In Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (New York: Random House, 2003; pp. 283-4), author Azar Nafisi explains she once taught English literature at the University of Tehran. After her job there ends, she gathers around her seven of her former students, all women, who meet weekly at her house. For a period of two years, they mature as persons and as a group as they share their love for truth, freedom, life, and one another.
At one point one of these students, Yassi, is placed in an awkward position. Her family wants her to marry. By the standards of her time and place, she already should be. A man and his family express interest in her. During the meeting arranged with him, Yassi is to decide whether to marry him.
In terms of providing Yassi with an opportunity to discern enough to make such a significant decision, the meeting is a challenging one. Yassi and the “gentleman caller” (her words) do get to walk together in a park. Their meeting, however, is to last only an hour. They are not to look at each other. Their relatives are to walk behind them close enough to hear what they say to each other.
The gentleman caller is a mechanical engineer. Yassi is a brilliant lover of literature. She asks him if he’s read any good books lately. He says he doesn’t have the time. Wrong answer. Perhaps she needs to ask a better question.
Suddenly, she decides to play a game. If her mechanical gentleman shows some sense of humor, fine. If not, who needs him?
Yassi starts to walk rapidly. Once her caller and their families take notice, they all hurry to catch up. Suddenly, she stops. They all almost fall over each other. She hurries again, hoping to hear a sound suggesting that her mechanical gentleman gets the joke. He doesn’t.
Yassi is a playful witness to truth. The biblical witnesses speak against pride: that sense of taking ourselves too seriously. Yassi playfully introduces an unexpected game into official proceedings in a way that allows everyone there the chance to discern the otherwise inaccessible truth.
Yassi is a mischievous witness to freedom. Her relationship with a gentleman caller is destructively constrained: she is expected to marry him, yet she cannot look at him, speak privately with him, or meet him over an adequate period of time. The game frees her from these constraints. She’s not trying to sabotage the meeting. Her game is not meant to mock the proceedings. She pursues it because it allows her to meaningfully discern the suitability of her caller and that’s the entire purpose of the meeting.
Jesus Christ is the truth who sets us free to love and so leads us to life. Yassi is an unintentional witness to Jesus by the power of Spirit. Calling ourselves Christians does not make us witnesses to Christ. We might self-identify as Christians yet live as wholly conventional witnesses, for example, to Pluto the false god of money. Conversely, the fact that Yassi is a Muslim does not mean she cannot witness to Christ. It is by grace alone, by the unconditioned presence of Spirit alone, that any person witnesses at all to the truth, freedom, love, and vitality that are ours in Christ alone. Jesus enables Yassi to do just that because he cares for her as he does for all human beings. She unintentionally shows her love for Jesus, and the love of Jesus for her and her mechanical gentleman, when she affirms and acts on the idea of seeking the truth playfully. May all of us—especially at our next church meeting—be equally free.
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