When our youngest daughter was a toddler she LOVED the book Go Dog Go, by P. D. Eastman. She was content sitting in someone’s lap having the book read to her again, and again, and again, and again. The worrisome father in me was concerned that she loved the book for its humanist philosophies. But my fears were relieved when she told me the reason she liked the book was the yellow dog — he looked like her special puppy. Great books softly entice you with the familiar and once you’re hooked they pull your heart out.
One such book I’ve read recently is When We Were on Fire, by Addie Zierman. Addie’s book is her personal journey of making her faith her own in her teens and early twenties. I heard of the book in an article by Philip Yancey about great books in 2013. I was hesitant to read another book by a post-evangelical that ended in angry finger-pointing, so I started with the preface and then jumped to the final chapter. I was soon overwhelmed by Addie’s artistic craft and could relate to her well-told story. Addie Zierman gives a raw and honest description of her journey from religion, to relationship, to faith.
Addie’s writing is some of the best descriptive writing I’ve seen by recent Christian authors. She writes with imagery that is often saved only for poetry or fiction. Her book exposes her feelings of isolation in a society that preached community: “I’d spent four years in high school looking for a way to stand apart for the Lord. I’d been standing, all this time, alone at a flagpole, waiting for someone to take my picture.”
While other writers might share their weaknesses, they often do so in a way that depicts their actions as justifiable, excusable, and even a little cool. Not so with Addie. Her vulnerability is both gripping and haunting. She presents herself at her weakest moments and although hurt and disillusioned by the church, Addie acknowledges her own shortcomings. What I find refreshing is not only Addie’s humility, but also her forgiveness. In the conclusion of the book (and in the appendix interview) Addie shows grace and forgiveness to others whose actions (both conscious and unconscious) clearly devastated her. “I’ve [also] missed the loneliness of others simply because I wasn’t really looking,” she writes.
Addie’s journey reminds me of C. S. Lewis’ novel Till We Have Faces where the narrator begins with the words “I have an argument with the gods.” From that point on, the narrator’s entire journey consists of validating all the reasons the gods are at fault. The turning point in the novel is when she comes face-to-face with the gods and her written arguments (an entire scroll full) are turned to dust in the presence of the divine. I sense this same conclusion in When We were on Fire when Addie’s faith is reshaped by the ongoing process a relationship with God in the midst of questions. Addie concludes, “The real work of faith has nothing to do with saying the right words. It has to do with redefining them, chipping away at the calcified outer crust until you find the simple truth at the center of it all. Jesus.”
*Follow Addie’s blog at http://addiezierman.com
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Calvin G. Roso © February 2014