Leslie Leyland Fields is an award-winning author of ten books, a national speaker, a popular radio guest, and a commercial fisherwoman, working with her husband and six children in a salmon fishing operation on their own island off Kodiak Island, Alaska. Follow her blog for updates from Alaska at leslieleylandfields.com, and find her on twitter or on facebook.
You're in for a treat. Friend, author, and fisherwoman Leslie Leyland Fields answers personal questions below on her new book that takes you to the hard but adventurous places in the gospels where Jesus says "Come, follow me." Don't miss her insights on discipleship, heartbreak, the current political season, and writing for the sake of the Kingdom!
Q: How did your 38 years of work as an Alaska fisherwoman uniquely prepare you to write about the activities Jesus and his disciples engaged in on the waters of the Sea of Galilee?
My life out at our fish camp is so very gritty and physical, full of water, storms, fish blood, guts, jelly fish and kelp. I realize how much we miss that when we read the gospels. We treat the stories as simply words on a page and we treat the disciples, and even Jesus, like flannelgraph figures. We disembody them. We remove the hard human elements. We contort the unsettling events into stories with neat morals at the end; we shrink the dramas into happy lessons. We don’t want to dwell in the confusion, wonder and frustration of what it meant for those fishermen to follow Jesus. That’s what living out there does for me—it keeps me real. It helps me put human flesh back on those men and those events, and even Jesus himself.
Q: Leslie, Crossing the Waters feels like an invitation to a grand adventure. How did the writing of it impact your own faith journey? And who did you hope would pick it up to find fresh hope in their life and faith?
I’m worried about how this will sound, but there were times in this book when I was left shaking and crying. I don’t want to be the writer moved to tears by her own words! But it was more that the Holy Spirit was teaching and leading me to see things I hadn’t seen before. It was profound. I find myself coming back to some of those truths again and again . . .
My hope is that people who have never met Jesus will pick it up and follow along, to find out who Jesus might be. And I am hoping that people who have called themselves followers for a long time will discover the real Jesus again. If we’re to be Christ-ians, little Christs, we need to be immersed in the accounts of his life. It’s of such importance that God gave us four versions in four voices rather than just one! So we need to go back to those events, shedding preconceptions and entering that world whole-bodied, fully human, with all our senses awake and alive. We need to experience these real events and experience Jesus again---in all the messiness, the storms, the doubt and the high seas. And when we do this, our fear disappears. Even our fear of death. I wrote about this in the book. We’ve lived through deaths and near-death out there on our island more times than I want—but I can tell you this: just before I knew I was going to die, with two of my sons, I knew Jesus was real, was true, was with me. I want everyone to have that confidence.
Q: This will likely be the wettest (and maybe wildest!) trip through the Gospels many of us have ever taken. What characters from the gospel story did you grow to appreciate most? Which of them challenged you the most in your own faith journey and why?
I hate to be predictable, but of course Peter wins my heart. I really came to love him.
But I have come away from these last two years of immersion in the gospels, and my time in Israel, with a much deeper respect for all of them. We have so much to learn from them and their very human mistakes, especially now. In the U.S., we’re doing exactly what they were doing: looking for a political liberator. They were looking for a Messiah who would “Make Israel Great” again. When he was killed on a Roman cross, all their hopes were crushed. It wasn’t until Jesus’ resurrection that they began to learn that God’s way is entirely different. That Jesus came not to vanquish Rome, but to conquer sin and death. That’s the true enemy. And Jesus showed them how we win that battle—by dying. We win by losing. We win by dying. If we read the gospels again, hearts open, I think Christians would be handling this election very differently.
Q: I loved the line, “Sometimes it is easier than we think to interrupt our own lives,” on page 19. You were referring to the wonder of standing in Jerusalem, overlooking the sea of Galilee, when you usually live a world away in Alaska. What are three ways your life has been interrupted by answering Jesus’ call to “Come, follow me.”
So many times in the Scriptures, God or an angel or Jesus shows up, and people are flattened with fear. But God always responds, “Do not be afraid.” This has happened over and over for me. He’s called me to follow him to so many places and to so many people . .. One of the most astounding was when Jesus called me to forgive my absent, abusive, mentally ill father. It didn’t end up the way I hoped, but what an amazing thing it was—to actually come to love a man I had nothing but disdain and even hatred for!
And—my marriage. Jesus called me to follow him by staying in a marriage that was very difficult for a lot of years. On my own, I would have left decades ago. It was too hard, too painful, too much death. But Jesus didn’t let me give up. My husband and I are now sharing our lives with joy and delight.
In my writing life, every book I’ve written has been a response to a very clear call from Jesus. Writing a book is a huge task that takes over your life for several years. I didn’t always want to do it. The forgiveness book, the “Surprise Child” book—I resisted writing those books. But God made it so very clear, each time, that He would go before me and I needed to obey. I can’t begin to tell you the fruit that has come from that obedience.
Q: Have you felt limited in any way as a female in the evangelical world in using your voice and expressing the messages God has put on your heart? What words of advice and encouragement would you give to female writers who happen to be Christian about cultivating their voice in the marketplace?
I have not felt limited. I have preached sermons in churches, I’ve done hundreds of radio shows, and written for a number of publications. I’ve been welcomed in all those venues. There have been a few times, however, when I’ve experienced condescension. One man, looking at my name on the book jacket, introduced me as “Leslie Fields,” rather than my full name. He then called me “a teacher” rather than a college professor, which I was at the time. At every turn, he sought to diminish my professional accomplishments. I understand why: his organization believes women shouldn’t work outside the home. But overall, I’ve been treated with respect.
To be honest, I don’t care about equality. I don’t care about power. We do need to keep fighting—fighting to lay down our lives. We need to be fearless in our servanthood and encourage women and men to do the same. The source of our boldness is not female empowerment—it’s the Word of God, which is continually slaying us and remaking us. It turns lambs into lions and lions into lambs. Every word we write or speak, if we’re truly immersed in God’s word—will be subversive in some way, will shake up the status quo. If we’re not doing this, we’re not doing our job. But when we speak, we must start with our own complicity, our own struggles. We cannot write to judge and condemn; we must write to reveal, to illuminate, to encourage us all Christ-ward. That can only be done with a genuine love for others. Truth alone is not enough.
Q: Having served as a writing professor and coach, and as the author of 10 books, what is your number one piece of writing advice in general?
I only get to give ONE piece of advice? You’re killing me! Out of 100 things I want to say, let me say this: Don’t write to entertain or distract or simply for the sake of your “career.” Write words that matter. Write words that only you can write. There are SO many things we could all write about—but we’ve only got one life. We have to make hard decisions about what we give our time to. So write the hard stuff. Write into the hardest places in your life and the darkest places in our culture. The places of confusion, of mystery, of paradox, of sin. We do see through a mirror darkly in this life, but we don’t have to remain entirely in the dark. God made the world from words, and we can reclaim the world through words, they are that powerful.
[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author.]
I don't feature many books, only the ones I think can challenge and bless. I hope this Q&A helps you wrestle with your place and voice in the Kingdom of God. And that it gives you courage to face the hard things.
YOUR TURN: Which of Leslie's words or concepts are you inspired by, struggling with, or challenged by? And why?