I remember every time I played “Naysayers” with Micah Stout. People would cringe. I could see their faces changing when Micah would get around to the chorus, singing in a bracing nasal register just slightly above his range:
Naysayers go to hell! I think you will do we-e-e-ll … Naysayers go to hell, I think you will do well … to say yes to Jesus.
No one I have ever known dealt with as many naysayers as Micah Stout. He was maligned, abused, accused, insulted, rejected, dismissed, and despised regularly. To be fair, he asked for a lot of it. As any person who really knew him can attest, he was a difficult man to deal with. He did what he thought was right even if no one else agreed with him.
A lot of people thought Micah himself was a naysayer—a negative critic. I agree that he wasn’t a yes man by any means. He was one of the few people I have known with courage and grit enough to tell people what he thought they needed to hear even if it meant it would temporarily, or permanently, hurt his relationships—or leave him isolated.
So he said no to men a lot, and he could get loud about it. But, as far as I can remember, he never said no to God when he was sure God was speaking. In other words, he acted like a prophet. It’s funny how prophets in the Bible rarely had many friends. As it turns out, people don’t like prophets much.
Prophets are nearly always soundly rejected by the very people who have the most reason to support them—their hometown crowd and family. It was the Old Testament church that had Jesus crucified, after they had spent a few centuries persecuting and martyring the prophets who foretold and prefigured Jesus’ first coming.
Sometimes we forget that. We think we’re somehow different. If Jesus came today, we wouldn’t reject Him. We wouldn’t say no to God. We wouldn’t be naysayers.
No, but we would. I know this because we do. And we are. Because Jesus is still hard to see through the foibles and frailties of his prophets, and we are still hard of hearing and seeing.
This is no hagiography, however. Micah was a hard man. His hugs were like being in a hay baler. But they were sincere. And his zeal was contagious if you let it work on you. Before he died, I was in California fighting with LA County over my twin girls. It was a stressful time for me, and Micah wanted to be there to support me. So he flew out to LA. This was in the midst of his second bout with cancer. It had metastasized and started eating away at his spinal cord, unbeknownst to any of us. But it hadn’t quite paralyzed him yet. It was just racking his body with pain. I couldn’t believe he was there. In the midst of his pain, he had considered my condition as more important than his own. That’s the kind of friend he was.
But he was more than just a friend. If you appreciate at all what we do here at the Nehemiah Foundation, I want to impress on you this fact: without Micah Stout, this Foundation would not exist. One of the major reasons I co-founded the NFfCR with my father was that I saw how the prophets of the church in the arts were being rejected rather than supported. They were rejected because they were poor or shabby or hard. Or because they had slightly nasal voices and said unpleasant things. I saw Micah dismissed and mocked like he was some kind of a clown. Maybe he was a little of a clown. Maybe we need more clowns—people who are willing to make fools of themselves for the sake of righteousness.
I wanted to create a place where those kinds of artists would feel at home. Where they would have the resources they needed to make their art, and the encouragement they needed to know that other people, artists and patrons, had also refused to bow the knee to Baal or Mammon. It’s why we don’t charge our artists for our services. It’s why everything we do is voluntary and voluntarily supported.
Most of what I hold most dear, I learned either directly or indirectly from Micah Stout. Micah’s life and death had a profound effect on me, and on other founding artists and members of the Foundation.
The first record the NFfCR produced was Micah Stout’s posthumous release Without Reservations. It was recorded in the project studio that Micah and I had built together. The four records after that (from Brock’s Folly, Warbler, Physick, and then Brock’s Folly again) all included a song each of us had written wrestling with Micah’s sickness and death. If you want to hear those songs, I put together a Spotify playlist of them here:
Every single day, I find myself remembering things I learned from Micah. That I learned with Micah. Today, January 6, marks five years since his death. This year, I will be as old as Micah was when he died (32). It is very difficult for me to wrap my head around that.
Maybe he is looking down now from the bosom of Abraham and he is pleased to see the progress we’ve made since he died. Or maybe, more likely, he is looking into some distant star formation or he’s having a conversation with Moses about exactly why he never saw the Promised Land. I don’t know. But I like to think about the fact that he doesn’t have to deal with naysayers anymore. Or with the word no. Now, all around him, is nothing but amen and amen.