Life, Death And Living With Faith

My heart is heavy this week as I learned a close family member lost his battle with cancer at the age of 61.  Rather than mourn I am choosing to celebrate a life in the only way I know how, by pulling out lessons for the benefit of all of us.

Regardless of your personal views around organized religion, I am inviting you on a journey around faith and the joy of life.   I urge us to put down our swords of religion and embrace the notion of faith as it pertains to living a full life.

pastor_ken_hutchersonKen Hutcherson was a unique individual.  He was first an athlete, then a pastor, a boisterous presence and always a family man.  Our paths crossed at age 13 when my mother remarried and our family unit was “adopted” into my step father’s larger family, which includes more than 100 people during holiday gatherings.  “Hutch” had previously married one of my stepfather’s nieces, and our entry into the family now made us relatives.   Of course being a large, vocal african american, Hutch stood out in a family mostly of German heritage.  As a young and impressionable man I learned he was an ex-NFL player turned pastor and was immediately intrigued and instantly wanted to get to know this person.

Being around Hutch even for a short period of time one could feel he was full of joy.  He had a spark of life you don’t find in most people.  Some would say that was the Lord working through him, and although I believe that I say he chose to live with joy and energy.   He made the decision be positive, put a smile on his face and energetically face the day regardless of his religious beliefs.   Amazing to me, some people don’t choose this way of life and it’s to their detriment.  He did,  even during his long battle with cancer when probably the last thing he felt like doing was stand there and empathetically talk to someone.

Joy is a choice we must choose each day.  Sometimes it’s not the easy choice when things are going wrong in your life.  Sometimes we want to curl up under the covers and shout profanities at anyone who approaches us.   But part of good character is being able to channel joy from within and outwardly project it towards others, especially when it’s not a Sunday stroll in the park.

Hutch actively embraced people.  The moment you came in contact with him you felt his warmth and compassion.  Although outspoken and holding controversial stances on certain social views, he still loved all people.   His big smile and encouraging laugh made you instantly take to him.

As a young man this greatly impacted me, and even more so in my mid-twenties during the time I spent within the church he started many years ago.  I often noticed how he approached people in his congregation, hugged them, asked about their family, joked with them and left them better than he found them.  I silently committed to do the same thing as I grew up.  People are people, and deserve to be treated with respect.  They deserve to be approached by you, rather than you bashfully waiting for them to approach.   They deserve to be looked in the eye and communicated to with honesty and encouragement, since you never know it might have been the only encouragement they received that day.  I am no better than anyone else, no matter if I am leading a large organization or just a one-man shop, but also no one is better than me.  Hutch knew the secret of Leadership – love your people and they will love you back.  He also knew you say more to people nob-verbally then you ever do verbally.  I will never lose sight of those lessons.

If you knew Hutch you knew he was on a mission.  His mission was faith based and religious in nature, with his pastoral duties engulfing his life.  Believe whatever you believe, you couldn’t help but be jealous of Hutch in his deep commitment to his mission.  It guided his every decision and aided everyday discussions he had with people.   Germaine in his commitment was his steadfastness in the views he felt towards his mission, even if those views rattled cages and frustrated others.   Being steadfast in our views is something we don’t encounter much today.  Given the political mess our country finds itself in it’s not uncommon to observe someone holding two different (and opposing) views in two different social conversations.  Hutch’s strength in commitment is also something I will never forget.

To make the largest impact possible entrepreneurs need to find a mission worth pursuing.  This mission can be anything you want it to be, and quite frankly it needs to come from within rather than externally forced upon you so as to preserve its authenticity.  Once you find it – and trust me it takes time – you must protect it through everlasting commitment.  Commitment means you work when you don’t feel like it.  You keep going when doors are shut in your face and countless emails go un-responded.  Commitment also means you stand strong in your views even if it’s not popular or common.  Ironically, anything worthwhile will initially be opposed.  Just look at Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela… and even our own Hutch.

The common thread I see in all this is Faith.  Hutch lived with Faith.  No, he embodied it.  Not only was it Christian faith but I am now referring to general faith in a better tomorrow and a just world.  Faith transcends all else to help us see through the fog and trust something better is on the other side.  It is what allows us to build technologies, organizations, families, congregations (in Hutch’s case) and all other things because without faith in a better tomorrow there is no reason to continue living today.

This is what I take from Hutch’s life and his fatal battle with cancer.  He, in a way he probably had no idea his influence, taught me and others to have faith in ourselves, our creator, our society and our mission.

Watch this clip to gain a better understanding of the significance of Ken Hutcherson’s life.