Square Halo Books: Culture Care and Conferences

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Twenty-five years ago, my husband Ned and I agreed to be a part of Square Halo Books. When this venture started, we were just entering our thirties. We had a home, a church, a young daughter, and another little one on the way—our life moved in a sweet, ordinary rhythm.

Through books by C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and Francis and Edith Schaeffer, we were learning that all of life–even our everyday life–could bring glory to God. It was around this time that our friends and mentors, Alan and Diana Bauer, were interested in starting a publishing company. They hoped to get Alan’s book The End: A Reader’s Guide to Revelation (which had been rejected by larger publishing houses) out into the world and maybe even publish other writers whose books needed publishing.  

Ned and I were not too sure about this idea but decided yes in the end. Ned named the company Square Halo and became its creative director. The End was released followed by It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, a collection of essays about art-making that Ned dreamed up, two years later. From there, more books and friendships, dinner meetings and unexpected adventures added beyond-imagined goodness into our lives.

All the goodness and creativity of Square Halo Books have not only been an ongoing blessing for our families, but they have also given us many opportunities to do God’s work of culture care—caring for the soul of our culture. 

Makoto Fujimura (one of the first to sign on and contribute to It Was Good) shared his vision for how to live a life that offers health to the soul of a culture in a booklet titled On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care (later republished as part of Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life). I pored over his words and even obtained other copies to give to friends. I wanted them to be as encouraged and revitalized in their creative work as I had been. His words articulated a vision for why I wanted to produce theater, encourage my husband in his gallery, and also publish books with Square Halo.

Being generative—that is, being fruitful and productive by making and providing opportunities so that others can also make—is foundational to the creative work of culture care. Fujimura writes, “We can say that Culture Care is applied generative thinking. Culture Care ultimately results in a generative cultural environment: open to questions of meaning, reaching beyond mere survival, inspiring people to meaningful action, and leading toward wholeness and harmony. It produces thriving, cross-generational community.” (On Becoming Generative, page 27)

What are the ingredients to being generative and how can ordinary people do this work of caring for culture by being generative? Fujimura suggested three pieces: offering genesis moments, being generous, and thinking generationally

I remember those genesis moments sitting at the kitchen table brainstorming ideas with friends which led to newly published books, backyard Shakespearean troupes, hosting gatherings of visual artists and musicians, and even organized conferences. These moments—gifts to other people—came from hearts seeking to be generous. Our time, our imagination, our affection, our listening ears, and our talents are offered to others, as we all work on creating good for the people God has given us. I resonated with and am inspired by Mako’s words: 

“Generative thinking is fueled by generosity because it so often must work against a mindset that has survival and futility in the foreground. In a culture like that, generosity has an unexpectedness that can set the context for the renewal of our hearts. An encounter with generosity can remind us that life always overflows our attempts to reduce it to a commodity or a transaction – because it is a gift. Life and beauty are gratuitous in the best senses of that word.”

On Becoming Generative, 13

Lastly, culture care includes thinking generationally. When we dialogue with past artists, writers, thinkers, and musicians, when we root our work in what is lasting, we have the opportunity to influence makers and hopefully care for the soul of future culture. These are things that my partners and I at Square Halo Books —and the folks of Rabbit Room—have been doing.

When we dialogue with past artists, writers, thinkers, and musicians, when we root our work in what is lasting, we have the opportunity to influence makers and hopefully care for the soul of future culture.

Leslie Bustard

Inspired by my experience at Hutchmoot, I created a conference last year focused on the Inklings, with many Rabbit Room folks presenting and attending. That event was so well received that we are doing it again. This year’s conference is titled Ordinary Saints: Creativity, Collaboration, and Community.  

Reflecting on Square Halo’s tagline: “Extraordinary Books for Ordinary Saints,” we are focusing on ordinary people and ordinary life, all lived out to the glory of God. I hope this event will stir our attendees’ imaginations and refresh them in their callings. And I hope everyone will find their own genesis moments while soaking in the generosity of those hosting, speaking, and volunteering. 

We are thrilled to have poet Malcolm Guite as our keynote speaker this year. Many Rabbit Room folks know his poetry, his speaking, as well as his Square Halo book Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God (found in 2021’s Hutchmoot Homebound Mystery Moot Kit). Recently he has been popping up in new places—from Carnegie Hall with the Gettys to The New York Times to Christianity Today. We are confident his words will be a source of encouragement to your heart and mind, and we’re excited he is joining us!

All the speakers at this anniversary gathering have written for Square Halo at some point over the past twenty-five years. Each talk will focus on some aspect of “ordinary life to the glory of God.” The topics include children’s books, friendships, dealing with conflict, justice and writing, and online communities. (Check out the complete list of presenters, their topics, and the schedule here.)

Our conference, like its Hutchmoot cousin, will have interactive sessions, too—story time and songs during pub night, a roundtable reading of Babette’s Feast, tea and poetry, a podcast recording, and a pop-up printing workshop (just like what happened the past few years at Hutchmoot). The Square Halo Gallery will display a wide variety of art featuring squares and ordinariness. Many people sent in work to be part of this invitational—including several Rabbit Room Artists & artists. Some local actors are staging a dramatic reading of a classic piece of literature. And lastly, to top it all off, The Arcadian Wild will be performing Saturday night. 

We are glad and grateful for the folks at the Rabbit Room. This wonderfully creative and generative group in Nashville has been generous towards Square Halo, just as Square Halo has sought to be in other people’s lives. I know we have all been doing God’s work of caring for culture through our creative endeavors, collaborations, and community life. As Fujimura writes, “Culture Care restores beauty as a seed of invigoration into the ecosystem of culture. Such soul care is generative: a well-nurtured culture becomes an environment in which people and creativity thrive.” (On Becoming Generative, page 22)

To learn more about Square Halo and the conference, check us out at SquareHaloBooks.com. If you have been hanging around the Rabbit Room even a little bit, you will see some familiar folks who have written for us. And hopefully, we will see some of you at our Ordinary Saints: Creativity, Collaboration, and Community conference in Lancaster, PA, this February 17 & 18, 2023.

Leslie Anne Bustard writes for Cultivating, Black Barn Online, Anselm Society, Story Warren, and Calla Press. Her poetry book The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living, published through Square Halo Books, comes out winter 2023. Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children, co-edited with Carey Bustard and Théa Rosenburg, was published in spring 2022. You can read more of her ruminations at Poetic Underpinnings and listen to her podcast at Square Halo Books.


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