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When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over by [Zierman, Addie]
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4.4 out of 5 stars 144 customer reviews

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Length: 258 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews


Praise for When We Were on Fire

"With its luminous prose, Zierman’s memoir reads like a novel, threaded with imperfect faith, doubt, deep searching, love and friendship and loss and depression…A book to savor to the very last page.” –Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

“Fire provides light and warmth, or it can bring pain and destruction. Addie tells us a story in which her fiery faith sparked both outcomes and how she’s worked to contain those flames. She walks the reader through this process with such grace, humor, and utter transparency that I couldn’t help but see my own faith journey in hers. A refreshing, hopeful book from an expert storyteller.”
—Jason Boyett, author of O Me of Little Faith

“Addie Zierman’s unflinching candor and tender vulnerability make When We Were on Fire a must-read memoir. I ached for the wholesome, eager young girl seeking to serve God with all her heart, and wept for her—for all of us—who have experienced that particular keening heartbreak of being consumed by zeal. Addie walks through fire and still comes through shining with hope.”
—Elizabeth Esther, author of Girl at the End of the World

“Addie Zierman is a poet with a lion’s heart. When We Were on Fire is a memoir of such sophisticated and witty grace, it reads as the laughing prayer of a vagabond saint. Zierman’s words take root in you, grow slowly, and push outward into a ring of endless light. Would that in my own days of fire, youth groups, and See You at the Pole rallies, I had been given this book with the single word: ‘Hope.’”
—Preston Yancey, author of

“Addie speaks for an evangelical generation who came of age in the American teen ghetto of youth group short-term mission trips and longings for revival, contemporary Christian music, and WWJD. Her journey through the disillusionments and then her rebellion against the false boundary-markers and empty language of an “on fire” faith culminate in her ongoing journey of hope and redemption. There is a wise sadness to her words, a depth that disarms. Addie is a beautiful writer, but she’s also bold and honest as she tends the wounds of consumer evangelicalism on her old self, and then bravely gathers up all these disparate pieces of the painful and lovely obsessive faith of her past with new grace and gentle strength to move forward.”
—Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist

“For all of us who found our way while steeped in evangelical culture, Addie has written us a love letter. Hilarious and heartfelt, passionate and poetic, her take on growing up evangelical reveals a classic coming-of-age story with an evangelical twist. Through clean and messy faith, confusion, love lost and gained, she reflects deeply on each experience with enough humility and humor to keep you turning pages through this easy and beautiful read. You will love When We Were on Fire from beginning to end, as did I.”
—Grace Biskie, author of Converge Bible Studies: Kingdom Building, contributing author of Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, and writer for and Prodigal & Prism magazine

“Reading When We Were on Fire was like reading my own story. It’s an insightful, unflinching look at growing up evangelical. Addie recounts her misplaced zeal and resulting crisis of faith with humor and poignancy…ultimately discovering that a relationship with God is less about following Christian culture norms and more about following Him.”
—Kristen Howerton, blogger at Rage Against the Minivan, and psychology professor at Vanguard University
“It’s rare that a storyteller comes along with the ability to address important issues of life and faith with strength and profound openness. Addie Zierman is that kind of storyteller, and she does just that with her debut book When We Were on Fire. With a keen grasp on the intricacies and absurdities of Christian subculture, Addie bravely tells her story of a real, honest, and vulnerable faith that will resonate with readers of all ages. When We Were on Fire is a true pleasure to read.”
—Nish Weiseth, author of Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World, and editor-in-chief at

“Addie Zierman is a master storyteller whose sharp wit is matched only by her disarming sincerity. When We Were on Fire introduces her as one of this generation’s most promising new voices. Prepare to laugh out loud and nod along as this book delights, challenges, tickles, and inspires. For those of us working to reconcile the faith of our youth with the faith of our adulthood, it’s such a joy to have a friend like Addie along for the journey.”
—Rachel Held Evans, author of Evolving in Monkey Town and A Year of Biblical Womanhood

“The best kind of memoir is so deeply personal that it tells a universal story. In Addie’s memoir you will find funny, messy, cringe-worthy, and beautiful moments that cut close to home—those experiences that we would like to relegate to youth but in truth lurk not far beneath the surface of every phase of life. If you are weary of sanitized and teetotaling stories, and are hungry for honest and redemptive stories, then this is your story.”
—Adam S. McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church

About the Author

Addie Zierman is a writer, blogger, and recovering Jesus freak. She studied creative nonfiction at Hamline University and received her MFA there in 2010. Addie blogs regularly at, where she’s working to redefine her faith one cliché at a time. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Andrew, and their two sons.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3524 KB
  • Print Length: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Convergent Books; Reprint edition (October 15, 2013)
  • Publication Date: October 15, 2013
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00CVS6V7A
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #332,375 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Colleen Schwenger on November 20, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Okay, so it's hard to review a memoir. After all, you're basically assigning stars to someone's life experience, which doesn't seem fair.It's also hard to review this book without debating the subject matter. I have a feeling I am going to get a lot of negative/hateful comments about this review, but here goes:

