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Transforming Conflict Into Grace

When Stacey Campbell talks about reconciliation she knows what she's talking about. Not only because of her work with Prison Fellowship Canada but also because of the reconciliation she has worked through in her personal life. Stacey vulnerably shares stories about both with us.

The following is a transcript of Season 7 Episode 5 of the Do Justice podcast.  It has been lightly edited for clarity.  Listen and subscribe on your favourite listening app.  

Chris: Well hello friends, and welcome back to Do Justice. Today I'm excited. I am joined by Stacey Campbell. Stacey's first introduction to Prison Fellowship Canada began over 30 years ago. She worked for an organization that supplied office space for the new prison ministry starting out in Canada. In addition to her executive duties, Stacey continues to work hands-on in the Prison Fellowship Canada National Ministry of Reconciliation with the least of these and practices a biblical approach to transformation, justice, restoration, and prevention based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Her current work includes working weekly alongside prisoners, ex-prisoners, and victims. Stacey, welcome. Thanks for joining us today.

Stacey: Great to be with you, Chris.

Chris: Yeah, I'm excited for this conversation. You and I have been in the same orbit and finally our paths are crossing here and I'm excited to have this conversation today.

Stacey: Yeah, it's great.

Chris: So Stacey, let's dive right in. Your work with Prison Fellowship Canada. It's important work and some of your mission statement says: “Whether a person is a prisoner, ex-prisoner, child of an incarcerated parent, or the greater community including victims, we recognize that the effects of crime are far-reaching. We also recognize that God's unconditional love, grace, and mercy reaches even further and to each and every one of us.” Now given that this is your work, can you tell us how would you define reconciliation? 

Stacey: That's a loaded question, Chris, for sure. There's so much to that. To put it into a classical definition, yes, I probably could put it into mathematical terms and say that it's when the balance sheet comes to 0. When everything that needs to be said and done on one side is done and when everything needs to be said and done on the other side is done. Everything has been worked out, it's come to a conclusion and, as I said, the balance sheet is at 0. But it's so much more than that. Reconciliation, of course, is what precedes forgiveness. There is no forgiveness without reconciliation. Reconciliation is the exact moment that happens before forgiveness. Restoration, of course, is something entirely different and something that we hope for after reconciliation. We don't always get it. But reconciliation is also… scripture talks about reconciliation. That we've all been given the ministry in 2 Corinthians 5, I think it's 11 to 17. It talks about how we've been given the ministry of reconciliation. What I love about that is there's no precursor, there's no state that you have to be in. We as believers have been given the ministry of reconciliation and that is bringing unity to our community, to our relationships, to our families, to our country, to our world. There are so many places to go with it, Chris. 

Chris: Yeah, it's a lot and I want to pick up on something you said that reconciliation is what happens right before forgiveness. Can you say more about that? I don't think I've heard that before and I want to hear more. 

Stacey: Yeah, for sure. It's what opens the gateway, I guess, for us to forgive someone. Reconciliation involves knowing what's going on. So one of the things that can happen and there are particular communities where we witness this and it's their theological standing and I'm not going to argue with it but to have something happen to you and then immediately say, “I forgive you.” How can you forgive what you don't know what you're forgiving? And how will it last as the details of what happened unfold? You can will it. You can will forgiveness. But, and I know you're asking about reconciliation, but let me talk for just a brief minute if you don't mind about forgiveness.

Chris: Yeah.

Stacey: Forgiveness is not a methodology. It's not a set of steps that you go through and then just pronounce, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness is actually a mystery. It's a work that God does. We can posture ourselves for it. We can get ready for it. We can say that we forgive someone. But we can drive by their house a week later with a clenched jaw and go, “Oh, maybe I haven't forgiven.” So forgiveness is something that we have to wait for. But we do the work of posturing ourselves and getting ready to be in that position. And then God does something mysterious in our heart or he doesn't. Then forgiveness comes about. But what has to precede that is reconciliation and the mechanics, if you will, of reconciliation are a genuine apology, confession, repentance, which has changed behavior, the telling of truth, and knowing all of the things that have happened so that you can make meaning out of that. And then that's the reconciliation work. That's the hard work, the difficult conversations, the tears, the arguing, the anger, the fear, the confusion all of that is part of the reconciliation work. And when it's completed, you can pronounce that reconciled. And then you're open to forgiveness.

Chris: Wow.

Stacey: If we could make a methodology out of forgiveness, we would co-opt it and we would ruin it. That's what we do. So God has not given us that work. God has given us the work of reconciliation and he does the work of forgiveness. 

