When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over

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In the strange, us-versus-them world of the 90’s Christian subculture, your faith was measured by how many WWJD bracelets you wore and whether or not you’d “kissed dating goodbye.”
Evangelical poster-child, Addie Zierman wore three WWJD bracelets, led two Bible studies and listened exclusively to Christian rock. She was “on fire for God,” unaware that the flame of her ...

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When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over

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In the strange, us-versus-them world of the 90’s Christian subculture, your faith was measured by how many WWJD bracelets you wore and whether or not you’d “kissed dating goodbye.”
Evangelical poster-child, Addie Zierman wore three WWJD bracelets, led two Bible studies and listened exclusively to Christian rock. She was “on fire for God,” unaware that the flame of her faith was dwindling until it burned entirely out.
With candor and transparency, Addie chronicles her journey through church culture, first love, and her entrance—unprepared and angry—into marriage. When she washes out of church and nearly her marriage on a sea of tequila and Depression, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever go back.
We Were on Fire is a funny, heartbreaking story of untangling oneself from cliché in search of a faith worth embracing. It’s a story for anyone who has ever felt alone in a crowded church. For the cynic. The doubter. The former Jesus Freak struggling with the complexity of life.
It’s a story about the slow work of returning to love, Jesus, and (perhaps toughest of all) his imperfect followers. And, in the end, it’s about what lasts when nothing else seems worth keeping.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 10/14/2013
Zierman grows up in an average, Bible-studying, Christian family but as a teenager, her zeal for being the perfect, evangelical Christian girl reaches a new level, one that disturbs even her parents. Falling in love with a rigid, similarly zealous, boy named Chris who is bound for mission work doesn’t hurt these faith pursuits, and is in fact the reason behind her newfound obsessions with purity and perfect devotion to Jesus. 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. The slice of young adult life Zierman offers has a universal taste. This memoir is reminiscent of some of the best in the genre, including Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God—though Zierman’s is not a story with a happy, evangelical return, and instead one about the rage a young woman might feel about being swindled by evangelical youth culture. She is a writer to watch and this is a book to savor to the very last page. Agent: Janet Kobobel Grant, Books & Such Literary Agency. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Praise for When We Were on Fire

“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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781601425454
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/15/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 297,630
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet 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.howtotalkevangelical.comm 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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 15, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    When We Were On Fire is stunningly crafted and full of grace. Ou

    When We Were On Fire is stunningly crafted and full of grace. Our stories aren't exactly the same but Addie Zierman and I both grew up in the evangelical subculture and we've both struggled to find our place in the church since then. Her words were a balm time and again. You could take the same subculture and string together words that wound. Yet there are no bad guys here. There are mistakes- theirs, hers, ours- and there is redemption. There are things that could have been done better. There are root issues and hurts that fester but there's also hope and healing.

    This is real life and it's reflected throughout the memoir. It's gritty and sometimes the language is salty. (This made me fall in love with Convergent.) Who among us hasn't experienced the power of a well placed curse word? Who hasn't recoiled from a sugar-coated platitude or whitewashed advice? By naming and honoring the dark parts, we let the light in. Addie's writing is nothing but authentic and perhaps that's why it resonated so strongly with me.

    Addie's writing is beautiful. Her story is stunning. The connections and insights this one book contains amazes me. Easily a favorite read of 2013.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 18, 2014

    Addie Zierman was the perfect evangelical child of the 90s. She

    Addie Zierman was the perfect evangelical child of the 90s. She was almost obsessively obnoxious about wearing her faith on her sleeve and making sure everyone knew she was a Christian and they should be as well. But as she grew up--as she focused all her energies onto being the Christian she thought she should be--her energy was fading, and it eventually burned out...but not before she fell in (and out of) love with the missionary boys at her college and the romantic idea of being a missionary's wife in some far-off land.

    She eventually married one of those missionary boys and went with him to China, where she discovered that the reality was far less enchanting than the romance. Her religious energy faded, and when she and her husband returned to the United States, she decided that she was through with religion. The next several years were a struggle of trying to find a place where they could both feel like they belonged--where she could develop an adult loving relationship with God. Several times she thought they maybe had found it, but each time something failed. In the process, her marriage also almost failed, but something kept them connected. Addie gradually came to terms with the imperfections she found in Jesus' followers and slowly found her way back to a solid marriage and to religion. The birth of her son was, in many ways, the epiphany that brought her to understand that she had never really lost her faith; it was there, waiting for her to find it in an adult way.

    It's a story told with stark honesty and humor, a story of a spiritual journey that comes across as "the real thing"...not what someone thinks the story of a spiritual journey should sound like. It's a story that reminds us that coming to a mature spiritual relationship takes time...and it's an ongoing--and wonderful--process.

