Sunday, June 30, 2024

Christina Grimmie: Instrument of Christ's Love

[The Christina Grimmie Foundation and the people of “Team Grimmie” all over the world have been celebrating Christina Grimmie’s life and legacy in a special way during this month of June. On the last day of June, I thought it would be fitting to finish these reflections on Christina’s faith, which we all know was fundamental to her identity. I know that many Team Grimmie frands are not Christians, but I hope they will recognize this essay as my own effort—as a Catholic Christian—to appreciate the significance of her faith in Christ in light of my own faith. For my friends who aren’t Christian, this text represents my effort in an ongoing dialogue in which we can all grow in a greater mutual understanding of what we have learned about life from a multitude of diverse traditions, our own seeking of life’s meaning, and the ways in which Christina’s bright brief beautiful life has inspired our humanity. I am a man of many words, but I am also a good listener, and I have learned much from all of you. I offer these words humbly and with great esteem for each one of you. And, of course, above all “with love.” ~JJ ]

"Jesus loves you so so much!... As do I" (Christina Grimmie).

Christina still helps us to remember that Jesus loves us... Her witness was not only in words but also in her own love, her own embrace of others, her own willingness-to-give-herself in love to persons near and far. She saw herself as His instrument (as, for example, when she said in 2014 that her voice “belonged to Jesus,” and that she intended to use it “for His glory”).

Christina didn’t put on a big show of “being religious,” but her faith in Jesus Christ was central to everything she did. She once said on a YouNow livestream, “my faith is not just a part of my life; my faith is my life.” Thus, her faith—her commitment to Jesus, her trust in Jesus, her “belonging to Jesus”—was organically united to her way of experiencing life, and especially to her giving and receiving love. Jesus was “within” all her relationships, and He empowered her to look at each person particularly, to listen to and encourage and affirm the dignity of every person. Christina wanted to be an instrument of the “glory” of Jesus. His “glory” is His infinite love, His total giving-of-Himself to redeem, heal, and transform every person and bring them to live forever in God’s love. Jesus is the only One whose love saves us, and Christina knew that. As His disciple, she saw her particular vocation not as preaching with words, but—as a musician—to witness to His love through the gift of her music and the relationships with others that emerged from it in various ways.

Of course, her particular commitment to Jesus did not guarantee that she would always act in complete coherence with her vocation. She undoubtedly had her share of misjudgments, mistakes, fatigue, distraction, and sins such as we all commit even as we seek to follow the Lord. It takes time to grow in conformity to Christ’s love. Everything that we know, however, seems to indicate that Christina consistently returned from failures and continued to grow in the scope and depth of her gift-of-herself to Christ. She grew in her capacity to witness to and communicate His love as He filled her life, and made her service more spontaneous —which in a personal sense means not more “automatic” but more free.

Christina let Jesus work through her by the gifts He had entrusted to her as an “instrument” of “His glory (Love).” Thus, His love could become, in a profound sense, "present" to people through their experiencing her love: "Jesus loves you, AS DO I" —thus she witnessed to His love by giving herself... right up to the last gesture of the last moment of her life. 

Christina did not walk around with that kind of “dour face” that some people who regard themselves as “religious” seem to have all the time. She was openly, ardently Christian, but there was something different about her—she had a kind of freedom which definitely did not neglect her Christian morals, but also didn’t seem “constrained” by them. On the contrary, her fidelity to Jesus seemed to “open her up” more radically to the fundamental goodness of reality as redeemed by Him. She lived that exhortation of Saint Paul: “All things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:22-23). 

Christina was not afraid of life. On the contrary, she plunged into life with gusto, always seeking the good—great goods, certainly, but also the “ordinary goods” that are a daily part of life for the average 21st century teenager or young adult. She was very much a regular kid—someone her peers could relate to—who had crushes and boyfriends and heartbreak, who liked to have fun, play video games, eat pizza and ice cream, joke around with her friends, laugh a lot, watch movies and television, text and goof around on social media, and listen to many kinds of contemporary music. Yet she didn’t “lose herself” in her adolescent enthusiasms, but engaged these interests within the context of “something greater” that grounded her sense of self-worth (as a teen, she once described her three main interests—in a tongue-in-cheek but ultimately serious way—as “food, music, and video games… all united and raised up in Jesus.”  

From the very beginning of her career on YouTube, she made it clear in her description of herself that “Jesus is my Savior and I love Him and sing for Him.” But her love for Jesus was not ponderous or constraining, nor was it an extrinsic “agenda” of prosylitism artificially shaping her activities. Rather, her love for Jesus pervaded her life in a way that was sustaining and liberating, like a flame that illuminated her whole humanity—that made her more relatable, more “familiar,” more genuine, more human—but also “different,” like something breaking through her whole personality that was “new” and attractive, striking and unpredictable, surprising and wonderful. Christina generated an environment through her presence on YouTube that was welcoming, gentle, and congenial, while at the same time stirring, fascinating, and challenging. She shared therein her amazing voice and her passionate dedication to her music. This was enough to attract a following, but at a certain point, Christina’s growing YouTube fan base found themselves drawn to more than just the great music. They (we) were inspired and drawn by her extraordinary passion for life.

