04 1 / 2012

"He loved God so much it hurt, although that same love sometimes made him laugh out loud. And he deeply respected his colleagues. For centuries they had held on. Preaching, shouting, dancing, absorbing, arguing, counseling, pleading, commanding. Their passion burned or smoldered like lava over a land that had waged war against them and their flock without surcease. A lily-livered war without honor as either its point or reward; an unprincipled war that thrived as much on the victor’s cowardice as on his mendacity. On stage and in print he and his brethren had been the heart of comedy, the chosen backs for parody’s knife. They were cursed by death row inmates, derided by pimps. Begrudged even miserly collection plates. Yet through all of that, if the Spirit seemed to be slipping away they had held on to it with their teeth if they had to, grabbed it in their fists if need be. They took it to buildings ready to be condemned, to churches from which white congregations had fled, to quilt tents, to ravines and logs in clearings. Whispered it in cabins lit by moonlight lest the Law see. Prayed for it behind trees and in sod houses, their voices undaunted by roaring winds. From Abyssinian to storefronts, from Pilgrim Baptist to abandoned movie houses; in polished shoes, worn boots, beat-up cars and Lincoln Continentals, well fed or malnourished, they let their light, flickering low or blazing like a comet, pierce the darkness of days. They wiped white folks’ spit from the faces of black children, hid strangers from posses and police, relayed life preserving information faster than the newspaper and better than the radio. At sickbeds they looked death in the eye and mouth. They pressed the heads of weeping mothers to their shoulders before conducting their life-gouged daughter to the cemetery. They wept for chain gangs, reasoned with magistrates. Made whole congregations scream. In ecstasy. In belief. That death was life, don’t you know, and every life, don’t you know, was holy, don’t you know, in His eyesight. Real wonder, however, lay in the amazing shapes and substances God’s grace took: gospel in times of persecution; the exquisite wins of people forbidden to compete; the upright righteousness of those who let no boot hold them down - people who made Job’s patience look like restlessness."

Paradise by Toni Morrison (p 159), on Black preachers

04 1 / 2012


Let me tell you about love, that silly word you believe is about whether you like somebody or whether somebody likes you or whether you can put up with somebody in order to get something or someplace you want or you believe it has to do with how your body responds to another body…

Love is none of that. There is nothing in nature like it… Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God.

You do not deserve love regardless of the suffering you have endured. You do not deserve love because somebody did you wrong. You do not deserve love just because you want it. You can only earn — by practice and careful contemplation — the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it. Which is to say you have to earn God. You have to practice God. You have to think God — carefully. And if you are a good and diligent student you may secure the right to show love. Love is not a gift. It is a diploma. A diploma conferring certain privileges: the privilege of expressing love and the privilege of receiving it.

How do you know you have graduated? You don’t. What you do know is that you are human and therefore educable, and therefore capable of learning how to learn, and therefore interesting to God, who is interested only in Himself which is to say He is interested only in love. Do you understand me? God is not interested in you. He is interested in love and the bliss it brings to those who understand and share that interest.


Paradise by Toni Morrison (pg 141)

08 12 / 2011


Unique and isolated, his was a town justifiably pleased with itself. It neither had nor needed a jail. No criminals had ever come from his town. And the one or two people who acted up, humiliated their families or threatened the town’s view of itself were taken good care of. Certainly there wasn’t a slack or sloven woman anywhere in town and the reasons, he thought, were clear. From the beginning its people were free and protected. A sleep-less woman could always rise from her bed, wrap a shawl around her shoulders and sit on the steps in the moonlight. And if she felt like it she could walk out the yard and on down the road. No lamp and no fear. A hiss-crackle from the side of the road would never scare her because whatever it was that made the sound, it wasn’t something creeping up on her. Nothing for ninety miles around thought she was prey. She could stroll as slowly as she liked, think of food preparations, war, of family things, or lift her eyes to stars and think of nothing at all. Lampless and without fear she could make her way. And if a light shone from a house up a ways and the cry of a colicky baby caught her her attention, she might step over to the house and call out softly to the woman inside trying to soothe the baby. The two of them might take turns massaging the infant stomach, rocking, or trying to get a little soda water down. When the baby quieted they could sit together for a spell, gossiping, chuckling low so as not to wake anybody else.

The woman could decide to go back to her own house then, refreshed and ready to sleep, or she might keep her direction and walk further down the road, past other house, past the three churches, past the feedlot. On out, beyond the limits of town, because nothing at the edge thought she was prey.


Paradise by Toni Morrison, pg 8

06 12 / 2011

Toni Morrison may be my favorite author, but I can not deny that there are times when I find her writing to be too high brow. It is nearly impossible to be lackadaisical while reading her novel. You must put your thinking cap on, turn your phone on silent, close the blinds, and focus. That still won’t guarantee that you will get it, but at least you’re on the right track.

When I picked up Paradise from the library, I knew that I would have to concentrate while reading, which kind of discouraged me. I’m used to reading with a purpose, but her work will make you want to bring out a notepad, and write summaries and diagrams. Sometimes, especially in the beginning, you will want to give up on the story, because whatever she is talking about either seems just out of your reach of understanding, or takes the enjoyment out of reading.

This is why, when after the first intense and extensive 20 pages, I did not put the book down. Oh, how I wanted to, but I pushed through, encouraging myself to remember the precious jewels that are Sula, The Bluest Eye, Beloved, and Song of Solomon. I found myself reading, and then re-reading, and then reading again, paragraphs to make sure I understood what was going on and the meaning behind it all. I very rarely do that while reading, but I knew I’d regret ending my journey through this book if I put it down too soon.

I’m so happy I pushed through. Paradise is definitely my favorite book of the year (I know we have 25 days left in 2011, but I’m claiming it now! lol), and very well may be my second favorite book by my favorite author.

Toni Morrison’s first novel since she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Paradise opens with a horrifying scene of mass violence and chronicles its genesis in an all-black small town in rural Oklahoma. Founded by the descendants of freed slaves and survivors in exodus from a hostile world, the patriarchal community of Ruby is built on righteousness, rigidly enforced moral law, and fear. But seventeen miles away, another group of exiles has gathered in a promised land of their own. And it is upon these women in flight from death and despair that nine male citizens of Ruby will lay their pain, their terror, and their murderous rage. 
In prose that soars with the rhythms, grandeur, and tragic arc of an epic poem, Toni Morrison challenges our most fiercely held beliefs as she weaves folklore and history, memory and myth into an unforgettable meditation of race, religion, gender, and a far-off past that is ever present.

The themes of Black self sufficiency and survival, female independence, colorism, family history, and the evils and arrogance behind uncontested power permeate the book. I don’t understand how Morrison is able to write a novel with so many stories intertwined, with so many themes, issues, so much history, and still remain lyrical and arresting with her words.

She is too good at this.

I recommend this book for those who enjoy Toni Morrison’s work. Also, anyone interested in epic story lines that follow multiple generations, and anyone interested in the themes mentioned above. Want to read about an all Black self sufficient town and how they handle the threat of it’s destruction? Pick this book up.

Grade: A