The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast

Fragrance-Free Church: Martha McLaughlin

October 12, 2022 The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast Episode 13
Fragrance-Free Church: Martha McLaughlin
The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast
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The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast
Fragrance-Free Church: Martha McLaughlin
Oct 12, 2022 Episode 13
The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast

Thank you for listening to The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast!

We release new  episodes twice a month. Subscribe for free wherever you get your podcasts.

This episode is titled “Fragrance-Free Church?” 


The focus is on churches, however,  I think the discussion is relevant for anyone with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) who may be struggling to access indoor spaces, whether they are run by  faith-based organizations or not. 


I’m speaking with Martha McLaughlin, author of the extraordinary book “Chemicals and Christians: Compassion and Caution.” Martha spent years exploring the science behind the illness and makes it accessible to everyone in her book. 

In our conversation, Martha discusses:

  • A process of grief and acceptance that many people with MCS go through as they navigate life with the condition.

  • How people with MCS who go to church face barriers because of the presence of scented products.

  • The steps Martha and others have taken to ask churches to become fragrance-free, how churches have responded, and how churches could do more to ensure they are not excluding people with chemical sensitivities. 

I hope you enjoy the conversation and find it of benefit.


Chemicals and Christians website by Martha McLaughlin.
Prayer for people with MCS and Environmental Illness.

DISCLAIMER: THIS PODCAST AND WEBSITE DO NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
 
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. No material or information provided by The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast, or its associated website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Support the Show.

Special thanks to the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation for its generous support of the podcast.

If you like the podcast, please consider becoming a supporter!

Follow the podcast on YouTube! Read captions in any language.

Please follow the podcast on social media:
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Sponsorship Opportunites

Are you an organization or company interested in helping to create greater awareness about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Chemical Intolerance and/or looking for sponsorship opportunities? Please email us at info@chemicalsensitivitypodcast.org




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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Thank you for listening to The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast!

We release new  episodes twice a month. Subscribe for free wherever you get your podcasts.

This episode is titled “Fragrance-Free Church?” 


The focus is on churches, however,  I think the discussion is relevant for anyone with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) who may be struggling to access indoor spaces, whether they are run by  faith-based organizations or not. 


I’m speaking with Martha McLaughlin, author of the extraordinary book “Chemicals and Christians: Compassion and Caution.” Martha spent years exploring the science behind the illness and makes it accessible to everyone in her book. 

In our conversation, Martha discusses:

  • A process of grief and acceptance that many people with MCS go through as they navigate life with the condition.

  • How people with MCS who go to church face barriers because of the presence of scented products.

  • The steps Martha and others have taken to ask churches to become fragrance-free, how churches have responded, and how churches could do more to ensure they are not excluding people with chemical sensitivities. 

I hope you enjoy the conversation and find it of benefit.


Chemicals and Christians website by Martha McLaughlin.
Prayer for people with MCS and Environmental Illness.

DISCLAIMER: THIS PODCAST AND WEBSITE DO NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
 
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. No material or information provided by The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast, or its associated website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Support the Show.

Special thanks to the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation for its generous support of the podcast.

If you like the podcast, please consider becoming a supporter!

Follow the podcast on YouTube! Read captions in any language.

Please follow the podcast on social media:
Facebook

Twitter
Instagram
TikTok

Sponsorship Opportunites

Are you an organization or company interested in helping to create greater awareness about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Chemical Intolerance and/or looking for sponsorship opportunities? Please email us at info@chemicalsensitivitypodcast.org




Aaron Goodman  00:06

Welcome to the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. It's a podcast that amplifies the voices of people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or MCS, also known as Environmental Illness, Chemical Intolerance, and Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance. The podcast also highlights emerging research about the illness.

This episode is titled 'Fragrance-Free Church.' Although the focus is on churches, I think the discussion is relevant for anyone with chemical sensitivities who has struggled to safely access an indoor space whether it's run by a faith-based organization or not.

