How do you review a memoir? That’s what I’ve been asking myself for about a week now. Because it’s not just a story, it’s a person’s story. It’s not a parable, it’s someone’s life experience. I mean, you can’t very well say “I agree with this” or “I disagree with that” when it’s real life. You can say you don’t understand their story, but you can’t deny it. The reality is, though, that I do understand. All too well.
Let me just start by saying that Addie Zierman is both brilliant and brave for writing this book. When she tells her story, she doesn’t hold back. She tells the funny part, the embarrassing parts, and the parts that would bring shame if it weren’t for the grace of God. Her book does have some cussing in it. Yes, a Christian book with cussing in it. No, those two aren’t mutually exclusive, and she explains why she felt she had to write it this way. She is authentic and vulnerable, and that is amazing.
Because I can identify with her story so well, I know there are at least two sets of people who need to read this book.
The first are the people who don’t understand how anyone could leave the church, and just leave. With all the talk about Millennials (and really, people in general) leaving the church and not finding another local church, this book couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s one thing to understand that there are the de-churched out there. It’s quite another to understand how they became de-churched and how to love and serve them well, and how to pray for them. Is everyone’s story the same as Addie’s? No. But her story is a brilliant, beautiful illustration of what happens when the gospel isn’t taught explicitly to young people and when people growing up thinking that “being good” is the end-all to Christianity. Her story shows us the reality of what often happens when young people grow up and become disillusioned with the constructs of conservative Evangelicalism and don’t understand the grace of God in salvation. Addie’s book shows us what happens when we assume the gospel and wind up only preaching moralistic deism at most.
I get it. The overall concept has been talked about a lot. Matt Chandler’s book The Explicit Gospel explains the importance of preach the gospel vs moralism. You may think you understand the root of the issue and know what to do. Let’s slow down for a minute there. Because it’s one thing to have a cognitive awareness of the problem; it’s another to step into someone’s story and let them walk you through how moralism led to disillusionment, to depression. And then to see how love, patience, and prayer (to be sure) led to God’s gracious healing. If you don’t “get” how a person can love Jesus and just walk away from a local church without walking into another, you need to read this book and enter into her pain.
The second group of people who need to read this are those who have been hurt or burned by the church. Those who have become disillusioned and just walked away. You guys need to read this book so that you will know that you’re not alone. More than that, so that you will know that there is hope. Hope to feel the grace and presence of God again in your life. Hope to work through the reasons and pain the caused you to walk away, and hope that finding a new imperfect local church can even be part of that healing. You may think that you’ve done too much, or that you’re too cynical to be accepted now. There is grace for you, my friend.
That is the second reason I love this book. The first is for it’s sheer authenticity in showing how someone can be burned enough to walk away from church. The second is seeing such a stunning example of God’ grace and relentless love, pursuing us even while we run from him. Too often, we think of God’s grace as something big. To be sure, His grace is big, but it can be delivered in the smallest, most unusual of ways. Sometimes it’s giving someone a hug when it looks like they need it. Sometimes it’s saying a prayer. And, yes, sometimes it’s even a husband turning to his wife and saying, “Let’s drink margaritas all night.”
Buy When We Were On Fire. Read Addie’s story. Slow down long enough to feel her pain, and see God’s grace interwoven amidst the trials.