Book Excerpt: 'My Fundamentalist Education'

Christine Rosen's childhood in a Christian fundamentalist school had nothing to do with dangerous extremism.

She said it wasn't perfect, but she looks back on her youth with fondness, even if most people she grew up with took the Bible literally.

Her memoir focuses on the 13 years she spent in Florida, where God's power and wrath steeped everything in a holy shroud that she didn't always understand.

You can read a chapter from the book "My Fundamentalist Education" below.

Darlings of Divine Providence

Statement of faith number 4: "We believe in the fallen and lost estate of man, whose total depravity makes necessary the new birth."

The short drive from our house on Jungle Avenue to Keswick Christian School took us over a causeway, where pelicans perched, past an old cement factory and the Veterans' Park, and along a stretch of neighborhood called the Colonial Village.

Like many subdivisions in the area, it attempted a hopeful façade, with a brick wall and worn, Colonial-looking signage marking the entrance. But if the sign was to be believed, the early American settlers lived in row after aluminum row of mobile homes.

As we pulled into the school on the first day, you could hear the crunch of our van's tires on the main driveway, a pothole-riddled composite of sand and the crushed remains of seashells. I noticed the playground first, and it seemed promising -- a fabulous, sandy expanse with large, half-buried truck tires, monkey bars, and a jungle gym from which a child was dangling, like a piece of overripe fruit, ready to drop to the sand below. There were swing sets that seemed to go on forever, with rusty chains and wooden seats that looked like they would leave splinters and flaking red paint on the back of your thighs. I wanted to run over and climb up the large metal ladder that was stuck into the ground and leap off of it until my feet stung. Next to the playground was an old log cabin, looking slightly worn, and a collection of low-slung, cream-colored concrete-block buildings with jalousie windows. Oak trees weighted with the gray, dripping density of Spanish moss dotted the grounds.

The other cars pulling into the driveway weren't fancy, but many of them had "God Is My Copilot!" and "Jesus Saves!" bumper stickers or strange little fish symbols affixed to them. Another van was parked in front of us, and a stream of little people were emerging from it: one, two, three, four, five, six children in all, and all with the same striking white-blond hair. Barreling in behind us was a white Cutlass Supreme, from which only one child emerged, a skinny girl with dirty-blond hair, about Cathy's age, who looked mildly embarrassed as she pulled her book bag out of the backseat. The woman in the driver's seat had dangly earrings and teased hair and was talking to the girl, who said, "Okay, Mom, I know!" a few times before slamming the car door and hurrying toward her classroom. As the Cutlass turned to head back out of the school gates, I saw that it, too, had a bumper sticker: "If you're rich, I'm single!"

Even I could sense that first day that Keswick was a place flirting with financial insolvency. The high-pitched whine and crackle of the intercom that startled me that morning brought the principal's voice, which welcomed us to our first day of school, then encouraged families to purchase Burger King coupons; a portion of the sales benefited the Parent Teacher Association.

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