In this episode, I'm speaking with Martha McLaughlin. Martha is the author of the extraordinarily well researched book "Chemicals and Christians: Compassion and Caution." The book contains a lot of information about MCS, and Martha spent years exploring the science behind the illness and makes it accessible to everyone in her book. I highly recommend it. And let me just say, as someone who isn't Christian, I found it very helpful and view it as an excellent resource.

But more about Martha. She's lived with chemical sensitivities along with chronic Lyme disease and mold illness for more than 30 years. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee in the US, is a professional writer, and holds a master's degree in education and English. Martha focuses her time and energy advocating for people who are chemically injured and creating awareness about the toxins in commonly used products. She works very hard to encourage churches to do more to ensure their spaces are fragrance free and accessible. But as you'll hear in our conversation, Martha says there is a lot more that many churches could do. I'll post a link to Martha's website in the show notes where you can learn more about her book and read her blog. You can also find Martha on social media by searching for "Chemicals and Christians."

At the end of our conversation, you'll hear Martha read a brief prayer for people with MCS and environmental illness. The prayer was created by Kay Weber, who ran an organization called Share Care at Prayer. You can also find this prayer on Martha's website, and I'll provide a link to it in the show notes. I hope you enjoy the conversation and find it of benefit. We release new episodes twice a month. The best way to never miss one is to subscribe for free wherever you get your podcasts. Leave a review on Apple Podcasts. It's a great way to help others learn about the podcast. And thanks so much for listening. Well, Martha, thank you so much for joining me and taking time to speak on the podcast.

 

Martha McLaughlin  02:55 

Thanks so much for the invitation. I really appreciate it.

 

Aaron Goodman  02:57

Excellent. From my side, I just wanted to let listeners know that we're going to be speaking about your book, "Chemicals and Christians," and a whole range of topics. But it's a conversation for everyone. And, you know, in reading your book, I was surprised on many levels. As someone who isn't Christian, that there was a lot in there. There's a lot of excellent information, you've done so much research. And I think the way you share information in a really accessible way makes the book a really valuable resource for anybody. So I just wanted to share that. And is there anything you'd like to share to open our chat?

 

Martha McLaughlin  03:34

Thanks, you know, thanks for that endorsement. I do hope there's something in the book for everybody. Because obviously, the issue of toxins in everyday products is affecting every person on the planet. So I hope there's, you know, information in there that can help people protect themselves. You know, obviously, as the title of the book indicates, I do talk about my faith and how it you know, intersects with the issues of toxicity and sensitivity and, and I put Christians in the title so nobody would feel blindsided by that people should, you know, know what they're getting into. I do find right now that there is sort of a tension in my life between trying to represent the Christian community, and the MCS community. So if you will indulge me for just a minute here at the beginning, I would like to directly address people in each of my communities. 

So to my faith community, I would just like to say that I love the church, and I value the church, and that's why I want it to be accessible to everyone. You know, my faith, my church involvement has been such a source of strength for me that I, you know, want people who are looking for that strength to be able to and that's why I say the things I have to say, I know people want to do the right thing, but we all have blind spots. You know, I'm no telling how many blind spots I have. There are some things that I have been forced to see. And I'm just now trying to make them visible to more people.

And then to my canary community, I would just like to say that if you have felt rejected, or excluded or otherwise hurt by the church, then I am truly sorry. And I hope your heart will heal. And I hope that, you know, if you are searching for spiritual community, the doors will open for you to find one. And I don't know if I can help, but I promise you, I'm gonna keep trying to find it.

 

Aaron Goodman  05:24

Well, thank you very much. Why don't we start with how did you get interested in this topic in the first place? And when did you read the book? And you spent a really long time writing it, didn't you?

 

Martha McLaughlin  05:34

I did. You know, I came to it from personal experience, you know, like a lot of us do. I became aware of this hidden world of the chemically injured when I became part of it. And then I had to learn more about the overarching issue of toxins in everyday products and how they're affecting everyone, you know, just learning how to protect myself.

