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When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over Paperback – October 15, 2013
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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 SeePrestonBlog.com
“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 DeeperStory.com 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 DeeperStory.com
“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 www.AddieZierman.com where she’s working to redefine her faith one cliché at a time. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Andrew, and their two young sons.
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Readers of AddieZierman.com 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.
Addie Zierman is another veteran of the '80s and '90s culture wars between Christianity and secularism. She's eager to please God but unsure how to do so, and her so-called borderline abusive boyfriend Chris, as well as many youth group members and leaders, are no help. I cringed reading about them, partially because I have to wonder if theirs is the impression non-Christians often get of the church. However, I was gratified to see Addie willing to ask questions and settle in her heart and mind who Jesus is, even if that image doesn't line up with how she was raised.
I also appreciated Addie's honesty about her alcoholism and depression. While it's become easier for Christians to discuss things like this, I still think there's stigma attached, so confronting these issues is brave, especially in a book anybody can pick up and read. Again, some of the descriptions were cringe-worthy, but worth the read. I left the book feeling as if Addie had retrieved some of her fire for God, although perhaps not the same fire. I think that was the point--after all, if Christians all had the same type of relationships with God, we'd be boring and probably end up burning each other. Well worth your time, no matter your belief system.
This book is Addie's story, in her own words. She grew up "on fire" for Christ. All the trappings of 90s Christian pop-culture were a big part of her teenage faith (WWJD bracelets, browsing in Christian bookstores, zany Christian T-shirts, DC Talk, etc.). Other aspects of evangelical Christianity, which are not dependent on the decade, also permeated Addie's life, such as camps, mission trips, youth group, etc. She is bold in faith...until she is burned one too many times as a young woman. This Christian subculture she had loved so much failed her. Things that once meant deep truth to her became empty cliches. Addie recounts her plunge into depression and rebellion, and briefly recounts her journey back into church and fellowship. Her counselor and her loving husband really help her through.
Okay, here is my take on it. First, I'm going to say I don't even like the term "evangelical", although I am one. I feel this word is more associated with voting blocs, and also gives unbelievers and more liberal Christians a way to label and put negative connotations on us. I say I am a Christian. My definition of that comes from the Bible. Most people understand this without my having to say the word evangelical. Having said that, I don't feel her goal in this book was to rant at evangelicals (she even admits at the end that they attend an evangelical church again). I think she is sharing her struggles with some of the ways evangelical culture failed her. And you know, that shallow 90s pop-Christianity failed me too, once upon a time in 1996. I was in high school. Our church had become more "seeker-friendly" and I got kicked out of the church by the pastor because I led some kids to the Lord at Vacation Bible School. That was bad PR, I guess. It was humiliating. Totally different than Addie's experience, and yet similar in that we were both failed by the outer trappings of pop-Christianity. After this, I had my heart broken by a Christian boyfriend who was very inappropriate. Again, it was different than Addie's boyfriend story, but still similar enough. So, my heart went out to her as I read. Here is where my story is very different. First, I couldn't stand DC Talk (sorry to their fans! No offense intended). My tastes veered more toward Steven Curtis Chapman and Rich Mullins. Second, as I was a little older than Addie, I was never as into the "cool" Christian culture of the day as she was. It seemed kind of fake to me, and never made me feel very close to Christ. There were a few things I did and had (like a WWJD bracelet and a very trendy mid-90s Teen Study Bible), but mostly I wasn't into the trendy stuff. Even more different was the way I reacted when I was wounded by these fellow believers. I lost faith in people and retreated within, but I never left the faith, the church, or the Bible. I never redefined my faith. God and people were always two separate entities to me. My faith is based on the unchanging truth of God's Word. It needs no redefinition.
Here are my conclusions about this story. Addie's faith was in people. Her eyes were on people. She looked to people to validate her and meet her emotional needs. She seldom was without a boyfriend. All of this was unhealthy and set her up for failure. I noticed that very seldom in this book does she recount an actual experience with the Lord. Even her salvation story at age 5 was based on a nightmare about hell, not on conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit. I'm not saying that wasn't real salvation. But I did notice the lack of actual connection between herself and God throughout the book. People seemed to be her lifeline. Other than when she was planning her mission trip, I never see her even trying to seek God or hear His voice, and even then, she was following her boyfriend's instructions. I really never saw her develop a mature, independent relationship with God. Maybe that's what she is doing now. She talks about redefining faith, but doesn't say what her basis is for this redefinition. If she is redefining it based on what the Bible actually says, than I agree with her. But she doesn't actually say what the basis of the redefinition is.
Another concern I have is that she really takes issue with a lot of the Christian phraseology. She calls them cliches. Some, perhaps, are, but phrase like Born Again are straight out of the Bible. If we're going to call ourselves Christians, we can't take exception to God's word. And it needs to be noted that evangelical Christians are not the only group to have jargon. I have had Catholic, Mormon and Muslim friends, and they definitely had some vocabulary of their own that would need to be explained to an outsider. So, specific lingo shouldn't be seen as a purely evangelical thing. Every subculture has it.
This was long, but there was a lot to interact with.