The Barefoot Legend generated more discussion between my husband and me than anything else we have read recently. If you can read between the lines you will have guessed that this means we had differing opinions, not that we haven’t read any other thought-provoking books of late.
The book is set on the streets of Austin, Texas, among a group of homeless teens. The author (a personal friend of ours) was inspired by her experiences with the homeless during her college years at the University of Texas. The book depicts the everyday realities of life on the streets. It also introduces us to Melanie and Ben, UT students who find a book on Love in the library, where they read enigmatic things like, “Love calls things that are not as though they were” (263). Soon afterward, through no design of their own, their lives become intertwined with those of the streets kids, and the combined influences of the book and face-to-face encounters with the homeless lead Ben to make radical choices that affect not only his lifestyle but, potentially, his relationship with Melanie. In the background of all this lurks the threat of a no-camping ordinance under consideration by the city of Austin that would add to the hardships of the homeless .
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of this book is the loving care Minnix has invested in developing realistic characters. The street kids are quirky, endearing, sometimes annoying, almost always believable. B commented that he almost expected to be able to go to Austin and find Pixi, Cougar, Beast, and the rest there. Minnix also excels at dialogue. The exchanges amongst the street kids and between the college students are often witty and sometimes awkward, but only, we sense, by design. The perhaps predictable down side to all this character development and dialogue is that it takes a while for the story line to take shape. But once it does, the plot is engaging.
The principle disagreement between B and I centered around the author’s purpose in writing the book. I maintained that she wanted to raise questions about poverty and an ethical response to it, as well as what it means to be a transformed by Love. B thought the book centered more around the search for meaning and purpose, and he felt the story stopped short of pointing the way to real answers. Or, perhaps more accurately, he was dissatisfied with the wide range of answers readers might infer. [Plot revelation ahead] One of the main characters seems to find purpose in giving up his stable, comfortable lifestyle and joining the street kids. B interpreted this as a message that purpose and meaning in life are found through self-sacrificing love–partially true, but empty if the love and sacrifice are not for God. I, on the other hand, felt this individual’s actions were intended to provoke thought, rather than to serve as a universal model.
B was also concerned that Minnix might appear to be endorsing a philosophy of living by love that excludes divinity, which, based on our personal knowledge of her, we consider unlikely. While I can see his point, my perspective is that Minnix is not proposing an all-encompassing treatise on faith or the meaning of life but, rather, addressing one facet of true, committed faith–a loving response to poverty.
Good literature allows different individuals reading the same thing (or even one individual reading it multiple times) to come away with different impressions and interpretations. Judging by our experience with The Barefoot Legend, Minnix has succeeded in this respect. She proposes no ready solutions to the problem of poverty and homelessness, but she illustrates the principle that true love requires some meaningful response–a point that we both took to heart.
See Gena Minnix and The Barefoot Legend on MySpace: The Barefoot Legend
One Response to The Barefoot Legend, by Gena Minnix
I am endebted to my good friends the Birds for their kind words, and for furthering the thoughtful dialogue taking place around these questions.
When we were living in Austin, among the vagrant teenagers, we were trying to follow in the footsteps of this homeless carpenter who considered the poor and outcasted his friends. But did we really help? Did a sandwich help? Did a prayer help? Did never knowing a kid’s real name help? What did Jesus mean when he told the rich young man to sell everything and “follow”?
One of our good friends did just that: he sold all his furniture, dropped out of school, and went to live a homeless life, thinking he was following Jesus’ footsteps. I haven’t written much about what truly happened to him afterward; perhaps I’ll share more in future blogs.
But the question Brian raises is a good one… do we strive for a life love (where we acknowledge we have immense influence to change the world for good), or of respect for divinity (where we surrender to powers beyond our control), or both?
All I know is that the homeless teens we met out there on the streets were frightening in their stories, colorful in all their scars, funny in the midst of their sadness, and very, very human. And their faces resembled very, very much what I imagine to be the face of God. To touch them, felt like touching the face of God, and I hoped to give others that experience when reading The Barefoot Legend.
But to live a lifestyle that truly makes a difference… or begins to solve the problem… or can sustain the grief and sadness and immense joy and love and light of those daily encounters… the questions sometimes resound louder than the answers.
Amanda’s question I think is a really good one to leave resounding… what is an ethical response to poverty within a life transformed by Love?
Thank you for the thoughtful comments.