Weird History, Part 6: Falling Stars


I know that after skimping on a history post in July, I totally failed yet again in August. I was GOING to post this in August, but my Internet went out and I had to wait for the broadband guy to come and fix it. (Fortunately, it didn’t take long once he got here and they didn’t charge me.)

So here you go:

With more of our information available on the Internet, and the proliferation of social media, it seems easier to become (and stay) famous—or infamous. Social media brought us the discovery of Justin Bieber and returned the last living silent film star to the public eye. When a celebrity gives birth or shuffles off this mortal coil, their name blows up the “Trending” sidebars on Twitter, Facebook, and Google News. Pro athletes announce their retirements in flashy press conferences, and rock stars tour the globe to give their farewell concerts—sometimes multiple times.

But what was it like to be a fading star before social media, before the Internet … even before television? In this month’s “Weird History” feature, let’s take a look at the strange ways that the spotlight faded for some of Hollywood’s early celebrities.

We’re going to start off on a more positive note …

Mary Pickford

One can’t study film history without running into Mary Pickford’s name. It’s hard to believe, but in the advent of film, the performers were unknown and uncredited. As audiences saw more movies, they came to know the performers’ faces, and demanded to know their identities, as well. The first audiences knew her only as “the girl with the curls,” but Mary Pickford became so popular that was one of the first subjects of fan magazines.

Rather than fade into obscurity or fall into notoriety, however, Mary Pickford continued her work in show business long after she stepped away from the camera. She helped form United Artists with Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin; promoted film preservation; was a co-founder of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; broke ground for the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in 1942; and accepted an honorary Oscar for her contribution to the film industry in 1976. She died of a stroke in 1979, at age 87.

Mary Philbin

Less inspiring, perhaps, is the career of Mary Philbin. Devoted fans of The Phantom of the Opera (like yours truly) know her best as Christine Daaé in the 1925 silent film version. Although she was an acclaimed and hugely popular actress in the 1920s, her career did not carry over into the sound era. Supposedly her voice did not have a good quality for recording (think Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain). She never married and left show business after the rise of “talkies.” Little is known about her later life, as she made few public appearances—although she did attend the L.A. premiere of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera. She died of pneumonia at age 90, in Huntington Beach, California.

Louise Brooks

Here we start to get into the tragic and somewhat bizarre. Even if you’ve never watched any of Louise Brooks’ films, you’ve seen her. Her dark bob, smokey eye, and playful smirk inspired the “flapper” look and defined the style of a decade. A fiery, sensual, independent personality (which carried over onto many of her film characters) also contributed to the idea of flappers as women of high spirits and low morals.

Largely ignored by her mother, Louise made her own way in the world. She left her native Kansas at 15 and traveled to New York with a chaperone (who later returned to Kansas, sans Louise) to study modern dance. She joined the Ziegfeld Follies and caught the attention of film producers. After a few years making U.S. films, she went to Germany to make some of the films for which she is now best known, such as Diary of a Lost Girl and Pandora’s Box.

Unfortunately, after her return to Hollywood, she gained a reputation for being demanding and haughty, butting heads with studios and producers. She turned down advantageous roles, nursed a drinking problem, and went through several failed relationships–and actively fueled speculation about her sexuality. She made her living dancing in night clubs, unsuccessfully tried to run a dance studio, and tried her hand at a gossip column. Eventually, she became an upper-class call girl.

Film historians and critics rediscovered her films in the 1950s, when a curator learned that she was a recluse in New York City. With his encouragement, she became a film writer and historian of sorts, and published her memoirs. She was found dead of a heart attack on August 8, 1985 (the day after I was born, I have to point out) at age 78.

Veronica Lake

Along a similar vein ran the career of 1940s bombshell (no pun intended) Veronica Lake. Here was another young beauty who enjoyed such immense fame and popularity that she inspired an iconic look. Her trademark hair, pout, and ice-princess demeanor, in fact, inspired the character of Jessica Rabbit—arguably more famous now than her predecessor.

