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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  • Tribute to an Old Friend

    • Posted on May 03, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Here is this morning's Courier column on Lynn Nielsen, who died Monday, April 20.  He is widely and deeply missed.  I took this photo on Easter Sunday, fifteen days before he died.  


    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    My old lunch buddy, fellow bar musician, church organist, UNI colleague, Danish chef, spiritual seeker, neighborhood activist, world traveler, and creative spirit left us for good on April 20th. 

     Lynn Nielsen left a large and sad band of mourners who will grieve his absence while feeling grateful for all he gave.   

     Over the last decade or so, Lynn and I had become close friends. I loved his passion for improving his neighborhood, his deep engagement with UNI as a professor and mentor, his musicianship as a jazz pianist and church organist, his quest for travel, especially to Paris, where he arranged to play massive cathedral pipe organs, and his openness to discussing religion and spirituality no matter where it led.    

     During our many lunches, we toasted friendship and discussed the state of everything. I treasured our conversations.     

     Otherworldly matters came up over worldly lunches with wine—the French touch.  We explored spiritual issues after a column I wrote on “Promise Keepers,” a Christian men’s movement that I had pointedly criticized, and which he supported. 

     He wanted to discuss his commitment to the group.  I readily agreed to meet, since he was articulate and funny.  Humor goes a long ways toward dissolving differences. 

     Soon we enjoyed common ground.  Our mutual passions—music, books, and teaching—gave us plenty to hash over.  We also realized that we shared questions about not just our own beliefs, but all beliefs.  

     “We all want the same things,” he’d say, wondering why people sink into pointless and endless squabbles.   

     I had been a born-again Christian as a teenager, gave it up, and gradually discovered Buddhism through years of meditation and workshops.  Lynn had been a lifelong Lutheran who discovered it wasn’t the only religion that made sense.  He knew history, and how many religions were based on legend and myth, widely believed through sheer repetition.   

     He held his beliefs dear, and I respected him for that.   

     As we agreed, the opposite of faith is certainty, not doubt.  Humility is a central trait of all genuine spiritual seekers, and involves degrees of questioning and doubt.  

     Lynn never insisted that his was the one and only truth. Nor did I.  Along with music, that kept us friends.  He always, and I mean always, sent extended comments on my columns, and I learned from his observations and criticisms.  He humbled me more than once.  

     Lynn struggled with people who excluded and judged others based on their beliefs—that was not what Christ stood for.  

     He believed that Christianity should stand for compassion, generosity, and gratitude, as do all world religions at their core. 

     However, as Gandhi put it, “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  They are so unlike your Christ.”  I used that quote as a bumper sticker, and he loved that.   

     Of course Gandhi didn’t mean all Christians, and certainly not Lynn Nielsen.  
    Lynn walked the walk, being more like Christ—without a trace of religiosity or pride—than many Christians I’ve known. 

     He was a Pope Francis Christian, not a Jerry Falwell Christian.    

     Though he never preached, he often mentored, and several men from a Bible study group he led testified at a friends gathering that his insights and challenges led them to deeper understandings of Christianity.  They expressed profound thanks for his guidance and leadership. 

     Besides, he threw great parties, or “lovefests,” as he called them.  He created tables full of Danish dishes, pastries, desserts, all accompanied by plenty of well-chosen wines. He loved diversity, and invited friends, neighbors, colleagues, students—anyone who would enjoy lovefesting.    
     
    And before dinner, we always sang  “Amazing Grace.”  
    How sweet was that sound.  

     We’re all bereft.   

     


     
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  • Two Genuine Heroes

    • Posted on Apr 05, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Easter Sunday, 2015--here's today's Courier Column about two heroes, one local, one international.   They seem unrelated, but are in fact connected  by the idea of "hero"--someone who goes above and beyond in sacrificing him/her self for the sake of a larger cause that benefits everyone.  Jesus is the Christians' hero in that sense, of course, but we do have living examples among us.   

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

    Like “awesome,” and “cool,”  “hero” is a term that gets tossed around like verbal confetti.   

     “Wow, you’re a hero. You stayed up to watch that game!”  “Anyone who gets up before 6:00 to run is heroic!”  We’ve all heard such passing comments, and take them as small talk. 

     More seriously, people who survive horrific accidents and recover also get tagged as heroes.  “She’s a hero—managed to survive six hours in an overturned car underwater.” 


     Yet genuine heroes—self-sacrificing, going above and beyond—are quite rare, and deserve attention and celebration.  On a large scale, Oscar Schindler comes to mind, who risked everything to resist Nazi genocide.  On a smaller scale, peace core volunteers fit the bill, at least the ones I’ve met.   

     Locally, there’s Taylor Morris, who has turned his awful wartime injuries into a challenge to “Improve Your Situation.”   

     I heard him explain his attitude and ongoing life-improvements at a 
    “Ted Talks” event at UNI on March 28.   

     After an IED exploded near him in Afghanistan, he found himself traumatized and helpless—both arms and legs blown away. Few survive such horrendous injuries, but not only has he survived, he’s living a productive and full life, admired and in demand as a speaker and role model, and—get this—an inventor.  

     He’s been busy inventing devices that improve his ability to drive, use prosthetic limbs, and has made “improve your situation” a life motto that applies to all of us.  After receiving support from around the world for his grit and determination, his web site “Situation Improved” invites others to do the same by contributing their own experiences.   

     See http://www.situationimproved.com/ for questions that allow you to tell your story.  People who ponder how they can improve whatever situation they find themselves in will benefit. 

     It’s a positive game-changer for those who have faced similar challenges, and not only trauma victims. 

     In another heroes arena, there’s Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  She just published “Heretic,” a book in which she explores and explains the current state of Islam.  Ali was born in 1969 and raised in Somalia as a Muslim, so speaks from direct experience.  

     At 23, she emigrated to Holland, went to graduate school, became a member of the Dutch Parliament, and in 2006 immigrated here, becoming a naturalized American citizen in 2013.  

     That’s unusual and admirable, but nothing truly heroic.   In fact, had she been born and raised a Christian and did what she’s done, few would have noticed.  

     Constant death threats from extremist Muslims make her a hero.   She’s an “apostate,” an “infidel,” a blasphemer, and an atheist. She’s scathing in her books and presentations, in which she roundly questions Islam and its current conflicts.  

     Put bluntly, she won’t shut up, and that puts her life at risk.   

     Thousands of Muslims have been murdered or maimed worldwide for committing the same “crimes,” none of which are criminal in other cultures or religions. 
    As she points out, recently large numbers Muslims have become “radicalized,” meaning they’re returning to the tenets of their original faith, formed in the 7th century.  “Sharia law” governs their approach to justice, and requires beheadings, amputations, and severe lashings for those break those laws.   

     She believes that fundamentalist Muslims need to move beyond their ancient rigid beliefs, which basically insists on one right religion, their own.   They threaten those who disagree with terrible punishments, including death by beheading or stoning.  “Fatwas” –death threats--are issued worldwide almost daily.  Even bloggers get murdered if they criticize Islam.   

     Other world religions have undergone reforms, and so must Islam, she insists.   

     Ali’s book “Heretic” deserves attention for its brave and serious discussion of Islamic reformation.  And Ayaan Hirsi Ali certainly deserves “hero” for writing it.
     
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