Why I'm Thankful for Matt Chandler

It’s kind of a funny thing to say considering I’ve never met the guy or been to his church in Dallas. But I really am thankful for him. I heard him speak about a handful of times at Baylor and his message would always resonate with me, but I probably wouldn’t have had much more of a relationship to the guy if it wasn’t for my boyfriend (now the fiancé, holla!) setting-up my ipod.

Riley had heard Chandler speak for during the summer when he worked at Glorietta in New Mexico, and, being the tech-savvy guy that he is, he subscribed to his podcast. When Riley set up my ipod, he moved his entire music library to my computer (my apologies to Apple and the music industry as a whole). In addition to Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Weezer and other man-centric audio files, were nearly 200 podcasts from The Village.

They pretty much lay dormant on my computer for a good year. I wasn’t exactly sure what a podcast was, embarrasingly enough for anyone under the age of 30. And I went to school at Jerusalem on the Brazos. My Christian cup overflowedth with Wednesday night Bible Studies, Sunday School Classes, Youth Lock-Ins, Women’s Retreats, and the like.

When I joined the Peace Corps, however, and moved to Ukraine in October, I was suddenly cut off from Christendom as I knew it. While Ukraine is highly-religious, it’s of the Greek Orthodox variety and quite naturally the services are conducted in Ukrainian. Even though I do appreciate the beauty and reverence, my religious fulfillment from church in this country is nil. In the absence of church as I know it, I’ve been doing my best to create spiritual space in my week. I crank up the Christian tunes, read my Bible, and, amazingly enough, listen to a sermon in English from the great state of Texas no less.

It’s always funny to me how sitting in my Soviet Bloc apartment, curled up in a blanket sipping hot tea while snow falls outside my window, I can find relevance in a sermon to 5,000 Southern Suburbanites. But it just works out that way. The podcasts are catalogued by date and title so I’m able to peruse for seasonal sermons (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter), as well as topical ones. It’s kind of like Church on TiVo, which isn’t necessary by any means but is fun nonetheless.

On a Friday when I was having one of those aimless afternoons where I wonder what have I done, where in the world am I, and would chips and salsa from Food For Thought in Waco be able to make it through customs in a package to me, I decided to order up a little church. I scrolled through the list and selected a cool combo: a sermon titled “Perplexed” that was also given on August 3, the birthday of yours truly. As I fire it up, my battery bar turns red—ipod users you know what that means—and I say some unholy words under my breath. Since my computer was touring Europe without me, I had little choice but to hope for the best. “Well,” I thought aloud, “I’ll just see how long it lasts.”

Now the sermon is my favorite part of church, but even in America when I’m sitting in the pew with the minister in the pulpit right in front of me, my thoughts have a tendency to wander. I know it’s not unique but I thought I’d throw it out there. When I only have the audio, it’s even more difficult for me to stay on task, but I’ve found that if I have something to do with my hands it helps me focus. So I was washing some clothes in my bathtub and contemplating the ninth chapter of Luke, where—to paraphrase Chandler—Jesus basically confuses the heck out of everyone.

He sends out the 12 disciples, assures them they will be mistreated occasionally and instructs them to take no provisions for the journey. When they get back, he feeds 5,000 people with a little kid’s lunch, tells Peter to keep his Lordship a secret, and repeatedly predicts his own death. Basically, for 63 verses the disciples are constantly alternating between epiphanies and total confusion. As Chandler points out, these are the guys who spend the most time with Jesus out of anybody, and they are still lost.

What this says to me is that the big picture of Christianity isn’t this crystal-clear, lighted-path to righteousness and revelation. It’s as perplexing as it is enlightening and sometimes it’s both at once. Christianity hasn’t given me all the answers to life, but it’s helped me get to some pretty cool questions. And along the way it’s fostered a healthy respect for the complexity and wisdom of God. If the 12 disciples didn’t even understand their purpose in life sometimes, then I think it’s more than okay for me to question mine, too.

That was just the point Chandler was harping on when my battery gave out. I chuckled out loud at the perfect timing. I can’t understand why my ipod was able to play 52 minutes of audio with no battery power left and then cut out exactly at the “ah-ha” moment, but I’m really glad it did. It was the perfect combination of the absurd, the mundane, and the divine to make this a sermon I won’t soon forget.

About Claire St. Amant

Claire St. Amant, one of Editor & Publisher's Top 25 Under 35 in the newspaper industry, is a graduate of Baylor University. Claire was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine and has also lived in South America. She has written for a variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Houston Chronicle, and D Magazine.