Veronica’s popularity increased most with an on-screen partnership with Alan Ladd, and she was one of the most common pinups among American GIs during World War II. Women attempted to copy her “peek-a-boo” hairstyle, but many learned the hard way that it was better suited for the screen than for wartime life. Legend has it that the U.S. government ordered her to change her style after too many women were injured at work when their long hair got tangled in factory machinery.

Much like Louise Brooks, Veronica’s career suffered due to tumultuous relationships, a drinking problem, and reputation for being difficult to work with. For example, she starred in I Married a Witch (a precursor to the TV series Bewitched) with my favorite classic-film actor, Fredric March. Fredric loathed working with her, and even referred to that movie by a different title—changing only one letter. Audience tastes also changed, and her career took a huge hit when she portrayed a Nazi sympathizer in the movie Dawn. After a string of flops in the 1950s, she vanished from public life.

She took her children to New York in an effort to revive her career. Her efforts were less than successful—in 1962, a reporter found her working at the Martha Washington hotel for women, under the name Connie de Toth. After this “rediscovery,” she periodically performed work on the stage, but her drinking problems caught up with her. After being diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver by a doctor in Vermont, she died of acute hepatitis and acute kidney injury on July 7, 1973.

Her son claimed her body after a small memorial service, paid for by her friend Donald Bain, the ghostwriter who helped pen her autobiography. Supposedly Veronica’s body was cremated and her ashes were scattered in the waters off Miami. In a bizarre turn, however, another story arose that her ashes had been stored at a funeral home in Vermont, due to a financial-based argument, according to Bain. Her ashes (or some of them, at least) supposedly turned up in an antique store in the Catskills.

Gloria Grahame

Gloria is probably best known as Violet Bick, Mary’s sort-of rival for George Bailey’s affections and Bedford Falls’ resident sort-of “bad girl” in It’s a Wonderful Life. She was often cast in film noir productions as a femme fatale, and worked with Hollywood greats such as Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, Robert Mitchum, and Olivia de Havilland.

Like many people whose career is inextricably linked with their appearance, Gloria was obsessed with her looks—in particular, the size and shape of her upper lip. Numerous surgeries to fix this “flaw” led to nerve damage and paralysis of her upper lip. The resulting effect on her speech and performance tripped up her career. She also confused audiences—used to seeing her as a vengeful ex or heartless seductress—with her performance as well-meaning Ado Annie in the big-screen version of Oklahoma! Her career declined, but she occasionally took roles on stage and television.

Like many others of her ilk, Gloria had a reputation for being difficult. That reputation took its biggest hit in 1960, when she married her fourth husband, Anthony “Tony” Ray—her stepson from her second marriage. The scandal led to a custody battle with her third husband, Cy Howard, over their daughter, and the stress of it all contributed to a nervous breakdown, for which Gloria received electroshock therapy in the 1960s. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1970s. It went into remission after treatment, only to return. She developed peritonitis after a botched abdominal surgery in London, and was moved back to the United States by two of her children. Gloria died in a New York City hospital in 1981. She is generally unknown nowadays, although she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful.

Depressing? Absolutely! But in our attention-hungry, fame-whoring culture, it may be important to remember that fame is–and always has been–volatile,  uncertain, and usually temporary.

A More Personal Update

Heeeeyyyyy all!

I’m so sorry that I completely dropped the ball in July when it came to my Weird History posts. I’d like to make it up with two history posts in August, but I’m not sure that’s a promise I can keep, with the month 1/3 gone already.


The days have been going quickly for me because I have been very busy. It’s a long story, but I got a job as the secretary at my church. Not my dream job, nor something I want to do for years and years to come, but it (mostly) pays the bills and may have provided enough stories already for my future book, Confessions of a Church Secretary. It’s a Lutheran church, because after 30 years of attending mostly mainstream, non-denominational, and/or mega churches, I became a confirmed Lutheran. (Therein lies another long story.) There’s a lot to learn and adjust to, like adding “narthex” and “pericope” to my vocabulary. Why we can’t just say “lobby” and “excerpts,” I still don’t understand.

