Addie Zierman began writing seriously in grad school, figuring she’d create unique and new material that would change the world. Instead, she ended up sorting through her past via her master’s thesis, struggling with depression and disillusionment with her evangelical roots, and finding her way back to faith through that same thesis.
“I felt abandoned by God, but my thesis kept me rooted to my faith because I had to keep writing about it. It forced me to struggle through my issues and it was hard, but very healing,” says Zierman, whose book When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over (Convergent Books, Oct.) is based on that master’s thesis.
Zierman offers readers an inside look at what it meant to be an evangelical Christian in the 1990s, complete with See You at the Pole prayer vigils, a drawer full of Sunday school awards, Quiet Time, and her very own Bible quilt. When We Were on Fire, one of PW’s Top 5 Religion Books for 2013, is an account of her journey from “on fire” evangelical youth culture—replete with What Would Jesus Do bracelets, camp fire sings, and a lexicon of Christian jargon—to an adult who bottomed out and survived.
Her audience expanded thanks to her blog HowToTalkEvangelical.com (recently changed to AddieZierman.com), in which she examined the clichés of the faith and riffed on life in general. “I took the Christian lingo out there and redefined terms, and helped redefine what faith looks like,” Zierman says. “I looked at those clichés a little more deeply to find out what is the real truth and what is accumulated baggage, to keep what is beautiful and leave behind what is tripping us up.”
One recurring theme is performance- and appearance-based Christianity that, Zierman says, “just manifests itself differently in new generations. When we say we’ll ‘pray about it,’ it’s dismissive and a way that we float above one another’s struggles but sound super holy doing it.”
The response to When We Were on Fire has been “unbelievably kind and encouraging,” says Zierman. “Lots of people have said it could be their own journal. My favorite comments are when people who didn’t grow up the way I did can still connect with the themes. A good memoir transcends different backgrounds and gets back to human experience.” Zierman continues to write her blog and is beginning her next book, though she is “not talking about it yet.”