You know, I was not in the community very long. And support groups, you know, before I started seeing these recurring themes of people just feeling really hurt, because they were trying to stay connected to their church or get connected to some spiritual community, and that was not being very successful for them. So I just started seeing the problem. And I wanted a book, you know, that I could recommend to people or give to people, and I couldn't find one. You know, I couldn't find one that especially came at it from a faith angle. So then I started thinking, you know, somebody should write one. And it took a surprisingly long time to get from that thought to, maybe I could do that.

You know, I never wanted to write a book, I really didn't. You know, back in college in the English department, when people were always talking about the books they were going to write, I never participated in those conversations. I like to write short things like articles, and haiku. That's what I like to write. But you know, it eventually became obvious to me that God was asking me to do this. So it took me a long time, but I did it.

 

Aaron Goodman  06:59

And you did a lot of research. And as we've talked about the first half of the book, if I remember, the book is about 300 pages close to that, around that? The first half is about you sharing a lot of deep research about chemical sensitivity, chemical intolerance, and you write about the kinds of chemicals that affect people who are chemically sensitive. The challenges that all kinds of people with MCS have in indoor environments, whether it's school, work, and places of worship. You write about the major symptoms, the challenges of wearing masks, and how people can judge you. How to try to get a medical diagnosis, and how people with MCS are often left to their own devices to figure out what's happening to them in terms of their health and what to do about that. So could we just unpack the first half of the book? Because would you agree that it's really accessible and a good resource for all kinds of folks, Christian or not?

 

Martha McLaughlin  08:01

I hope so. Yeah, I really did try to pack it with information, you know, and stories, you know, I really tried to balance both, you know, personal experiences with the more scholarly stuff. And it's not hard to find, you know, the information is out there. If you look for it, you find it. One of the advantages, if you want to call it that, of having been in the MCS community for so long is that, you know, I've seen patterns, you know, I've seen people walk similar paths. And so I did decide to structure the book through the phases that I see in the MCS journey. And, you know, nobody's journey is linear, we can be in multiple stages at once. So you know, return or whatever, but it seemed like a good way to structure the book.

So there were 10 stages that I identified and each one of those became a chapter. They were sicken, search, sift, separate, strike, sigh, scream, seethe, those are the hard ones, salvage, and smile. So yeah, a lot of the information is in the first, you know, sift, I mean, sicken is, you know, when you're getting sick, and you don't know why. Search, you're trying to find the answers. Sift, you're trying to figure out what in your environment you can keep and what needs to go, this is after you've figured out you are reacting to chemicals. Separate, that's when you figure out that yeah, you can control your home environment, but you can't control the rest of the world. And so to stay safe, you're going to have to separate from some people and some things that mean a lot to you.

Five is strike and that's where you're striking out against the illness, you're trying to, you know, figure out how to get well and a lot of us get stuck in that stage, or return to it. I know I do. Next sigh, that's when you're just sort of uh, depressed, you know, it all starts seeming really a lot. Scream is anger. Seethe is when anger can become bitterness or antagonism. And that's not a fun stage to be in. So a lot of people decide they don't want to stay there, so they move on to salvage which is when you figure out that yeah, life isn't what I expected it to be, but you can still salvage meaning and joy from it. And then the final chapter is smile. And that's the stage of, you know, looking at the good stuff that's going on, and focusing on—on the progress.

 

Aaron Goodman  10:12

That's an excellent summary, thank you very much for that. As someone who read the book, and as someone who also has looked at a lot of scholarly materials about chemical sensitive—sensitivity, what I appreciate about your book, again, is that it's very accessible. So thank you for doing all that homework for us. And you really have an excellent way of making it, again, accessible and sharing it, presenting it in a way that really lands, is a very consumable, very easy to digest. So I really appreciate that. And so maybe we can just turn a corner or move on a little bit and you write, you know, to quote, to a large degree, the book is, and I'll say 'also,' about the church and how it can help people at all stages of chemical intolerance or reactivity. The message is simple. There's a large but seemingly invisible group of people who are currently not only unreached, but actually shut out of corporate fellowship. So Martha, did you, was there a time, and was this part of the impetus for writing the book, where you felt shut out of the church?

