The word heckle comes from the process of turning flax into linen. Billy Bryson, perhaps not the world’s greatest historian but certainly one of the best at making history fascinating and humorous, writes about the process in his book At Home: A Short History of Private Life.

“Some twenty different actions are required to separate flax stems from their woody stems and soften them enough for spinning.” Heckling is one of these actions, all of which involved “pounding, stripping, soaking, and otherwise separating the pliant inner fiber, or bast, from its woodier stem.”

In other words, the point of heckling was to render flax pliable and useful.

Have you ever been heckled? I mean in the more modern sense: mocked, teased, shouted at, laughed at, mimicked, with the intention of shaming you?

This happens to me often. I’ve decided it’s a good thing.

I don’t like when it happens. I get angry, I feel that shame, sometimes to the point of tears or revenge. But still, I’ve decided it’s a good thing.

I am a pretty selfish, self-centered person. Just ask anyone who lives with me. I tend to think my way of doing things is the best way (even when it fails). My perspective on the world is the accurate one (even when I’m ignorant). My version of events is the right one (even when I swear I left the keys in my purse and Tom finds them on my desk). My interpretation of what ‘you’ said is more precise (even when I wasn’t really listening). My choices are more appropriate (even when I make them mindlessly).

In other words, I tend to think far too highly of myself. Until the Holy Spirit steps in with a little, and much needed, humbling.

I walk by a group of Djiboutian kids and they make fun of how I walk. They’re right, I do tilt my hips side to side in a goofy way. They laugh at my clothes. They’re right, I’m totally without style. They mock my accent. They’re right, I haven’t studied enough.

In short, they heckle me.

Even when they are wrong in their words, for example I am not a whore. I don’t earn a living as a prostitute. I don’t need to give them Lucy’s water bottle, even if they are wrong, they still put me in my place. They still give me something to think about.

Because they stir up my ugliness. They make my insides writhe with anger and bitterness. I lose my patience and lose my temper and lose control. They also remind me that I am not doing everything in the best possible way, that my way is not the right way. They reveal that I sin. Not that I make mistakes, but that I sin. I do things that offend God and are hurtful to human beings. I am so far from perfect, my way is so far from the right way.

In a January Runner’s World magazine article about the cancellation of the New York City Marathon due to Hurricane Sandy, there is a story of a woman who approached the RW booth at the expo, before the race was cancelled. She was afraid to race.

“I might get heckled,” she said. She was also afraid of having bottles thrown at her (I’ve had that), or worse (had that too).

heckle1

runners get heckled often in Djibouti

I wondered if she had ever been heckled before and realized another good thing about heckling (besides that the more you say/read/write the word, the funnier it gets).

Being heckled makes you courageous. It lets you know that you will survive people mocking you, that you will survive people not agreeing with you, that you will survive even losing your temper. Because of grace. Because of new mercies every morning. Because of the promise of being a new creation. Because God knows we aren’t, never will be, perfect. And because we are called to live and love and serve and walk past that group of punks in our imperfection, relying on God’s presence to make us courageous and his grace to lift us up when we fail.

Heckling takes me from my stiff, firm, proud state and renders me pliable, maybe even useful.

Have you been heckled? How have you turned it from a negative to a positive?