Red Letters: Living a Faith that Bleeds

Written by Michael Cline : August 6, 2008

After expressing his apologies to the 50 million individuals in our world infected with HIV/AIDS, Tom Davis goes beyond scolding the Church for its lack of initiative (“Those of us who claim to follow Christ’s teaching should be ashamed…Entire nations are going up in flames while we watch them burn,” p. 13) and challenges those of us who bear the name of Christ to embody a more holistic gospel—a gospel that not only offers the poor life after death, but life well-lived in the now.

With the endorsements of numerous pastors, authors, Hollywood producers, and the CEO of Coca-Cola in his back pocket, Davis holds nothing back in Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds. If you are looking for a hermeneutical take on appropriating the “red letters” (the words of Jesus as recorded in the four Gospels), this book will disappoint. Tom Davis is not on a mission to sway the reader with his theological aptitude, but rather to propel the reader into putting down the paperback and doing something with his or her faith. And it is this that he does very effectively, weaving stories of abandoned children like 13 year old Happiness into the reader’s consciousness, the little girl who lost both parents to AIDS within six months and knows all too well that “death is a criminal” (her own words). Then there is Adanna, whose name means “father’s daughter,” except her father, along with her mother and sister are now gone to AIDS. At 10 years old, she is forced into selling sex to drunken men who will steal her dreams while giving her a loaf of bread.

With stories like these, I felt like a total jerk for even noticing Davis’ use of resources. Wikipedia as an “expert” on World War II (p. 75)? Really? We all use the source on our blogs, but in a published book? And the use of someone’s personal Comcast website as well as just seems sloppy to me (See p. 184 and 186). Couldn’t anyone track down the original sources these sites were quoting? Nevertheless, Red Letters fulfills its purpose. With damning quotes such as “We can’t reach far enough to offer compassion because our arms are too busy holding all that we own” (p. 39), Davis’ writing cuts to the heart and inspires action. And we aren’t in the 1980’s anymore as Davis openly discusses AIDS and its relationship to gang rape and African rituals said to cleanse one of HIV if they have sex with a virgin. All the social stigmas are swept out from under the rug. Every statistic is placed on the table. We then have to ask ourselves the hard question: What will we do? Or as the author puts it “What will our generation be remembered for? YouTube?…Wouldn’t it be better if we could be known for defeating poverty?” (p. 133)

Tom Davis asks us to “live ourselves into a new way of thinking” (quoting Richard Rohr on p. 105). Acting like Jesus, not merely “believing in Jesus,” has the power to reconfigure our souls. Unlike some depressing volumes on poverty that leave the reader unable to breathe, let alone act, Red Letters finishes with some extremely practical “next steps” advice. The centerpiece of the chapter entitled “How to Bleed” is the FIVE FOR 50 plan. The reader is encouraged to take baby steps, first giving five minutes/day to pray, then five hours/week to fast, five dollars/month to the cause, five days/year to personally go and alleviate suffering, and finally, inviting five people to join you on the journey (for more information, see the Five for 50 website). On final glance, I would recommend Ron Sider’s classic Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger for a more theological look into poverty and the Christian response, but Tom Davis’ story-weaving ability and grassroots credibility make Red Letters a quality read for anyone who needs motivating.

To see EVERYTHING that Tom is doing, visit any of the following:
The blog:
The movement:
The coffee:
The ministry:

Michael Cline is a former co-editor of Jesus Manifesto. He's currently the Pastor of Young Adults at a Wesleyan Church in Minneapolis. When not contributing at JM, he's doing even more reading and writing towards his MDIV from Bethel Seminary. His blog can be found at

Print This Article Print This Article

for further reading . . .


Viewing 7 Comments

    • ^
    • v
    Sounds like a great book; I'll check the local library.

    I shudder to think, though, that the CEO of Coca-Cola is endorsing a book on Christian discipleship, when Coca-Cola has many well documented human rights abuses in Colombia and El Salvador:
    • ^
    • v
    I remember those, I did a paper in high school about the assassination of union leaders by Coca-Cola-hired guerillas. The butt end of capitalism, if you will...
    • ^
    • v
    Yes. It's frightening. As a former member of the United Students Against Sweatshops movement, I remember on at least two occasions listening to union leaders from Colombia talk about their experiences of intimidation, violence, torture, and murder.

    One even described how a fellow union leader was dragged from his home, beheaded, and then the paramilitaries played soccer with his head. His presentation was in Spanish, and when I heard it I asked my friend sitting next to me if I had just heard him wrong. Unfortunately, I hadn't...
    • ^
    • v
    Actually, this is Coca-Cola hired paramilitars (guerrilla is also bad, but they're not allied with Coca-Cola). Yes, frightening... moreover when the government is also allied with those paramilitars
    • ^
    • v
    Wow, those are some serious accusations being levied in those links. Thanks for the heads up. It would indeed be odd to think the CEO of a company involved in such human rights abuses would plug a book about social justice and protecting the disenfranchised. If you don't mind, I'll pass your comment along to the author Tom Davis, just to see what he has to say. He may be as unaware as I was.
    • ^
    • v
    I have not heard of what is mentioned below, but there are many divisions of Coca-Cola. This article mentions Douglas Draft as CEO, not Frank Harrison. Frank is the CEO of Coca-Cola Consolidated which is the marketing and sales arm of the southeast region of the United States. He is also a board member of the Billy Graham Association. I'll bring this to his attention. Thanks!
    • ^
    • v
    I'm going to be semantical a moment here.
    Fascism is bad. Coca-Cola hired guerillas are bad. They are the opposite of free markets.
    Free markets is what I think of when I hear the word Capitalism.
    Free markets would punish Coca Cola for that kind of behavior. Because Coca Cola enjoyed protection from prosecution they were able to get away with whatever you say they did.
    I am skeptical about Sider, but haven't really given him a fair shake yet.
    We must constantly be on guard not to extrapolate that that which is good for the church will also be good for society.


close Reblog this comment
Powered by Disqus · Learn more
blog comments powered by Disqus