Get to Know Bebo Norman
An evening at The Cove preview
March 30, 2009 - As he prepares for an April 4th concert at The Cove, Bebo Norman took a few moments to chat about nature, anxiety, Billy Graham, and what Jesus would say to Britney Spears.
by Janet Chismar
A singer/songwriter who is known for memorable melodies and heartfelt lyrics, Bebo Norman began his career as a worship leader for Young Life Ministries and continues to inspire audiences with songs such as "Great Light of the World."
He believes that “If we are pursuing God, then we can pursue what we are passionate about, knowing that His desires have become ours.”
As he prepares for an April 4th show at The Cove Bebo took a few moments to chat about anxiety, nature, Billy Graham, and what Jesus would say to Britney Spears.
BGEA: What would you like for the April 4th Cove audience to take away from the concert?
Bebo: My goal every time I play a show is that it would not feel like a show – that it would feel more like a conversation. I’ve been saying that for a lot of years, but it still really holds true for me. My goal is that it would feel like we are in a living room rather than in any kind of a concert hall. I hope that it would feel like an honest conversation about life, and faith, and failure, and hope — those things we all deal with.
BGEA: How has Billy Graham impacted you? Has he played any role in your life?
Bebo: I don’t know that there are very many Christians who would consider themselves communicators on any level, whether it’s speaking or playing music, who haven’t been affected by what Billy Graham does. He has had a huge impact just because of how bold he is and, more than anything, how accessible he seemed to the people he spoke to. Also, how he managed to reach an audience that otherwise wasn’t reached by the church.
BGEA: A lot has happened in your life in the last few years – marriage and fatherhood. How has that influenced your music and your latest release?
Bebo: I think that probably the biggest thing for me is that I’ve always written songs out of life. As life has changed and I have grown up, my ideals and my goals and my fears and my hopes – they’ve all transitioned with me as I’ve gotten older. So, the themes that I tend to write about are somewhat different. I think musically, my goal is to take a new record independently of the previous one and just make a record that makes sense to me in that particular moment.
BGEA: Looking at some of the songs on your new record, I am sure some in our audience might want to know what inspired you to write the song for Brittany Spears?
Bebo: To be completely honest, when I wrote that song, it was late one night and when I finished it, I didn’t play it for anybody for about three months! In a lot of ways, it was never really intended to be heard. I was flipping through the news channels that night. I couldn’t sleep and I landed on this story about Britney's very public melt down. It was sad, but also very easy to scoff at, and strike up a “Oh, here we go again” flippant response to a Hollywood demise.
Watching this story in particular, it involved ambulances and fire trucks and Child Protective Services. They took her away on a stretcher to a mental hospital and I remember the cameras focused on her face as they were putting her in the ambulance.
The look on her face stopped me in my tracks; sort of put me in my place a little bit. I was having this sort of flippant response and then the look on her face was one that I feel like I recognized, because it was complete confusion and despair and she looked like a scared little girl.
I feel like I’ve been in that place before – very different circumstances – but feeling like a scared little child and feeling completely lost. I had this moment where I imagined my darkest moments in my life and what Jesus said to me in those moments; it looked less like the condemnation that was in my heart for her in that moment and more like compassion.
It’s not that I condone certain lifestyles or behaviors. It was more this idea that who, if not the church, is going to engage our culture with the compassion of Christ and not the condemnation that we so quickly and flippantly tend to offer the world? It was this little moment for me where I maybe saw her the way that Jesus sees her for the first time instead of as a tabloid figure.
As I wrote the song, it really became more — not just about Britney. It really became about the lies we tell to young girls about where they should get life from and hope from and identity from.
BGEA: You mentioned your own struggles in life. Also, there is a section in your bio that mentions you have dealt with some anxiety issues. Are you willing to talk about your experience?
Bebo: Sure. My specific situation was really odd because it’s been built around the act of singing, which is the one thing in my life that has always come naturally to me. Probably the toughest thing for me is that I felt very out of control and anybody who knows me knows that I like I really like being in control.
I don’t know that I can think of anything more difficult in my life that I’ve gone through on an internal, personal basis. It was a spiritual struggle and I’d really gone through the wringer, gone to the mat with God about it, asking Him to heal me of it. And then second, going, “If you’re not going to heal me of it, then I don’t want to play music anymore.” There was no joy in it.
Finally I got to a point where my prayer was, “You know, if this is my cross, if this is me taking up my cross, if this is my thorn in my flesh, then so be it.” If this is something that’s supposed to remind me of my weakness and God’s strength, then let it be, because I still felt really called to play music even though there was not a lot of joy in it for me any more.
BGEA: When did you realize it was anxiety?
Bebo: A friend of mine really encouraged me to go see a doctor and, for the first time, put his finger on the fact that it might be anxiety. I had never even thought about that. I didn’t even know how to define it or describe what was going on. I knew it existed but I certainly didn’t feel like it would exist in my life. So, I started taking some medication, only when it happens, which isn’t very often – probably 20 or 30 percent of the time when I play shows.
BGEA: How have you seen God in this?
Bebo: I’ve been thankful for the whole process. I don’t know that I’d say I’m thankful for the feeling of being anxious, but I am really thankful for God forcing me to once again let go of control and hold only on to trust, which is the story of all our lives as believers.
BGEA: God uses these things. By sharing your struggle, you might help encourage someone who is reading right now.
Bebo: Yea, it’s been really interesting hearing how many people feel like I have. I’ve just always talked about things that I struggle with – and I would have talked about this before if I ever could have defined what it was. It’s amazing to me how many people feel like this or feel depressed. It’s been cool to have conversations with people about it and so I’ve been thankful for that part of it too.
BGEA: Last question, circling back around to the concert at The Cove, which is a beautiful place. How do you connect with God out in nature? What does God’s creation mean to you?
It’s been everything to me. In fact, I went on a hiking trip this last weekend with some buddies – just hiked and camped out. I’m reminded every single time I do it that one of the great struggles in my life has been my tendency to question things and doubt things.
This is a round-about way to answer, but for a long time, I considered that a curse. I’ve begun to realize as I get older though that doubting and questioning, in the right perspective, has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.
It has been something that has forced me to ask questions to God that are difficult questions, and ask questions to other people that are difficult questions, and force me to dig in deeper instead of accepting things for what they look like on the surface.
So doubt has ended up being a blessing and a curse. I don’t want it but, at the same time, every time I go through a season of that, it becomes such a blessing because of the process and the end result of really having to trust God.
That said, one of the things that has been a constant in my life, even in all the things that I’ve doubted, is being out in beautiful places – looking at God’s creation and sucking it up has been just this constant reminder of the consistency of God in the middle of my own inconsistency. That’s the thing that being outside does for me: it reminds me of a very big God and a very small me.
I think I am also reminded that a very big and very consistent God still is concerned about me. In all this grand creation out there, He still considers me His most prized creation. I am very small but I am very loved. That’s what really important to me about being out in beautiful places and being at The Cove.
There are nine “An Evening at The Cove” events in 2009, featuring dinner and a musical performance. Guests also have the option of staying at one of The Cove’s two inns for an additional cost. Reservations for lodging or the event can be made by calling 828-950-2092 or by visiting www.billygraham.org/thecove.