It was not an easy life. Christina didn’t hide the immense difficulties and struggles that she and her family faced. Her mother battled cancer for over two decades, and her family had many trials. She loved her mother, was inspired by her mother’s own faith and tenacity, and shared the awful vulnerability of the recurring cancer—“co-suffering” with her mother, crying out “why?” to God without ceasing to trust God, and learning from her mother how to “become strong, little by little.” Christina and her family were very close. Her parents and her brother moved with her from New Jersey to California in 2012. They supported her in her music career and her mission to give glory to Christ and love people through music and the great openness to those she called her “frands” (friend-fans), who were drawn to the space generated by her unique “hospitality.” 

People all over the world—people from diverse cultures, traditions, religions, and ways of thinking—were drawn together into “Team Grimmie,” a group that was, and continues to be, so much more than an ordinary “fandom.” Christina gave her love, and—with her awareness and desire to recognize the good in others—she rejoiced in the gifts and aspirations of her frands, their encouragement, their love for her. She recognized the presence of Christ in these dedicated people who appreciated and supported her from near and far. She communicated with as many as she could through her online platforms, and she loved to meet them face-to-face and spend time with them on her live concert tours in the U.S.A., Europe, and East Asia. Her “meet-and-greets” after her shows were free, open to anyone, and lasted as long as possible. She cherished meeting with her “frands.” She saw them as “entrusted to her by God,” and she was always ready to hug them, encourage them, or console them. She also had a real, unaffected, grateful appreciation of their love for her, and of the goodness she saw in them. They gave her strength. She experienced the closeness of the humanity of Jesus through them. Through their goodness and love, Jesus loved and sustained her with His Heart that encompasses every human heart.

Christina also sought out the good in people and places that are “on the margins”—complicated people, sick people, misunderstood people, confused people, troubled people. They all knew that she was a Christian—and many of them weren’t, but they never felt “condemned” by her. They knew she loved them, unconditionally, but not in a vague fuzzy merely sentimental way. She loved them in a way that “moved them,” provoked them, woke something up inside of them. Experiencing her love made them (and all of us) want to go forward on the journey of our lives, to take the “next step” that was calling us—notwithstanding the risk it entailed—to act to go deeper into the goodness of reality that was in front of us, to say “yes” with confidence to the challenges that we faced. Adam Levine (from Maroon 5), who was her coach on The Voice, said, “when I’m with Christina, I want to be a better person.”

She gave us courage. She still does.

Christina lived “in the world” with a heart full of the love of Christ, and therefore a love of every person in whatever difficulties or afflictions, a love for actual persons, a love for the person who was in front of her at any moment... without conditions. She belonged to Jesus, and this was her greatness. 

This was her heroism

I don’t think she was naive or careless. She knew the risks of love, and through Christ she willingly embraced them. She lived her life for Him, believing in Him, trusting Him. Empowered by His Spirit, her whole life became a great embrace, offered through her heart, that excluded no one. Such a love is not merely superficial and sentimental; it bears within itself the readiness to face opposition and danger, and even to take the ultimate risk. Her faith in Jesus made it possible for her to live this way, to risk being human in front of every person, in all the circumstances in life. 

I think that in her heart she had offered her life for Christ, to be an instrument of His love, long before the night of June 10, 2016. On that night, she stretched out her arms to make a space of love for one more person. She was following her Lord, as she had made a habit of doing in her life—living and growing in faith, no doubt making mistakes, sometimes getting tired or distracted, but moving forward, seeking forgiveness, growing ever closer to Him. She knew the path that her Savior walked, with love, for her redemption and the redemption of the world. She knew that He died with His arms stretched open with love for everyone. She also knew that this love conquered death. Love won the victory over death. 

It still seems incomprehensible to us. It still brings sadness and questioning. But let us live in hope. Someday we will see and understand how Christina offered her life for Christ, and the mysterious ways that He prepared her to share in His victory.

This is why people "still feel that she loves them"—even people who only discover her after her death. Her love continues to shine, to be personal even now, to inspire us and help us, because she lives now in the glory of Jesus Christ. In union with God through Christ, she has not forgotten any of us and she knows and loves the "newer frands" too, the ones who continue to discover her on YouTube, to hear her voice for the first time, to encounter her person and her unique form of witness even now, eight years later.

"Jesus loves you... as do I" —she witnessed to His love with her own love, with her whole life, all the way to her last moment on this earth, opening her arms to "welcome a stranger." I thank God for empowering Christina to give herself with such great love, a gift that has touched our lives in ways deeper than we know.