Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Putrid Problems

Written by: on November 9, 2020

Nostrils filled with stench demand creative resolve. This summer, I battled a skunk at my in-law’s cabin. Each weekend greeted me with the miasma of failure of the previous week’s attempts. The putrid problem gripped me, consumed me, and I found my creativity invigorated around the disposal of this creature. Each breath reminded me of the need for order to be restored in my “kingdom.” I could not escape it. This need was the mother of my inventing, creating, and innovating.

Leaders of privilege have no such odors, or what odors they do have can be easily masked. My allegory breaks down when one considers the privileged location of this duel: a family-owned, vacation, mountain property. Hardly a problem of significant weight.

While necessity is the mother of invention, “necessity” is the operative word. Leaders of privilege have a few choices when facing the reality of true necessities, or the lack thereof. Filled with self-delusion, they can find themselves convinced their problems are of grave significance…


They could be so marked with the story of the incarnation that they could put their own meat (carne) or skin in the game. They could be in solidarity so much with those on the margins, that their sense of prosperity (sha·lo·vm, Jeremiah 29:7) becomes intertwined. “Your problems are now my problems,” they agree.

Knitted, interdependent prosperity far eclipses charity. Charity says, “I have prospered, so I give to you that you might prosper.” Jeremiah 29 prosperity goes further, “Only in your prospering, do I find my prospering.”

These musings were sparked by an unrelated topic in the work of Stephen D’Souza and Diana Renner. In their collaborative book, Not Knowing, they give personal accounts of leaders in the fray. One leader recollects, “For me, it all started with a problem that was bothering me” (286). For a problem to truly bother, it must live in close proximity. It must fester. It must gnaw. What then, my mind wandered, for those who have insignificant bothering problems?

Without skin in the game, a dog in the fight, or carne in the problem, creativity flounders. However, the converse is true, too. When our prosperity is on the line, our collective genius engages creativity.

Nostrils filled with stench demand creative resolve. With incarnational posture, each breath reminds us of the need for order to be restored in the Kingdom. We cannot escape it. This need, then, becomes the mother of our collective inventing, creating, and innovating.

Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner, Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity (New York: LID Publishing, 2016).

About the Author

Shawn Cramer

6 responses to “Putrid Problems”

  1. Greg Reich says:

    Excellent! Seeing the incarnation as skin in the game is an interesting way to look at it. I would agree but, also suggest that God’s initial skin in the game was to create humanity with a free will! There is risk in knowing that we would either accept or reject him as creator. Creation is a risky business. I think until we are willing to risk our ability to be accepted or rejected the ability to bring wholeness is limited. Much of what we are reading and studying forces us to struggle and brings us to a place of placing skin in the game. How as leaders, do we bring people steeped in a deep level of comfort to see that their comfort is at the expense of others and is in reality a false comfort? We are told in scripture that when one part of the body hurts the entire body hurts. Has the body grown so numb to the pain of the individual thus leaving us in a place of being ineffective?

  2. Chris Pollock says:

    I think what you’re saying, and I might be wrong or way-off somewhere, is that presence is important and that we knowing the need or the problem is only truly realised being at close proximity to it (as opposed to being ‘way off somewhere’).

    What is the difference between the revelation of words (read in a book or spoken from the pulpit/podium) and the revelation that comes from being in the midst of the real-life thing? The thing that ‘they’ are talking about.

    Thanks Shawn. God bless you. And, thank you for being such a sweet host for the ZOOM chat this morning!

  3. Dylan Branson says:

    Isn’t that why we’re all here to an extent? We saw a problem and felt a nudge or a call to address it in some way.

    Even thinking to the hero’s journey, a story with no conflict or problem is no story at all. The problem may seem small and insignificant for some while a huge undertaking for others. The small starting conflict can evolve from there into “greater” problems and inspire greater creativity and tenacity farther down the line.

  4. Darcy Hansen says:

    LOTS of questions flying through my brain right now…As you consider your project, what is the putrid stench with which you are in proximity? Do other leaders in your context smell it, also? How close are you all to “it” really? And what creative, even gritty, steps are needed to eliminate the stench? Or, contrary, are the problems you all face more “insignificant bothering problems” that don’t fester and gnaw? If that’s the case, does something need to change?

  5. Jer Swigart says:

    I was recently in a conversation with a black colleague who made the observation that white leaders don’t seem to show up to issues of racial injustice a “dog in the fight.” Is argument (and question) was with regard to how white leaders have absolved ourselves from understanding that we, in fact, have a dog in this fight.

    As the conversation unfolded, proximity emerged as a primary ingredient. I see it emerge here in your piece as well. Immersion…proximity…seems to be the location where we discovered our interdependence and our shared problem. Perhaps we know we are proximate when our shared problem costs us sleep.

  6. John McLarty says:

    So were you finally able to solve the skunk problem?

Leave a Reply