when we were on fire: a review

Posted on October 16th, by dave in christian living, church, review, rumination, theology, Uncategorized, writing. 6 comments

when we were on fire: a review

{ addie zierman, friend of ANTLER and memoirist, releases her book “when we were on fire” this week! here’s a brief review by micha boyett. if you like what you see here, go ahead and let the world know. then head over to addie’s synchroblog and tell your own story! order the book here… }


Addie Zierman’s memoir begins in front of her high school, in tenth grade. Her mom drops her off at the flagpole for “See You At the Pole,” a phenomenon experienced by many of us who grew up evangelical in the nineties. Once a year, Christian teenagers were challenged to meet at the flagpole before school, pray for their fellow classmates, and risk their high school status for the sake of Christ.

Addie approaches the empty flagpole, her violin case dangling in her hand, and stands before it alone, in the rain. No one else has shown up to pray with her. Her consciousness flits back and forth between the pride of being the only Christian student who bothered to show up in the rain and pray for her school, and the insecurity of her lonely stand for Christ. She can barely pay attention long enough to form a coherent prayer. “God, do something great in our school,” she repeats over and over in her mind, while she feels the eyes of her peers walking past her bowed, rain-drenched head.

The metaphor is palpable. Zierman is going to take us into the mind of her fifteen-year-old self, into that sort of sacrifice, the earnest, “on fire” life of the nineties and early 2000’s: Zierman’s teenage Christian subculture of Jesus music, Jesus books, and, most significant for the momentum of this memoir, Jesus-speak. (The book is ordered by definitions of Evangelical terminology.)

We are invited to stand with her at the flagpole. We’re invited to see what the rain strips of her, what it stripped of an entire culture of young believers who did their best to be “on fire” enough for God. We’re going to watch what that sort of extreme faith demands of a kid, who, it turns out, can’t live long in fire without being altered, without becoming ash.




Often, memoir writers fall into the extremes of either villanizing their culture / family / friends or villainizing themselves. Addie’s book succeeds in so many beautiful ways, but what she does best is tell her own story without casting blame on herself or the people who come through her life. There are no caricatures here. It’s a book filled with broken people trying to love God. Even the high school boyfriend who emotionally manipulates Addie and questions her ability to withstand a future as his missionary wife, gives glimpses into his own broken home, the fear he’s running from in his fierce determination to save the world. Zierman offers her characters, including herself, gentle compassion.

She also manages to tell a story of Christian faith without succombing to the usual “Christian memoir” demands that faith be neatly restored. There is no “come to Jesus” moment where all the broken strips of Addie’s faith are woven back together. That doesn’t mean this is a hopeless story. It is a true story, in which the main character comes to hope the most human way of all, by crashing, desperately, into it.

There’s a moment toward the end of the memoir, where Addie arrives home to her husband, whose faith has remained intact despite his wife’s questions and rebellion. Addie has spiraled further and further into the darkness of depression and has found the church culture around her incapable of welcoming her questions and struggles. She wobbles into their bedroom after driving herself home drunk from a poetry reading and stands at the door, ashamed, feeling a deep void between herself and the man in her bed whom she married as a 21-year-old college student.

He says nothing of her drunkenness or desperation. Only this, “Come to bed with me, Sweetie.”

That moment holds the power of this book: Tender, vulnerable, brave.

If the girl at the flagpole and her self-inflicted suffering is a metaphor for the woundedness many of us received from the evangelical subculture of our youth, then Addie’s husband in that bed, calling her to safety–from herself, from her own mind and self-destruction, from the ideal Christian woman she could never live up to–is the embodiment of grace.

Come to bed with me, Sweetie. Come to bed.




In When We Were On Fire, Zierman stands in as one of us, a generation of young people who measured our worth by the intensity of our faith, a generation that strove to live into a stark black and white worldview, until we grew up to find gray everywhere.  It’s the story of catching flame and burning out before we ever had the chance to grasp who God actually intended us to be.




The Church is made of humans, of broken people doing their best to love Jesus. “You are one of them,” Zierman says. “And you are not one of them.”

And this sums up the Church and its brokenness: We have been hurt by it and we have been loved by it. We have done the hurting and we have been part of the healing. It is a wild, pulsing ocean. Some souls are broken in each movement, bodies crash against the rocky shores. But, grace is the belief that, in Christ, even those souls, those slammed into the rocks–can be held and restored and placed gently in a lifeboat.

The book of Hebrews describes God as a consuming fire. Fire is a source of life, but, of course, its life is white-hot and destructive. We need the flames that feed us, warm us, bring light into the darkness. But we cannot force our bodies into the flames without losing ourselves in the process.

As she moves toward the restoration of her faith, Addie begins to find God in a simpler, warmer sort of light. She takes the reader’s hand and walks into this reality: “It is gradual illumination, fireflies moving slowly toward you, softening the edge of the darkness so that you can see the beautiful mystery...

Addie’s story is not simply one of coming to terms with the reality of an all-consuming God. The hope of When We Were On Fire is not found in the flames at all, but in the gentle light that has been moving toward us all along.

It’s a story told with precision and beauty and hope.



Micha Boyett is a youth minister turned stay at home mom attempting to make sense of vocation and place after three cross-country moves in four years. She is mama to two blonde boys and wife to a very tall Philadelphian. Her first book, a memoir of prayer, will be released from Worthy in April, 2014. She blogs at Patheos about motherhood, monasticism, and the sacred in the everyday. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

6 Responses to “when we were on fire: a review”

  1. Oh, Micha, well done!! This is beautiful – thank you for it.

  2. Carol Lutz says:

    I’ve been anticipating the release of Addie’s book, and after reading this, know it will be a wonderful read.

    Thank-you, Micha, this is a beautifully written review! Wow!

  3. phyllis says:

    Thanks Micha. Lovely review and I am eager to read this book!

  4. AnnaC says:

    Wow, that was a great review. Powerful stuff. Can’t wait to read WWWoF myself now!

  5. Jeannie says:

    Thank you for this, it looks wonderful. As I mentioned to you before on your blog, Micha, I read a piece by this writer in Rock & Sling (prob an excerpt from the memoir) and I just loved it; it was just so truthful and beautiful. So I’m sure I’ll love the whole book!

  6. Thank you. What a beautiful review. If the book is half as real as your summation I cannot wait to read it.

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