This post might seem like a complete non-sequitur, but I just came back from seeing the opening debut of the Cesar Chavez movie with my Ethnic American Biblical Interpretation class. Wow! What a powerful movie! In my EABI class, we just finished reading through Gonzalez’s Mexicanos: A History of Mexicans in the United States (2009) which has a short chapter on the Cesar Chavez and the Mexican American struggle to unionize for fair wages in California’s grape industry. And while I understand that Hollywood probably exercised some artistic license, nevertheless this film powerfully dramaticizes the kind of perseverance and sacrifice that is required for social change. I want to bring my sons to see this film.
|Image Credit: Lionsgate Films
If I might offer a few brief reflections about the movie, I would highlight 3 comparisons one can make between the farmer workers labor movement lead by Chavez and the call to Christian missions/ministry.
First, compassion. The film starts by Chavez quitting his previous position with the CSO (Community Service Organization) to live among Latino/a American farm workers, work with them in their back-breaking conditions, and encourage them to seek more for their families than the camp-like conditions in which they lived. We can’t share the gospel unless we walk with people in their sufferings.
Second, sacrifice, fasting, proclamation, unity, courage, and creative wisdom are stronger weapons in the war against evil than violence. Here I would say: watch the film! See the kind of sacrifices that Chavez made, even straining his relationships with his wife and children (especially with his eldest son), his 25-day fast (and as a Christian, it’s not enough to starve but I would add that prayer must accompany fasting), and his perseverance through some major disappointments over a long, painful 5-year strike. When you do, it is quite a challenge to the church to exercise the same moral courage and even go beyond this. Fear paralyzes, but faith can overcome fear.
Third, humility. Every leader needs to be able to take corporate responsibility for what his group or church does. There is a climatic moment in the film when Chavez addresses his closest followers and makes this confession: “I failed you as a leader.” On the heels when some of his closest followers let the rage get the best of them and they resorted to violence, Chavez felt responsibility for what they did. Pastors need to be able to say: “I failed you” when our congregation sins, but also encourage them: “But let’s repent together.”
Cesar Chavez was not a perfect person in any sense of the word, nor does the film try to portray him as one. His very real broken relationship with his eldest son makes it all so clear how fragile human beings can be. But I don’t think any missionary or pastor can ignore the moment (and the knife in one’s heart) when Chavez’s son shows how angry he is over his father’s unavailability and absence. Chavez was just so busy with the mission at hand, he could not help his son when Fernando was viciously bullied at school for his father’s work. Ministry, like movements, involves putting our families through tough situations. We see them suffer at times because of our callings. This film brings out vividly some of those moments. It made me theologically reflect on my call to ministry and ask what sacrifices I and my family have had to go through so we can all be faithful to the Lord and his people.
Hope you have a chance to see the film! It’s well worth the effort to catch it in its limited engagement at the theaters.