Christianity Today has unveiled their book of the year awards, and the winner for the Discpleship Book the of the Year is Crossing the Waters by Leslie Leyland Fields!
“Drawing from a trip to Israel and from her family’s lives as salmon fishermen on a remote island in Alaska, Fields shows what it means to be a child of God in the world today. We get a clear picture of what Jesus was doing with his disciples, his followers, his critics, and his family in and around the Sea of Galilee. Fields helpfully intersperses her own family’s stories of adventure, risk, calm, and loss. Her command of language, allegory, and Scripture is impressive.”
-Lore Ferguson Wilbert, blogger at Sayable.net
“Leslie’s wonderful writing reminds readers again and again discipleship is not for the faint of heart but it most certainly is worth it. A clarion call to be a disciple in the 21st century.”
– NavPress Publisher Don Pape
Dive into Crossing the Waters…
“Leslie, can you take the skiff back to the island?” Duncan asks.
All the crewmen on the beach—seven—turn and look at me skeptically. I scan the ocean one more time. My island is just two miles away, but the waters are a tempest of urgent, roiling waves. The wind has come down since morning, but it’s still blowing about thirty miles per hour. It’s not far to go, but half of the distance I will travel will be climbing the waves skyward and then skittering down the other side. The trick is to keep the boat quartered in the waves, and to stay away from the curl and break. No one wants to travel in weather like this, especially in an open twenty-six-foot skiff, not much more than a rowboat. I know how to do it. I’ve run boats in plenty of nasty weather, but anxiety sweeps my insides.
“Sure, I can do that,” I say coolly. I have to go. My son Noah, twenty-three, is taking one skiff back, and they need someone to take the other. I’ve spent the whole day working on this other island, and if I don’t go now, I’ll be stuck here overnight with nowhere to sleep—an unpleasant prospect.
I pull up the hood of my orange raingear against the wind, tighten it, strap on my lifejacket, cinch it, trying to look and feel nonchalant, strong. As if I am not dwarfed by the crewmen around me, men less than half my age and twice my size. As if I will not be dwarfed by those hissing seas. Even by the skiff itself. I stand in the stern, pulling my five-foot-two inches as erect as I can while the men launch me from a trailer. The long aluminum boat groans and slides into the water while eight men, all in the same orange raingear I am wearing, push me off, and watch. As soon as the water is deep enough, I let down the sixty horsepower outboard, start it, and reverse slowly from the protected eddies.
For the first ten seconds, the water is calm enough. Then it begins. The full force of the wind catches my hood. Spray lashes my face. Each wave that lumbers across from the open ocean moves like a whale about to breach. I watch every curl, try to keep the bow angled just right. When my skiff swells upward, I see Noah a half mile ahead of me, his skiff rising and disappearing between waves, like mine. I stand taut in the boat like a single muscle. My face is awash in seawater. The ocean roars in my ears. I am scared, but I know I will be home soon.
These are the waters we cross every day. We commercial fish for salmon every summer here on this island, a one-mile mountain of green, rock, and dirt in the Gulf of Alaska, off Kodiak Island. In my better moments, whether I’m riding a wild sea, mending net on shore, or out fishing in the boats, I feel almost biblical here. I remember the stormy sea crossings of the disciples. I feel a special connection to those men fishing and washing their nets two thousand years ago by the Sea of Galilee. With a mix of astonishment and pride, I remember that Jesus chose fishermen as his very first disciples, and Peter was chief of them all! Yes, I feel it—this life on the shoreline, on the water, in the storms, has grown my faith immensely. Though I have had numerous reasons to leave, I am still here, thirty-eight years later. This fishing life has not been easy. And following Jesus in the midst of it has been confusing and difficult. I still have so many questions. What does it really mean to “follow Jesus”? (Jesus called those fishermen away from the nets, and I am still here!) And, even more fundamental, who is Jesus, anyway? What is his claim on my life? What is his claim on all of our lives?
I tell you honestly, in the middle of my life, in the middle of this life—I have a lot of questions that I want answers for. But more than answers, I need to see Jesus again. I need to hear him again. I am guessing you need this as well. I am more than guessing. I have met so many who have left their faith, who have left the church, who have given up on the Bible, who have “unfollowed” Jesus. I know you have too. Clearly, many are struggling with their faith, with the church, with Jesus himself.
