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Redwood Gospel Mission

"Redwood Gospel Mission" Continued...

Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

Meetings that vary from celebratory phasings to get-your-act-together house meetings are central to the collegial, fraternity-like feel of the men's program. The men often refer to themselves as "brothers" and make much of "self-evals." These are one-page forms brothers fill out when they spot an infraction of the rules or believe a brother needs correction. They are called "self-evaluations," even though someone else writes them, because the point is to help the recipient assess his own character. Counselors review and approve self-evaluations before the men discuss them in a house meeting.

One brother named Reggie, a tall, taciturn African-American, received a self-evaluation for sleeping on his bunk and purportedly missing scheduled responsibilities. As the men quibbled over whether or not the missed activities were mandatory on that particular day, Cobb gently reminded them to focus on heart issues. "You may not find this criticism helpful," he told Reggie. "Take what you can, forget the rest. But take a serious look if you think they show a pattern of behavior."

Cobb said the self-evaluations play an important role in undoing the street-learned survival mentality that renders some men so defensive they retort even when complimented. Most of the brothers eventually seem to begin to overlook the others' faults. "You have to sort between the good advice and the worldly," one said privately. Another informed me with a wry grin that a particular counselor with an abrasive personality is "frequently at the top of our most-wanted list."

But no one spoke a cross word about Don Cobb, whom the brothers clearly admire as both a literal and a spiritual rock star. At the last phasing of the week, Cobb prepared the "choir" for its next performance, slated to be a big one. "It's com'n for to carry me home, not com-ing for to carry," he demonstrated in his gruff rock singing voice, strumming vigorously to emphasize the correct rhythm. "Com'n, not com-ing."

After the men rehearsed their set list and prayed over that day's one phaser, Cobb addressed the group again, this time in his kindly baritone speaking voice. "I know the enemy whispers in every single man's ear every freaking day. But I guarantee you that if you stay in your seat, 10 months from now, you will walk out of here a different man than you came in."

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