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Art is our tool.


KEEP FAITH, KEEP WATCH,

TAKE HEART, TAKE COURAGE,

GUARD MIND, GUARD SPIRIT.

FEED LOVE, FEED LONGING.

- from “Now We Belong,” poem by Michael Dennis Browne

Composed by John Wykoff

Performed by Cameron LaBarr and the Missouri State Chorale

Complete poem printed below

What is this new fire I feel? Today’s inauguration ceremony did something to me. I watched the ceremony and was heartened to see art take its appropriate place in the performance by Missouri State University Chorale. All those who debated whether to perform at this inauguration missed an opportunity to affect the discussion.

Like most people, I have been in an internal discussion with myself about how I feel about the results. I ask, how can my countrymen have voted for someone who speaks and interacts with other individuals like our new president does? How can we have voted to turn back cherished progressive advances made into laws in the past 8 years?

At the same time, I would have been unhappy with Hillary Clinton and with a continuation of the unfair economy in our country. I was among the far left who wanted Bernie, and I was reluctant to vote for Hillary. Too many of us have lived with a lack of basic respect by our government and economy: no health insurance; no protection from low-paying jobs and from American industry’s use of overseas manufacturing and tax shelters; no fair collection of taxes to pay for the infrastructure that supports our daily lives; no real efforts against the unfair distribution of wealth; and a lack of care for the environment in which we must live.

Neither outcome of this presidential election was going to solve my concerns.

But somehow I feel like we may have gotten the outcome that will bring change more quickly. We got disruption by a free-wheeling, professional disruptor. There is no way to know what good and what bad will come out of this, but it will be change and for me that is the most important part.

So what about fire? The Missouri State Chorale performed a song today at the Inauguration which embodied the perfect role of the arts in the world, and as an artist, that is where the fire is. In their song, art was used to express our potential to do good in the world, and described our desire for it. Politics seems small from that vantage point.

This poem, Now They Belong, listed all the potential that exists in a democratic society, represented by people gathered for the ceremony: voices, hearts, cities, dreams, trees, rocks and vistas. The poem reminds me that while the captain is changing, the rest of us are signed up to co-pilot and assist and labor and create whatever is needed to arrive at that “more perfect union.” In that performance, I felt the eyes, ears and hearts of Americans listening from all the corners of the country. I felt so much potential energy in that focus. So much life and hope.

So my new fire is the courage expressed in the song’s refrain.

Keep faith, keep watch,

Take heart, take courage,

Guard mind, guard spirit,

Feel love, feed longing.

I am feeling courageous and ready for this new moment, and I see it as an opportunity to wake the people of our country to their true responsibilities as citizens. I have the courage to keep faith in our system and in our people that we can do this difficult work of change. I have the courage to keep watch that it is done well, and I am taking heart in the vigilance I see in my fellow citizens and journalists and patriots. I have the courage to guard my mind against partisanism, and to guard my spirit against despair. We need to look across the divide, feed one another love and share in our longing for stability.

I am an artist and nothing feeds art like struggle. Struggle is good. It creates progress. Making art just got much more important.

“Now We Belong”

Here are the voices of every creature,

Here are the calls of every heart;

Here is the place of strangers’ welcome,

We who once walked in strangers’ shoes.

Once we were strangers,

We were welcomed,

Now we belong and believe in this land.

Here are the rivers of many echoes,

Here are the leaves of every tree;

Within us live the long horizons,

Winds that stir the sacred stones.

Once we were strangers,

We were welcomed,

Now we belong and believe in this land.

KEEP FAITH, KEEP WATCH,

TAKE HEART, TAKE COURAGE,

GUARD MIND, GUARD SPIRIT.

FEED LOVE, FEED LONGING.

Here are the cities where we have gathered,

Here are the barns where hope is stored;

We are the gleams of every being,

Filled with the dreams that build the day.

Once we were strangers,

We were welcomed,

Now we belong and believe in this land.

KEEP FAITH, GUARD MIND,

TAKE HEART, GUARD SPIRIT,

TAKE COURAGE, KEEP WATCH.

FEED LONGING, FEED LOVE.


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