There were no bumper stickers or other meaning clues on the tan minivan. Just a simple California plate: "ANESTE".
And I was immediately struck by the subtlety and the power of the message. Now that, I thought, is pitch-perfect evangelism.
I am not, I must point out, a believer in evangelism qua evangelism. I have already written eloquently about my feelings on religious promotion, and nothing's changed.
But a doctrine against proselytization does not mean a doctrine of silence. It means a doctrine of pragmatism. All are welcome who choose to hear; let those who won't listen select themselves out, and save everyone the hassle of an argument.
Besides: Your true religion is not in what you tell others, it's in what you live.
If you're satisfied with who you are -- if you're living sustainably and joyfully -- if you're making the world a better place for yourself and others, you are viscerally demonstrating the power of your beliefs.* Living well is evangelism.
As such, evangelism is not a declaration. It's a conversation. It's opening up and sharing to the world what makes you joyful, and -- this is important -- listening back. You want to borrow their best ideas and let them emulate yours. You want to recognize when someone is content without your help, and when someone is fulfilled in a way that you are not. Your time in your current role is limited, and you have to help those you can best reach and learn from those who have the most to teach you.
Evangelism must play well with others. This is why evangelism cannot push. Evangelism shares.
Which brings me back to the license plate.
They misspelled (or Anglicized) it, but the word is Greek to me: anesti, ανέστη, "he has risen." I grew up in a household celebrating Greek Easter, and "Xristos** Anesti" -- "Christ has risen" -- has long been drilled into my head.
So "Anesti"/"Aneste" is a bald public statement of faith. Pushy evangelism? Ah, but no: context matters.
The number of Greek speakers here in America is tiny, and overwhelmingly likely to already subscribe to the views that "Aneste" expresses.*** The people that don't know Greek will have no clue what it means unless they take the positive step of asking you. So it's public without being pushy. It's declaring in no uncertain terms: Here is something that defines me! -- and yet letting people approach it at their own pace.
I respect that. And I always strive to be a similar ambassador for my beliefs.
* And, hey, even if your beliefs end up wrong, you have nothing to regret.
** Note that the x in Greek, chi, is pronounced like a throat-clearey sort of "ch". Thus the Greek "xristos" got transliterated to "Christos" and later "Christ." I borrowed the same consonant as the closest local equivalent when writing my name, Baxil. And now you know!
*** In Greece itself, the number of non-Greek Orthodox residents is in the low, low single digits. The second largest minority group is Muslim at 1.3%, and the rest combined is 0.7%. I don't have similar statistics for American Greek-speakers, but such people are mostly either ethnographically Greek or college classics students.