More recently, I spent my 31st birthday in Seattle. Before you ask, the weather was gorgeous. While I learned that I still don’t like camping, the clear night sky–complete with 2 shooting stars–with good company, the view of Mt. Rainier, and roasting marshmallows and brats over a campfire all made the night in semi-wilderness worthwhile. The all-too-brief visit also included lots of gluten-free food and a trip to the MOHAI, where they had a special exhibit on toys from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It’s on Lake Union, where they had some historical boats you could board and poke around.

Perhaps some photos will make up for the lack of posts?

Bridge over troubled waters

Mt. Rainier, an active volcano that could go off at any moment…but gosh is it pretty…

The art deco in this photo makes me drool

Photos from MOHAI (“Mohai, Mark . . .”)

The first Starbucks sign (I hate Starbucks, but I love history so much I still took this photo)

These Barbies have seen things … terrible things …

And if you wanted an update on my bearded dragon Aravis, whom I’ve had for a whole year already . . . here she is a year ago:

. . . and here she is a couple months ago (on the very same rock):

*sniff* My baby’s so grown up!

So yeah, I have drafts/ideas for upcoming posts, and I hope they’ll be up kinda soon, but who the heck knows lately.

10 Things I Hate About You, Introversion (From an Introvert)

A lot of the time, I am proud to be an introvert. I’ve learned a lot about personality types, introversion, and myself in the last few years, and it has been enormously helpful in many aspects of my life.  But that doesn’t mean I am 100% content with myself 100% of the time. Sometimes I hate being an introvert.

These are some of those times.

1.  Meeting someone when I’m in a friendlier mood, making them think that “upbeat extrovert” is my default; conversely, when people who know me as quiet are shocked—SHOCKED, I SAY!!!—when I crack a joke

2.  Getting tired of being around someone before I’m tired of being around someone

3.  Trying to get to know other introverts

4.  Morning people

5.  Class participation (or group projects)

6.  Being encouraged to come “out of your shell”

7.  Holidays—I’m looking at you, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween—that pressure you to celebrate with drunken out-on-the-town revelry (or to celebrate at all)

8.  The following conversation:

Me: *Shows cover of book, hoping person gets the hint*
Not Me: “Oh. IS IT GOOD?”
(No, I’m forcing myself to read it out of penance.)

Interrupt reading, get bitchface’d

9.  Taking a little longer to process thoughts, making some people think you’re stupid and slow-witted

10.  When people take your silence as encouragement to keep talking and don’t give you space in the conversation

Got more? Share here!

Weird History, Part 5: Washington State and the ‘Lady of the Lake’

Lake Crescent, located in Olympic National Park in Washington state, is the second-deepest lake in the state and known for crystal-clear blue waters.

Visitors come from miles around to see it.

Some of them never go home.

Not because of the excellent school system, but because of  . . .

A Lakeside Romance

It was 1936, and the world was changing. Adolph Hitler was opening the Summer Olympics in Berlin and reoccupying the Rhineland, King Edward VIII was crowned England’s Most Unwilling King Ever, Alan Turing published his concept of the “Turing machine,” and Hallie Latham Illingworth worked as a barmaid at the Lake Crescent Tavern.

Lake Crescent Tavern

Like many Americans, the Kentucky-born and twice-divorced Hallie had moved out West to seek a better life. In Washington state, she met Montgomery “Monty” J. Illingworth, a beer-truck driver with a name better suited for a prosperous bootlegger or a railroad magnate. Figuring that the third time was the charm, Hallie married Monty after a nonexistent brief courtship.

The marriage proved to be volatile and possibly not-completely-faithful. The neighbors frequently complained (sometimes to the cops) of loud fights between the couple. Hallie reportedly showed up to work with bruises and an occasional black eye. Finally, in December 1937, she didn’t show up to work at all.

According to Monty, Hallie ran off to Alaska with some sailor. Her family members, including a sister she saw days before her disappearance, were unaware of the new relationship and suspicious of her whereabouts. Five months later, Monty petitioned for a divorce and ran the other way–to California–with a timber heiress he may or may not have been seeing behind Hallie’s back.

