Monday, December 16, 2013

rebellion and redemption: when we were on fire, part 3

The last two sections of Addie Zierman's memoir, When We Were on Fire, comprise about a third of the book. Given that and the fact that I like to have a ray of hope at the end of my posts, I decided to review Rebellion and Redemption together.

I read Rebellion the way some people watch car accidents--cringing and unable to look away. I felt sick, eager to grasp at anything that hinted that Addie's life wouldn't hit rock bottom. But it does. And she wades through the mire with raw honesty that is both hard and encouraging to read at the same time.

Much of what she wrote earlier in the book I readily identified with. Rebellion was different. While I have had horrible bouts of depression, I have never struggled with alcoholism as Addie did. The thing about Addie's storytelling, though, is that you can relate to what she's saying without ever having been wasted several nights in a row. Because all of us have felt trapped. Despaired. Sought escape from our hurts with the desperation of a drowning man. Whatever it is, we all medicate--sometimes appropriately. Many times not.

Nevertheless, I was relieved to reach Redemption. I needed a shot of hopefulness after a few bleak chapters (which were worthwhile reading, despite how it left me feeling). Redemption is the shortest section, I imagine because Addie is still figuring out life being part of the Church after all that's happened. I get that. I feel like I'm still straddling my rebellion and my redemption simultaneously. She briefly recounts going to therapy (which helped), but the biggest perspective-changer for her was the birth of her first son. Something about that changed her heart toward church. She says that not being able to drink, she found that she was less angry. Had less energy to "hate the Church people" who had failed her and harmed her.

And in doing so, she started to find a way to live with Church people again. But this time around, she's not wearing any masks, speaking the platitudes, or doing things just because it's the culturally Christian thing to do. She has found grace and in turn is learning to extend that grace to others.

Overall, I was impressed with her ability to be honest without scathing. She was critical and compassionate at the same time. She doesn't want to keep hating. She wants to heal. But healing is hard and takes time. It can't be rushed. Part of me wanted a stronger ending. For her to reveal some amazing truth she'd learned. But then, that's the part of me still stuck back in the 90s evangelical utilitarianism that says that you can't read or experience something for the beauty of it. You must have something you take away to have made the spent time worth it.

One of the greatest truths I'm learning is to enjoy things for sheer beauty. Not everything has to have a practical or needful purpose.

In her closing thoughts, Addie references the classic three minute testimony that so many of us were taught (and pressured) to give to anyone we met as a way of evangelism. The testimony typically had three parts: My life before Christ, How I came to Christ, and My life after Christ. As if our relationship with God could be neatly parsed and summed up like that. As Addie writes:

Your life AFTER Christ is not static or an end result. You are not suspended in grace above the fray of life. You are looking at God through a kaleidoscope. Your life moves, the beads shift, and something new emerges. You are defining. Redefining. Figuring it out all over again. . . . You will be sad. You will be happy. You will love, and doubt, and cry, and rage, and all of it matters. You are human, and you are beloved, and this is what it is to be Alive.

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