 

Martha McLaughlin  11:25

Oh, yeah, definitely. Definitely. And, you know, I think the more the church has been part of your life in the past, the more it hurts when you can't, you can't get in. And, you know, there's, there's just a lot of pain. And, you know, I see the needs, there's so many needs in the chemically injured, and I don't know how to meet them, you know. I can't give people safe housing, I can't give access to medical care. You know, I mean, I don't even know how to do that stuff for myself. But I hope I can push on some doors. So maybe, maybe some of them will open. And you know, people can find some strength and solace, even when the rest of the world is such a hard place. So that is my hope.

 

Aaron Goodman  12:09

Right. What are some of the major barriers for folks who want to go to church generally? Is it the scented products that people wear? We know that people tend to wear extra fragrance, perhaps to go to church or for special events? Is it air fresheners? Are we talking about cleaning products? What do you see as the major issue, the major problems?

 

Martha McLaughlin  12:35

A lot of the problems are the same problems that exist outside the church. But there, I do think there are some special things, you know, you've got the physical environment, you've got the emotional environment. Now the physical environment, you have the building itself, you have the products that are used on and around the building, you've got the products that are used in or brought into the building. So a lot of those are the same you find other places, you know, the buildings are built with carpets and glues and paints and sealers, all that stuff. Inadequate ventilation, that's a big one. So you know, you've got that.

Products used on or around the building, cleaning supplies, pest control, lawn products. Then you've got what's used in or brought into the building. And yes, I do think sometimes churches are worse there, you know, sometimes people do dress up more. And that can mean wearing more perfume, it can mean hairspray, dry cleaned clothes, and some churches use candles and incense, and that's obviously not great for the indoor air quality either.

Then you've got the emotional environment, you know, are you being seen, are your needs being taken seriously. And I think a lot of those issues are also the same as in the outside world. But there are other issues too. I think sometimes the disabled and chronically ill are more invisible to the church community. And here in the States, we have the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is supposed to provide access to public facilities for people with disabilities. Certainly not a perfect law. And it's not enforced well, but it does exist. But churches don't have to follow it. Churches and religious organizations are exempt from it. So I think because of that, they underestimate how many of us there are. And I think we're just sort of more invisible.

Also, in churches, sometimes the chain of command isn't very clear. You know, if you want to talk to somebody about changing a product, who do you talk to? You know, is it facilities manager? Is there a building committee? You know, it's often just not really clear. And in a related note, you know, because people come in and out of volunteer positions so often, sometimes someone will, will get a church to make a change, but it won't stick, you know, because new committee members will come on and, you know, they didn't even know about what the last committee did. So that can be a significant problem.

There can be theological issues, you know, there are some churches that teach, that believe, you know that if you have enough faith, you will not get sick or you will not stay sick. And obviously, if you have a chronic illness, that's not a good fit, you know, that's not a good fit. And I have to say that even churches who don't say that they believe that, you know, I think that kind of sneaks in under the radar sometimes. So that can be a significant issue.

And then also, I think churches can make incorrect assumptions when people disappear. You know, when somebody doesn't show up at work or at school, somebody's going to follow up, figure out, 'Why aren't they here? What happened?' But when people disappear from church, I think the assumption is, 'They got busy, it's not a priority, their beliefs have changed.' You know, I don't think they very often think, 'Hey, maybe this wasn't a choice.' So yeah, those are some of the issues I see.

 

Aaron Goodman  15:47

Right. And in the book, you write about some of the early steps people often take when they first recognize that they have chemical sensitivity to try to make going to church possible for them. For example, going early, sitting in the back of the church, or perhaps the front, and then at some point, recognize it, well, maybe that's not working that well, and trying to--in-home meetings work for them. But the challenges of having MCS in spaces that are often heavily fragrant, often make these kinds of efforts, ineffective at best. And you write that many people with chemical sensitivity ultimately have to withdraw from the church. Is that right?

