The discipline that love demands

Eighteen months ago, Beyoncé and I said we needed to wipe our tears and get into formation.  Folks found that really valuable at the time, but lately, I’ve noticed a lot of folks are so exhausted that they’ve mislaid their discipline.  So I am writing to remind all of us about what it means to be in formation

Formation means that we are self-disciplined, self-governing and focused on our goal. We act in response to solid, community-held values, not easy-to-manipulate feelings in heat of frustration.  Formation means we work together to remove the power of misogyny, white supremacy, xenophobia, classism – every form of oppression— as if our lives depended on it because they do.  We did not come here for play-play.

Formation means we each choose the places where we put pressure on the system to change and we sustain that pressure. This is some every-single-day struggle: no weekend warriors here.  Some of us boldly name the future we want and the patterns we see, like #AbolishICE and #MeToo. Others of us amp the signal in Wednesday night Bible study or work it into revised corporate policies. We work to dismantle structures while also working to reduce harm in the ways our current structures work – some of us bail folks outta jail who are there just because they’re poor while others work to end mass incarceration. Some of us are called to make space for thinking and being whole, and some of us come to dwell in that space for a day or a week or a lifetime.  There is nothing like the memory of freedom to sustain us in times of struggle.

we care beleive in loveSustained liberation struggle requires more than showing up as famous or fierce. It is the discipline of holding our part of the line and trusting others to hold theirs without policing them for not being “woke” enough. Formation is the rigorous practice of focusing our gaze on our love for the oppressed, including our oppressed selves, rather than being distracted by deploring those desperate enough to commit loveless acts. Anger has a purpose: to give us the energy to defend against immediate harm. But a steady diet of outrage poisons our metabolism so that we must eat out the heart of own community to survive. Formation allows us to make useful indelible ink from our rage, and uses it to write how much we care upon the palms of our hands for the whole world to see.

I’m thinking about formation because some days I fall into weariness, hopelessness and vengeful thoughts too. Other queer black women remind me that whenever I have time to feel vengeful, I have too much time on my hands. Alice Walker taught me that resistance is the secret of joy, so our hearts and hands must be joyfully engaged in meaningful work for liberation instead of wallowing in self-righteousness.  And Audre Lorde taught me that we need each other’s help to be mindful of the tools we choose for this resistance work, lest we find ourselves with the master’s tools in our hands mistakenly believing that they are the kind of power we need to destroy the master’s house.

I’m thinking about formation today because lately, I smell fresh blood. Often it is on the mouths of comrades who fight so fiercely and blindly that they wound whatever is in their path, including each other.  Because my gift is persistence, I will keep calling them in with a fierce and rigorous love. We must discipline ourselves to show care in this way, if not for moral reasons, then for practical ones.  If we fall out of love’s formation, we become hate-filled, contemptuous, compassionless people ourselves. If our resistance and self-defense becomes a taste for inflicting suffering, we will soon no longer care whose blood is on our tongue.

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