Dove Award-winning Newsboys United bassist and Zealand frontman Phil Joel is set to add author to his diverse credits with the April 16 release of Redwoods and Whales: Becoming Who You Actually Are. Published by Thomas Nelson's Emanate Books, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Redwoods and Whales is a collection of Joel's own epiphanies of God's greatness and transforming power told through personal stories and truths learned from his life and musical journey.
Addressing such timely topics as depression, addiction and suicide, Joel encourages readers that breakthrough is possible when we align our hearts and minds with God's Truth. Believing He is bigger than we imagine and life with Him is more exciting than what we've settled for, in Christ we can take hold of the abundant lives we were born to live.
Q: Thank you so much Phil for doing this interview with us. Congratulations on your new book, how did this book come about?
It actually wasn't something I planned to do, it just kinda happened after I decided to write in my journal about a profound experience I had in Northern California a couple of years back. I was walking on a beach near Bodega Bay late one night when I came across a beached whale. Not something that happens too often, right? This whale had died there on the beach. This was a young grey whale that had lost its way somehow and became disoriented. It ended up stranded on the beach, breathing shallow and dying slowly.
I felt like I was being shown a powerful metaphor of how so many people are experiencing life and it really saddened me. The very next day I found myself driving along a road surrounded by massive redwoods that were healthy and tall with their roots running deep, drinking from the river that ran beside the road. This scene was beautiful and correct. It was the perfect Biblical image of how life is meant to be lived. It was just like Psalm 1 or in Jeremiah 17 where we read about God's vision for our lives being like trees planted by a river, living healthy and bearing fruit.
Q: Being your first book, what are some of the joys and challenges in being an author?
For me, writing a book was a lot like writing a song. You want to capture the imagination at the beginning of the tune and then deliver content as you keep people humming along. I feel like we all prefer conversation as opposed to mere information, and that's what authentic music does-it communicates from one person's heart to another. I just took the same approach to writing the book. It needed to be a conversation, not just information.
As for the most challenging aspect, I think it was figuring out just how much of my own story to put into the book without it becoming me-centric. Story and testimony are so important, but they need to be used as a vehicle and can't become the primary focus in a book like this.
Q: The book addresses many relevant issues today such as depression, addiction and suicide. What is the ultimate answer to all of these issues?
Sadly, there are a lot of tough things that are now a part of everyday life, and if you're going to write a book that's primarily for students, then you have to address these issues. Something we all need to realize is that every human being is born with an innate need to be seen, understood and loved. If we don't first understand that God offers these things in a very real way through a very real and honest relationship with Him, then we'll look for satisfaction in other people and other things.
In fact, looking for lasting satisfaction in anything other than God will just make us sick. For example, the voices of social media promise that we'll be seen and heard and liked, but that ends up never being enough. We'll be disappointed and will find ourselves breathing shallow.
Q: How does this book help people suffering from these issues?
First, let me say that although the book does address these issues, it's not primarily about these things-it's mainly about the beauty of life that's available when we allow ourselves to open up to the Truth of who God actually is and who He says we are. And who He says we are is "Golden, fearfully and wonderfully made."
Too often we get our heads twisted because we've believed rubbish- lies that need to be replaced with truth. I can't get into it too deeply here, but you can read more in the book.
Q: Together with the Newsboys, you have a new album out too? What are you most excited about with this new record?
The songs and the production on the new record are fantastic and I think Newsboys fans, both past and present, are going to find it sounds fresh, yet familiar. We're excited for its release but beyond that I think what we're most excited about is the name "United." That's a really powerful statement in a world full of division. Newsboys is a diverse group made up of six very different individuals who love and respect each other immensely, and it comes across with this record and with the live show. Unity is really powerful stuff.
Q: Being part of the Newsboys and blessing us with so many Godly songs, we want to say thank you. What do you think is your greatest blessing in your career?
Years ago, in the liner notes of my first Newsboys record I remember thanking the Lord for making me feel like Forest Gump. The thing is, I still feel like Forest Gump. Life with the Lord is such an unexpected and undeserved adventure, but the wildest and most fulfilling part for me has been being married to my beautiful wife and raising our kids together. I hope that doesn't sound cliché, but it's true. Keeping family central in my life is where it's at, and I thank the Lord for the opportunity to love and serve them.
Thanks so much for the interview and for the interest in the book. You guys are great- keep up the good work.