31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO READ, READ, READ – A Book Review & A Synchroblog

I am happily joining the synchroblog launching Addie Zierman’s wonderful new book,
“When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over.” And so help me, I will, somehow, make this review fit the 31 Day theme I’ve selected.
(And I will probably do this same theme twice more, once on each of the last two Tuesdays of October, because I have had such a feast of reading the past few months. A veritable feast, I tell you!)

This particular idea has never been a problem for me – in fact, I have perhaps given myself TOO MUCH permission to read, read, read over the years (if such a thing is possible). But maybe you need someone to give YOU that permission – if so, please count yourself duly permitted. Because reading is one of the best ways I know to a.) widen your knowledge of the world and how it works; b.) broaden your vocabulary and your ability to dream artistic dreams; c.) take you to another world for a few minutes; d.) remind you that we are all part of something much larger, more wonderful, and more terrible than we know. So, welcome to the 1st of 3 reminders to give yourself permission to . . . READ, READ, READ. 

31 days of giving permission 200x130

I was a senior in high school,
and on my way to an early morning Bible study,
when I crashed my mother’s car and broke my tooth.
I was late to pick up my friend,
I drove my mom’s stick-shift-on-the-steering-wheel,
1950’s vintage Plymouth, which was always sluggish
at 6:30 in the morning,
I lived on a steep hill, which required me to make a turn to the left
as I crested the top of it,
and my books slid across the seat as I turned.

Naturally, I leaned over to rescue them,
and the next thing I knew, I had crashed into a parked car,
which crashed into a 50-year-old oak tree,
leaving the radiator steaming and my mouth bleeding.
And my initial, knee-jerk response?
Mortification that I was going to miss that Bible study. 

I am not a morning person.
I know it now and I knew it then.

But every week, I went to that Bible study anyhow,
because, I mean  . . . how could I not?
I was a Christian, for heaven’s sake.
And I was on fire.

I was a geek, too. Hard to reconcile ‘on fire’ with ‘geek’
but I pretty much rocked it.
And just about everyone in my class of about 500 knew
that I was an on-fire, geeky Christian, too.
I was taught to talk about it, to define it clearly, for myself and for others,
to not be ashamed.

I was also taught, both explicitly and implicitly, that my primary goal in life,
as a good, Christian girl,

was to meet a fine Christian man,
get married, have babies,
and volunteer with women’s ministries.

And we all know how that turned out.

Why is it, I wonder, that the church, and so many of its subsidiary organizations,
get and give such a garbled message?
We too often complicate the beautiful simplicity of the gospel of grace,
add on layers of dogma that were never part of the design,
and insist that others see the same rigid, box-like faith that we see.

There’s a lot of un-learning that needs to happen for many, if not most of us,
who were raised within the confines of an overly conservative,
mistakenly zealous version of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Addie Zierman has been a lyrical voice for that re-learning
for a couple of years now.
Her blog, “How to Talk Evangelical” has been on my top 10 list
for about as long as she’s been writing on it.
And her book is, in many ways, an extension of what you find
in that lovely space.

It is also more.
This is a memoir, a spiritual memoir.
But it is also a story of love gone wrong,
a sad tale of how “Christian” relationships can sometimes slip into abuse,
and how hard it is to recover from the garbage theology
we too often absorb in our ‘on fire’ years.

Slipping between 2nd and 3rd person narrative,
Addie tells a beautiful but painful story.
She writes movingly of adolescent earnestness,
life-long friendships,
moving into a healthy relationship,
then fighting to save it as depression
and churchianity take their inevitable toll.

She speaks honestly about using alcohol to numb the pain,
about stepping into therapy and finding Jesus there,
about her frustrating search to be at home in community.

Addie’s story is not my story,
but there are pieces of it that I know.
Something about my own family system made me wary
of catch-phrases, excessive cheeriness and simplistic recipes for anything.

Also, I did not have a boyfriend in high school,
a fact for which I give heartfelt thanks after reading about the boy
who manipulated and tried to control Addie during those tender years. 

But I do know all about trying to please.
I do know all about wanting to be the good girl.
I do know all about following the rules,
giving a testimony,
playing the role,
being on fire.

And I now know that there was much good intermingled
with the less-than; there was joy mixed in with the angst;
there was redemption, there was hope, there was. . .
and there is. . . JESUS.

And so does Addie.

I highly recommend this book to all who are struggling
through re-learning what they believe.
I highly recommend this book to all who have
done most of that re-learning for themselves,
but want to know what it feels like to
those who are younger.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves
lyrical, thoughtful, honest writing.

And I am honored to be part of this synchroblog
and to have received an Advance Reader’s Copy from Addie
and her publisher, Convergent.

You can find this book here 


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  1. this is amazing. I wanted to throw my arms around you and hug you so tight, because not only are you writting about permission too, but that feeling…that feeling of missing Bible Study, and you were bleeding, but it was more important.

    I feel this. it’s real. someone else knew it too.

