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

In the strange, us-versus-them Christian subculture of the 1990s, a person's faith was measured by how many WWJD bracelets she wore and whether he had kissed dating goodbye.

Evangelical poster child Addie Zierman wore three bracelets asking what Jesus would do. She also led two Bible studies and listened exclusively to Christian music. She was on fire for God and unaware that the flame was dwindling--until it burned out.

Addie chronicles her journey through church culture and first love, and her entrance--unprepared and angry--into marriage. When she drops out of church and very nearly her marriage as well, it is on a sea of tequila and depression. She isn't sure if she'll ever go back.

When We Were on Fire is a funny, heartbreaking story of untangling oneself from what is expected to arrive at faith that is not bound by tradition or current church fashion. Addie looks for what lasts when nothing else seems worth keeping. It's a story for doubters, cynics, and anyone who has felt alone in church.

In the strange, us-versus-them Christian subculture of the 1990s, a person's faith was measured by how many WWJD bracelets she wore and whether he had kissed dating goodbye.

Evangelical poster child Addie Zierman wore three bracelets asking what Jesus would do. She also led two Bible studies and listened exclusively to Christian music. She was on fire for God and unaware that the flame was dwindling--until it burned out.

Addie chronicles her journey through church culture and first love, and her entrance--unprepared and angry--into marriage. When she drops out of church and very nearly her marriage as well, it is on a sea of tequila and depression. She isn't sure if she'll ever go back.

When We Were on Fire is a funny, heartbreaking story of untangling oneself from what is expected to arrive at faith that is not bound by tradition or current church fashion. Addie looks for what lasts when nothing else seems worth keeping. It's a story for doubters, cynics, and anyone who has felt alone in church.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    PrologueSo there I was. Alone at the flagpole. In the rain.

    Behind me, Buffalo Grove High School loomed large and brown, its walls angling inward so that either way I looked, there was brick and glass, brick and glass. Inside, the school was just starting to flicker to life: a few lockers creaking open, slamming shut, the early students shuffling down the quiet hallways toward a new day.

    I was standing outside on a small patch of grass in that netherworld between the school's entrance and the road. In front of me, the flagpole rose tall from a tiny concrete circle. The September rain fell steady and cold, but instead of a jacket, I was sporting my official See You at the Pole T-shirt: white with a barrage of reds and blues--a prayer-themed Bible verse splashed across in a zany font.

    The shirts came in big packets of Christian marketing materials sent to youth pastors across the United States. In turn, they were doled out to students. Students who had promised to pray at their schools' flagpoles at seven in the morning that fourth Wednesday of September. Students like me.

    It was my sophomore year, my second time to the national See You at the Pole event. My first year, I'd stepped out of our minivan and into a group of hundreds of students, all of them circling wide around the BGHS flagpole. They were pressing farther and farther out toward the brick walls, toward the road, toward the whole of the Chicago suburbs in which we lived.

    I was innocent, small, white-blond. My body had not yet begun to curve into itself; I slid in and out of size-one jeans. But when I walked toward that burgeoning circle, it opened. It absorbed me. The hands of people I'd never met were grasping mine, while above us, the American flag snapped proudly in the wind. We were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen,
    standing up for something Great. We were holding hands, holding together God and country, faith and public education, Jesus and His disenfranchised children--the ones walking unseeing down our high school hallways.

    That was the idea, anyway. That is what I imagine the founders of the event had in mind when they started it somewhere deep in Texas in 1990. And maybe in the beginning, it was. Maybe in its grass-roots days, it was honest and humble, a fusing together around the pain of classmates, schools, world.

    But by the time I first attended in 1997, See You at the Pole was a trademarked term. It had a paid staff. A marketing team. A website. "You may purchase top-quality SYATP promotional material such as videos, brochures, posters, book covers, banners, wristbands and more at reasonable prices by calling 817.HIS.PLAN," the website advertised.

    By 1997, youth pastors across the country were showing the SYATP video promo, and it was a kind of extended infomercial featuring goodlooking Christian teenagers in fitted Abercrombie sweaters. The teens talked about God and about the wonderful things that had happened to them while standing in front of flagpoles for Jesus. I watched them fade in and out on the screen, these beautiful people I did not know. Their enthusiasm lodged itself somewhere deep inside of me, growing steadily, filling me with hope.

    I was a freshman--insecure and unknown. This was my opportunity to be somebody. "This is your time to stand strong for your faith at the pole," the kids in the video said.

    See. You. There.

    In retrospect, that first See You at the Pole event with its bloated circle of students stirs a feeling I can't quite place. Pity. Compassion. Frustration. Nostalgia. So much has happened since then. I almost can't remember what it felt like to be that girl--the one with the long blond ponytail...

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.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from October 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.

  • Publisher's Weekly (starred review) "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."
  • Jason Boyett, author of O Me of Little Faith "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."
  • Elizabeth Esther, author of Girl at the End of the World "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."
  • Preston Yancey, author of SeePrestonBlog.com "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.'"
  • Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist "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."
  • 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 "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."
  • Kristen Howerton, blogger "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."
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A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over
Addie Zierman
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