Review Series: Essays of Rest and Restlessness

Each month I review a new book for ImageUpdate. Here’s the latest.


Essays of Rest and Restlessness
First Church of the Higher Elevations: Mountains, Prayer and Presence by Peter Anderson

Things that many of us hope for in prayer and pilgrimage, even if we don’t admit it: “quiet peaceful serenity,” “out-of-the-ordinary contemplative skill,” “great mystical insight.”  What we often get, instead: “strangeness,” “an experience of Presence that feels more like absence,” and the occasional attack by a charging sloth bear.

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La Vie en Rose (Song Series #10)

Fooling around with a song I’ve always loved. Breaking out the college French. Accompanied by cheeky guitarist Rob Hinst.



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Don’t Say Poetry Never Did Anything for You

I was pretty mad at my husband this morning. Details not important. Level of anger important. I was at that stage where you get out the blankets for that spare bed in the basement. I was at the stage where I regarded every flattering social media post we’ve ever made about each other as the height of hypocrisy, a sad 21st century updating of 1950s suburban social veneers. Like, who ARE these stupid happy people?


I was at the stage where (although I intellectually assented that we were still best friends) I kicked him out of the house and told him to go cool off at some coffee shop.

Then I furiously made French toast for the children. Yes, it is possible to do anything furiously.

It is Saturday–a domestic day. With the kiddos around, I could not write, or read, or crankily run down to the beach, or other things I might choose to do at moments of ire. So when my husband came home a few hours later, he found me on a housecleaning jag.

He began to pick up toys alongside me. Whatever our falling out, it remains true that he is mostly an upstanding marital citizen.

A while later, after I had scrubbed the bathtub and swept my office, he came and found me and hugged me for a while.

He told me some things. I respected those things. I thanked him.

And because we happened to be standing by the poetry section of my bookshelf,


I said, “I’d like to mark this moment by reading a poem that I carefully hand-selected for this occasion.”

I grabbed a completely random book off the shelf. (It turned out to be Ghost Girl by Amy Gerstler. It’s pretty fabulous.)



Then I opened this random book to a random poem. I looked at the title. I looked at my husband. I read him the title.

“Ode to Semen.”

He sat down, as one does at a poetry reading, and I read him the poem.


 We observed a moment of silence.

“Don’t say poetry never did anything for you,” I said.

I think we’re OK now.



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A New Crop of Quirky Sermons

I quit my church job this year. I was the Arts Director at an imperfect-but-wonderful, nondenominational church. My job involved dreaming up crazy creative environments and then bringing them to life.

Over time I realized this was indeed a dream job–but not mine. 

I loved, loved my coworkers. But life gives you only so many hours, and I have this compulsion to write stories. And I like to make music. And I’ve got two small sons who cling to me like caterpillars on a tree.  I am always having theological quarrels with myself. And I have, for better or for worse, incurable wanderlust, and I hate cubicles.

The one thing I loved was writing and delivering these quirky sermons, which our pastor generously calls “unconventional.” I never went to seminary, so nobody ever told me how to deliver a normal one.

Here’s a new crop of them…

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Kansas City: Song Series #9

“How do you combine 26 different letters to change a person’s breathing?”
–Bret Anthony Johnston

This was my fave quote from the Luther College Writers Festival in Iowa last weekend, where I got to hear hearty & inspiring talks by the writer above, plus Erik Larson, Charles Baxter, and Jane Hamilton, and panels moderated by Keith Lesmeister (whose book is coming out this year! Look for it!).

The bonus to any writer’s conference is making some music with my soul-brother-the-poet Eli Burrell, who happened to be one of the presenters at Luther. We’re cooking up some new songs to play, but lately I like this one that we recorded at some AWP or another.

“Kansas City”

(vocals & guitar, Eli Burrell; vocals & viola, Jen Hinst-White; lyrics, Bob Dylan; music, Marcus Mumford)

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Review Series: The Penny Poet of Portsmouth

Each month I review a new book for ImageUpdate. Here’s the latest.

The Penny Poet of Portsmouth: A Memoir of Place, Solitude, and Friendship by Katherine Towler

“Minor Poets Have More Fun,” read the calling cards of Robert Dunn, the titular character in Katherine Towler’s memoir The Penny Poet of Portsmouth. Towler, who knew this very private writer as much as anyone could, writes: “Robert did not settle for being a minor poet, he aspired to be a minor poet.” Indeed, Dunn earned his nickname for the pocket-sized books of his poetry that he sold for one cent—one cent and no more.

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Review Series: My Radio Radio

Each month I review a new book for ImageUpdate. Here’s the latest.

A Radiant Coming-of-Age
My Radio Radio by Jessie van Eerden

They called themselves The Dunlap Fellowship of All Things in Common. They were idealists who meant to replicate the early church described in Acts, doing away not only with private property but even family ties, so that parents were addressed not as Mama and Daddy but by their first names, because “we’re all family according to Jesus.” But now, at the opening of Jessie van Eerden’s hypnotic novel, My Radio Radio, it’s 1986, and the twenty-two founding families have dwindled to one grim, quiet household with just a handful of people—one of whom is twelve-year-old Naomi Ruth (Omi for short). We meet Omi, the novel’s narrator, on one of the most terrifying mornings of her life: She wakes to discover that she’s bleeding, an old man in a hospital bed has appeared in her house, and her brother has been killed in a car wreck.

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