Fat and Lean: To a Hungry Soul, Any Bitter Thing is Sweet

The gap between the developed and lesser developed world grows ever wider and citizens respective top-of-mind issues reflect that. Yet a deeper plunge from symptom to source highlights that aspirational values underpinning flaring global issues remain rooted in the same familiar pursuits; freedom and happiness, which are intimately connected to identity.  We live in the age of identity. It’s where people reside, where their battle lines are drawn and what they’ll die for.  


There’s an old proverb[1] that says, ‘The soul that is full loathes honey, but to a hungry soul, any bitter thing is sweet.’  Fat and lean. There lies the difference. Physically and ideologically, developed nations grow fat and more complex, albeit emotionally volatile, while those nations lower on the Human Development Index, remain lean and suffer a very different volatility.


For the fat nations, identity isn’t restricted to an individual or community’s tribe, territory or team. Citizens must grapple with a complete set of complex conundrums involving clan, colour, class, creed, craft and ever-increasing categories of sexuality in order to align with virtuous crusades and personal moral codes. These are the complex camps we live in and navigate with their many shared intersections and conflicting emotions. Rarely does one inquire, ‘what do you think about this, or what do you think about that.’ It’s more often a conversation about how you feel. Felt beliefs, felt theories, felt needs. Our felt experiences are increasingly topical. Emotions rule the roost, binding those who occupy the same emotional space. People are no longer like-minded but have a shared empathy. It’s felt that rejecting an idea is hating a person. It’s a difficult space to live.


Being bound to a particular identity camp may restrict free movement on public pathways. Defectors may be ex-communicated or cancelled by those with conflicting identities. It’s important identity adherents stick to their narrative with religious zeal. This is called tolerance but cultivates a very intolerant shame and honour culture. Disagreement from other camps may become a litigious offence, an ‘assault’ on the identity, mental health and human rights of another. Punishment must be exacted. The weapon of choice in fat nations is lawfare, silencing differing opinions and creating fear in youthful inquiring minds who seek where to belong. Many become emotionally bruised and bound, fearful of expressing their inner-most thoughts. Others become intellectually busied in the pursuit of an acceptable home camp; somewhere they can cling to the mob of choice where they feel they’ve located what they’re looking for. Historical notions of freedom of conscience, speech and the rights of the individual no longer top the moral food chain. The clan and creed take precedence. We know that strong emotions constrain clear thinking yet that’s precisely what we put in the decision-making driver’s seat.  Fat nations are fat with choices, and this can be overwhelming. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that  Australian health indicators rank mental and behavioural conditions as the most chronic conditions.  


Kaduna State, Nigeria is lean. The threat here is not so much verbal or legal, felt emotionally or conceived intellectually. It’s much more literal and existential. Food security is just one challenge, compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic and related supply chain issues. It’s been reported that those who identify as Christians in numerous countries in Africa and Asia have been refused Covid-related aid – at times by government officials, but more often by village heads or committees. How they identify is a real hindrance. In Kaduna, Christian families from several villages reported receiving one-sixth of the rations allocated to Muslim families.


Then there’s terror assaults by bandits, herdsmen and Boko Haram sects.  The age-old lure of booty is, of course, a common motivator for treachery which is shared universally. That’s what every bandit identifies with. That’s their camp.  Earlier this month it was reported that more than 700 people were abducted from schools in northwest Nigeria since December. Kaduna’s Governor, Nasir El-Rufai repeatedly stated his state government will not negotiate with "bandits", as the criminal gangs are known, or pay ransoms. No one is protecting their rights or identity. Locals do their best to support widows, orphans and the less privileged from their own meagre means, even as those numbers of widows and orphans increase due to the constant terror attacks. A message from Kaduna in April this year read:


On Monday a group of Christian brethren who live close to us were attacked on their way home from a wedding in Kwoi south of Kaduna town. 


In this attack four ladies who couldn't run to escape were kidnapped. Five had bullet injuries and one driver was killed. Among the ladies kidnapped are two young ladies and two married women who have young children.


The kidnappers have made contact and demanded a ransom of 15 million naira threatening death if their demand is not made. I remember last year we battled to make up the ransom for Rev Meshack and his son which was far less than this demand. What more of this huge amount. But we acknowledge that Luke 1:37 states that "With God all things are possible"


All faith camps are subject to these attacks. In this particular camp, faith is all many have. Thankfully, their faith was rewarded, and the women returned. They’re not likely to leave this camp any time soon.


In Kaduna, romances between individuals from different faith groups can be viewed as treason resulting in literal blood baths. Exercising that freedom to identify as anything ‘other’ puts individuals and those who assist them in a very high-risk category. Defectors must be relocated to physical camps that act as safe spaces. This is a somewhat different concept to safe spaces in fat nations which offer to protect students from harmful ideas, and are ironically located in universities, the very place designed for rigorous debate of ideas. Those in Kaduna who change camps risk their life daily to identify with Christ and are literally cut off from family, vocation, aid and all that’s familiar. Following droughts, famines and Covid closures impacting aid to the region, the camps for the ideologically displaced in Kaduna can be very lean; marked by scarcity. Changing one’s mind, one’s location in the popular narrative, is a very physically dangerous exercise. Punishment must be exacted. At its core, it’s all about identity and the price of changing camps. 

The gap between the developed and lesser developed world appears glaring. Where they can, persecuted peoples continue to flee to the relative safety of fat western nations. And here citizens march and protest about racism, inequality and offensive slurs. They flagellate over past sins but ignore where people continue to die daily. Because that doesn't fit the narrative.


Open Doors 2021 World Watch List notes there was a 60% increase over the previous year in the number of Christians killed for their faith with more than nine out of 10 of the global total of 4,761 deaths in Africa. Sadly, these black lives that identify as Christian don’t seem to matter. They don’t fit the fat nations #BLM creed and colour narrative. Where identities intersect, we have a problem. Christianity in fat nations is associated with white privilege and capitalism. These Christians are neither white nor privileged. Their oppressors are their kinsmen, and they are ignored.


The soul that is full loathes honey, but to a hungry soul, any bitter thing is sweet. Australia is fat, many loathing its sweet fortunes and freedoms, those which traditionally formed its identity. Kaduna is lean; our most bitter days a welcome sweetness to her soul. Yet strangely, their respective desperate identity struggles scream ‘hunger’ to me.


What we can do:  I've started a GoFundMe to support Rev Muhammed Ibrahim, who I've personally known for 10 years, in his passion to help communities in Kaduna work towards greater self-sufficiency. He plans to purchase a trailer load of fertiliser to replenish the soil, feed the families and contribute to the dignity that accompanies a productive life. Please consider making a small donation to this cause. If we achieve more than our goal, we might even be able to supply a little seed! 


[1] Proverbs 27:7 Berean Study Bible

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