The book was really interesting. It's well written, lyrical and poetic without getting tedious. It held my attention and kept me up reading late at night, wanting to know what happened. Part of the reason for that is the similarities between my own life and Addie's. From the dates given in the book, I figure I am about a year older than she is. We listened to the same Christian bands, attended See You at the Pole, grew up in Sunday School and attended conservative Christian colleges. My experience was actually a little more uptight than hers. I went to a church and Christian school that believed women should only wear skirts. You were never, ever to drink alcohol, dancing was forbidden, and even going to the movies was frowned upon. In college, I got demerits for not making my bed. On Saturday. I wore my True Love Waits ring, Kissed Dating Goodbye, and was strung along dating-but-not-really-dating a "missionary boy" all through high school. Like Addie's romance, he criticized my walk with God and told me what I should and shouldn't be doing.

All that to say, I KNOW exactly where she is coming from. I was there. This was almost my life story. Almost.

At first I was kinda laughing/commiserating with the shared experiences. As an adult, I have to shake my head at some of the man-made church rules. But then, the book takes a really self-indulgent turn. Addie starts struggling with adult life, as we all do.
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Format: Paperback
I am going to guess that this review will generate a lot of "not helpful" votes. In the end, reading Ms. Zierman's account left me both sad and frustrated.

Basically, her story is that she grew up in an extreme end of what is sometimes called evangelical culture but that more verged on fundamentalism--and yes, there are differences. Unsurprisingly, the legalistic lifestyle she was surrounded by caused her to throw off much--most?--of her faith and dive full bore into some of the very things she had been warned about. This overreaction ended up almost costing her her marriage and appears to still impact her relationships with anyone who might not share her own beliefs.

Zierman uses both first and third person perspectives in telling her story, and this is sometimes effective and sometimes disconcerting, but in the end it does seem to point out how her strict upbringing ended up fragmenting her views on life. Somewhere in the process of getting free of all the judgmentalism she felt herself surrounded by, she seems to have absorbed a pretty healthy dose of these attitudes herself. Now, however, it seems like Zierman is searching for ways to be offended by those still holding to traditionally conservative faith.

Granted, she does have some sense of what she is doing. "The house church is full of nice young couples and nice young singles, but their politeness has a sort of empty quality to it, a hollowness that echoes in their words. And once I decide I don't fit, nothing I do seems to reverse that self-fulfilling prophecy. Once I'm aware of their faults, I can see nothing else, and I hang on to slights--real or imagined--with a firm grip.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was born the same year as Addie Zierman. We grew up a few hours from each other in the Midwest and came of age during the heyday of the American evangelical machine. I could barely have written my own story with more accuracy. The nostalgia factor is high - Christy Miller books, hours in the Christian bookstore with a cheesy name, Jars of Clay, and always, always wanting God to "do big things" in your life - but this is no simple trip down memory lane. This book is a heartbreaking account of a woman learning to navigate the grey when life ceases to be black and white. Anyone who has ever tried to believe and come up short will relate to Addie's story. She writes a love letter for cynics and doubters of all kinds, to those of us still burning up with rage and those of us whose anger has long ago burned out.

Readers of might find themselves handling this book gently, turning the pages with extra care, because these feel like the words of a good friend. She writes here the same way she writes on her blog: with a powerful intimacy.

When I reluctantly finished the book, I texted a friend: Telling our stories saves us. It seems like telling her story helped save Addie. I think reading her story might be helping to save me.
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Why is it, I wonder, that the church, and so many of its subsidiary organizations, get and give such a garbled message? We too often complicate the beautiful simplicity of the gospel of grace, add on layers of dogma that were never part of the design, and insist that others see the same rigid, box-like faith that we see. There's a lot of un-learning that needs to happen for many, if not most of us, who were raised within the confines of an overly conservative, mistakenly zealous version of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Addie Zierman has been a lyrical voice for that re-learning for a couple of years now. Her blog, "How to Talk Evangelical" has been on my top 10 list for about as long as she's been writing on it. And her book is, in many ways, an extension of what you find in that lovely space.

It is also more. This is a memoir, a spiritual memoir. But it is also a story of love gone wrong, a sad tale of how "Christian" relationships can sometimes slip into abuse, and how hard it is to recover from the garbage theology we too often absorb in our `on fire' years.

Slipping between 2nd and 3rd person narrative, Addie tells a beautiful but painful story. She writes movingly of adolescent earnestness, life-long friendships, moving into a healthy relationship, then fighting to save it as depression and churchianity take their inevitable toll.

She speaks honestly about using alcohol to numb the pain, about stepping into therapy and finding Jesus there, about her frustrating search to be at home in community.

Addie's story is not my story, but there are pieces of it that I know. Something about my own family system made me wary of catch-phrases, excessive cheeriness and simplistic recipes for anything.
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