    This book was provided free of charge from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for reviewing it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2014

    A girl who can¿t figure out what she wants. She knows she should

    A girl who can’t figure out what she wants. She knows she should want to serve God but she isn’t so sure she is that devoted. Even as a young girl God didn’t seem all that interested in her. Addie tries to force herself to serve Him but she just can’t. She certainly isn’t going to have a baby in a hut! This is about her journey through life with and without faith by her side.
    I did enjoy the book but it didn’t have me up until 3 a.m. on a work night. I would recommend it to anyone that loves memoirs. Interesting but not a five star book.
    This book was provided by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. Everything written above is my opinion only.

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  • Posted April 17, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Addie Zierman is the blogger of "How to Talk Evangelical.&q

    Addie Zierman is the blogger of "How to Talk Evangelical." Her book "When we were on Fire" was named one of 101 Best Books of 2013 by Publisher’s Weekly

    Addie has been "speaking evangelical" fluently since she was three years old. Like many Christian leaders, she has been a Bible study leader, prayer group founder, Sunday school teacher, worship band singer, and member of Awana. Plus she still knows all the words to the song “Jesus Freak” by DC Talk (who doesn't?)

    I am probably just 10 years outside of her target audience with this book, but as a pastor and leader I have seen first hand the struggles that the church has made in recent years. Lots of young people are raised with "fire" all through the young teen and youth group years - Summer camp, sleep-overs, late night rallies after the game, but then as those kids grow older... what happens to their spiritual walk?

    I think anyone who grew up in this evangelical bubble, during the entire WWJD craze would indentify with this book - especially youth kids and those who worked in the youth ministry. I watched some of my own students drift away, play with alcohol only to slowly find their way back.

    This is a wonderful story about belonging, falling away, addiction and recovery. Well deserved to be one of the year's best books. Pick it up.

    I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

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  • Posted October 30, 2013

    Remember the 90s? Remember the tidal wave of cool that was flood

    Remember the 90s? Remember the tidal wave of cool that was flooding our churches, our youth groups, our prayers? Most of us do, in a vague, foggy kind of way. In this beautiful memoir, Addie Zierman writes about this era of Christianity with a candidness and a clarity that not only reminds us of what was going on, but puts into words the questions many have had, in hindsight, about what was really going on.

    Starting off each chapter with a piece of "Christianese" (words Christians use that need to be explained to everyone else) and a definition, Zierman talks about things I haven't thought about in years - things like AWANA, See You At the Pole, Teen Mania, WWJD bracelets. Back then, it seemed like in order to be a good Christian, all you had to do was dress modestly (a Jesus promoting t-shirt for every day of the week), be active at church (short-term mission trips, Bible study, etc.), and pray (fill journals with your girl cursive telling God how great he was and what you were feeling, who you liked, why you wanted God to make you a missionary). To be a super-Christian, you had to be a missionary. You had to be willing to leave it all and go live somewhere else. Because that's what Jesus did for us, right?

    Zierman's book certainly doesn't bash missionaries, and neither am I. She simply confesses in an honest and non-judgmental way that the reason she wanted to be a missionary during high school was not because of God, but because of Christianity. I've had a feeling about this for a few years now, and I was delighted to read the story of someone who decided not to be a missionary. (She still spent a year in China with her husband, but she was teaching English, not Bible stories, and it was hard, and they came back.)

    After painting a picture of how clearly "on fire" for Jesus she was in high school, Zierman describes the experience of going to a small Christian college in a way that shows exactly how it is - for some people (I being one of them). At home she was the Bible study leader, the righteous one. At school, the Christians who had gotten everything right judged her for not having their taste in decorating, listening to non-Christian music, and going on late night walks with a boy. She described this experience not as a backsliding in her relationship with Christ, but as a disillusionment with evangelicalism. It was too stifling, too pigeon-holed, too legalistic.

    From there, she describes the loneliness she felt, even after her marriage, as for many years she was unable to find within evangelicalism the community and deep understanding and friendship that she craved. She slid into depression, mild alcoholism, and emotional adultery. It took a long time and a lot of counseling to make it back - a lot of forgiveness directed toward things that happened back when she was on fire. But she did make it, and this book is her beautiful story.

    There were very few things in this book I disagreed with. Usually I take this as a warning sign, that maybe I am not thinking about the book critically enough. But it's a memoir! It's hard to disagree with someone's life. What I did feel was an astounding sense of recognition. That Zieman's story is not just hers. That it belongs to a generation that was duped into believing they were holy if they wore enough Jesus t-shirts, sang enough songs, met every dilemma with WWJD? Anyone can learn from this book. Everyone can respond to it, whether you grew up in, were consumed by, or are struggling to recover from the Christian subculture that led everyone to believe that fires could never go out.

    I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

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