Soap on the Water

In July 1940, some fishermen on Lake Crescent made a gruesome catch. Floating on the lake’s surface was a human-sized object wrapped in blankets and tied with rope. Inside, they found a faceless woman made of soap.

No, someone had NOT brought a giant sculpted bar of Ivory to Lake Crescent for the world’s strangest bath. The soap lady had, in fact, once been a real lady, whose body had been wrapped and hogtied and thrown into the lake. Instead of bloating and swelling and doing what you’d expect of a dead body, the corpse had become soap–a soap that, according to, “could be scooped away like putty. ”

This condition was the result of a natural chemical process called “saponification.” This occurs when fats are exposed to a very alkaline substance–that is, a substance with a high pH balance, or a “base” as you learned in high-school chemistry. And as you learned in movies, human fat can be turned into soap when exposed to lye, which is a highly alkaline substance.

The minerals at the bottom of Lake Crescent interacted with the fats in the woman’s weighted-down body, triggering saponification. The cold temperatures at the bottom of the deep lake also helped preserve the corpse. Eventually, however, the tethers to the weights wore away, allowing her to float back to the surface, confusing and scaring the crap out of the poor fishermen.

Who Was the Lady of the Lake (Crescent)?

Although the body was generally well-preserved, identifying features such as the face and fingertips had been worn away. There were signs of bruising and strangulation on the body. Forensic science being less advanced in the 1940s, investigators were not sure what to make of it or how to identify it.  The corpse was buried, but exhumed twice for further examination.

The key to the investigation was a dental plate found on the corpse. Washington state criminologist Hollis B. Fultz took photos of it and published them in regional dental magazines. A dentist in South Dakota recognized the plate as one he had made for Hallie. It was the key to identifying the body at last as Hallie Latham Illingworth.

Investigators found Monty living in Long Beach, where they arrested him and eventually charged him with Hallie’s murder.

The trial took place in Port Angeles, WA, where it was a local sensation. Monty argued that the body was not his wife’s, but the dentist insisted that he had made the dental plate for Hallie. Other witnesses also identified the corpse’s clothes as those belonging to Hallie.

Monty then insisted that he had not murdered his wife. Investigators found that Monty had borrowed 50 feet of rope from a storekeeper at Lake Crescent, and that pieces of the rope were still at the store. Its fibers matched the rope that was tied around the body.

It was argued that Monty and Hallie had gotten into one of their usual fights, which spiraled out of control and ended with Monty strangling her. Monty was charged with second-degree murder in 1942, and after four hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty.  He was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, but was paroled in 1951, after serving nine years. He returned to California and died in 1974.

Hallie’s murder is far from the only death associated with the beautiful but treacherous Lake Crescent. A quick Google search will lead you to stories of ambulance accidents, missing washing machines, and even more murder.

Go on in … the water’s fine …

Robotic Religion

Fascinating tech news, thoughtful commentary, and an excellent C.S. Lewis quote!

Mere Inkling

robot monkClergy can be irritating. I know that better than most . . . because I am one.

While a tiny minority bear some striking similarities to humble saints of the past, far more carry all of the common marks of fallen humanity. They can be argumentative, vain, manipulative, and even vindictive.

It’s not pretty.

Ministers aren’t unique. Being on the “inside” of any community—be it construction workers, educators, soldiers, bankers and politicians—allows one to see unpleasant attributes that are often shielded from the general population.

But, getting back to clergy . . . Since their role is unique in conveying “divine” counsel to others, it is especially important that they be approachable and amicable.

Scientists in China are working on a means of getting around the built-in limitations of the human mediation of divine wisdom.*

They have devised a “robot monk.” It is quite versatile. Not only can it chant…

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Three Reasons Why History is Important

I’m sorry, friends and readers, but there is no “weird history” article for May. In its place, however, I am posting an explanation for why we study history, why history is important, and why I insist on writing and reading about history.


Before we begin: When I talk about how I love history, I’m not saying “I love memorizing names and dates.” That is often the reason why people dislike history, and I don’t blame them. History is about context, about trends and movements and ideas, and how multiple events and dates and names add up and influence how one thing led to another to bring us to where we are now!

