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 an effervescent one and a half year old with a second kiddo expected in early spring 2017. She loves doing crafts, singing, writing her first ever young adult novel, and going on adventures with her family. Being married to a minister means not necessarily knowing where she will be living in the not too distant future, which is both exciting and exhausting. She tries very hard to make herself at home with her family wherever they happen to be. Being able to write and connect with others from anywhere makes this a lot easier.

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)
Continue reading OMG

Tell The Truth

Lately, my kids have been making me think a lot about truth. My two-year-old isn’t always very good at telling the truth. It’s always a little startling when your innocent baby figures out how to lie, but I’ve realized that it actually makes a lot of sense. She doesn’t tell the truth when she doesn’t want something to be true. For example, it’s a struggle getting her to admit to having a dirty diaper. She doesn’t want to be changed, so she pretends that her diaper is clean. Continuing to play is a far more pleasant prospect than having Mommy vigorously wipe smelly stuff off her bum. I don’t really blame her for reimagining reality in cases like this, but still, she has to learn to tell the truth, even when she doesn’t want to.

Just writing that out is a bit of an eye-opener: we have to tell the truth, even if we don’t want it to be true. It’s humbling to realize how often I have to relearn this same lesson. There are all sorts of untruths I tell myself because the reality doesn’t always seem terribly appealing. I bet you can relate to this too. Here are just a few things that come to mind for me:

I deserve a treat for all of my hard work today. “Deserve” is a pretty strong word. There is nothing wrong with rewarding oneself for a job well done, but for me at least, a “treat” usually means junk food. I might be rewarding my taste buds, but I’m punishing the rest of my body. That’s not much of a treat in the long run. On top of that, this kind of thinking typically omits honoring the Lord’s part in all of my successes. I’m not deserving. Not really. I just have the most amazing Heavenly Father helping me out. All the time. That in itself is actually a beautiful reality, but one I manage to ignore far too often. Continue reading Tell The Truth

David Was a Giant Too

When I let my emotions build up into an unstable tower that inevitably crashes down on me, I am crushed. When I wake up in the morning and my to do list looms large, I want to curl up in a ball under the covers and never come out. When I open my computer and discover that there has been another natural disaster or act of senseless violence, I feel myself shrinking in the face of such pain.

There is a lot out there that’s big: Huge storms, Massive acts of terror, Mega doubts and fears on a personal and global scale. The list of enormous things to worry about is itself truly gargantuan. And these monsters can make me feel so tiny and trivial, until I remember that the Lord is in charge, and He dwarfs them all.

The Lord is so pervasive and so profoundly present in all things that I can forget He’s there, which is crazy because He truly is the biggest thing there is. He is everything good and true and wonderful in this world and beyond. And you know what’s even crazier? He took the time to make us. He made me. This all-knowing, ever-present almighty Creator took the care and attention to make simple, seemingly insignificant me. Sure, it is no great feat for someone so powerful to make a human being, but the fact that He chooses to make each of us in His own image and keeps doing it, no matter how much we mess up the world, means that we matter. We truly matter. And that makes us big too. Continue reading David Was a Giant Too