I’ve been enjoying our weekly book discussion lunches here at LifeWay. Our third meeting took place last week with Micah Carter, Philip Nation, Jed Coppenger, and newcomer Russ Rankin. Here’s what we discussed:

The Warmth of Other Suns:
The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

Isabel Wilkerson
Random House, 2010

I started off the day’s conversation with this book by Pulitzer-prize-winning author, Isabel Wilkerson. During the holidays, I like to spend time in one big book. I usually choose a subject I would rarely study otherwise. In 2009, I chose the recently released uncensored version of In the First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. This Christmas, I bought The Warmth of Other Suns, having seen it recommended by John Wilson from Books and Culture.

Wilkerson’s book tells the story of the “Great Migration” – one of the most underreported, yet vitally important movements of people in the past hundred years. The Great Migration refers to the exodus of six million blacks from the South during the Jim Crow era. From the 1920’s until the 1970’s, there was a steady stream of African-Americans who left their homes in the South and settled in the North, East and West.

The way Wilkerson tells the story of the Migration is not by wowing the reader with statistics (although some will surprise you, primarily regarding the demographic shift caused by the Migration). Instead, she personalizes the history by telling the stories of three people: Ida Mae Gladney (who, with her young family, left a sharecropper situation in Mississippi and moved to Chicago), Robert Foster (who migrated from Louisiana to Los Angeles and became the doctor whose name was immortalized by the Ray Charles song), and George Starling (who left the Florida orange groves and moved to Harlem in NYC).

The Warmth of Other Suns is one of the most riveting historical accounts I have come across. By interweaving these three individuals’ lives and the larger narrative of the Migration, she paints a stunning portrait of life in the Jim Crow era. In many ways, the Depression-era was worse for blacks than the years immediately following the Civil War. The sharecropping system kept African-Americans in perpetual bondage. Rights were stripped away. Segregation was forced. There was an unwritten protocol for how the races were to interact.

At the same time, the North was not the haven the migrants hoped for. Racism was masked, but still evident. Perhaps nowhere is the heartbreak felt more profoundly than in Wilkerson’s account of blacks betraying one another.

The Warmth of Other Suns is an optimistic tragedy. Optimistic because of the inner fortitude and determination of the hard-working migrants. Tragic because of the circumstances that forced them from their homeland. Tragic also because of the disintegration of families in the second and third generations.

The Creative Priority:
Putting Innovation to Work in Your Business

by Jerry Hirshberg
Harper, 1998

Philip Nation brought a leadership book: The Creative Priority, written by Jerry Hirshberg, founder and president of Nissan Design International. Hirshberg tells the story of how people from two vastly different cultures – Japanese and American – were able to collaborate creatively to produce cars like the Altima and the Pathfinder.

Hirshberg believes that creativity comes from friction among people who think differently. Most businesses are built on one of two mentalities: the survival mentality (where employees seek to maintain the trustworthy status quo in an attempt to hold on to success) or the creative mentality (where employees embrace abrasion in all relationships as they think outside the box). In Hirshberg’s experience, combining the Japanese emphasis on stability and structure with the American emphasis on spontaneity and variety was a fruitful exercise. Here’s a quote Philip liked:

Creativity is the mastery of information and skills in the service of dreams.

One of Hirshberg’s suggestions for meetings is that the leader ask questions without providing quick answers. Several of us at the table began talking about the best teachers we’ve had. They were usually the ones who knew how to ask questions and not immediately resolve the tension with an answer. It’s a tough balance, since teachers who linger too long on the questions can make the learning process unsatisfying, yet teachers who never allow the tension to hang in the air can bore their students.

“The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses”
– Adam Grant, Francesca Gino, David Hofmann

Russ Rankin, a newcomer to our group, brought a magazine article from a US Airways magazine. “The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses” is a Harvard Business Review article that celebrates the unique contributions of introverted leader. In short, the article argues that introverted leaders hire proactive workers and are more receptive to suggestions.

Russ’ article was the springboard for a brief discussion of Adam McHugh’s book, Introverts in the Church:

McHugh makes the case that most churches are led by and geared toward extroverted personalities. Evangelicals tend to measure progress in discipleship by participation in essentially extrovert-focused activities. Even the wider society rewards extroverted traits, which leaves people with more introverted personalities feeling left out…

Introverts in the Church is part therapy for those who are introverted – many will say, “Finally, a book that understands me!” – and it is part prescription. The book is an eye-opener for pastors who have never considered this subject. McHugh shows introverts how they can learn from extroverts, and then encourages the church to open its eyes to the gifts of their quieter members.

Redeeming the Time:
A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure

Leland Ryken
Baker Books, 1995

Jed Coppenger concluded out our discussion by recommending Leland Ryken’s book, Redeeming the Time, which provides a biblical perspective on work and leisure. All of us agreed that churches and pastors fail to properly emphasize the Christian view of vocation. Work is such a major part of our lives, and yet it is rarely addressed in sermons and discipleship programs. When work is mentioned, it’s usually viewed as simply another avenue for evangelism and not something significant in and of itself.

Ryken demonstrates how the human heart longs for significance in daily work. He also exposes the unbiblical notion that leisure is somehow neutral. We discussed the need for Christians to think carefully about how to best use leisure time to the glory of God. I mentioned that I have received more feedback regarding the “Subverting Leisure” chapter in Holy Subversion than any of the other chapters in the book. Some readers are surprised that there is a Christian perspective on how we spend our free time.

After hearing Jed’s book recommendation, we put it into practice at once – ending our leisurely lunch and heading back to work!