Chris: That's beautiful. So, that being the case, that sort of sets the table for our next question: Can you tell us about a time when you saw what it looked like to be reconciled? You’ve kind of mapped out how we get there, but what does it look like in practice? 

Stacey: So I'll give you 2 examples. I'll give you an easy example – an easier example for me – because it's something I witnessed and then I'll give you a difficult one because it's something I had to go through and experience myself. So part of the work that I do, in the prisons is I run restorative justice circles. So in the world of restorative justice, we have what we call pre-contemplative work, where we start to work with offenders around victim empathy. We might use case studies of crimes where they take a look at the impact. We don't look at the details of the crime, we look at the impact of the crime. So that they get an understanding and start to grow in their victim empathy. Then we move them into what we call contemplative work. So contemplative work is when they're they're looking at those same types of subject matter and conversations, but in the context of their own crime. And then of course the work that happens after contemplative would be the direct victim-offender reconciliation. So it's long work. I'm currently working in a circle which I started 3 weeks ago and I expect somewhere between February and May I'll be done the work in that circle between victims and offenders. So the moment that that reconciliation, it's this really fraught process of working through really, really difficult emotions and difficult pain and loss and grief that comes with that. All the arguing, similar to what I just described, I mean all the arguing that goes on all the questions. 

So for example, we had a case that took place and it was an individual and it was her parents who had been who had been murdered. And when I talk about fighting through the questions, she came to the table the first time that she met the offender and no hello, no nice to meet you, no this is my name, but just directly raid into it: “Who died first my mom or my dad? What were their last words” and then just a barrage of about 20 questions. That became the discussion for the next number of months working through that. But what does reconciliation look like? At the end of our time together the individual, the victim, got up and said, “I'm going to hug you. I've had all my questions answered. I'm going to hug you. I will not let you make me hate.” So that's an example. And the hug was genuine. And at that point, it truly was over for her. There were no questions left. There was nothing left except the loss. Nothing left to work through and they were reconciled. And grace, at the same moment you're experiencing reconciliation, you're experiencing profound grace. And for the individual to be hugged and to understand he didn't need to hang his head anymore. They were being reconciled. He, yeah, he did a horrible thing. He did a terrible thing. If there was one day in the world he could take back, he'd take back that day for sure. But it was his, it was the point where everyone can go forward.

Tough stuff Chris, more of it doesn't happen than does. So, and to share a personal example which is outside of the criminal justice arena, I have a long fraught relationship with my own father who left when I was very young and was in and out of my life for very small spurts, maybe 6 months at a time for most of my childhood. And then when I had my own daughter and started to live day by day with this child that was ours, it really unleashed a lot of anger in me at my own father again and having to confront what my own childhood was like and the things that had happened to me in childhood. It was actually my dad's mom, my grandmother, who's like my favorite person, next to Jesus, on heaven and earth. And, it was really when she was hospitalized literally over top of her – my dad was on one side of the bed, I was on the other side of the bed – and my grandma said, “You two need to talk.” And I had my newborn who my dad hadn't seen – I hadn't seen him in years. But anyways, all to say that we began a conversation that took place over many months, had many tears, many, many questions, many moments of expressing feelings and whatnot. And then finally just coming to a point of: I don't have any more questions. It's all. It's all done. And we were we were reconciled.

Chris: What I see in that and what I think we're… At the time we are recording this conversation, the news is full of stories of conflict, of war, of pain, particularly in Israel and Palestine. But also Russia, Ukraine, currently there's something like 32 armed conflicts around the world. And what I see in your stories is sort of this microcosm of divine image projection. It seems to me that we are living authentically and truthfully into our image of God when we are in the business of reconciliation. So I guess my question in all of that is: In this time of conflict – we talked a bit about it before we started recording this conversation – what kind of a posture could we take, what kind of words can we offer, all of that in our Christian life and our walk with Jesus, what can we bring to the table in this moment? 

Stacey: I think if I could ask a super simple question it would be: What is your natural instinct when there's conflict, when someone has ticked you off, done something? I don't know about you Chris, but my instinct is to go in my office and hide. To not answer the phone. To leave the text without answering it. And those are really simple examples compared to what we're living out on a worldwide stage right now, but they are at the basis of it. It is our fear of facing one another. That is the barrier that leads us into conflict and keeps us in conflict. We need to face one another. 

Chris: Yeah, so let's talk about that practice then. Because through through your ministry, through your interactions, through Prison Fellowship Canada I'm sure that's left a mark. 

Stacey: Quite a bit.

Chris: I'm sure that has left some marks on your soul, on your psyche. But how has that shaped your spiritual life beyond your work? How do you take what you're living and learning in your ministry context and incorporate that holistically into your spiritual life? 