 

Martha McLaughlin  16:33

Yeah. You know, it seems like a lot of people follow the same strategies. The first strategy does seem to be trying to find the spot. You know, the perfect spot, you know, maybe there are fewer people here, maybe there's better ventilation here. Problem is you can find a spot, and it seems okay, and then other people come in, and you start reacting to their product, and then you move. You know, somebody I quoted in the book called it 'Musical chairs.' And obviously, you feel awkward, and you're obvious, and you know, it's not great. And sometimes the best air is at the front of the church, because you know, there are fewer people, there's often you know, a space up there. But then if you do have to move, you are really obvious. And it's especially a problem if you've got a family if you're, you know, carting kids along with you. You know, so people often try that, but they decide, yeah, you know, this isn't perfect.

Sometimes people try staying at the back in the foyer, you know, looking through open doors, if you know, if the church setup allows that. And then of course, you can't really hear and you don't feel like you're part. So, so there's that strategy, then there's the come late leave early strategy, and that does minimize exposures. But it also minimizes interactions with people and the ability to build relationships, which is part of what a lot of people are looking for. In the spiritual community. Some people find a safe area within the church, like, you know, they volunteer for the children's area, you know, if it's safe there. I know people who've been able to sing in the choir, because the choir director has said, 'this is a fragrance-free zone.' So sometimes that works.

Another common strategy is just to come when you don't think a lot of people are going to be there. Like, you know, even people who can handle the church environment most of the time, sometimes don't show up on Christmas or Easter, or they'll look for like a midweek service, you know, something that's expected to have a lower attendance. Problem with that is if a service continually has a low attendance, often churches cancel it, you know, stop having it.

Not long ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, it was Easter Week, and she was trying to connect with her church digitally, just online, you know, they were going to stream something. And you know how it is, you know, those of us with chronic illness, you have to manage your activities and your food intake and everything. So you can know that you're going to be alert at any given time, you know. So she had done all that, showed up, and the church didn't, didn't turn the computer on, you know. So she was talking to me, and she said, 'If only people knew how hard we work, to try to participate,' and that just really resonated with me. We work really hard to try, you know, but at some point, it just isn't possible. At some point, you just have to accept that it isn't possible anymore.

 

Aaron Goodman  19:09

Right, and that's very devastating I can imagine for folks.

 

Martha McLaughlin  19:12

Yeah. Can cause a great deal of grief. Somebody I quoted in the book said that having to leave the church felt like losing her whole family at once. And I think that's a common feeling. You know, just, just a lot of grief, a whole lot of grief.

 

Aaron Goodman  19:27

Understandable. And you talked a little bit about the challenges of asking for churches to make changes to make them safer for folks with chemical sensitivity, and that can be really challenging and hard to navigate, figure out what the best way is. If someone who is listening happens to be having these sorts of challenges with a church or even another religious setting. Do you happen to have any suggestions? Do you recommend folks do ask for change, and how can this be done effectively?

 

Martha McLaughlin  20:04

You know, I think we need to accept that it's a process. It's a slow process. And we just have to keep trying. You know, I have seen some success stories and some non-success stories. And I've been trying to identify, is there a common denominator? It does seem sometimes, like if a family is heavily involved in a church already, especially if one person in the family is in leadership, but not on staff, like, you know, if they're a deacon or an elder or a teacher. Sometimes it seems like they're able to get a little more accommodation.

You would think that a church staff member's family might be able to get more accommodation, but that has not been my experience. I think it's because other people don't want to take it on because they think, well, the staff member will, and he or she doesn't want to take it on because there are already so many ways to offend people. You know, it's like, you just don't want to want to go there. So, but I have to say, some people do have success. I don't know what the difference is. But there are success stories out there. Some churches really have stepped up. So I guess you just have to keep pushing on doors and see which ones open.

 

Aaron Goodman  21:15

Well, you write about the complacency of the church in their response. Is it a reflection of a wider phenomenon, a wider trend in North America and even beyond, of the church being complacent when it comes to accommodating folks who are chemically sensitive?

 

Martha McLaughlin  21:34

Yeah, I do think it's a pretty overarching pattern. I think a lot of the problem is just not connecting the dots between what we believe and how we act. Like there's some stories, those of us who grew up in the church have known since we were kids, and I think they're pretty well known outside the church too. But I don't think people tend to see them through the lens of disability or access, even though it's, it's really right there. Like, like the Good Samaritan.

