We hadn’t heard much from the Smug Head of Ministry yet. Most of the time we only saw him, and the other adult leaders, in the back with their heads down and their eyes closed, almost as if they were napping. The SHoM woke up and came to the head of the room in the late afternoon on the 2nd day. His talk had more levity and was certainly more entertaining than the previous talks. He told us about how he first asked his now wife out, how terribly nervous he was. It was funny, he was putting on an act. Then he went into a story about his aging father.
His father was getting old and cranky and was having trouble with daily tasks. He couldn’t go to the bathroom easily on his own so he had a catheter and urinary bag. At one point, SHoM and his father were getting into a heated argument about something. Then they started physically hitting each other. The punch line was that SHoM accidentally got hit by the “Piss Bag” which exploded and drenched him with urine. We, the immature high school boys, found this story predictably hilarious. Indeed, that was his intention all along. I call this the Piss Bag point because it was the start of the Kairos people don’t want you to know about. The story itself might have been completely false, I don’t know, but it served the purpose of bringing us up so he could knock us down.
He yelled at us, maybe for an hour or so. Who were we to laugh at his misfortune? We were living our lives as terrible people full of sin and lust. He picked out individual men, and mocked them openly about how sad and pitiful they were. How we all wear masks to hide our true inner selves. It was exciting! My peer’s silent stares of awe told me how effective this part of Kairos was. I could see the cracks forming and I was eager to see who was ready to fall apart. It didn’t take long.
After this point the talks changed, a little less boring, more personal, and darker. We had to give our own talks on how we were imperfect and let others down. I, of course, fabricated my story since I wasn’t going to get pulled down into this mess. But the stories my fellow students told were a mix of heartbreaking, bragging, too much information, and lazy.
I remember the first real sob story someone told was about how he was going to kill himself with a shotgun but decided not to at the last minute because of his sister. It was so ridiculous I still barely believe it. Others shared their own dumb stories on how sad and miserable their lives were. Some were using this opportunity to express how much regret they had over getting laid, always careful to include how regular they were at it. A few apparently were heavily involved in dealing drugs. And many were unexciting, but I could see the impact Kairos was having. The floodgates were opening up and the boxes of tissues placed conspicuously on every table were finally getting some use.
We had a short nap during the night and then day 3 arrived: Trust the Third. After the trauma of the previous evening this day felt different. We were no longer sure of ourselves and we knew Kairos was going in a new direction and we didn’t know what will happen next. This was the day we were going to rebuild ourselves.
During one of the talks, a student leader went around and gave everyone a compliment on something good we did for someone else. This was related to the research the Kairos leaders did on us before the retreat. I remember mine was “Driving my sister home from school”, which didn’t make any sense since my sister moved away and was in college by the time I got my license. Even things outside my control were somehow also subverted.
The biggest secret of Kairos, that nobody will ever talk about, is the letters. After the day we got yelled at and made to feel like terrible people, the Kairos leaders wanted us to feel good again. One of the adult Kairos leaders brought out a stack of letters to the front where he slowly read through them all. Each letter was written by one of our parents before the retreat. The letters were about how special we were and how proud our parents were of our accomplishments. I knew about this ahead of time since I had written a letter to myself.
After I signed up for Kairos, the school mailed a letter to my parents with instructions on what to do for the retreat and to mail in personalized letters for me. My forward thinking parents were happy to share these instructions with me and let me write my own submission.
My letter entirely consisted of inside jokes only me and my friends would understand. I made references to one of my friend’s cat: Mischief the Kitten, and to video games we would play at our LAN parties. There wasn’t an ounce of truth to any of it, and it was utterly hilarious if you were in the know. One of my friends later told me his mouth was bleeding from biting down so hard trying not to laugh when my letter was read aloud. It was a very somber moment, and I threw a bomb in it without any of the Kairos leaders ever finding out. For me, a genuine letter from my parents would have been a disappointment by comparison.
After this we were sent back to our rooms for “prayer”. In reality, it was to find even more letters on our private desks. These were from other students who had already gone to Kairos. Since all of my closest friends were at the same Kairos as me, almost all of the letters said the same thing: “Hey, I don’t really know you that well but maybe we could talk after you get back from the wonderful Kairos retreat!”. Yeah right.
Around this point we were into full crazy Kairos mode. Men were crying openly right in front of me. I was learning way too much about my fellow students. It was all feel good crap with compliments and hugging. I’m not the hugging type.
The strangest event for me was I believe on the last day. Live the fourth. We were sent into our small groups. There were about six of us sitting in our own private room. The lights were off, and candles were everywhere. Our group leader took out a wooden crucifix and said that whoever was holding it was talking directly to god. When we held it we could say whatever we want (out loud of course) and god would hear it. Then he started passing it around. At first I thought this was one of those typical prayers where we say something nice and then pass Jesus along. It quickly took a turn for the weird. People were using the crucifix to talk to their dead relatives. I made up a dead aunt to fit in, but I couldn’t keep it going. Once people started crying I was done and didn’t touch wooden Jesus again. Here I was, near the end of the weirdest 4 days of my life, sitting in a dark candle-lit room, while everyone, including the football team’s star quarterback sitting next to me, was bawling their eyes out. I was the only one not moved. Some of them were even nudging me to comfort the quarterback who was taking it especially hard. I didn’t. I’m glad the room was dark, so my fellow students couldn’t see my disgust. Kairos was working. I felt nothing.
I had been through Kairos and it did not affect me. There were the secret letters, the shouting, the repeated attempts to get us to open up. At the end I was the same as when I started, only exhausted.
The bus ride back to the school leads to the final Kairos secret. All our parents were there waiting for us in the chapel. I knew about this from the letter they mailed my parents. We each had to go up in front of everyone and say nice things about how great Kairos was and how much we love our parents. I made some more crap up and went home where I slept for 16 hours.