He slammed the letter down on my desk with a force that disturbed the fragile centre of gravity of an uneven pile of letters, spilling them on to the floor. A plastic cup of cold coffee, like a volcano eruption in miniature, splattered across the lens of my glasses.
"Refused! Yet again, you refused my application for citizenship. What is it that you want me to do?"
I was new to this job. The complaints department in the Kingdom of God was not where I had hoped to be assigned.
"Mr Josiah, let's see if we can't get to the bottom of this problem." I poured patience and sympathy into my voice, and waited until he had sat down. One leg was carelessly slung over the other, and his arms were locked in a tight embrace over his chest braodcasting barely concealed anger.
"What do I have to do, huh? For years now I have been applying for my passport and every year you send me this." His index finder stabbed abruptly on the purple envelope.
Just then we were interrupted by a discreet knock on the door. Without waiting for an answer it was opened.
I was surprised to see my boss there, not because he was a stranger to my office - he often visited, bringing with him two cups of coffee and a plate of chocolate brownies. An unworthy thought drifted in that perhaps he was checking up on me.
He pulled up a chair, carefully placing a folder on the corner of the desk. It was a remarkably full folder, overflowing sheets held in check by a plain brown elastic band.
"Let's have a look at the latest information, shall we?" The elastic band was removed, the folder opened and its contents allowed to spread over the table.
Mr Josiah snatched at a dull grey sheet of paper, containing neat columns of figures carefully added up at the bottom. He waved it in front of my boss's face.
"This one…this is a record of all the money I have given each week in the collection. We are not talking about paltry sums of money, sir. This is not loose change. Look at it. I am faithfully giving…every week."
The boss carefully looked at the total of the figures, and nodded.
"Well, it looks very impressive…that is a lot of money, Mr Josiah…"
"And have a look at this one," A small black notebook slithered across the table as Mr Josiah upended the file completely. "That, sir, is a record of tithes. It is all listed. Every herb in my garden…exact weights…everything. You won't find a better kept account, I'll bet."
My boss picked up the notebook and leafed through it, smoothing each page with his finger.
"Mr Josiah, your attention to detail is to be complemented."
Mr Josiah was rummaging through the pile of items on the desk, obviously looking for some other gem with which to convince my boss of his cause. I glimpsed the expression on the face of my boss. I was amazed at the compassion etched into its contours, and the love in his eyes as he looked at Mr Josiah.
"Here…here," said Mr Josiah as he thrust a cassette tape into my boss's hand, "Listen to that…prayers! Those are my prayers…so eager am I to pray that sometimes I can't wait to get to church, it all comes spilling out on street corners and market places. My prayers…on that tape…my words. And you have the audacity to give me this." Again, he poked erratically at the purple envelope.
"Yes, I have heard these prayers. I've not listened to the tape, mind you. Some beautiful phrases…an interesting choice of words too…perhaps a bit repetitive at times."
Mr Josiah glared at my boss for a moment. "Don't you think I've earned my passport into the Kingdom of God?"
"Mr Josiah…Robert." The use of his first name, I found disarming, and I could see an answering relaxing in his body posture. "If entry into the Kingdom of God was based on these things, you would have been given your passport long ago. These things are just externals, Robert. They are unimportant. You know what really counts?"
Mr Josiah…Robert Josiah blushed deeply. My boss reached over and his fingers lightly touched Robert's heart.
"This is what counts. This is what we are looking for…the state of your heart...and Mr Josiah…yours is not quite broken enough."
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