The statement, “Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin,” is indeed boring and meaningless on its own. The statement comes alive when you understand how this invention made cotton cultivation more profitable. This influenced the economy of the American South and may have encouraged the further use of slavery in the United States, which affected the nation’s politics and race relations over the decades. The cotton gin was one small but vital part of the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th/early 19th centuries and increased U.S. cotton exports, encouraging the textile industry and the growth of factories. In a broad and roundabout way, Eli Whitney not only invented the cotton gin, but he invented the U.S. Civil War, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and Fruit of the Loom.

And, by extension, this. Thank you, Eli.

With that in mind…The Three Reasons Why History Is Important

1. Perspective

There are many Christian conservatives in my family and social circles, and I have noticed something among them—a tremendous, all-consuming fear. Fear about the economy, the secularization of American culture, Muslim extremists, and so many other things. A better understanding of human history could allay some of those fears. Humans have hated and killed each other for as long as there have been humans, and we have managed to be fruitful and multiply in spite of that. A study of the Crusades and Middle Eastern history (I highly recommend The Thousand Year War in the Mideast: How It Affects You Today by Richard J. Maybury) can teach us an unexpected amount about current events.

For Christians, a better understanding of the history of their own faith (not to mention the Bible itself) can also help. The Jews opposed Jesus partly because he was not the “right” Savior—they wanted a military and political leader to sweep away the oppressive Roman regime. Even today, many American Christians are looking for a military and political leader to conquer in the name of God’s kingdom. The problem is that these leaders are still men serving their own interests. The entire point of Jesus’ coming was to establish a kingdom not of this earth—and to promise to return again in an unmistakeable fashion. A historical understanding of the Roman Empire and the Christian church since the Resurrection can also teach conservative Christians that the world might not be at its very worst point (spoiler alert: it has always been kind of terrible) and that there are still reasons to hope and rejoice today.


2. Self-defense

As I have already hinted in #1, people who remain ignorant of history are at greater risk of being taken advantage of, especially by unscrupulous leaders seeking ever more power. Someone who doesn’t understand the history of socialism may be wooed by political candidates who promote it. Someone who lacks an understanding of the rise of fascism in the 20th century may not recognize the warning signs in the 21st. People have twisted history or straight-up lied about it to further their own agendas. Taking matters—and knowledge—into your own hands can help prevent you from becoming a victim.

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
~ a description of Hitler’s psychological profile, as described during WWII by the United States Office of Strategic Services

3. Everything

When it comes to literature, everything is fanfiction (an idea on which I may elaborate in a future post). Likewise, everything is history. Everything is based on or inspired by something that came before. New types of music, film, fashion, and architecture emerge as trends and tastes evolve over time. New scientific discoveries are based on the successes and failures of previous research. Reference-heavy comedy is only funny if you understand what it is referencing, i.e., what happened in the past. Language changes over time, so a historical context is often necessary when examining outdated words and phrases. People not only repeat history—they become history.


These are, for me, the three main reasons why history is important. If you love history, why do you love it? If you’ve never thought history was interesting or important, why is that? What would make it matter to you? Let’s hear your perspectives!

Are You a Hard-Core Road Tripper?


If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (as in, at least a couple years) you know how much time I spend in my car due to my love of travel. Here are a few traits and habits I’ve picked up over the years.

You’re an experienced road-tripper when …

…You know exactly how much mileage you can squeeze out of that last tick on your fuel gauge

…You know exactly how much mileage you can get out of your bladder

…You never get in your car without a bottle of water and a snack

…You get your oil changed and people ask, “What are you doing out here?” when they see your license plate

…You’ve held entire concerts or performed whole musicals by yourself

Actual picture of me in my car

…You have a sore throat (even better, a sore diaphragm) from belting your favorite songs after a couple hours on the road

Also me in my car

…You’ve worn out the scan button on your radio

…You’ve slept in motel rooms less comfortable than your car

…You’ve slept in your car deliberately

…You know when to worry about the sounds your car makes (“Is that a flat tire, or just the pavement texture??”)