A lot of people know that story, you know, it's somebody with a need, a couple people that you would have expected to meet the need did not, and somebody unexpected did meet the need. And what was the need? Well, somebody had a wounded body, and who didn't meet the need? Well, unfortunately, it was religious leaders. So you know, I think you can kind of easily, you know, extrapolate from that, that there are some lessons here, you know, about the church and the disability community.

Another one, another story pretty much everybody knows if you've grown up in the church is Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple. And there may have been multiple reasons he did that, but one of them I really think was an access issue. Because at the time, the temple was set up with separate courtyards, and people could, different people could worship in different parts. So you had the spiritual elite, who had their place to worship, and it was unin--uninterrupted, everything was fine for them. But there was another group of people who were essentially being shut out of worship, because the money changers were there, because there was commercial enterprise there. And so when Jesus drove them out, he quoted an Old Testament scripture that says, 'My house is to be a house of prayer for all people.' And I think all means all, you know, I think all means us.

And then of course, you've got the instruction everybody knows, 'love your neighbor as yourself.' So what does that mean? If you look at it through the lens of toxicity? What does it mean, if you're even talking about just your literal neighbors? You know, and of course, it means more than that. But what about just the people who live near you? You know, does it maybe mean, don't use toxic chemicals on your lawn? You know, think about your laundry products, because those fumes are being pumped into the neighborhood air? You know, I think it does.

And I what I think can trip some people up, maybe subconsciously, is the 'as yourself' part, you know, love your neighbor as yourself. Because I think sometimes people think, well, I can handle this product. So when I'm exposing other people to it, I'm treating them like I'm treating myself. So I would say two things to that, I would say 'One, it probably is affecting you. Those toxins are toxic, you know, even though you don't know it yet, it probably is affecting you.' And two, you know, there's just such a wide range, in how people react to things. It has to do with genetics and age and size and nutritional status and toxic load. You know, so many things. So I would just urge people to consider that, you know, and to love your neighbor as yourself, you know, maybe it means just you, you value, their health and their well-being and their safety as much as you value yours.

So yeah, I think it starts with connecting the dots, which, you know, like I said, we all have blind spots. I know there are plenty of things that you know, in the past, I've had these 'Aha' moments. It's like, 'Oh, I was blind to that for a long time.' So you know, hopefully this is--the time is coming, that the disability issue is going to be seen and the sensitivity and toxicity issue is going to be seen.

 

Aaron Goodman  25:02

And do you think churches have a special duty to do more?

 

Martha McLaughlin  25:06

Yeah, I absolutely do. I think it's really easy within the Christian church to start focusing on spirit and soul so much that you sort of neglect body or you think the body's just sort of along for the ride. But the Bible actually talks a lot about our bodies, you know, it talks about eating and drinking and resting. And it talks about environmental toxins.

You know, back in the biblical days, they didn't have all the chemicals that we're marinating in today, but they did have mold. And mold produces mycotoxins which have very similar effects to chemical toxins. So the instruction was, if you go into a house and you suspect mold, you take everything out, then you have somebody come and inspect it. And then a week later, you have them inspect it again. And if there's a problem, you remove all the contaminated materials and replace it. And then if there's still a problem, you tear down the house, you know, so I think going to great lengths to invoi--to avoid environmental toxins is absolutely biblical.

 

Aaron Goodman  26:06

And do you think people who identify as Christian have a particular duty to advocate for a safer world? And in this particular context, a reduction of toxic chemicals?

 

Martha McLaughlin  26:20

Yeah, you know, I think it's just part of loving your neighbour, you know, and being a steward of the resources that we've been given to steward, you know, which, you know, the earth, our bodies? Yeah, you know, it just seems, it seems crazy to me, that, that we aren't doing a better job at that. But it but again, I think a lot of it comes down to just lack of understanding. I mean, you and I both know that there's plenty of material, but there is a concerted effort to, you know, push back against it. There are moneyed interests who do not want information out there. So we are fighting a David and Goliath battle. But we have to just keep trying because it's so important

 

Aaron Goodman  26:59

When it comes to chronic illness, and including chemical sensitivity, do church leaders blame people who have illness? Do they, I'm not sure if I'm drawing from your book, do they say things like they've watched too much television, that they are living in sin? Does this sort of thing happen?