We wonder, too, about relevance. How can what happened two thousand years ago in a tiny Middle Eastern country matter to us now? How can the short life of a Jewish rabbi who died too soon have any claim on my life? And we’re busy. We’re tired, with too many burdens and distractions: children, work, elderly parents, health issues, careers.
Even those of us who are sure we are followers of Jesus, we have issues too! We’ve read the Gospels countless times. We’ve heard about Jesus’ miracles in more Sunday school lessons and sermons than we care to recall. We can instantly extract a moral lesson from any of the parables and miracles. We’ve got it down. The suspense is gone. The surprise is gone. We know how it all turns out. Yawn. And then when we do wake up, we’re sodden with guilt and failure. What kind of “followers” are we, anyway? We know we haven’t “taken up our cross” to follow him each day. We know we’ve slipped into apathy and fatigue. We know we’re not living up to what God requires: to love him with all of our heart, our mind, our soul, our strength.
We need to go again, then, all of us. One more time. We need to enter into the story of Jesus with expectant eyes, with open ears, because these stories are the truest ever told. Nothing has more power to awaken and shake and shape us than these accounts and encounters with Jesus. This trip through the Gospels will be different than others. It’s an immersive on-the-ground, in-the-water experience, just as it should be because the Gospels are anything but dry. They are dramatic, wild—and wet, set in a rich maritime culture on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I understand something about this world; it’s not so far from my own. In the midst of all these waters and words and worlds, I’ve been brought startlingly near to this man who claimed to be God. I want to bring you closer to see and experience for yourself.
We’re looking as well for the human stories we have missed, the story of twelve men whom we have too easily scooped up, cleaned off, and served up merely as Bible messages, minus the messiness of real people, real fishermen—equally at home with their families and their doubts, their zeal, and their unbelief. These raw stories of the gospel will lead us more surely to whatever and whoever might be divine in the events and waters they splash around in. These stories can help us decide who we are, and whether we want to follow this man Jesus—or not.
So here’s where we’re going. Think of it as one giant float trip. I’ll take you from whatever fields, cities, or neighborhoods you live in, and we’ll cross to my Alaskan waters. We’ll ride through a season of commercial fishing in this wild corner of the world. I want you to see, smell, and taste the waters here as I (try to) follow Jesus. We’ll cross the waters to Israel as well, where I hiked the “Gospel Trail” around the Sea of Galilee and went out fishing with Galilean fishermen. And we’ll step out on a new journey through the Gospels, dipping into some of the wettest, stormiest, strangest events of those three years.
“Come, follow me,” Jesus beckoned to the astonished fishermen, and he beckons to us as well all these centuries later. We’ll follow him, then, through those waters: the Jordan River, where he sunk under river waters and rose like a dove, and the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where he strode atop the waves of a storm, broke two small fish into a feast for thousands, filled a net to breaking when no fish could be found, shouted down a storm from a sinking boat. Where he fed his friends a meal of grilled fish, commanding them to “feed my sheep”. . .before disappearing into heaven. I promise you a trip unlike any other.
But I have to warn you. Travel is risky, especially in Alaska, and especially in the Gospels. Storms come up, you have only oars against the sea, there are too many in the boat, everyone argues, and you can’t keep the water out. Will we get to the other side safely, our minds clearer, our eyes and ears fixed on Jesus? I’m as nervous as you are as I step into the boat, because I know there will be fear, high seas, and spume along the way. Maybe even some whales will breach beside us. But I also know what came after those crossings—people were healed, parties broke out, the sightless walked straight, the starving ate fish that never ran out, and twelve common men (finally) grew confident and fearless.
Maybe some of this will happen for us as well.
The gospels are dramatic, wild, and wet―set in a rich maritime culture on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ first disciples were ragtag fishermen, and Jesus’ messages and miracles teem with water, fish, fishermen, net-breaking catches, sea crossings, boat-sinking storms, and even a walk on water. Because this world is foreign and distant to us, we’ve missed much about the disciples’ experiences and about following Jesus―until now. Leslie Leyland Fields―a well-known writer, respected biblical exegete, and longtime Alaskan fisherwoman―crosses the waters of time and culture to take us out on the Sea of Galilee, through a rugged season of commercial fishing with her family in Alaska, and through the waters of the New Testament.