…You’ve never traveled to the island of Jamaica, but you’ve been to Jamaica, Vermont


…The concept of carsickness is completely foreign to you

…GPS directions are merely guidelines

(just like speed limits)

…You have all 5-star reviews from your AirBNB hosts

…Eight hours one-way is perfectly acceptable for a weekend trip

…Some of your best vacation photos were taken from your car

… with one hand

… while driving



Weird History, Part 4: The Great Minnesota Starvation Experiment

This one is not as obscure as some of the other historical stuff I’ve been writing about, but it’s fascinating and remains incredibly important, so here we go.

As World War II raged in the early 1940s, a team of researchers, led by Ancel Keys, wanted to examine the physical and mental effects of severe, lengthy starvation, and learn how to rehabilitate people with “prolonged dietary restriction.” They hoped to use their findings to help famine victims in Europe and Asia once the war was over.

The Minnesota Starvation Experiment was conducted at the University of Minnesota between November 19, 1944 and December 20, 1945. The Civilian Public Service (CPS) and the Selective Service System coordinated the study. Finding volunteers was a particular challenge. Strong, healthy young men were in short supply, since most of them were in the armed forces.

Not even pre-serum Steve Rogers would qualify.

The researchers ended up with 36 male CPS volunteers. They were conscientious objectors who wanted to contribute to the war effort in non-violent ways. The subjects were all white males, aged 22-33 years old, and most of them belonged to Historic Peace Churches.

The study involved three phases:

  • A 12-week control phase to observe the subjects, during which they consumed an average 3,200 calories daily
  • A 24-week starvation phase in which each subject lost an average of 25% of his baseline body weight; participants consumed an average 1,570 calories a day (breakfast and lunch)
  • A 12-week recovery phase, when volunteers consumed 2,000-3,200 calories a day
  • An 8-week rehabilitation period that had no caloric limits at all

The men lived in a dormitory at the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene at the University of Minnesota. They underwent a variety of tests during the experiment: records of weight, size, and strength; X-rays; blood samples; endurance tests; and psychological tests. The men also were required to keep a personal journal, participate in educational activities, and walk 22 miles a week, burning 3,009 calories a day.

Because the subjects were supposed to lose 25% of their starting weight, which amounted to about 2.5 lbs per week, their individual meal plans (largely cabbage, potatoes, and wheat bread) were adjusted constantly during the starvation phase. In interviews decades later, the surviving study participants recalled feeling great anxiety when the scientists posted each man’s rations for the upcoming week. They could not bear to think of eating even less than what they were eating already.

The men experienced drastic physical and mental changes as their caloric intake became further restricted and their weights continued to decline. One man got stuck in the revolving door of a department store because he was too weak to push all the way through, and had to wait for another customer to use it. The men also said they felt colder, and needed extra blankets during the summer. Other physical symptoms included dizziness, fatigue, muscle aches, hair loss, reduced coordination, and ringing in their ears. Aside from physical weakness and exhaustion, the participants also had less enthusiasm for conversation and activities, and became increasingly irritable with each other, and so became less social. Some men found that they could no longer go to class due to a lack of energy, motivation, and concentration. One man, while attempting to chop wood for a fire, amputated three of his fingers with the axe, and never could say whether or not it was intentional.

Minnesota Starvation Experiment participants

The study subjects constantly thought about food, and meals became obsessive rituals. “Some people diluted their food with water to make it seem like more,” participant Robert Willoughby recalled. “Others would put each little bite and hold it in their mouth a long time to savor it. So eating took a long time.” Several men collected cookbooks and recipes during the experiment. Carlyle Frederick reported that he had accumulated almost 100 by the end of the experiment. If they went to a movie, they noticed the food and ignored the romance, because along with the other symptoms, they experienced dramatically reduced sex drives.

At first, the study participants looked no different from other men on the university campus. Over time, however, they stood out due to their sunken faces, protruding ribs, and legs swollen from edema. The study began to gain more attention, and an issue of Life magazine in 1945 included a feature on the study and its brave participants. Although a few subjects broke the agreement and were dismissed from the study, most of them held fast, despite the increasing difficulty, believing strongly that what they did had a purpose.