Stacey: Yeah, I'd like to say it all came easy. It seems like I have to live, every bad lesson there is to learn how to do that. But certainly in the context of ministry, I've had to first really parse out my own beliefs. There’s been so much I've learned in the church community that simply isn't true. There's been great things I've learned in the church community as well, and I remain in a church community, but I really had to parse out theologically where I stood on so many issues. It's so easy to have an academic discussion or a  theological discussion or a sermon and a Q&A. It's so hard to live it out in the face of real people. And so even with prison ministry – prison ministry wasn't something that I wanted to go to, prison ministry was something I felt called to. I avoided it for 6 years. Didn't want to do it. Did everything I could not to do it and then God does what God does. Put me in the belly of a whale till I finally conceded and went in. But there's just so many things that you have to… you really have to be a student. You really have to be a lifelong learner of yourself, and of people, and of God, and work that out. And then you need to learn how to take care of yourself. Not how to indulge yourself, we're good at that. But how to take care of yourself. I saw a comment recently that I loved and it said, “Good self-care isn't about more bubble baths and chocolate. It's about learning how to build a life you don't need to escape from.”

And so really studying where are the points of conflict that I'm coming into and taking a look at that and working my own stuff out. I would say that would be the next step. And then learning to budget yourself. We talk about budgeting money. We talk about budgeting time. We talk about budgeting energy. You have to budget yourself. What is my capacity for this work? Whether it's in the context of a personal relationship or whether it's in the context of your vocational work. So in my vocational work, I know that I can run somewhere between 4 and 6 months. Every 12 to 15 months, I can spend 4 to 6 of those months doing restorative justice and that's it. It's all I can do. I can't do any more than that. Not if I'm going to enter it into it authentically and hold that space. So. I think being more reflective. There's a lot of people that go through life without reflecting. There's a lot of people that are great reflectors. It's an awesome skill to be able to live out reconciliation.

Chris: Yeah, it's beautiful in the way that you've described it. And I think that the wisdom that you share with us today. I have this opportunity to talk to a lot of people who are in the justice sphere, whatever that means. People who are doing some kind of justice work. And it's funny because I find that there are folks who are in this kind of work who are hard and then there are folks who kind of carry this lightness and joy in the work that they do and sometimes we ebb and flow between those two personas. The hardness, the times of hardness, the times where the TV makes me angry, the times where my response is to get angry and just be like, “Okay, my unsanctified self is coming out in this moment,” that's usually a good indicator that I need to take a step back. That I'm pouring out And I would imagine that you would have those same kind of markers along the way because that's the key I think for folks who are listening and folks who are walking alongside. We're within the Christian Reform Church in North America and there are a lot of justice ministries that people can walk alongside and we have a lot of on-ramps for people to get into the work that we do. That word that you share with us is just be mindful, do a temperature check before you dive right in. 

Stacey: And understanding too that what you're seeing with your eyes is not the whole story. What I don't mean is, “Well that particular criminal might have had a really bad childhood.” That's so cliche. Yes, it probably did happen. Frankly, it happened to a lot of us. But if I'm looking at violence, can I actually train myself to see pain? Because violence is the sound that pain makes. There's always pain behind violence. So do I have it within myself to go there? The anger response is a great response. I think it's a God-given response because it says to us, something's not right. I intuitively and innately know something's not right and that's why my body gets angry. So that's great, but then what do you do with it? And you can't save the world, you can't solve the world. But what is your slice? Where have you been placed and in that space can you actually train yourself to see beyond what your eyes see? What’s behind the behavior, cause there's always something. We're not logical. We like to think we're logical as people, but we're not, we're psychological. And so there's always meaning behind – typically,  there are exceptions, for sure. If we get into clinically talking about a psychopath or a sociopath, which accounts for less than 2% of the population. So there are those exceptions where people hurt, just for the pure pleasure of hurting, but most of us don't. 

Chris: Stacey, I'm thankful for you. I'm thankful for the time that you've offered to be with us. We're really grateful and I know our listeners are too. This has been a great conversation. Where can people go to find out more about your work and to follow what you're doing? 

Stacey: Yeah, so we would love to see people. So if you're in the online world, then for sure just We have a text-heavy website that kind of goes in and explains all the different areas and the different stakeholders, whether it's prisoners or ex-prisoners, their children, victims, all the different areas in the different programs that we offer. And yeah, that would be a great place to start.

Chris: Awesome. Well, thank you, Stacey. Our guest today has been Stacey Campbell. She's president and CEO of Prison Fellowship Canada. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Stacey: Thank you, Chris.


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