 

Martha McLaughlin  27:20

Yeah, it happens. I don't know how often it happens. Sometimes I think my impression may be skewed because people who have bad experiences are more likely to be posting about them than people who have good experiences. But yeah, I mean, people get told some crazy things sometimes.

I think more often, you just get ignored. Partly because there are just so many needs. I mean, I really do understand it, I, you know, been in church—near church leadership, you know, so much that I understand it, there's so many needs, and you just feel like you can't meet them all. But I would argue this issue, the toxicity issue really needs to get bumped up to the top because it's affecting every single person. Everyone. And sometimes affecting them really severely. So you know, we just have to keep saying that.

But yeah, you know, there have been people who definitely have been really hurt, you know, so. For a long time, I tried to sort of defend the church. And at some point, I had to just start saying, 'Yeah, you know, they didn't they didn't do well, there. That was not, that was not good.' And honestly, I think it grieves God too, you know, so, we just keep trying.

 

Aaron Goodman  28:31

And for folks who are not able to go to church on a regular basis, or at all because of chemical sensitivity, or folks who belong, or practice other faiths and religions, and just can't participate in community, do you have any suggestions for people about how to rebuild support systems?

 

Martha McLaughlin  28:52

Yeah, again, I wish I had a better answer. I do think sort of a 'both and' strategy is what we have to do right now, we both accept how it is and we push for change, you know, so accepting how it is, is just realizing it might be challenging to find a local fellowship that you can join without, you know, paying the price.

But that doesn't mean you can't have spiritual support. You know, a lot of us, myself included, have found a lot of support through phone groups or online groups, and they don't have to be anything big. You know, you can start, you know, in the Christian context, you can start with just praying with one other person on the phone, you know, listen to a sermon, discuss it together, you know, you can start small, and it's better than nothing, you know. It actually can be a real lifeline, when, when you've been shut out of everything.

For people who have tried, I know that it can feel really emotionally challenging to keep putting yourself out there when you've, when you've run into shut doors. So to those people I would say, I get it, you know, if you need to just stop and rest and heal. I get that. But if you feel emotionally up to it, you know, keep pushing on those doors. Because if you can get one open, other people can come through too, you know, it's not just for you. And I would say that to hold on to hope. Because you know, sometimes change is slow. But sometimes you hit a tipping point and things change quickly after that. So surely we're going to hit that tipping point, you know, at some point, so I would just say, hold on to hope, keep trying.

 

Aaron Goodman  30:24

And as we move perhaps towards wrapping up our chat, I wanted to invite you to talk a little bit about the salvaging theme that you explore in the book about salvaging a life. And you write, 'salvaging a life affected by chronic illness not only means accepting current limits and learning to be grateful for aspects of both present and past, but also involves the essential task of finding purpose in pain.' So I'd love to ask you to unpack that a little bit, if you could, please. And is it important for people to accept their limitations? Is that what you mean about salvaging of life?

 

Martha McLaughlin  31:08

It's part of it. Yeah, it's part of it. Partly, I mean, just realizing that there is still joy to be found, you know, there's still joy, there's still meaning. As far as finding purpose, you know, that seems kind of clear. For those of us with chemical sensitivities, I really think part of our purpose is to spread this word, that these toxins are affecting you, too. They're affecting everybody. It's an overused analogy, but the canary in the coal mine analogy really does fit, you know, let—let the Canaries be the warning, you know, learn the lesson from them. And so I do think that's a really big part of our purpose is to just try to keep people healthy and sane. You know, cuz, because chemicals can affect your mind too.

So yeah, that's a big part of it. You know, everybody's got to find their own route. You know, people salvage their lives in a different way. But gratitude is a big part of it, I think, for a lot of people, just realizing there's still a lot to be grateful for, and focusing on that, trying not to let the negative stuff overwhelm you, trying to find the balance.