While the study provided a great deal of important information, it was not as helpful to the post-war effort as researchers had hoped. The rehabilitation period lasted from late July 1945 to October 20, 1945. VE Day was May 8 and Japan surrendered on August 14. “We had hoped to have an effect on the world hunger situation following the war … [but] the experiment was a little late,” said participant Earl Heckman. A complete monograph of the study was not published until 1950, but members of Keys’ staff prepared a booklet that provided some practical advice based on early study results. One of the main findings of the experiment was that starving people need lots of calories in order to recover—not a complex mix of vitamins and minerals or a delicate balance of protein and carbs, but pure calories.

Although the men fantasized about the end of the starvation phase of the experiment, the recovery and rehabilitation periods were not the end of their troubles. Some men reported that it took two years to get back to their pre-experiment weight and strength. More food made little difference at first—either to their physical appearance or feelings of hunger. Even in the unrestricted phase, their stomachs felt like bottomless pits. The scientists warned the men not to overeat, but Henry Scholberg had to have his stomach pumped at a hospital because he ate too much. Participant Robert McCullagh finally knew he was getting better when his sense of humor came back.

There are many, many things to take from the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, even today. It taught us how little caloric restriction is necessary before psychological effects set in. (Compare the amount of calories the men consumed during the starvation phase with the recommended caloric intake of many diets.) It also shows that there is no “one size fits all” solution for proper nutrition, exercise, and caloric intake. The scientists were constantly adjusting the men’s rations based on their individual bodies and behaviors.

While it seems obtuse to say that this study shows how much people need food, it is a necessary reminder in our fitness and weight-loss obsessed culture. Food is about more than staying alive. It is part of society and our social behavior and proper nutrition is strongly influential on what we accomplish. Sure, too much food is bad for you, but too much ANYTHING is bad for you. That’s not the same as having “more than enough,” though. If you have “Just enough,” you’re surviving. If you have MORE than enough, you’re thriving. As it turns out, in order to do and be everything we can be as humans and as a society, having just “enough” is actually … not enough. Keys himself argued that, based on his findings, democracy and major cultural advancements were impossible without sufficient food.

There’s a reason why it’s difficult to win a game of Oregon Trail when you pick “meager” rations

This also shows that an obsession with food is literally not healthy. Like the men in the experiment, if you are withholding too many calories from yourself, you may find that food is all you can think of, because your body needs it, no matter what Jenny Craig says. These men weren’t on 500-calorie diets; they were eating the same amount of calories that lots of diets and so-called experts recommend for optimal weight loss. Perhaps, then, most diets fail not because people lack self-control, but because they are simply unsustainable.

Along with this lesson is the idea that weight loss itself is not necessarily healthy. The study participants were healthy when they began, and they all had different weights and metabolisms. With even a relatively small amount of weight loss, they began to show signs of serious problems. Despite the prevailing “wisdom” nowadays, weight loss might not solve all health problems—and might cause more instead.

Finally, this study showed us that a refusal to fight and kill in war does not equal cowardice or a lack of conviction. It might mean just the opposite, as these steadfast participants demonstrated.

The Blessing of Sharing in God’s Work

Earlier today, a friend sent me the link to a blog post she recommended. I set it aside for later, and ended up reading it when I came home from my Thursday-night Bible study.* As is so often the case, the timing was perfect.

The post (Marhaba–God is Love) is about the war in Syria and the country’s displaced peoples, written by a Christian Australian documentarian. Go read it. I’ll wait.

. . .

Heartbreaking, right?

It was especially convicting for me to read. It served as a reminder of the horrible conditions and events in this world. It also reminded me how often I lack compassion and harden my heart and fail to do the good that I could.

The blog post includes links for readers to donate to World Vision’s relief work in Syria. With little else to do about the situation, I made a donation. It seemed like a sacrificial amount, given my (as of this posting) unemployed status. But as I thought about it, and what had compelled me, it really didn’t seem like all that much after all.

