When I was little, I played the tambourine for Jesus.
This probably wasn’t as strange as it sounds. I’d spent the night at my grandmother’s house and I had a dream that Jesus was hanging out there, chilling in the back room with the musical members of our congregation while they played and sang for him. I wanted to play my tambourine and sing the way I did in church, but I felt too shy and the tambourine seemed like a stupid instrument compared to the piano or guitar. After a couple of songs had been played, Jesus gestured for me to come over to him. In my little girl dream, he looked the same way he did in pictures—sweet eyes, white robes, brown hair—and he asked why I wasn’t singing with them. When I told him that I couldn’t really play anything, he handed me my tambourine. I can’t remember exactly what he said now, but it was something along these lines:
“Don’t worry about what they’re doing. You do what you can do. Play your tambourine. I like to hear you play.”
When I told my grandmother about the dream later, she said that it meant I should do something with music. That explanation worked until I got a little older and could see the more obvious meaning—that I shouldn’t worry about what others could offer God, but give instead what I was able to give. Of course, even this was in the context of Christianity. Now that I’m no longer associated with the religion, it, too, seems confining.
Still, I’ve been hesitant to toss the dream aside. It’s one of the few from my childhood that I remember, and I’ve always been a strong believer in the idea that these things happen for a reason. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, though, that I realized what this dream means to me now.
I may not subscribe to any particular doctrine, but I do know that faith has made amazing things happen. God and spirituality are not my enemies; discrimination, hate, and fear-mongering take that unfortunate role. I am not a Christian. It’s been years since I’ve tried to tell anyone about how it feels to be born again. I’m unable to so much as attend a Unitarian Universalist church regularly because there aren’t any close to where I’m living. I still can’t play the piano or guitar well. There are probably a lot of people in this world who would write me straight on into Hell.
But you know what?
I can play my tambourine.
There are Christians out there who are doing marvelous things, just as there are Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Wiccans, atheists, Muslims, and people in every other category you can think of who are doing marvelous things. They all have their part to play. Each of those parts is important.
There will be lost souls who are looking for the love of Jesus Christ, and there will be troubled minds longing for the peace of Buddhism. There will be those who need to let go and flow with the Tao. I probably won’t be able to give any of them what they’re longing for spiritually, but there are people I can help. Besides, the fact that someone is of another religion doesn’t mean I can’t fill his hungry belly or help her recover after some monster has abused her. It doesn’t mean that we can’t learn things from each other or that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with our relationship.
Being an atheist doesn’t mean that you’re unable to look at the world with wonder.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean that you’re irrational.
Being a Unitarian Universalist doesn’t mean that I can’t fulfill the obligations presented to me in a dream I had of Jesus Christ.
Jesus told me to play my tambourine and not to worry about measuring up to other people’s standards, so I won’t. I am performing in the only way I know how, and even if no one else thinks it’s worthy, I know that it is just as important as anyone else’s effort. I can be nothing other than the best version of what I am. I’ve given up trying.
Play your heart out.