“I put down my mug and brownie and sob into my hands for no reason I can understand, except that I’m so tired, so far from any kind of resolution, so far from God and the girl who used to know and love him so desperately. “ — Addie Zierman, from her new memoir, Night Driving
For some of us, a spontaneous 3,000 mile road trip away from home is just the thing to find our way back home.
So it was for Addie Zierman, earnest faith-seeker, millennial Christian, blogger, and “recovering Jesus freak,” when she loaded up her minivan (and two small children) one bitter cold Minnesota day to set off on a journey to find the Light. Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark is her moving story of what happened along the way.
Zierman’s new memoir from Convergent Books is a follow up to her first book, When We Were on Fire — named a “best book of 2013” by Publisher’s Weekly — in which she began to untangle herself from the church-bound cliches of her youth. Night Driving picks up where the first left off and chronicles the grief that comes when you leave that childhood faith — and a certain way of experiencing and relating to God — behind.
We asked Zierman to respond to our new “Patheos 10+1″ Interview Series, in which we ask the same 10 questions, plus one “bonus” question, of Christians who are making waves or otherwise inspiring us. Here are this spiritual road warrior’s earnest responses.
What, in the broadest sense, is your work in the world?
I believe that my work has to do with loving God and loving others, and the best way I know how to do that is to be present and to be honest. And writing allows me to do both of these things.
I love the way that writing allows me to be present to my life, to the hidden work of God, to the strands of beauty and connection that are always there, waiting to be discovered. And I love that doing that on the page and then putting that in the world has the potential to make others feel less alone.
What are you most energized by, professionally or personally, at the moment?
I’m writing a new column right now over at Off the Page inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar. I read Tiny Beautiful Things this summer, just as I sent off the final draft of my current book. The way that Cheryl Strayed answered people’s questions with such a mix of wisdom and vulnerable authenticity struck me in the best kind of way. I couldn’t stop thinking, The Church needs something like this. We need this voice speaking into those hard faith questions that so many of us are asking.
Writing this column is unbelievable challenge, and I am in no way qualified to answer the questions that people are asking. But there’s also something so unique that happens when someone shares his or her complicated experience with faith, and I get to respond with mine. And somehow, the combination of these essential ingredients creates something new and miraculous. It reminds me how connected we are to one another, and it reminds me that God’s love covers us all.
What’s inspiring your work right now?
I am a person who lives with chronic and clinical depression, and right now I’m at a low point in that journey. What that means for my work is that I don’t feel inspired to sit down and work these days. Instead, I go to my computer much like I go to my treadmill – not because I particularly want to, but because I know that is the healthy choice.
During these low points in particular, the decision to sit down and to be faithful to my work comes first. The inspiration follows in quiet, unassuming ways: a connection I hadn’t seen before, a new fact uncovered in research that blooms into a metaphor, a sentence that rings true and clear.
What’s the last book you read?
I’m in the middle of Brené Brown’s Rising Strong (because book reviews are coming in and my scraped open heart is being distributed to critical readers everywhere).
And I just finished my first Inspector Gamache mystery, Still Life, by Louise Penny…because I’m finding that book release month means that I need to give myself permission to beige out a little with a good mystery…in the most literary way possible.What’s something few people know about you?
The problem with being a memoir writer committed to writing the full, authentic truth is that people know pretty much everything about you – from the number of glasses of wine you usually drink to the current state of your spiritual life to your guilty pleasure TV shows (see below.) I’m pretty much an open book.
I’m still a Christian because after I sorted through all of the baggage and manipulation and junk from my faith past…after I dug down and got to the bottom of my anger and cynicism and disappointment… underneath it all, I found that there was still solid ground.
It’s an impossible story – the story of Jesus. But it rings true in my heart like a tuning fork. Living in any other way would feel, to me, off key.
What’s your favorite theological word?
Grace. Such a spacious word. So much room to fail and to still find yourself completely loved and accepted and worthy.
How do you pray?
I pray in distracted starts and stops, in short bursts that fizzle into worries and to-do lists.
In some ways, I feel like I’m still trying to find an authentic approach to pray. I spent my formative years praying out loud at flagpoles on See You at the Pole day and repeating phrases like, “We just ask that you’d bring revival to our generation!” during early morning prayer circles. Instead of learning to approach God in the authenticity of my own heart, I learned to parrot the language of the people around me.
I journal some, pray silently some, pray aloud rarely. Liturgy is hit or miss for me, though it steadies my soul even when my mind feels distracted. But if I’m honest, the place that feels most like prayer to me is in my writing. Even though the words are not directed to God, I feel a sense of rightness and dialogue and connection, and it feels like holy ground in a way that my (mostly empty) “prayer journal” does not.
What’s a guilty pleasure?
TV shows whose target market is 13-year-old girls. CWTV why can’t I quit you?
What’s one cause you’d like more people to know about/support?
It’s not a cause per se, but there are so many lonely people at church. For all of our bluster about love and community and “doing life together,” for all the life groups and small groups and programs and outreaches, so many people feel invisible. We have to get better at taking each other in.
Be intentional. Ask someone to lunch. They won’t necessarily become your best friends, nor should they, but at least they will feel seen. Be particularly mindful about single people – a demographic that churches are notoriously bad at including. Community is not built by program but by a hundred thousand interactions – some big and some small. None is more essential than the others. Do what you can. But do something.
Bonus Question: When you started your blog, it was called How to Talk Evangelical, but that has become less of a focus. How are you learning to talk now?
How to Talk Evangelical was the name of my first manuscript…before I found a publisher and we re-named it When We Were on Fire. When I wrote that book and when I started the blog, I was very much in the process of deconstructing my evangelical faith. And the way that I was doing that is to write through the clichés that formed that faith.
It was a necessary step, and sometimes I still find myself back there. (After all, the faith journey is cyclical, isn’t it? You never really stop learning, rethinking, redefining, trying to figure it out.) But at the same time, I’ve found that the subject matter of the blog has broadened.
At some point, I realized that some of the things that had become triggering clichés for me were brand new life-giving insights to others. I think I wrote and I wrote and I wrote to the end of my list of terms, and then I ran out of steam and I ran out of anger, and at the bottom of all that rage, I discovered so many other things to say.
So I guess, to answer your question, I’m not so concerned about talking evangelical…or not talking evangelical anymore. Now I’m mostly concerned with talking honestly with grace and with love.