    • Thanks so much! I’m so much older than everybody else in the synchroblog, and I was not at all sure I could conjure up a story that matched in anyway. So I’m grateful that you resonated with this. Thanks for stopping by & letting me know.

  2. I’m having a difficult time keeping up with everyone these days Diana, so please forgive me for not commenting more often. Please know I love this series you’re doing – and I shout a huge “Amen” to this one. Thank you for permission 🙂

    • I’m reading yours, too, Linda – but as you note, seldom have time to comment. So much rich work being done this time around – really great stuff. Thanks for your contributions to that wealth.

  3. Newell Hendricks says

    Yes, it was a mixed message we were getting. I was two years ahead of you and got a slightly different slant. There was less evangelizing when I was in High – School, it came in Jr. College, and I was uncomfortable with some of it, but had a solid grounding in my faith. The Christian experience I had at our church has stayed with me all of my life. I never rejected it – that would have meant rejecting myself. But it took a long time to find a way to enter another church, another community, and be whole with all of my experience. Thanks for bringing back these memories. P.S. I obviously didn’t think you were a geek, at least nor more than I was.

    • Thanks for your kind comment, Newell. I will be eternally grateful for my years at Glendale Presbyterian church. I was, in many ways formed for life in that place. My only regret, is that I wasn’t quite brave enough to step outside the bubble. My whole life centered around the church, and that made social interactions at school more awkward than they needed to be. You want to know what actually saved it from being a total catastrophe? I chose to sing in school choirs. That got me out of the brainiac squad, that got me out of my church group, and that meant I met some really wonderful people. And I had a lot of fun at the same time. I could never play the piano like my father and my brother, but I could sing. I was a good alto, and I sang through the whole three years I was at GHS. And then I continued to sing with Roger Wagner at UCLA. So music was a big part of my formative years, as well. I’m not quite sure why I never knew it was so much a part of your life. But I didn’t.

      • Newell Hendricks says

        I didn’t take any piano lessons in high school or Jr. College. I did the arranging for our trio, which you probably remember. I’m so glad you found places to sing. I was choir director/organist at my church for 4 years, then quit, but sing in the choir now. It is at the center of my life at the church. Thanks for sharring.

        • Now that you mention that, I DO remember a trio. Who else was in it? So glad you went on to develop those gifts, Newell.

  4. I have been reading so much this summer and right into the fall. It has been awhile since I have read this much and such a variety. What are you reading right now, Diana?


    • I’ll be talking about a few of these – but Sarah Styles Bessey’s book, Jesus Feminist, which is excellent, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (again), L.L. Barkat’s Rumors of Water (again), Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write, Jeanne Murray Walker’s The Geography of Memory (FAB – I’ll be participating in The High Calling’s review of this one in January – about walking through Alzheimer’s with a parent written by a poet). On my stack to begin: Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s memoir, Cracking Up, Paula Huston’s novel A Land Without Sin, Leslie Leyland Fields Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers, Dena Dyer’s Wounded Women of the Bible . . . and a whole lot more. To say nothing of about 20 mystery novels/detective fiction I read purely for fun and relaxation over the summer. Loved Laurie King’s updated version of Sherlock Holmes – featuring a woman, and 3 other series I’ve got going. . .

  5. Dear Diana,
    Could you share the other blogs that you read? Thanks if that is possible.

    Sounds like an interesting read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book. I will jump over and take a peek at Addie’s blog.

    • Janet, the list is huge and I wouldn’t know where to begin. So I’ll just see what comes out my fingers. . . Sarah Styles Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, Seth Haines, Amber Haines, Erika Morrisson, Nish Weiseth, Alise Wright, Tamara Lundardo (although those last two are not writing as much as they once did), Matthew Paul Turner, Zach Taylor, Scot McKnight, Ellen Painter Dollar, Emily Weirenga, Linda Chontos, Glenda Childers, A Deeper Story/A Deeper Family/A Deeper Church (And almost all of the individual story tellers’ own blogs), Deidra Riggs, Michelle Derusha, Sandra Heska King, Kristin Schell, Megan Willome, Nancy Owens Franson, Patricia Hunter, Shelly Miller, Cindee Snider Re, Sheila Seiler LaGrand, Amanda Johnston Hill, Dena Dyer, John Blase, Christie Purifoy, Kelli Woodford, Holly Smothers Grantham, David Rupert, Laura Boggess, Dan King (BibleDude), Elizabeth Marshall, Dolly Lee, Monica Sharman, Lyla Willingham Lindquist, The High Calling, (in)Courage, TweetSpeakPoetry, SheLoves Magazine, Prodigal Magazine, Esther Emery,Leisha Epperson, . . . the list is long and I’m leaving out important people here. But this is a start. I’ll add as I remember . . .

      • Lol… sounds like our blog lists are almost the same length! We have just had to acquire a new computer, and my blog list somehow hasn’t made it from the old one to the new one, and I’m feeling more than a little bereft. I think I can figure out a way to do it, I just have to be brave enough to try!

