I’m honored to be writing for the first time over at Antler today, where I’m reviewing Addie Zierman’s recently released memoir, When We Were On Fire. Here’s a bit of what I wrote about it. (I’m hoping you’ll finish the rest of it over there…)
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…