Mohamed Bzeek is a Muslim man who lives in Los Angeles and offers himself to the community as a foster parent. That doesn’t sound all that unique unless you consider that Bzeek is the only foster parent in this large and sprawling city to take in children who are terminally ill. That means that when Bzeek meets these children he knows they will die in his care. Most of us could not do this, I know I could not. It takes a special kind of parent and parental love to do this and to do it with authentic love.
I mentioned from the outset that this man is Muslim only because I hear comments from very clever people who should know better that Islam is somehow “different” than we Christians, the implication being that there is something lacking in this other great faith. And yet we see evidence, we Christians might use the Biblical language of bearing fruit, of Muslims quietly living out their faith in ways we Christians, and people of other great religions, would recognize as “agape love”, self-giving love. Bzeek says the key to do the work he is given is “you have to love them like your own”. Agape love by definition, the love Jesus lifts up, is “self-giving” in nature, it has a sacrificial quality to it and it is never easy. But as Jean Vanier reminds us, agape love is also very fulfilling, it fills a space in us as humans that otherwise remains void.
There are those Christians and believers in other great religions who are convinced that this agape love can only come from a relationship to their sacred story. These folks, in all religions, tend to be either literalists or pious or both. They cannot imagine this agape love coming to life from any other relationship and story than theirs, once again proving that limiting one’s self to those we know and who agree with us cuts us off from deep spiritual experiences and stories.
Another aspect of this story I found helpful was to know such saints as Bzeek live through these stories with complications like the rest of us. This is not a Walt Disney movie, everything does not end “happily ever after.” The strain of looking after these children and the challenge of raising their biological son led to the breakup up of Mohamed and Dawn. And then Dawn herself would die. It reminds us again that there is no “reward” for agape love other than the filling of this void for meaning in our soul. Too often we lean into these kinds of caring tasks with an expectation that God will reward us for this service with praise, a better life, an easier ending. Not so! We cannot confuse our middle-class value system of “working hard and playing by the rules” with the Christian call to take up our cross or lay down our lives for our friends or love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
I believe there is Gospel truth here, I do worry we confuse a kind of “self-love” with the Gospel in these times, there is a narcissism in our current culture that needs correction. The “truth” of the Gospel, of the Koran, of the Torah, of the Buddha, can be countered with a steadfast attention of self-giving love. It is not “anything goes” as some conservatives fear and some liberals rationalize, there is an essential quality to this love we seek, we need, we live. I am thankful for witnesses like Mohamed Bzeek who show us the way.