Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Review: The 5 Love Languages for Men -- how to speak clearly to your wife and strengthen your marriage

The 5 Love Languages for Men, Gary Chapman
with Randy Southern, Northfield Publishing (2015)

I remember reading Gary Chapman's original book, The 5 Love Languages, almost two decades ago. That groundbreaking book introduced me to the languages of words of affirmation, quality time, gift giving, acts of service, and physical touch. Now, 20 years later and almost that many books in this series, Chapman has a new book aimed at men in marriage relationships. And it's powerful and well worth the read. The love languages have not changed, but this book focuses on strengthening your marriage by learning your wife's primary love language.

After an introductory chapter, the first half of the book elaborates each of these five languages.  Chapters 7 and 8 are a little weaker, but the book ends on a strong point with two important chapters: one on anger and the last one on apologizing.  I found these especially helpful, as they highlight two of my weaknesses.

The book itself is very short, weighing in at less than 190 pages. When combined with numerous cartoons, it becomes a very quick read. The cartoons themselves are more miss than hit, and could have been omitted (it almost felt like they were added as padding).

Two particularly useful features of the book focus on practical application. The end of the book contains a love language profile for each partner, containing 30 questions to each discover your primary and secondary love languages. And chapters 2 through 6 contain a two-page phrase book for each specific love language giving tips to us hard-headed men on how to speak that love language.  This becomes the phrase book to turn to.

My wife and I took the profile survey at the end. I was reaffirmed in my primary language of acts of service, but discovered that gift giving and words of affirmation are so low that they are almost foreign to me. My wife, on the other hand, speaks acts of service and words of affirmation bilingually. This means I understand and speak one of her languages, but struggle with words of affirmation. Thankfully, the phrase book in that chapter has given me some tips to try.

Chapman points out that we can all learn to speak other languages, just like we can learn a foreign language. But it will be hard work. Yet, if we want to make our marriages the best they can be, we should be willing to put in the effort. After all, we ourselves will reap the benefit with heightened communication and deeper intimacy. Who in a marriage wouldn't want that?

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for this honest review and post. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Book Review: Just Mercy -- a compelling indictment of the America's death penalty law

Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Spiegel and Grau (2014)

Just Mercy was featured by many of the Powell’s staff in their best of 2014 book lists. So I added it to my pile of books and moved it to the top. I’m glad I did. It’s a compelling, yet searing indictment of the American justice system.

I had never heard of Bryan Stevenson before. It turns out that he is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and a professor of law at New York University Law School. During law school at Harvard, he spent time in the south working on death row cases and found his life vocation. I’ll let him explain:

“Well, I have a law project called the Equal Justice Initiative, and we’re trying to help people on death row. We’re trying to stop the death penalty, actually. We’re trying to do something about prison conditions and excessive punishment. We want to free people who’ve been wrongly convicted. We want to end unfair sentences in criminal cases and stop racial bias in criminal justice. We’re trying to help the poor and do something about indigent defense and the fact that people don’t get the legal help they need. We’re trying to help people who are mentally ill. We’re trying to stop them from putting children in adult jails and prisons. We’re trying to do something about poverty and the hopelessness that dominates poor communities.”

His book is a memoir of his journey over three decades, from his beginnings as a naive student through his successes and failures to his position as seasoned but wise executive director. Although many characters are introduced throughout, most remain the focus of a single chapter. Some weave a story throughout. But one remains central to the theme: Walter McMillian, a convicted murderer on death row. However, Walter was nowhere near the scene of the crime, as attested to by dozens of people including some policemen. Yet, the confession of a criminal coerced by the DA resulted in a bizarre, almost unbelievable story that convinced an illegal jury. McMilliam’s interactions with Stevenson may have made him the person he is.

Yet, the book is bigger than this. Weaving tales of 13 year-olds convicted and imprisoned for life without parole alongside poor white mothers who were convicted of killing their babies, despite them being stillborn, Stevenson’s narrative forces us to address the inequalities still in place today. Being born poor and black in some states predisposes them to suspicion. If arrested, such people have little hope of a fair trial.

Although I came to this book a supporter of the death penalty, backing up this belief with biblical justification (Gen. 9:6), Stevenson’s accounting of numerous convicted men and women languishing on death row who were later exonerated and declared innocent after the illegalities and improprieties in their trials were brought to light has made me reconsider. I must confess I am still working through this. As Stevenson says toward the end, “Walter made me understand why we have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent.”

Although judicial improvements have occurred and personal redemption realized, many indeed due to Stevenson’s efforts, he leaves us realizing that there is still a long way to go.