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Larry the Cucumber
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From a president and a cucumber, some perspectives on growing up

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Call it the second-most-surreal conversation I had during my visit to my alma mater.

Lipscomb University’s new president, Candice McQueen, carved out a few moments in her busy inauguration schedule to speak with me. It was surreal in a good way.

Related: Her heart ‘beats strongly’ for Lipscomb’s heritage

You see, nearly three decades ago, Candice and I were in Mark Black’s honors section of Luke/Acts. We had a few other classes together (including whatever Steve Prewitt taught, “Frankenstein” or something), and we graduated the same year. I quoted her a few times in “Student Voices,” a Q&A feature we ran in the student newspaper, The Babbler.

Honestly, I told her, it’s eerie how what I’m doing now for The Christian Chronicle reminds me of all those days and nights I spent in the basement of Johnson Hall … Babbling.

Of course, now Candice is in charge of the whole school. And The Babbler’s sports editor, Willie Steele, is a professor who wrote a book about the guy who wrote “Field of Dreams.” (He also teaches “Huckleberry Finn” or something.) And Lee Mayo, who lived down the hall from me in Sewell, teaches philosophy. I figured he was destined for a career in condiments.

It’s a strange, sobering sensation when you realize that your generation — Generation X, the flannel-wearing slackers who eschewed authority — has assumed the roles you thought belonged to, y’know, grown-ups.

“Now it’s us,” Candice said. “You and I were both students here. And so we grew here and became what I think God wanted us to be. We found our purpose here.”

We’ve both lost parents — my mother in 2013 and Brenda Hunter, Candice’s mom, in 2015. Hunter was a teacher and a principal for three Department of Defense schools. Candice’s father, Nelson Hunter, was a minister for almost 45 years before his death in 2007. He was a teacher, too.

Related: Christians should be ‘the first in line to engage for good’

“They would have loved being here,” Candice said. She imagined her mother would be asking her, “Do you have your dress for tonight?”

“My father, from the pulpit, I always thought was talking to me,” she said. “I hear their advice even today.”

I know they’re thrilled for you, Candice. So are the rest of us in Lipscomb’s class of 1996. It feels like I’m breaking some rule of objectivity by saying that, but that’s the kind of thing we Gen Xers do, isn’t it?

Sorry! I left you hanging. So what was the most surreal conversation I had at Lipscomb?

That would have to be the few minutes I got to spend with Larry the Cucumber himself.

That’s right. Mike Nawrocki, co-creator of VeggieTales, is a visiting professor of cinematic arts at Lipscomb. He spoke on a panel about how Christians can “be a light” in fields from art to fashion to music. Last year Lipscomb launched a program called Imagine House with Bart Millard, lead singer of MercyMe. The idea is to get musicians, animators and all sorts of storytellers together to connect their art more deeply with their faith.

Mike Nawrocki, left, with Erik Tryggestad, right

Mike Nawrocki, left, with Erik Tryggestad, right

To that end, Nawrocki screened a pilot for his latest project, “Dead Sea Squirrels.” It’s based on the chapter-book series he wrote about 2,000-year-old squirrels petrified in sea salt. When a kid sneaks them home and they get, er, reanimated somehow. And they share Jesus’ teachings, which they heard in real time. Nawrocki made sure we watched the end credits to see the names of all the Lipscomb students involved in the project.

Meeting Nawrocki was a thrill. He even offered to do a quick message from Larry for my two girls, reminding them that “God made you special, and he loves you very much.” I got goosebumps.

Maybe I’m not so grown up.

ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.

Filed under: Bart Millard Candice McQueen Insight Lipscomb University Mike Nawrocki Opinion Top Stories VeggieTales

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