  6. I was thrilled to find Addie’s blog months ago. We served in her church as she was in those teenage years. As i read her blog, i recognized so much of my story in hers, just different details, like we didn’t have See you at the Pole, but we had YFC club that met on Tuesday Mornings and wasn’t it supposed to say something if you carried your Bible to School and then READ it in study hall. I got sucked up in feeling guilty I didn’t do it much and then a boy that i really liked didn’t do it anymore and I decided maybe I wasn’t such a bad christian after all!

    I love where she has landed, not throwing it all out, but sifting through and finding what was true. It has made me think a lot about what messages I have believed and where it fits into real life. It was part of the system – It was so wonderful in many ways and yet guilt producing in others. Oh, those invitations to dedicate your life to God. Remember those? If I didnt’ stand up, then it would look like I didnt’ want to make my life count for God, never mind I had stood up the last conference/retreat/rally. And if I stand up , then people might think I hadnt been loving God!

    A few years ago, I asked an old friend from our youth group if he felt that way about the messages and the invitations. And he looked at me surprised…It had not affected him that way. interesting. He is an independent thinker who just didn’t stress about what he “should” do or what people might have been thinking. I wonder if different personalities respondeed differently.

    Anyway, it’s been fascinating following her Blog and I can’t wait to read the book. I probably have already read it in her blog?

    • It is SUCH a small world, isn’t it? Her blog is one of my favorites, as I stated in this post. The book is quite different, actually. It’s a true memoir and spends as much time talking about relationships as it does about church. She’s a wonderful writer and I highly recommend it.

    • Loved seeing your name pop up here, Carol…and hearing this piece of your story. I so felt that way if I didn’t stand up!

  7. oh, and reading? i read and read and read. I read in the bathroom, while i was curling my hair and probably while I walked home from school. I went to the library and checked out 5 books every week or so in the summer. I still feel bereft if there is not a good book around to read. I haven’t gotten a kindle, and i would probably enjoy it. right now I use kindle on the iPhone, not the way i like to read, but it’s cheap! but read i must! If i wake up at night and can’t sleep i read. I read on planes, trains and automobiles and i would while riding a on a bicycle if i could. I read while i exercise at the rec center on the exercise bicycle. My kids are all readers too. I always told them if they enjoyed reading, they would never have to be bored as long as they had a book.

  8. I love this Diana. Permission to read. Yes. And also? I’m sure that’s where my mind would have gone too in that moment — to shame about Bible study. Love your kind, honest words here. Thank you — from the bottom of my heart.

    • Thanks for reading, Addie! You must be going cross-eyed with all the lovely stuff that got linked yesterday! And – you’re welcome. :>)

  9. Love this! I especially love that you leaned over to rescue the books. Of course you did. So would I.

    I was also an on-fire geek! High-five! But I am very grateful for my youth leaders, who didn’t go in for any of that weird modesty rubbish or ‘girls should do x and boys should do y’, but they just kept telling us that Jesus was great and God loved Us. Looking over some of these posts, I am all the more grateful for their ministry.

    • Yeah, that was me – and probably still is. I have learned to keep my eyes on the road when leaning, however. :>) I feel that high-five – and I’m not surprised by it, actually. I think I could have pegged you for a soul-sister. I didn’t get any of that kind of weirdness, either – and I’m so grateful to read that someone from your generation missed it, too. It’s scary and sad to me to read so much of this – breaks my heart, actually. Thanks for coming by and reading, Tanya. Always love seeing you.

  10. “I was also taught, both explicitly and implicitly, that my primary goal in life,
    as a good, Christian girl,
    was to meet a fine Christian man,
    get married, have babies,
    and volunteer with women’s ministries.”

    I resonate with this so much! Why do so many Christians / churches / ministries believe motherhood is the only or penultimate way for a woman to serve God? What if He created her for something completely different?

    Thanks for sharing!

    • REALLY good questions, Michelle. Motherhood is a gift and is ONE of many that God bestows upon women in the church. It is not the ultimate – maybe it’s just the most frequent?? I can think of lots of women who were created for something completely different! Every ‘mother’ in the Catholic church, Corrie ten Boom, Henrietta Mears and about 90% of the missionaries that have ever sailed the seas.

  11. When I saw that you participated in Addie’s synchroblog I thought I should invite you to participate in a monthly synchroblog that I am a part of.

    It’s made up of a home-grown group of bloggers who like to write on topics of post-modern faith & life. This group is open to anyone who is interested in participating. We value respectful conversation and dialogue while honoring our differences. We share links & try to learn from each other.

    Some of the people that originally participated in the synchroblog no longer blog and I am trying to reach out to people like you who are currently passionate about blogging in order to keep our monthly synchroblog relevant and vital.

    If you are interested in joining us you can join the facebook group and receive monthly invitations to the synchroblog. Here is that link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/114506961937378/

    And you can find our website (which you can subscribe to if you want to receive an email when we post the monthly theme announcement/invitation) here: http://synchroblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/link-list-november-2013-synchroblog/

    (You can see all of the themes that we have covered in the past on our website in order to get an idea of what we do)