July 24 – Howard Zinn

Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

This summer, we are seeking to be inspired by counter-cultural prophets, who have sailed against the prevailing winds and charted a new course for the communities in which they serve.

Theme Background

Howard Zinn was born in 1922 and just recently died last January.  He was a playwright, author and activist.  Most notably, Zinn wrote the work A People’s History of the United States which was the work that caught our attention for this series.  Zinn highlights people in history who usually
don’t receive the spotlight in history.  The book has sold over two million copies proving that sometimes those who have been omitted from histories deserve the spotlight.  From the book, movies have been made and tv shows have highlighted this particular work.

Zinn came from an immigrant family in Brooklyn.  His family was working class and soon he followed suit by working in a shipyard at the age of 18.  He then flew bomber missions in World War II which fueled his passion against war and violence.  He attended college under the GI Bill and went on to work on his PhD in history from Columbia.  While teaching at Spelman Zinn worked hard in the civil rights movement.  When he was fired from Spelman due to his involvement with student rights, he went on to Boston University to teach. His classes on civil liberties were extremely popular inBoston.

Zinn continued to write and fight against war and in labor movements. He became a leader in the Peace Movement.  He won awards for
that work.  In 2008 the “Zinn Education Project” was launched bringing words of justice to middle school and high school students using A People’s History of the United States as the main text.  The list of accomplishments goes on but the important part of Zinn’s life remains in where he was called to speak out.

In 2010, Zinn passed away but his legacy still lives on. He becomes a counter-cultural prophet when we talk about present day people who speak out for justice and equality in the world.  Zinn was moved by those on the margins of society who may be overlooked when we look at our own history.  By highlighting these important figures in our world, we are reminded of where God calls us to.

In our Hebrews passage, we are reminded that there are a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us.  And perhaps those witnesses are not just cheering us on as we get to the starting line but calling out people we may have missed.  This prophet is one who calls out to us that we have a race to begin in finding out where people are oppressed and rushing to their side to fight for equality.  This means fighting against war, slavery,
oppression, and the list could go on.  Jesus, calls us to this ministry as well.  Who did Jesus hang out with? Those who no one
else wanted to hang out with!  In John, we are reminded that Jesus will send us someone to speak out, to advocate, and to remind us to do the same.  How will we advocate from this point?

Quotes for the Week

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” – Howard Zinn

“The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away, and for such people, with such memories, revolt is always an inch below the surface.” – Howard Zinn (A People’s History of theUnited States)

“But I suppose the most revolutionary act one can engage in is… To tell the truth.”  — Howard Zinn (Marx in Soho : A Play on History)

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”  –Maya Angelou

“For the very first time the young are seeing history being made before it is censored by their elders.”  –Margaret Mead

Hebrews 12:1-12 (NRSV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,* and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of*
the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

3Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners,* so that you may not grow weary or
lose heart. 4In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—

‘My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

or lose heart when you are punished by him;

6 for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves,

and chastises every child whom he accepts.’

7Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? 8If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. 9Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. 11Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.


John 14:15-20 (NRSV)

Jesus said, ‘If you love me, you will keep* my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,* to be with you for ever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in* you. 18I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

Questions for the Week

If you could rewrite history, what would you highlight?

Are there places in the world that you yearn to speak out about? Are there situations that move you to action?

How will you carry on the legacy of our prophets?




About pastorcourt

Courtney McHill is the pastor at Rose City Park United Methodist Church in Northeast Portland where they love compassionately and inclusively!
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