All posts by Justine Buss

About Justine Buss

Justine Buss is a theatre practitioner, writer, wife, and mother currently based in Toronto. She was born and raised in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania and studied theatre and English at Muhlenberg College. She spent her professional career working with young people in theatre and is now a full time stay at home mom. She is married to Reverend Jared Buss and is mama to three firecracker kiddos. She stays in touch with her theatre roots by directing Christmas Tableaux and New Church Day pageants every year. She also loves doing crafts, singing with Voices Rock Canada, writing stories and poems, shopping, and going on adventures with her family. She is grateful for the expressive outlet that New Christian Woman provides. It's so good to take the time to reflect on and write about the things that are on our minds and hearts.

Notice Your Shoulders

Lately, I’ve been noticing my shoulders.

It all started last Christmas. I bought my mom a backpack that she really wanted. She passed away before she got a chance to use it and now it sits in my closet. I haven’t decided what I want to carry in it yet, but I like the idea that when I wear it, I will carry a part of my mom with me. 

A week after my mom died, I was in my brother-in-law’s wedding. Standing at the front of the church, I felt my mom’s presence hovering over my right shoulder. She was always a champion of marriage and I could feel her beaming with joy at getting a front row seat witnessing the birth of this precious new union.   

I’ve since felt my mother’s presence several times and it’s always been around my shoulders and centered around spheres of innocence; as I smiled down at my newborn son; while I was sitting on the grass in the sunshine as my older children ran around the local playground. Moments like that are when I feel her close, like warm wings draping over my shoulders from behind and humming with heavenly energy and comfort.

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How to Grieve: An Open Letter to the Hells

When my mother died this past winter, I was offered countless words of comfort. I was told to cherish the memories I had made with her. People quoted precious words of scripture. I received sweet cards and letters reminding me that I will see my mom again and that she is always close. I sincerely appreciate all of the comfort given to me during those first weeks of loss. But the single most useful thing anyone said to me was this: 

No matter how you are grieving, the hells will tell you that you’re doing it wrong. 

That might not seem like the most comforting statement in the world, but it has gotten me through so many low points in my stages of grief. I have turned to this phrase time and time again as the hells have attacked my grieving process at each and every turn. And there have been a lot of turns. This truth has become one of my smooth round stones with which I can slay the Goliath that tries to make me feel small and weak in my sadness. After all, being able to call out the hells is vital in fighting against them. 

The following is an open letter to the hells in response to their relentless attacks on my grieving process. My hope is that it will serve as a useful tool for others who are navigating loss. 

To: Hell
Attn: Grief Manipulation Department 

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In Praise of Pageants

Maybe it’s all of the Halloween hype, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of dressing up in costumes and pretending that we are something or someone else. There are plenty of arguments for why Christians maybe shouldn’t celebrate Halloween. It is, after all, a patently pagan holiday that tends to glorify the macabre. But if we put aside the ghoulish parts and focus on the fun of dressing up and getting treats, then the whole affair seems innocent enough.

In lots of New Church congregations, people dress up as characters from the Word and act out the stories as part of religious services. Some do this regularly in more informal settings and some reserve such performances for Christmas and New Church Day pageants.

As a child, I loved watching people in costume act out my favorite Bible stories. Sure, it was entertaining and it was more interesting than just listening to a minister read the Word and then talk to me about it. But it was always more than added entertainment value. I think seeing these characters and stories brought to life helped make me aware of the relevance of the Word to my own life. I got to watch friends and neighbors play these familiar roles and realized that the characters in the Word were people. They were like me.

When I was older, I started to participate in religious pageants whenever I had the opportunity. There was something so powerful about not only watching these stories come to life, but to act them out myself. So far I have played a townsperson, a shepherd, an angel, Mary, and even part of the Great Red Dragon. The variety has been a lot of fun, but really what’s struck me over the years is how it makes so much sense to have real people bring these characters to life from time to time—because they are our life. Every figure and event in the Word is a part of our lives. It’s all relevant. We are all Mary and Joseph. We have all faced the Dragon and Herod and sought out the newborn Lord and Church in our lives. It’s all about us.

And what a powerful gift to remind ourselves, not just intellectually, but with our natural bodies that we all have these beloved and notorious characters living within us as we regenerate. Something inside of us wakes up when the Word is presented in ways that engage more of our senses. There is something both humanizing and uplifting in seeing another person emulate Mary in the moment she accepts the Lord’s plan for her. That’s us. Right there. In religious tableaux and even in cinematic interpretations of the Word, we get to experience these powerful moments in a familiar and visceral way. Observing and playing these parts can remind us that they are really a part of us. And there’s nothing make-believe about that. It is so deeply real.

I’ve had the privilege of directing both the Christmas and New Church Day pageants in my congregation in Toronto for the last three years. It brings me such joy to work alongside the people I attend church with and weave together living images of such powerful correspondences in the Word. It never ceases to amaze me how time and time again the congregation can see past the pretend sheep and the electric star and decades-old costumes, and still see something precious and deeply personal in these performances.

I have occasionally met with some resistance about using words like “performance” when talking about religious services. It’s as if “performing” is an inherently secular thing, done purely for entertainment value. But if you look it up, the first definition of the word, “perform,” is to “carry out, accomplish, or fulfill (an action, task, or function).” I think we can take a cue from that. These kinds of religious performances are special and important because they remind us to not just read the Word but to live it.

This article is just my musings on the importance of religious performance. I would love to hear about how any religious pageants you’ve seen or participated in have impacted your spiritual journey. Do you find pageants particularly powerful or instructive or even distracting or harmful? What’s something you’d like to see done in tableaux or pageant form that you haven’t seen yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading mine.

OMG

If “OMG” were a spice, it would be salt. It’s in everything.

From “Oh my god, that dress looks great on you” to “Oh my god, can you believe gas prices?” people seem to throw “OMG” into just about any sentence. It’s a one-size-fits-all exclamation that is as pervasive as “um” or “like.”

And it troubles me. So much so that even writing it out gives me pause. I don’t capitalize the word “god” in these contexts because it doesn’t seem like the Lord is really any part of the subject matter. I was always taught that saying “OMG” in a casual way is taking the Lord’s name in vain—using the Lord’s name without any true, reverent thought of Him was breaking the second commandment. As an adult, after studying the Word and the Heavenly Doctrines, it seems pretty clear to me that the casual use of OMG is problematic and we shouldn’t say it carelessly (my emphasis below):

You are not to take the name of Jehovah your God in vain, for Jehovah will not hold anyone guiltless, who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

Taking the name of Jehovah God in vain means in the natural or literal sense the misuse of the name itself in all sorts of conversation, especially false statements or lies, and in swearing without good cause, or in order to avoid being blamed, in evil intentions, which are curses, and in witchcraft and spells. (True Christianity 297)
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