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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  • What if Jesus had been born Female: A Christmas Fable

    • Posted on Dec 16, 2013 by Scott Cawelti

    Dec. 16, 2013
    I first dreamed this up maybe thirty years ago, and the Courier published it many times over the years at Christmas.  The last time they published it, however, it drew sharp criticism, even a couple of threats and I've hesitated to submit it again. I'm sure some readers considered it part of the "War on Christmas" and they objected, vociferously.  

    Still, it's worth pondering:  What if Jesus had been more female?   

    **************************

    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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  • Reply to Jerry Mark Defender

    • Posted on Jun 19, 2013 by Scott Cawelti
    Sigrin Thorson was a classmate and friend of Jerry Mark's in high school.  She has corresponded with Jerry in prison since he was sentenced in 1976.   Sigrin sent a letter to her 1960 classmates which was reposted to my class, the Cedar Falls HIgh class of 1961.  Because she defends Jerry and remains convinced he is innocent, I felt the need to reply.  Here is Sigrin's letter and my reply: 

    Letter from Sigrin Thorson Newell
    Forwarded from Gary Baumgartner 
    June, 2013

     *************Sigrin’s letter
    Hello everybody.
    Thanks to Michele and Margaret for your sleuthing.

    I worked directly with the Pictureshack people to get this show produced – but when I tried to find out when it would be aired, the producers had moved to a new project and nobody could tell me a date or time.

    Pictureshack paid for Ole Ugland to fly over from Norway to be interviewed for the program. Those of you who remember Ole might enjoy watching it for that reason.  They asked to interview me, but the day they suggested was 1 week after I had my knee replaced and I wasn’t ready to negotiate New York City. If I had known that they would be so inflexible about rescheduling, I would have figured out how to travel in a wheelchair.  I’m guessing that they did interview Margaret.  Jerry, of course, was not interviewed - the prison staff would not approve that.

    Ole took the train up to visit my husband and me while he was in the States. He’s doing well, enjoying retirement. He and Laila have left the farm and moved into Kristiansand. He is deeply involved in writing a history of the part of Norway that he grew up in.  It was a real delight to see him again.

    We are hoping that the program at least gives Jerry a fair shake. For one reason and another,  the lawyer who collected the evidence that exonerates Jerry couldn’t be interviewed at Pictureshack’s convenience.  We did send them all the exonerating information and hope that it got included in the script.  The producers kept telling me that their intention was to present both sides equally and let the viewer decide.  So all of you who choose to watch the show will get to decide.

    Jerry and I have been corresponding ever since Ole came back for our CF High 45th reunion.  He is still trying to get the State of Iowa to conduct the DNA tests that would prove his innocence.  It keeps getting delayed.  Other than that, he seems to have become a wise elder in the prison. Many of the younger men there turn to him for support. 

     Eating Moose Tracks ice cream and listening to music on an MP3 are Jerry’s pleasures.  If, after seeing the program, any of you would like to write him, I’m sure he’d be glad to hear from you.






    6-19-13

    An Open Reply to Sigrin Thorson Newell

    Dear Sigrin: 

    I read your letter to the class of 1960 closely, and as of today I have seen the Investigation: Discovery Channel’s  “Children of the Corn” created by Picture Shack Entertainment, three times with various friends.   

    Because the “Investigation: Discovery” episode is nonfiction and includes several people who were deeply involved with investigating and chronicling the murders, it seems a good time to discuss your points.   You and Ole Ugland are Jerry’s main defenders, I believe.   

    As I understand your letter, your underlying assertion/assumption seems to be that Jerry is innocent, and the Picture Shack producers did not go out of their way to interview you or his lawyer about exonerating evidence.   If they had, the world might have learned the truth about the case—that is, Jerry’s innocence—according to your letter.   

    Even without your direct involvement, you seem to believe that “both sides” would be shown and viewers could decide for themselves from the information presented in the episode.   That is, Jerry would get a “fair shake” from the episode.  

    Sigrin, Jerry got a “fair shake,” in 1976 at his trial, and over and over at his many subsequent appeals.  Jerry’s lawyers were two of the best legal minds in Iowa—Lawrence Scalise and John Sandre, and he himself is a lawyer, as you know.   If the jury found him guilty in spite of all those well qualified and well informed lawyers, and since continued appeals before several judges continued to affirm that guilt, how much more of a “fair shake” is possible?   I honestly don’t know how the system could be any more fair.   

    Forgive the presumption, but I believe you remain unable to accept Jerry’s guilt because you remember him as he was in high school—and as you continue to experience in your correspondence with him in prison.  Intelligent, concerned, articulate, and fully convincing.  Yet as Gordon Walter put it so well at the end of the episode, “the Jerry Mark that I knew in high school could not have committed those murders.  The Jerry Mark that committed those murders was someone I did not know.”  Just so.  

    All of us were shocked at Jerry’s being accused and convicted, but those of us who read the trial transcripts, talked to others who knew him at the time, read the newspaper accounts of the trial, and (in my case) interviewed people who knew the case intimately—including Jerry himself, his mother Dorothy, the Colthursts, and so on--have come to reluctantly and sadly accept that Jerry indeed is guilty.   

    Remember: 

    --Jerry lied constantly about his whereabouts, the gun, the cartridges, the motorcycle, and he lied directly to me when I interviewed him, insisting that his lawyer wouldn’t let him take the stand in his own defense.  In fact, Scalise told me the next day that he warned Jerry that he would be convicted unless he took the stand, and he refused.  

    -Jerry has never come up with a plausible story that explains all his lies.  All I heard from him were anecdotes about a young woman he picked up, and felt forced to lie to Mimi about his whereabouts, that he bought those rare .38 Long Colt cartridges to “get in” with Berkeley radicals for an essay he wanted to write, etc.  Yet no one has ever come forth to corroborate any of those anecdotes.   

    --Jerry’s only case has been “exonerating” evidence—DNA, and no one takes that seriously because the existence or non-existence of DNA does not refute his constant lying and lack of any real explanation for why he lied.  His first defense should have been telling the truth about his trip, the phone calls, the cartridges, and so on.  He has never done that.   

    Therefore, a reasonable person must conclude, that our former classmate and friend remains guilty as charged.  

    Sincerely,  


    Scott Cawelti 

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