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THE SPIRIT IS WILLING, BUT THE FACTS ARE WEAK IN SUPPORT OF `EVANGELEGENDS’

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DEAR PROFESSOR: I suggest that you include a section on religious legends in your next volume. I grew up in the evangelical Christian subculture. And there are numerous stories making the rounds in evangelical churches that are accepted uncritically as true, yet they never seem to be confirmed by eyewitnesses.

For example, here's one I first heard as a child in Iowa; a few weeks ago a guest preacher in our Baptist church here in the Twin Cities used the same story as part of a humorous sermon.A young female Bible college student was walking down a sidewalk late at night alone. A man began to follow her.

She began to pray to God to help her, and a Bible verse began to formulate in her memory - something about abiding under God's wings or the like.

But she couldn't remember the verse, and finally, just as the man's breath was upon the back of her neck, she whirled around and waved her arms and shouted the closest thing to the verse she could come up with: "I'm all covered with feathers! I'm all covered with feathers!"

The man stopped, startled, and ran away, muttering something about a crazy woman. God had protected her. - PROF. ROGER E. OLSON, BETHEL COLLEGE, ST. PAUL, MINN.

DEAR PROF. OLSON: I'm aware of these unverified stories that circulate in religious groups, and I've included a few in past columns: "The Well Down to Hell," "The Missing Day in Time," "The Madalyn Murray O'Hair Petition," etc.

Another collector of such stories has called them "evangelegends," but these faith-promoting third-hand stories are not told exclusively in ultra-conservative groups.

For example, an Episcopal minister in Virginia recently wrote to me about a story he heard at a retreat conducted by his denomination.

The speaker claimed that scholars in Israel had just decoded a section of the Old Testament by extracting every 10th letter and constructing from these letters a prophecy of things that actually happened later in history.

The speaker claimed that the word "holocaust" was spelled out in Hebrew along with the date of the Nuremberg convictions of six Nazi war criminals.

Another example: Andrew Harmelink of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, wrote to ask what I knew about a story he'd heard: that airlines will not allow a born-again Christian pilot and born-again co-pilot to fly together. They fear that if the rapture occurs, no one will be left to fly the plane.

The rapture, derived from the Latin word for "seized," is a fundamentalist interpretation of a biblical passage about true believers being "caught up to meet the Lord in the air." At a certain time, born-again Christians will simply disappear from this earth and be "raptured" instantly to heaven.

I'd never heard this story, nor had David L. Webster, a United Airlines pilot and avid urban legend collector whom I consulted.

An older, and much more whimsical, evangelegend was pointed out to me by Dr. James P. Leary, folklorist with the Wisconsin Folk Museum in Mount Horeb, Wis. He found it in a book of Norwegian immigrant reminiscences called "Wisconsin My Home," by Erna Oleson Xan.

The subject of this 19th-century anecdote is "the bustle craze" that swept one small town. All the young girls wanted to wear bustles in order to look stylish, until this warning story started to circulate:

"One day someone heard that in Chicago there was a baby born with a bustle on its back. `Now,' our elders said, `will you listen? That is a warning from God.' You can believe me, that put an end to bustle-wearing in our entire crowd."

I'd be interested to hear other evangelegends from readers.- "Curses! Broiled Again," Jan Harold Brunvand's fourth collection of urban legends, is now available in paperback from Norton. Send your questions and urban legends to him in care of the Deseret News.