Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • Baby Jesse: A Christmas Fable

    • Posted on Dec 25, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    This was first published in the Courier many Christmases ago, and repeated occasionally over the years.    Many readers reacted with positive and thoughtful comments, and a few others with sheer outrage that anyone would tamper with the original story. 

    I thought it was just a variation on a theme--and therefore legitimate and quite supportable.  

    So I offer it again for this Christmas, 2014, thinking that its lesson still holds true.  
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Every December Christians repeat the same story, and even non-Christians have to admit it’s a great plot.

     It pits the meek against the mighty, poor against the rich, the outcasts against the insiders.  It’s complete with a joyous ending, not to mention the founding of a world religion.

     It’s so powerful that no one thinks twice about recycling it every year.  The same ought to go for alternative versions, such as the following recycled Christmas fable, which I wrote years ago, freely adapted from the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

    Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for this which is conceived in her is of the holy spirit.

    She will bear a son or daughter and you shall call his or her name Jesus or Jesse, for he or she will save his or her people from their sins.”

     While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to be delivered.  Lo and behold, Mary gave birth to their first-born daughter and wrapped her in swaddling clothes and laid her in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  

    Following the angels’ suggestion, she named her child Jesse.

    Now in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone all about them.  They were sore from riding camels all day but now they were also sore afraid.

    And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Jesse the Queen.

     “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

      When the angels went away from them into heaven the shepherds said to one another, “A little GIRL, our savior?  Can this be true?”

     “A female savior? A lady Lord?  Women can BIRTH saviors, but they cannot BE one.  Everyone knows that!”

    And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph.  They looked with wonder on the babe lying in the manger.  And they made known that which had been told them concerning this child; all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

    But the shepherds were no longer sore afraid.  Now they were just plain  sore. 

     “What happened to the good old days,” they grumbled, “when only BOYS could be saviors?  Has anyone ever heard of a little girl becoming anything but a wife, an old maid, or a witch?”

    The shepherds grew discouraged and went home, thinking the real savior had not yet been born.  “Probably some maverick angels,” one of them said, “Or maybe that frankincense is getting old.”

     Along the way, they met three wise men who had also heard the news.  The shepherds stopped the wise men, saying “Turn back. Save your frankincense and myrrh. Wait until the real savior comes along. This one’s only a baby girl named Jesse.”

    And Mary, mother of Jesse, kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

     “What if little Jesse had been born a boy?” she wondered, after she and Joseph had returned home. Would he have been worshiped as a real savior?”

    Mary prayed nightly that if her daughter Jesse had any special powers she would keep them to herself.  Little boys with special powers, she knew, often became saviors, founders of great religions.  Little girls with special powers were usually burned as witches.

    Baby Jesse grew nto a wonderful woman, a friend to all in need, and wise beyond all men.  Thanks to her mother’s teaching, she never used her miraculous powers, and never married.

    Jesse lived and died in obscurity, beyond of her small circle of friends. Meanwhile, all around the world, wise men kept waiting for the real savior.

    Merry Christmas, everyone.
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  • HAPPY BARTOLOME DE LA CASAS DAY--the Oskar Schindler of Columbus's Time

    • Posted on Oct 13, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    Today, October 13,  is Columbus Day, the day we celebrate the enslavement and subjugation of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas--or rather, the start thereof, by 
    one Christopher Columbus.  

    Columbus is a hero to the subjugators, namely we Europeans who took over, but
    there's another side that we shouldn't forget. 

    That's why we should also celebrate Bartolome de La Casas, a Spanish priest who arrived not long after Columbus, and was horrified by how the natives were wanton slaughtered and treated essentially as animals, and enslaved at will.  Here's a bit 
    of information on him from Wikipedia, and I've boldfaced key ideas:  

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Bartolomé de las CasasO.P. (c. 1484-1566), was a 16th-century Spanish historian, social reformer and Dominican friar. He became the first resident Bishop of Chiapas, and the first officially appointed "Protector of the Indians". His extensive writings, the most famous being A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies and Historia de Las Indias, chronicle the first decades of colonization of the West Indies and focus particularly on the atrocities committed by the colonizers against the indigenous peoples.

    Arriving as one of the first European settlers in the Americas, he participated in, and was eventually compelled to oppose, the atrocities committed against the Native Americans by the Spanish colonists.
    In 1515, he reformed his views, gave up his Indian slaves and encomienda, and advocated, before King Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, on behalf of rights for the natives.

    In his early writings, he advocated the use of African slaves instead of Natives in the West-Indian colonies; consequently, criticisms have been leveled at him as being partly responsible for the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade. Later in life, he retracted those early views as he came to see all forms of slavery as equally wrong.  In 1522, he attempted to launch a new kind of peaceful colonialism on the coast of Venezuela, but this venture failed causing Las Casas to enter the Dominican Order and become a friar, leaving the public scene for a decade.

    He then traveled to Central America undertaking peaceful evangelization among the Maya of Guatemala and participated in debates among the Mexican churchmen about how best to bring the natives to the Christian faith. Traveling back to Spain to recruit more missionaries, he continued lobbying for the abolition of the encomienda, gaining an important victory by the passing of the New Laws in 1542.

    He was appointed Bishop of Chiapas, but served only for a short time before he was forced to return to Spain because of resistance to the New Laws by the encomenderos, and conflicts with Spanish settlers because of his pro-Indian policies and activist religious stances. The remainder of his life was spent at the Spanish court where he held great influence over Indies-related issues. In 1550, he participated in the Valladolid debate in which Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda argued that the Indians were less than human and required Spanish masters in order to become civilized. Las Casas maintained that they were fully human and that forcefully subjugating them was unjustifiable. 

    Bartolomé de las Casas spent 50 years of his life actively fighting slavery and the violent colonial abuse of indigenous peoples, especially by trying to convince the Spanish court to adopt a more humane policy of colonization. And although he failed to save the indigenous peoples of the Western Indies, his efforts resulted in several improvements in the legal status of the natives, and in an increased colonial focus on the ethics of colonialism.


    Las Casas is often seen as one of the first advocates for universal human rights.

    ++++++++
    Las Casas, to me, is the Oscar Schindler of Columbus's time, and deserves recognition as a hero.  The least we can do is mention him in connection with Columbus Day, since he did the right thing centuries before anyone knew it was the right thing.   

     

     

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