The phrase “wellness check” rang out to me this past weekend.
Wellness is a noun that the Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science and Medicine defines as, “a condition obtained when a person achieves a level of health that minimizes the chances of becoming ill. Wellness is achieved by a combination of emotional, environmental, mental, physical, social, and spiritual health.“
Companies, communities, college campuses, and even apps talk about having programs that will help people achieve a state of wellness. Valpo’s own Health Center has a program:
“The mission of the Health Center’s Wellness Program is to enhance organizational health by fostering interest and encouraging students to initiate or expand healthier lifestyles, provide diverse wellness programs to meet a wide range of personal health needs, and develop a positive school culture that is focused on celebrating and improving the quality of life for all students.”
Wellness is supposed to be about a holistic approach to people having a stronger quality of life. However, this past weekend in Fort Worth, Texas, a neighbor called the police to do a wellness check at a house that had the front door open for hours. When the police arrived and began to search the perimeter, they eventually saw a black woman through a window and within four seconds, shot Atatiana Jefferson in her own home. She was the “cool aunt” who was up late with her nephew playing Xbox. Our wellness in our communities is broken. As a white person I have no fear of a wellness check, yet this is not the case for many people of color.
If wellness means the emotional, environmental, mental, physical, social, and spiritual health of all people are valued, we have work to do. This means needing to be honest about the illness of racism that infects our systems. We need to be honest that access to true wellness is currently limited for people of color due to the systems that are at work. We are called to work for a new wellness program in our country and in our communities, a wellness program that truly strives to improve the quality of life for all people.
As a white person I grew up hearing about the importance of being color-blind. It has only been due to some uncomfortable and faithful conversations, deep listening, and deep reading that have helped me to see that being color-blind is to ignore the realities that my black and brown neighbors live. To be color-blind is to be blind to the virus of racism that has infected our systems in such a way that we don’t even realize, causing a deep sense of our society being unwell. God calls us to do the work of striving for justice in our world and for our neighbor. When we fail to answer this call, lives are at risk.
In Letter from a Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he was a boundary crosser. Over and over Jesus went into the communities, houses, and places that were unclean, unsafe, unworthy. Over and over he challenged his followers to interact with that and those who were different. Over and over he challenged the systems that were oppressive, that excluded, that denied the full humanity of all people. Being a follower of Jesus is a call to strive for everyone to experience the abundance, the wellness of life that God desires for ALL people. However, this requires getting in a boat with Jesus to go to the other side for a journey that will most certainly include storms and other risks. Trusting that Jesus is with you in the boat, moving toward a different kind of peace in the midst of the storm—a peace that, in our current context, comes when we are willing to listen deeply to the story of this land…
This land and the stories of those whose ancestors had lived here long before White Europeans arrived and were killed by violence and disease.
This land and the systems that are in our very soil from years of free labor extracted from black bodies, brutally beaten and oppressed to create wealth for the white plantation owners and white communities in the south and the north.
This land and the policies that created access to quality housing and education, but only for white residents.
This land and the structures that have embedded implicit bias inside of all of us. Are we willing to be honest about the stereotypes and bias we hold in ourselves? What is it that allows trained officers over and over to say that the presence of a black body made them feel threatened? What is it in myself that makes me scared to ask these questions?
How is our faith calling us to listen, to get in the boat, to examine ourselves and our systems? How can we trust that though the storms and discomfort may come, that Jesus will be present with us in the important work of truly caring for our neighbor? How can we strive for wellness for ALL of God’s children?
Oct. 16, 2019