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Pastors learn more than theology on our paths to earn an M.Div.

One of the most helpful take-aways from my days at seminary had to do, actually, with family systems theories.

You wouldn’t believe how handy some of these principles are when dealing with congregational ministry; or, for that matter, any sort of work within any sort of system.

Like party politics.

So, for example, when groups have people who hold power and who can wield it unpleasantly when displeased, it turns out that the lion’s share of the group’s energy is geared toward keeping that person(s) happy, or, at the very least, placid.  

Trouble is, the identity of the group then becomes defined by this looming negative presence, rather than by its own essence found hiding in the safety of the shadows.  

Now couple that with this partner thought (and, I know, it will sound kitschy, but stick with me on this for a moment): ideally, individuals and groups should strive to be a “self-differentiated, non-anxious presence.”

Translation: know who you are, and where you begin and end; and whatever else you do, don’t get sucked into others’ anxieties stoked precisely because of who you understand and assert yourself to be.

These are helpful nuggets.

For South Dakota Progressives, they are nuggets of Black Hills gold.

Here, we Progressives have two coteries that have caused us to mute our message: Republicans and their apparent hold on our state; and Democrats who, aware of this hold, willingly define themselves and their message in light of the Republican prairie presence.

It’s easy to get sucked into the anxiety of losing, and then, to fend off that threat, as Democrats to identify ourselves using Republican doctrine in hopes that it’ll earn us a win.

2012 showed us clearly that the method doesn’t always work.

I sense, though, that there is a new spirit rising in our Party, a new sense of clear definition, and it is being noticed.

I think it’s a Progressive spirit.

In fact, I am convinced that we have more Progressives than you’d think in our party, and I am also convinced that South Dakota is, in fact, a mine of progressive ore.

Take a look:

South Dakotans value hard work: Progressives want people to be well-employed at a fair and living wage.

South Dakotans value our agricultural and historical land: Progressives recognize the connection between healthy ecosystems and healthy economies.

South Dakotans value helping the hard-hit: Progressives want to create social nets which keep safe the vulnerable and assist them in getting back into the game as and when they can.

South Dakotans value our aging population: Progressives want to shield Medicare and Social Security from drastic cuts, and from drastic reshaping.

South Dakotans value ordinary people: Progressives want to protect regular Jolenes and Joes from policies and structures that protect the powerful instead.

South Dakotans are sure that we deserve more than the national absolute last in education funding: Progressives make education funding a top priority instead of a not-priority.

That’s a decent list, and is one just for starters.

It is worth noting that we still do not know who will be our Democratic nominee for the US Senate race in 2014.  (Though it is also worth noting that the Draft Brendan Johnson FB site has, at last count, 4,255 likes compared to Blue Dog Stephanie Herseth Sandlin’s 1,066.)

We do know this, though: it is possible to bring together those two systems theories mentioned above.  We simply need to refuse to allow the fear of the Republican presence and the fear of losing to the Republicans to define South Dakotan Democrats.  

We can be defined by and on our own terms.  

The ones above aren’t too shabby, it seems to me.  They aren’t too foreign to South Dakotan principles, either.

We can name what we stand for, and then on those principles, we can stand there.

Once we do that, the next step is to get ready for all sorts of people to come out of the shadows of our State and join us on that Progressive platform--self-differentiated and non-anxious together.

Originally posted to Anna M. Madsen on Wed Apr 24, 2013 at 08:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by South Dakota Kos.

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