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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  • Seven Fresh Thoughts on Christmas

    • Posted on Dec 22, 2013 by Scott Cawelti

    Published this morning (Dec. 22) in the Waterloo Sunday Courier--an attempt to find a few new things to say about Christmas.   At least it was fun trying.  

    Christmas for older folks becomes much like Groundhog Day.  Not the early February day, but the 1993 Bill Murray film, which creates a fantasy where the hero gets trapped living the same day over and over.  

    Everyone except the hero repeats themselves all day, both actions and words.  Life becomes a day-long treadmill until the hero figures it out.

    It’s a comedy, but a dark comedy that sticks.  Murray’s character, in despair at not getting anywhere no matter what he does, murmurs in a bar,   “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and everything you did was the same, and nothing mattered?”   And a guy next to him mutters, “That about sums it up for me.”

    And that about sums up the Christmas season for many people after a few dozen repetitions. The darkness and cold descends, the sun begins its slow return, familiar melodies and yard lights fill the air and eyes, the same Fox News puppets decry the “war” on Christmas.

    With minor variations, it does seem predictable. 

    What if someone came up with a few different Christmas thoughts, something fresh outside the gift-wrapped green and red boxes?

    I’m here to try.    

    Seven Fresh Thoughts about Christmas

    1. The best character to ponder for the meaning of Christmas?  Not the baby Jesus nor his blessed parents, nor Santa in all his whiteness, nor Tiny Tim with his “God bless us everyone.”  No.   It’s that ever-unpopular codger Scrooge. After a grueling night, he finally gets it.   All the other characters already know what Scrooge has to learn:  Good will toward men really means something.  We all learn from Scrooge. 
    2. Joseph and Mary, remember, were homeless, consigned to a stable. What can that mean?  Clearly, it’s the uncomfortable idea that the poorest among us may be the richest in spirit.  The well off seldom see beyond their riches, which makes them the poorest among us.
    3. The best Christmas song is “The Little Drummer Boy.”  It’s told from the point of view of another poor boy who can’t afford even a tiny gift.  All he can do is play his drum.  But that’s enough.
    4. If you need cheering up, take a minute and think back to the single best gift anyone ever gave you.  I’d bet a gold ornament that (1) it was a complete surprise; (2) it made you choke up or yelp when you opened it, and (3) it made you feel deeply grateful for the giver.  And you still are.
    5. What’s the true meaning of the Santa Claus story?  It’s simple:  there’s a character generous enough to freely give gifts to the world’s children once a year. It’s a story of global, unfathomable generosity.  We’re all too scroogy; we can learn from Santa.
    6. At its best, Christmas promotes both gratitude and humility.   Who can ponder the “true meaning” of Christmas without feeling part of a larger whole, dwarfing the pettiness and meanness in which we’re too often mired?   This comes with the spirit of giving on all levels, and has little to do with any cult, sect, or religion.
    7. Finally, once a year we feel encouraged to find our larger selves, beyond hypocrisy and the pettiness of politics, family squabbles, religion, ancient grudges, the gripes and whines that keep us small and miserable.   A hearty thanks to a holiday that reminds us we can be better.          

    A refreshed Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone.   

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Humor
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Christmas
  • 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. 

        

     

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Christmas
    • Mysteries
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Religiosity
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