Here's an article I wrote in response to my interview with Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek on the intersection of faith and city leadership...
There was a moment in my recent interview with Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek where I began to feel a deep sense of connection with her. Not in terms of the specifics of her life story, religious background, or positions on municipal policies per se, but, more in terms of who she was as a human being—how she treated people who were different from her. In our highly divisive and polarized world, Joyti Gondek seemed to embody compassion and respect.
I first met Mayor Gondek two years ago, in a time of personal stress. I was getting lambasted for a progressive vaccination policy at our church, and she reached out to me to offer encouragement and let me know that she had my back.
What a good person, I thought. I’m just one citizen in this city.
As our interview unfolded, I realized that she strives to be this way with everyone.
When Gondek got elected to the office of mayor, she expressed gratitude for her (deceased) father’s influence—for how he instilled a passion for community service in her life. She used the word ‘Seva’ in her acceptance speech. Googling the term, I learned that, in the Sikh tradition, Seva means ‘selfless service’—humbly promoting the welfare of others, without discrimination, for the glory of God. Seva is about feeding the poor and taking care of orphans, widows and the sick. To perform Seva is to protect the weak, and make room for the disabled, homeless, and disenfranchised.
As a Christian faith leader, I couldn’t help but notice the direct parallels to Christ’s teachings. Sikhism and Christianity were more alike than I knew. Mayor Gondek and I were trying to be more human in similar ways.
Two months ago, I was in New York City for a conversation about the intersection of faith and science. Those in attendance came from diverse backgrounds—Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist, and agnostic (and we were gathering just weeks after the attacks of Oct 7th). Looking back on that meeting, I still can’t believe how mutually respectful and edifying it was. Everyone carried their academic knowledge with humility and had room for the differing opinions of others. Because everyone acted this way, each person there felt included and heard. Somehow, by making room for others, we all became bigger human beings. I found it all so hopeful… and relieving.
I find myself increasingly exhausted by all of humanity’s warring ways—culture wars, religious wars, political wars, racial wars, identity wars, and literal wars. The more we fight, the smaller we become. The more we retreat into our silos and echo chambers, the more blind and deaf we become—oblivious to the profound cost to our own humanity.
I don’t want to be a small person. I want to live an expansive life, a selfless life, a loving and serving life. I know it’s risky being this kind of person in such a harsh world, but I am convinced it’s a risk I have to take—and that I’m not alone in feeling this way.
I saw the power of this way of being human in NYC, in a Calgary Mayor, and now I’m beginning to see it in myself.
I’m learning that life in not a zero-sum game. That there is more than enough room for everyone to belong. I don’t have to always be afraid, or offended, or defensive. There are a lot of good people in our world, and there’s a lot of goodness in each of us. If more of us let that goodness out, laid our lives down for others, maybe our world could change.
It did for one friend of mine. After watching my interview with the mayor online she sent me a text. To be honest, I didn’t know how she’d respond to my conversing with a mayor that she’d often (sometimes seriously) disagreed with. Her response was hopeful:
“You turned Jyoti into a real, living, breathing, gracious person for me. You led me to separate the politics from the person. Thank you.”