Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Christina Grimmie: Her Mission Has Just Begun

Christina Grimmie in the Philippines (credit to owner) 
Once again, the time has come to celebrate with gratitude the life of a beautiful human being, the 22-year-old popular singer, musician, and songwriter Christina Grimmie. It is painful to remember that we lost her three years ago, yet in a mysterious but real way she remains as a light that continues to shine in a dark world, a light that only grows brighter with the passage of time.

Christina Grimmie was killed on June 10, 2016 in the very place where she gave herself the most and received in turn so much encouragement, namely, in the midst of her supporters, those who appreciated her music, followed her and interacted with her on internet platforms, and knew that she cared about each of them and wanted to meet them or see them again. She was surrounded by these "frands"—people who were inspired by her as an artist and a person, and who were drawn together from many diverse backgrounds into an experience of community.

"Team Grimmie" united people all over the world into something much more than just a "fanbase." For them, it was a human connection with an artist who shared her music and her personality, her vulnerability, her hopes and her needs with them. She also told them again and again that she loved each of them, and she meant it. For Christina, it really was a matter of love. She saw each person, not simply as a fan or part of a crowd celebrating and bolstering her ego, but as someone entrusted to her by God. At the same time, she found the embrace and sustenance of God's love in the people she encountered.

Christina therefore saw it as her mission to be a role model, to encourage, to inspire, to be (for however brief a moment, in whatever small way) the presence of God's beauty and love for every person who was touched by her work. This is why the greeting sessions after her concerts were so important to her. She brought to them a heart full of gratitude for "frands" who had supported her for years and an open heart for newcomers, a readiness to share her passion for music and whatever she could give with whoever came to meet her.

It was in this manner that she approached the last moment of her life, on the night of June 10. She greeted and spoke with and gave hugs to the people who came up to her. Some she had met before, but for others it was the first time, so when a stranger approached her, there was nothing unusual about it. She opened her heart and opened her arms to welcome him, to create a space of encouragement and love for him. Only God knows what manner of darkness drove that man to draw a semi-automatic pistol and shoot her.

He killed her. But he could not stop her from loving him. He could not erase the gesture of love that was offered, in that moment, without reservation.

She knew the love that is more powerful than even the greatest violence in this world.

Christina Grimmie, with all her talent and energy and hard work, had "something else" that transformed what she did, how she made music, how she engaged people. And, while always respectful of people with different viewpoints and never pushy, she made no secret of the source of her joy and her motivation, the "something else" at the foundation of her life, the reason why she sang, why she breathed, why she had hope: Jesus Christ.

Christina was a very normal girl with lots of different interests. She wasn't "perfect." She made mistakes and struggled with frustrations and endured much suffering. But everything was grounded in and brought back again and again to her simple and boundless trust in Jesus Christ. This was the foundation of her radical witness as a Christian -- her "mission" to live for the sake of His glory.

Ultimately it was not her own strength but His grace that shaped the scope of this mission. She gave herself to Jesus and He fashioned her into an "instrument" of His wisdom and love that was specially suited to the present time. By the Holy Spirit, Jesus put His love into her heart and through her He touched the lives of people. Trusting in Him, Christina lived as a young person in the places where other young people today spend their time. It was not any kind of "strategy for witness," or any kind of strategy at all. She was simply herself, living her own personal vitality and interests in union with Him and thereby allowing that love to extend to places where it is not often known, letting it shine through her own face, making it visible and audible and -- in places like concert venues -- even "tangible." It was the love of Jesus, because as she herself said, her belonging to Jesus was not just part of her life; it was her whole life.  .

What is really remarkable is the simple, unselfconscious, incarnate character of Christina's service to God. She wasn't a preacher or an evangelist. She didn't sing worship music or even Christian-themed music (except on a few occasions). She sang regular songs about relationships and heartbreak and fun. She kept her morals in her music and in the way she presented herself, without being a prude or heavy-handed. She didn't condemn people, but sought out and encouraged what was genuinely good in others. She was fun and not afraid to be a little wacky, full of joy, down-to-earth, dedicated, and humble. She had an enormous heart. And, wow, she could really sing!

She gave all of this to Jesus, and lived everything for His glory. This is why He was able to work through her to reach out to people who weren't interested in hearing sermons. He worked in hidden ways to draw people closer to Him, to begin to open their hearts through her joy.

Even now His love is at work, through the enduring light of her special witness, in hearts that have never thought or cared about God before. Even now, when people encounter Christina's legacy for the first time, they may be "caught off guard" and find themselves gently but persistently drawn toward something beyond all they have ever known: the embrace of Christ. Through the beauty of Christina's art, and the many readily accessible expressions of her free-spirited sense of fun, her unassuming goodness, and all her magnificent passion to pour herself out and constantly give of herself, people can still be moved by the tenderness and goodness of the God who has loved them first.

Death is far from the end of Christina's mission. She has been taken up into Christ's love, and now there is an exponentially greater power to her witness, and fruits beyond anything we can imagine.

There is no way to reduce the agonizing grief of her family and those closest to her, and the sorrow of everyone in the Team Grimmie community remains real and painful. Yet we know that somehow even all this is working a deep work, drawing hearts together, cultivating love in the spaces of the brokenness.

