All this week, the writers of Christ and Pop Culture unveil their 25 most loved things of  2013. 

Previous #25: From Up On Poppy Hill

#24: When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman

There’s a reason that Addie Zierman’s debut work was named by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the top 5 religion books of 2013. In lovely,well-paced prose that moves more like a novel than a memoir, Zierman ushers her readers into the heady evangelical youth culture of the nineties, complete with Jesus Freaks and True Love Waits, WWJD bracelets and See You At The Pole. (Her descriptions brought back so many memories for me that I immediately called my two best friends from high school and told them to order the book.) Zierman tells the story of finding her place within that “on fire” Christian culture as an insecure teenager, but neglecting to develop a sense of her self apart from it, instead seeking mainly to be the good Christian girl that the “missionary boys” wanted to marry. When the youth group ended, though, she found that being “on fire” for Christ left her only with ashes.  Through depression, alcohol, friendship, and love, Zierman begins to find herself – and God – again.

Zierman’s story is compelling, but the most important work she does in telling it is the dismantling of Christian cliches. Each chapter begins with a word or phrase (such as “lost,” “community,” or “church-shopping”) and its definition within Christian culture. Near the end of the book, Zierman explains how many of these phrases have become worse than cliches: they’ve become what psychologist Robert Lifton called “thought-terminating cliches”.  In this type of cliche, “the most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases.”  Zierman realizes that the real work of faith has nothing to do with saying the right words (such as “I’m born again!”), but rather is about finding the real, complex, and often inexpressible truth at the heart of those words.

Next #23: Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland