Sunday, November 8, 2009


I enjoy feeling competent. I think that I get the biggest kick out of life when I'm able to perform some relatively complex task ably and well.

Being at the American Academy of Religion conference sometimes scratches my competence itch. I generally know what people are talking about at the sessions I attend, something I could not have asserted reliably a decade ago. I have gotten plenty of positive feedback about my leadership and administrative capabilities since I joined the board of directors, and that makes me get the competence buzz when I negotiate some complex issue or contribute to the governance conversation.

Yesterday morning I began the day with a call to Delta reservations because my connection heading home via Cincinnati was a little too tight for comfort, given the need to clear customs and immigrations before boarding the next flight. Before I knew it, I had a new itinerary with a more generous time allowance. Even though I didn't do anything but call a number and explain my problem, that made me feel like an adult who knew how to handle these kinds of situations.

And after a day riding the Metro, and a subsequent day walking back and forth from hotel to convention center to other hotel via both surface streets and the Montreal Underground City, I feel the glow of competence suffusing my being. I look like a Canadian, I flatter myself, in my chunky knit accessories and practical boots. And I walk with the purposeful stride of a native through the twists and turns of the shopping centers, subway stations, and building basements that comprise the underground labyrinth connecting the whole central city.

I suppose that reveals my implicit standard of competence: native fluency. In some ways I've spent my life trying to move from the outside looking in, to some reasonable approximation of the mannerisms, and some reasonable claim to the privileges of, the native. I'm just an animal looking for a home. And it gives me inordinate pleasure to be home, or to pass for someone who is at home, in a city, a school of thought, a discipline, a community.

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