Christina's mission continues. The seed has been sown, and the Lord will continue to give the growth to this love, to the gift of a whole life lived "with love." He will bring forth whatever He wills in His infinite Love.

There will be new stories of hearts touched, of lives changed. Perhaps there will even be miracles.

It wouldn't surprise me.💚

Monday, June 10, 2019

Three Years

Christina Grimmie died three years ago today. She continues to inspire us in so many ways! (For example, she inspires me to keep trying to make digital graphics and digital art, as best as I can, with the resources I have.😊💚)

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pentecost: The Spirit Bears Witness

"Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, 'Abba, Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:14-17).

"We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will" (Romans 8:23-27).

"What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? ... What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we are being slain all the day / we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:31-32, 35-39).

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Groan in My Groanings

Jesus, save me. 

Come Holy Spirit! 

Jesus, save me.

Jesus, save me.


This is my prayer on the eve of Pentecost.

Come Holy Spirit! Groan in my groanings. Abba, Father ... this is so hard. I am lacerated. I am beyond any healing that this world can provide. These are wounds too deep for words. I cannot speak. I don't know what to say. More and more, words fail me.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Remembering Tiananmen Square and the "Tank Man"

THIRTY YEARS AGO today, following the ruthless crackdown of the protest movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and in other cities throughout China, we awoke to videoclips and various still photos that conveyed an iconic moment: one man standing against a column of tanks, then moving to remain in front of the lead tank as it tried to maneuver around him. 

Images and media told the whole world the story of a moment when one human person - with nothing but his own dignity and freedom - stood up to a whole century of monstrous institutionalized violence.

(No one knows who he was or what happened to him after he was taken away. There were many other unknown persons who were heroic during in those days, who also "disappeared." In China this image is still censored, as are all matters related to the Tiananmen Square movement and its bloody, brutal suppression on June 4, 1989. China's strange dictatorship remains in power today, a nominally "Communist" party-controlled State that presides over a booming materialist consumer economy. If nothing else, it is a fascist, nationalist, bureaucratic, invasive and controlling regime in which the higher freedom and dignity of human persons and communities are still frequently violated and threatened, or otherwise obscured and rendered precarious.) 

Though this man did not prevail against the tanks in Beijing, his courage spoke to the world, and especially to the hearts of millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe.

Thirty years ago, in June 1989, we had no idea how much the world was about to change.

Today, in 2019, with all of our new problems and the new forces that try to smash our humanity in perhaps more subtle ways, let's REMEMBER "THE TANK MAN." Let's honor his legacy with the courage of our own humanity.

Monday, June 3, 2019

"Martyrs' Day" in the New "Digital" Africa

The Shrine of the Uganda martyrs
Once again Catholics in Uganda have commemorated their "ancestors in faith" - the early converts who were martyred in the 1880s by Kabaka (King) Mwanga.

This has been a special day for me for years, thanks in part to Ugandan friends who witnessed to the beautiful and personal vitality of the martyrs' legacy for their own Catholic Christian identity.

June 3 is the anniversary of the burning-to-death of Saint Charles Lwanga and his fellow pages in 1886. They are grouped with others of the same period, so that 22 in all are honored in today's Catholic Church feast. Each one has an awesome story that was carefully recorded from eyewitness testimony for the beatification proceedings in the 1920s. They are the heroes of the new Catholic churches and peoples of East Africa who have emerged within the past 150 years.

Every year, immense crowds of pilgrims arrive at the Shrine of Namugongo near Kampala, many traveling on foot from distant places throughout the region.

I have seen pictures from this event in recent years on internet sites. This year, however, I discovered something "new" - or at least "new to me" - that brought the pilgrimage closer than ever: a broadcast by a Uganda news television station of the liturgy and other observances of the day was live streamed on the station's new internationally accessible 24 hour "live" YouTube channel.

Though I didn't actually see it live, the recording of the stream was still available this evening.

NewsTV: turning on Africa for the world
During this past decade, sub-Saharan Africa has grown remarkably in its access to mobile digital technology, thanks in part to the much noted intensive Chinese investment on the continent. What this may herald for the future is hard to predict, except that it will change Africa in many ways as the communications revolution continues and as the growth of China's global influence continues.

These are two important trends to watch in the coming decades of the 21st century, I think.

One positive and immediate outcome, however, is the possibility to watch a young church celebrate its faith. I don't expect I'll ever get to travel as a pilgrim to Namugongo. But now (at least "virtually") Namugongo can come to me.

We are all one in Christ's Body, with our many diverse cultures resonating lIke a great symphony. I know this. But it is always surprising - and wonderful - to find that living unity expressed through multimedia technology. It is a cause for joy.

The icon of the 22 Uganda martyrs from their 1964 canonization 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

A Birthday For the Recent Graduate

Today is John Paul Janaro's Birthday. 🎂🎉 He is now 22 years old. 😮❗⏳↗ 

I thought it would be fun to compare John Paul (and his parents!) at age 4 with the most current pictures.

I think we can still say that he has changed more than us.😉 Happy Birthday John Paul! God bless you!