Not only was I inspired to give because of the post itself, but also by an effective illustration a man in my Bible study gave tonight. The study is discussing the old debate of faith vs. works (relating to Luther’s Treatise On Christian Liberty), and he shared how he explained it to children at Sunday school.

Doing good works for our own sake (such as a mistaken belief that works bring salvation) is similar to trying to share a small pack of M&Ms we got at Halloween. There is very little to go around, and so we’re inclined to be stingy. When doing good works for the Lord’s sake, or for others’ sake, it is as though we are sharing M&Ms that we receive truckloads of every week, directly from the Supplier. In the latter case, we can be generous because it’s not really ours to begin with, and because there is more than enough for all. (God supplies not only the earthly resources such as food or funds, or even energy to carry out duties, but also the grace and compassion that compels us.)

I’m so thankful he shared that with us, even though we don’t know each other, because it encouraged the mindset I needed to have when I came home and read that post.

After I read that blog post, I wept a little, knowing how I lack in compassion and so often look the other way or shrug off the troubles of another and thank God that someone else can see to their needs. I know I tend to be cold-hearted, selfish, and judgmental, and tend to look down on people that Jesus loves as much as He loves me (meaning He came to earth to suffer and die for their sins just as much as for mine), and have ignored or rebuffed people who have been friendly to me, simply because I was suspicious of their motives or couldn’t be bothered to respond in kind.

I prayed for forgiveness. I prayed for God to renew my heart, to give me His heart for others, for not only the people suffering the calamities of war in the Middle East, but the person standing in front of me at the grocery store checkout. I prayed for the courage and compassion to take action when I see a need I am capable of meeting. I wept for the times I had failed.

In the midst of that, God broke through my thoughts (still so self-centered!) and said, “It’s a good thing it isn’t up to you.”

And that’s the blessed relief.

God uses people in many ways to carry out His work and His will, but the end result doesn’t depend on us. God doesn’t need us. We need Him, and we are blessed to be a part of His work in this world and this life. But He could do it all another way if He chose. Ultimately, it’s God Who will win, Who will prevail, Who will receive the glory, Who will have the last word.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” ~ Luke 19:39-40

We are to obey Him, to serve, and to love. But it is not up to us to right all the wrongs or to change the world. If it were, we might as well give up now, because with our sinful natures and limited human strength and compassion, we could never succeed.

God can’t screw it up, even if we fail to do what we should or could. Whatever we do or fail to do, God is at work behind the scenes. He is always there, forgiving our neglect or missteps, working to bring His will closer to fulfillment–in spite of our worst efforts.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” ~ Revelation 21:3-5

* Side note to share: In recent weeks, have become a member of a local Lutheran church (LCMS, specifically), which is worth a dozen blog posts in itself. The Thursday night Bible study is taught by the lead pastor and is an all-ages Bible study, not a location- or age- or “life stage”-specific small group, and I am loving it.

Are You an INTJ? Take This Quiz!

Instructions: Answer the questions with “Yes” or “No.”

1. Are you surrounded by idiots?

2. Are people afraid of your resting bitchface?

3. Do you often fail to play nice with others?

4. Have you failed to notice someone’s new hairstyle?

5. Are you known for your brutal honesty?

6. Do you often get bored when other people are talking?

7. Are you considered lazy because you prefer the quickest, most efficient route?

8. Does your soul wither and die at the thought of a career in sales?

9. Are your powers of focus impressive?

10. Is it difficult for you to describe your thought process?

11. Have you silently wished death upon someone who interrupted your thoughts?

1. This week?
2. Today?
3. More than once today?

12. Do you often appear standoffish?

1. Has this ever made people think you’re confident?
2. Even though you are secretly crippled by insecurity?

13. Do you respect intelligence more than most other things in a person?

14. Do you think the world would be better off if everyone listened to you?

15. Would you be agitated if you got a less than perfect score on this quiz?

Total up your “yes” answers. That is your score.

0-3: You are not an INTJ. Stop lying to yourself.

4-10: You want to be an INTJ, but you’re not. Sorry.

11-14: You’re not an INTJ, but you’re probably one letter off in your Myers-Briggs type.

15-20: You are an INTJ, but you probably knew that already.