 

Aaron Goodman  32:15

Well, I want to thank you for everything you shared. And it sounds to me in reading your book and speaking with you that you really have found a purpose by continuing to inform people about the threats, the hazards of everyday toxins. So I really appreciate all the work you do. Would you like to share anything else before we wrap up our conversation?

 

Martha McLaughlin  32:39

I'm just grateful, grateful for the opportunity to talk about this stuff that means so much to me. And on a broader, you know, I'm grateful, I'm grateful that the book has been so well received within the secular community. You know, I've been honored to win two awards, and they were secular awards in secular categories. And that's not something that I expected at all. So thank you, to everybody who said something nice about my book, I truly appreciate it.

 

Aaron Goodman  33:05

And I wanted to ask you, just building on that, how has the book been received in the Christian community?

 

Martha McLaughlin  33:13

You know, nobody's really pushed back against it. But there's, it has not been received with as much enthusiasm. You know, it's a slow process. I think we'll get there. But, but it has surprised me that, that my audience at this point is not necessarily who I thought it was going to be, you know, that, that different doors have opened, and I than I expected. So, you know, just a process, a journey. We'll just sit back and see how it all unfolds.

 

Aaron Goodman  33:42

Well, again, Martha, thank you so much for taking time to speak with me on the podcast. And I think everything you shared and your book will be extremely beneficial for folks if they haven't read the book already. It's a really helpful book. So thank you again.

 

Martha McLaughlin  33:57

Thanks again for the invitation Aaron, really appreciate it.

 

Aaron Goodman  34:00

You'll now hear Martha read a brief prayer for people with MCS and environmental illness.

 

Martha McLaughlin  34:07

Share Care and Prayer was a long running Christian support organization for people with chemical sensitivity. Its founder, Janet Dauble, passed away in 2011, and although the organization no longer exists, the annual tradition of designating a day of prayer for the needs of people with environmental illness continues. These are the nine needs listed in the most recent call for prayer.

One, that more doctors would train to treat this illness and more insurance companies would cover treatment. Two, that families and friends of those suffering would have more support resources available to them. Three, that Christian churches would support those suffering and find ways to accommodate them so they can attend church. Four, that cities would continue to clean up their outdoor air pollution. Five, that safe housing options would become more readily available providing clean indoor air. Six, that natural and clean food, water, and clothing would be more affordable and accessible. Seven, that more research would be done on electromagnetic frequency problems, and protections would be available. Eight, that those unable to work in a public place would find other ways to generate income as they recover. Nine, that God would give those suffering a personal healing path and be with them in special ways.

 

Aaron Goodman  35:33

That brings us to the end of this episode of the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. Thank you very much to Martha McLaughlin for speaking with me. The podcast is produced by me Aaron Goodman and Kiana Holland. We release new episodes twice a month. Please subscribe for free wherever you get your podcasts to never miss an episode. Leave a review on Apple Podcasts, it's a great way to help others find the podcast, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok and YouTube. Just search for the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast or podcasting MCS. If there's someone you'd like to hear interviewed on the podcast or a topic you'd like us to explore, just let me know. Email me at info@chemical sensitivitypodcast.org, and thanks so much for listening.

Aaron introduces the podcast and episode.
Martha addresses how she will speak to people who are not Christians and Christians also.
Martha talks about how she first became interested in writing her book, Chemicals and Christians.
Martha speaks about a process of grief and acceptance that many people with MCS experience.
Martha discusses why she feels it is important for churches to accommodate people with MCS.
Martha explains the primary barriers at churches for people with MCS.
Martha talks about how many people with MCS have to stop going to church.
Martha discusses whether people with MCS should ask for change and if they can expect positive responses.
Martha talks about how many churches have not done enough to accommodate people with MCS.
Martha says she believes the church has a duty to accommodate people with MCS.
Martha explains that some churches blame people for their illnesses.
Martha talks about people who can't go to church building support systems.
Martha explores the theme of 'salvaging a life' which she writes about in her book.
Martha reads a prayer for people with MCS.
Aaron concludes the episode.