Feb17MonFebruary 17, 2020
St. Paul uses a fascinating image in one of his letters to describe the effect that we as Christians have on the people around us. “We are a sweet aroma of Christ,” he says. “To those who are perishing it is an odour from death to death, but to those who are being saved, a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor 2:15-16) On the spiritual level, Paul’s point is that the Gospel of Christ is both a pleasing aroma that brings and celebrates life—and, at the same time, an unpleasant stench that creates offense and disturbance. It’s the same Gospel in both cases! The difference is who is perceiving it. People the Holy Spirit has brought to faith perceive the Gospel as the best good news ever, while those who are still captive to sin consider it to be silliness at best, if not deeply offensive.
The same stark division exists on the more basic physical level too. Scents that some people consider to be pleasant and cheery can be deeply distressing to others. And because aromas freely circulate and spread in public, it’s important for each of us to consider the impact that our decisions about scents will have on others.
For Brenda and me, this is a personal struggle. After several years of progressively worsening symptoms, she was diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity in January 2018 and had to leave her job as an elementary-school teacher for almost 2 years. During this time, her immune system recovered to the point that she was able to return to the classroom last September. She’s doing much better, but still suffers when she encounters a wide variety of chemical scents. My symptoms are not as severe, but I too become ill in the presence of many common, everyday products. Between the two of us, our symptoms include dry and itchy eyes and skin, respiratory problems, problems with our voice (including, for Brenda, total loss of her voice), irritability, and cognitive impairment (“brain fog,” or slow and muddled thinking).
Unfortunately, these symptoms are often triggered by two groups of products that many people use all the time. One is scented personal care products such as perfume, cologne, deodorant, shampoo, hairspray, and hand and body lotions. The other group is laundry products, including dryer sheets and anti-static additives as well as many powdered and liquid soaps. The basic criteria is: If it has any odour at all, it’s a problem. The only “safe” products for us to use, or encounter on others, are those that are completely unscented.
If this was a problem that only affected the two of us, well, we would manage to cope somehow. (Antihistamines often give short-term relief, if the exposure is mild or brief.) But every time we talk about this problem in a group, we discover that we are not alone. Many people struggle these days with chemical sensitivity! The cause is debatable, but our doctors think it’s the result of constant, long-term exposure to numerous chemical products in every part of modern life. After a while, our immune systems just can’t cope.
So, then, would you help us? Not only Brenda and I, but everyone who suffers from chemical sensitivity, will feel better if you refrain from using any scented products when you come to Grace. No perfume or cologne, or scented hairspray, deodorant or skin-care products. While you’re at it, a shift to unscented laundry products would also be great. We’d be happy to help you find unscented alternatives. If we don’t see you Sunday, feel free to give us a call or email: firstname.lastname@example.org; 780-216-0476 (Brenda) or 587-983-6692 (me).
The sweet aroma of the Gospel is one thing, and how wonderful it is that everyone the Spirit calls can enjoy it every day as a wonderful, life-bringing gift! Sadly, chemical odours are a different story. Our whole community will breathe easier, and be healthier, as we reduce their use.
Thanks very much for your understanding and support.