Monday, September 24, 2012


It appears that the issue of toxins in common products is beginning to penetrate the public consciousness. A recent Associated Press article reported on a study showing that 64 percent of Americans are concerned about potentially toxic ingredients in household cleaning, laundry, personal care and baby products. I would be happier if the number were closer to 100 percent, but the fact that nearly two-thirds of the population is becoming aware of the issue is a positive sign.

The task of creating a safer environment for 21st century humans involves education about the issues involved, but obviously more than that is needed. If two-thirds of us are concerned about toxins in common products, why do we keep buying them?  Lax labeling laws are probably part of the answer, but the issues are complex, and may involve time constraints, unfamiliarity with options, peer pressure, and general inertia.

Our product choices affect everyone around us. Certainly, choosing safer alternatives is the right thing to do, but this study and others indicate that it's also a practical matter. A 2004 report noted that 13 percent of randomly selected adults identified themselves as being hypersensitive to common chemicals. Other studies, including one associated with John Hopkins School of Medicine, have found rates as high as 33%. Businesses and churches who don't address toxicity issues are potentially alienating a large number of people.

Replacing synthetically scented products with fragrance-free ones in a church, business or retail establishment really isn't that big of a deal when you realize that the issue matters to a huge number of people you are trying to reach. How hard is it to forgo the use of air fresheners?  It's a pretty easy way to make at least 13% of the population more willing to enter your building. How about switching to non-toxic cleaners?  Nearly two-thirds of the population would applaud that choice.

We're making progress in the education arena. Now we need to move from thought to action.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Illness and Shame

I've come to love the Biblical book of Job and I re-read it often. Job experienced a great deal of loss and suffering, including a painful medical condition   The Bible tells us that Job was "blameless and upright," but his friends believed (and expressed their belief) that those who live godly lives are protected from harm and that Job's struggles were therefore related to personal sin.

This week I noticed a verse I had never really focused on before. In Job 10:15, Job says, "If I am guilty—woe to me! Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame and drowned in my affliction." 

Full of shame -- it's an illogical but common emotion among the chronically ill. There are a number of reasons for this, including the following:

  • Pride is deep-rooted in the human psyche. Pride says, "I am capable and I don't need help from anyone."  Illness says, "You aren't as strong as you think you are or that you'd like to be."

  • The American culture has traditionally emphasized self-reliance and hard work. Stories of self-made men and women who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps are a part of our heritage and national character. Cultures define success in different ways. There are societies that value those who live their lives in solitude and contemplation. Ours puts a high value on tangible, material gains achieved through blood, sweat and tears. When illness keeps us from living up to our culture's standards, the sense of failure can be deep.

  • The self-determinism that defines our world fuels an unspoken message that all sickness can be overcome and that failure to do so is a personal deficiency. This message is communicated in many ways. Get-well cards are a prime example. I'm sure that the messages people are trying to communicate when they send the cards include things like “I care about you," "I'm sorry you're ill," and "I hope you don't suffer much."  That's not what the cards usually actually say, though. They say "Get well."  That's an imperative -- an order. They seem to imply that healing is within your control and that if you don't get well soon it is somehow your fault.

  • The Christian community can take that idea, magnify it exponentially, and attach spiritual significance to it. Some churches and denominations are very open about their theology that full earthly healing of all diseases is available to anyone who requests it and has enough faith. Some churches don't claim to believe that, but church members can manage to communicate that message anyway. Any ill Christian who ever listens to Christian radio, watches Christian television or webcasts, or communicates with other Christians online gets this message. Believe me, we get this message and it affects us deeply.

Condemning those who are ill certainly doesn't help ease the suffering. It compounds it and makes people afraid to express their needs. Job 42 tells us that God was angry with Job's friends and called their words and attitudes "folly."  Let's try not to imitate them.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Red Alert

A couple of months ago I wrote a post entitled Do It For the Grandkids discussing how epigenetic changes caused by chemical exposures can have effects that are transmitted for generations. I hadn't planned  to revisit the topic so soon, but the issue keeps coming to my attention in various ways, and it's important enough that I feel inclined to address it again.
An article entitled Red Alert for Humanity: Chemical Damage Can be Inherited by Offspring Through Unlimited Generations highlights a study in which exposure to a common fungicide caused neurological and behavioral changes that were passed on indefinitely. I don’t consider myself much of an alarmist by nature, but the “Red Alert” label does seem to fit. This is serious business. The article makes the following points:
  • People are being affected by chemicals to which they were never exposed. We are a product of our ancestors' exposures, and future generations will be affected by what we are encountering today.
  • The conventional wisdom has been that damaging effects of chemical exposures are limited to the generation that experienced them. This is proving not to be the case.
  • The transgenerational transference of the  effects of chemical exposures appears to continue indefinitely. The human genetic code is being permanently altered.
  • The study's lead researcher believes that cumulative effects of chemical toxins may be a key contributing factor to the rise of diseases and conditions like autism, obesity and infertility.
This study and many others link epigenetic changes not only to health, but to behavioral effects. When gene expression is altered by the environment, growth and activity of neurons in the brain can also be altered. This can, in turn, affect behavior. Some of the attributes that have been linked to epigenetic differences include impulsivity, risk-taking, disinhibition, anxiety levels, stress response, learning, attention, eating disorders, addiction risk, and memory. Failing to take the issue of chemical toxicity seriously can have wide-ranging and extremely long-lasting effects. The sirens are blaring and the red lights are flashing. Let's pay attention.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Every Day We Get to Choose

Every day we get to choose
What we buy and what we use
And every single choice we make
Is one step down the path we take
To freedom, health, and strength of mind
Or futures of another kind

Our temples built of flesh and bone
As well as those of wood and stone
Are made to honor deity
With sanctified humanity

We're cleansed and holy; called apart
To love our neighbors from the heart
Let's care for bodies; ours and theirs
And honor God with more than prayers