It is intriguing how many contexts include some element of the cut line. The book I just finished reading  had a particularly chilling form of the cut line, where those children shorter than a certain line were killed right away and those who were taller than a certain line had to continue their fight for survival among the grim circumstances of Auschwitz. It is a bit ironic, I suppose, that in biblical history a group of Moabites had to face a cut line in 2 Samuel 8:1-2. It is ironic, I suppose, that the Israelites made a cut line that protected the innocent and Nazis made a cut line that destroyed the innocent. This would appear to be a useful way in separating the sometimes fierce judgment of God against sinners as expressed in biblical history and the savage wickedness of the kingdoms of mankind.
Often times the cut line in life is less fatal than it was in either ancient Moab or German-occupied Europe in World War II. A more relevant cut line to the lives of most of us is the sort of cut line that takes place in NCAA basketball. Every year there are a little more than 30 at-large teams that make the NCAA tournament. About half of the teams win their spots through winning their conference, and about half of them have to prove themselves through their at-large profile, which looks at the quality of their schedule, their wins (as well as where those wins occur). Some teams also benefit from the general strength of their conference, in which a strong conference makes all of its teams look better than they would on their own merits alone. One year, of course, the University of South Florida (where I got one of my master’s degrees, and which I visited often as a high school student in Tampa, Florida) was chosen as one of the last at-large teams, and it ended up doing pretty well in the NCAA tournament, winning two games in the bargain .
There are times, of course, in our own lives where the cut line can take on serious importance. In my own life, I tend to be bothered a great deal by one particular cut line that has helped to cause a bit of complexity in my life. Shortly after arriving in Portland, I was asked to sing with a group of talented and musical teenagers. Since then, depending on circumstances, I have either been invited to sing (usually on very short notice) or told that it was not necessary for me to sing based on the strength of the tenor section. When the tenors have been too soft, I have been asked to sing to keep the balance up, even though to be honest I am quite a bit older than anyone else in the group (aside from the director). When the tenors have been strong, I have been told that my singing was not necessary.
It is not an enjoyable experience to live on the cut line, since one’s acceptance or not is not dependent on one’s own virtues but on the context and environment. It would be much easier for there to be a definitive boundary and one knew if one was accepted or not, with a clear understanding of what reasons were involved. If, for example, it was clear that there was a certain strict age limit, then one could know it was simply a matter of age, and then deal with it and cheer on others. To be a permanent backup, never to have adequate time to prepare and enjoy the company of the others in the group, but to be a utility person to be called at the last minute with minimal ability to work on blend and fine tuning because one is trying to learn at the last minute is a much more stressful place to be, especially if it is thought that I would be trying to insert myself into that environment rather than simply trying to help out the group at a whole, even at some cost to my own comfort and peace of mind.
There are many experiences in life where we want to know where we belong and where we fit in, and conversely where we don’t belong at all, and I find that my own life often presents a sort of utility player aspect of someone who is good enough at many things to help out in a wide variety of distinct roles, but not generally someone whose place is secure. It is good to be treasured for general flexibility and versatility but all the same it would be nice to have a niche and have a role that one was well-respected for and at home in, the better to provide some much-needed stability and grounding. Sometimes, we just need to belong.