When We Were on Fire [a review]

When We Were on FireIf you've been with me long, you know that I love Addie Zierman. Her writing is beautiful and real and truthful. I had the great honor of receiving an advanced copy of her first book (thank you, Faith Village!) When We Were on Fire and I stayed up until 2am reading it because I physically couldn't put it down. Because I also grew up in the church in the '90's, I feel like her story is my story too. (In fact, I wrote a bit of my story for Addie's synchroblog on Wednesday). If you were part of this time and place, I'm sure that there is a bit of your story here too.

During this fiery time, there was much emphasis placed on testimony. Addie talks about the 3-minute testimony in her book, which was intended to be pulled out on mission trips, airplanes and when encountering unbelievers in everyday life. It was a pitch, if you will, for God and what He'd done in your life. It was short, neat and linear.

This book is Addie's testimony (or, as the Jesus Girls call it, her "untestimony"). It is messy, sad and circuitous. I walked through it like a labyrinth, noting each bend and curve, praying as I went. It was as if she had invited me to walk with her, and we'd set off. From time to time, she would point out a house, or a tree, a stone in our path. Sometimes, we were both crying. So many times, I wanted to reach out and take her hand.

In college, I fell hard and fast for structuralism, so I couldn't help noting Addie's use of dance as a structural element. Ballroom dance, Latin dancing at a crashed party, a school without dancing and back to the ballroom again. She paints a picture with bodies in motion. There is a tightening, a loosening, she is finding her rhythm.

My English major heart leapt again when I realized that she was successfully pulling off second-person narration some of the time, seamlessly. This is almost impossible, and she makes it look easy.

Though this book breaks my heart, perhaps because I know the story well, I found it gracious and hopeful. There is a strong sense of Advent in the final chapters, drawing the reader on to marvelous light, the hope of salvation. Addie's story is not over, she is not broken beyond repair, God is making her whole.

It is clear that she is telling her story, not to vent, but to shed a little light by which self-examination might be possible. I can tell that she hopes for a different church story for her sons.

Addie ZiermanOriginally, she planned to call it "How to Talk Evangelical." Each chapter begins with a relevant phrase, made popular by that movement. This whole book says: words matter. When we speak of God, of others, of ourselves, it matters what we say. Words can help us up to new heights and they can cast us into depths that seem too dark to escape.

I hope that Addie's words, always well-considered and drenched in love (some saltier than others) will come and live with you, challenge you, encourage you and remind you of the One who made you, in Whose Body we belong.

You can pre-order When We Were on Fire here. And be sure to check out more of Addie's writing over on her blog.