erroneously insisted that this was a terrible idea, but agreed that we would join them in this fool’s errand. Alan finished writing The End: A Reader’s Guide to Revelation, and Ned designed and illustrated it.
Fast-forward twenty years, and Square Halo has published over twenty books. We have hosted two conferences, held book release parties in multiple cities including New York City and Nashville, opened a gallery, and traveled to Italy for a book-planning business trip. We have been excited by the sale of each book and humbled by each person who has told us a story of how one of our books has helped or inspired them. We never could have imagined any of this goodness when we were 29 years old and starting this company with our partners.
Last spring, while driving to school where I teach and listening to Andrew Osenga’s thoughtful podcast The Pivot, I started day-dreaming of interviewing some of our writers for a Square Halo podcast. I had no idea what I was hoping for, but Ned was up to the challenge; we began exploring equipment and asking local Square Halo writers if they would participate. These eight new podcasts are some of the fruit of all that dreaming.
My goal for these podcasts was to ask each writer to elaborate on the ideas of their essay or book they wrote for us or to share how some of their ideas may have changed over time.
Tom Becker, author of Good Posture, was my first interviewee. In July, we sat at my kitchen table, Ned fiddled with the equipment, and Tom helped me shake off my nervousness. Tom and I have been close friends for a very long time and have lived so much life together, that laughing and discussing ideas was natural, even with a microphone sitting between us. His ideas about civility resonated deeply with me and working through them together turned out to be a rich conversation.
Also interviewed in our home were two other dear friends, Ruth Naomi Floyd and Rob Bigley, both contributors to It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God. Ruth took the train from Philadelphia and joined me one July day at my kitchen table. Even though it had been a busy day for her, she and I were happy to be together, discussing the blues, truth-telling, and lamentation. Her enthusiasm for this project encouraged me to keep pressing on.
As Rob Bigley and I only live blocks a part, he simply walked down our street to get to his interview. Just missing a thunderstorm as he walked in the house, we got comfortable in my living room, and we talked calling, talent, and loving one’s fellow actors and co-workers. One cannot help but laugh a lot with Rob, so our time together was both thoughtful and fun.
Ned and I drove to the Philadelphia-area for two interviews. One sultry day, we went to Germantown to interview singer-songwriter Joy Ike, who wrote an essay for It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God. There never seems to be enough time to hang out and discuss books, food, and Jesus with Joy; I felt this, as we spent time catching up before we sat at her kitchen table overlooking her neighborhood for our interview. But we made up for that, as we kept the microphone on and the conversation going for more than two hours; Ned laughed at us as he thought about the editing he would have to do to get the podcast session down to a listener-friendly length.
The next month, we drove to Glenside, a suburb of Philadelphia, to interview Dr. Bill Edgar, who contributed to It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God and It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God. To say I was slightly nervous is an understatement. He was one of the people who helped It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God actually happen twenty years ago. It was because of his name-recognition that made it possible for others to take us no-names seriously and write for us. Because of this, Dr. Edgar remains one of my heroes. Also, he is a brilliant, humble gentleman, and all I wanted to do was ask questions that would keep him talking. He and his wife welcomed us into their home for an afternoon interview. I was happy to listen to him talk about his conversion story, L’Abri, Brahms, and more.
To interview painter Edward Knippers, we headed towards the outskirts of Washington, D.C. We had first heard of him years ago, while listening to a Mars Hill Audio interview. Intrigued by his work, we met him at an exhibit soon after, and when we started working on It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, he came to our home for lunch and an interview. Since then, he has been a friend, one who continues to speak good words into our life. Ed’s home is like a gallery, with each wall covered from floor to ceiling with art he has collected. After looking at several new pieces, we sat down at his dining room table, the microphone between us, and talked about beauty, his paintings, the body, and his place in the flow of art history. He is a well-educated, strong-opinioned, and thoughtful man, and I always enjoy listening to him.
The last two interviews occurred in the country—the rolling hills of Pennsylvania and the rugged hills of Texas. I drove only 20 minutes, from Lancaster City (my home) to Leola (the home of Veritas Academy, where I teach). Here, I sat in Headmaster Ty Fischer’s office, and we talked parenting, preparing our children to live in community, education, and beauty. Ty has been headmaster at Veritas for more than 20 years, so his ideas come with the humility and wisdom of having lived through the ups and downs of serving a community for so long.
Lastly, I flew to San Antonio to go to Laity Lodge for a retreat and to interview a dear friend, Andi Ashworth. Andi had contributed a chapter on cookbooks for A Book for Hearts and Minds: What You Should Read and Why. Andi and I found time to sit in the Great Lodge over looking the Frio River. This was the first time I had to manage all the recording equipment, and I was nervous that I would hit the wrong buttons. But the technology gods smiled on me, and we had a lovely talk. Andi has modeled to me, and many others, what it looks like to be a thinking and loving woman who has creatively worked at caregiving and placemaking. That afternoon, even though she was tired and I was tech-nervous, we talked naturally about callings and cooking.
Once you’ve listened, you can revisit that episode’s page to find a free download of an excerpt from the book discussed in the podcast. We hope you will be interested in checking out other Square Halo titles, too, knowing that our hope is to bring you encouragement. You can find us at squarehalobooks.com.