RALEIGH, N.C. —From her Subaru, a car painted as white as the fourth horse of Revelation, Allison Warden proclaims that Jesus Christ shall return May 21.
By her reckoning, the Lord's return will fall on a springtime Saturday. And if the world weren't ending, you might find people celebrating other notable highlights of the day: Mr. T's birthday, Montenegro's independence or the Red Sox-White Sox game.
But to Warden and hundreds of like-minded Christians, Judgment Day can be calculated precisely by tracing biblical genealogy, or by following history forward 7,000 years from the day Noah shut the door to his ark.
So if May 22 rolls around and you're still here, wailing and gnashing your teeth, don't say nobody warned you.
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"It's a very jarring thing to be told you have five months on Earth," admits Warden, 29. "That may interrupt any earthly plan."
Well-spoken and bespectacled, Warden isn't a wild-eyed soothsayer who stalks the sidewalks under a sandwich board screaming that the end is nigh. As far as I know, she doesn't handle snakes or flagellate herself.
But she bears news of the impending Rapture with spooky calm, delivering her warning of the looming Apocalypse in the matter-of-fact tone you might use to announce a sale at Kmart.
At times, it almost sounds — forgive me, Allison — like she's hedging her bets: "I have a day job," says Warden, an office manager for a door company. "I'm not giving up my day job. I have bills to pay. I'm going to keep paying them. People say, 'Why don't you quit working and run up your credit card?' The Bible doesn't tell you to do that."
But the jarring news is that Warden doesn't believe you can do much to prepare. She preaches "election," or predestination, which essentially means that God did His picking before any of us were born. You can cry out for mercy, she says, but it ain't guaranteed.
If you're on the left-behind list, get ready for some real disappointment. On Oct. 21, five months after the believers vanish into the sky, the entire planet will be engulfed in the cleansing fires of heaven.
Warden doesn't see this as a negative message.
"We like to be in control of our lives," she said. "I've found it quite relieving. God is saving more people now than at any time in history."
Warden may be making the most attention-getting end-times prediction now going, but it's hardly the first: In the year 1,000, hysteria over Jesus' return so captivated medieval society that crops went unplanted and criminals were freed from jails.
In 1988, Edgar Whisenant published "88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988." When the year passed with the material world still intact, he followed up with "The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989."
When I was a freshman in college, my born-again Christian roommate penciled "Jesus Comes to Take His Children Home" on his desk calendar. He chose a Thursday in November for the big event, but come semester's end, he was sweating the math final right beside me, still bound by this mortal coil.
Nobody teased him. Much.
Still, Warden seems pretty certain. But it seems foolish to take a risk.
So I asked whether there was anything I can do to prepare.
The answer: Not much.
Warden believes God has already decided who's going where.
Given that, she can't even say for sure that she's departing in May. She believes it, but she concedes there's no way to know.
I hate to say it, but I have a feeling I'll be sticking around, and I hope that Warden will, too — not because she's left behind, but because she's mistaken.
She seems like a nice person, and Earth can't spare many of those.