"There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man that cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by the Creator made known through Jesus Christ."

While 17th-century apologist Blaise Pascal may have penned the famous line, another more contemporary philosopher has replicated the concept perfectly in song.  The yearning for a touch of Divine love echoes throughout Bebo Norman's third release, Myself When I Am Real.

And real it is.  While the CD's cover art may be abstract, the songs inside are not.  Norman seems to invite the listener right into his living room as he pours out joy, love and frustration to his Lord.  Eavesdropping is not required.

“I feel like, in the last year or so, and especially in the process of writing these songs, that there’s never been a more honest representation of me, and where I’m coming from, without an attempt to manipulate anything,” says Norman.

With this release, Norman finds himself in uncharted territory:  “It’s been a new place to be, although I don’t know that it shows outwardly,” he admits.  “It’s more about what motivated the writing of the songs.  That part of the process was really visceral and gut-level, and there was no false pretense to it at all.”

He’s quick to point out he has always aimed “to be honest and to be vulnerable” in his songwriting.  But during extensive touring over the last year, he realized that even in being honest, “it’s possible to manipulate honesty to look a certain way.”

Norman explains:  “If I was standing on stage, talking about my weaknesses and how I struggle, there was a part of me that subconsciously was going, ‘You know what?  In talking about my weaknesses and my struggles, really I am showing you that I am strong and that I’ve really got it together because I am willing to admit that I don’t have it together.’”

At times, the stage serves at Norman’s fiercest battleground--the place he is most aware of his need for God’s grace.  “The fact that I exist on stage, and the audience exists under this pretense that I am supposed to have something to say, if I ever feel inadequate, it’s when I feel people have expectations of what I am supposed to offer them.”

He realizes he’s not able to sound profound 100 percent of the time, nor meet the sometimes lofty expectations of the audience.  “Being on stage makes me realize that I don’t have that much to offer.

“It’s not that I don’t feel like God uses the music,” Norman adds, “but when everyone’s looking at you, and looking to you, for some amount of wisdom or depth--that’s an intimidating moment.  You’re in a moment where you feel, ‘I have to give this to them, but I don’t have it to give to them.’  So all I do at that point is trust that God will give them whatever He wants to give them.”

According to Norman, being on stage can be “somewhat depressing” if you dwell on your human weaknesses.  “But the beauty of it is that when I am aware of my humanity on a very real level, then I am fully aware of God’s grace.  That’s ultimately what I have to offer to people.

Exit Stage Right

Audience expectations can also lead to an occasional sticky situation after a concert, when Norman spends time in the trenches.  “The hard part is when people expect that you should be a personal friend or they expect that you should offer them counsel.  I can have a five-minute conversation with somebody after a show and they will lay out to me stuff that I don’t know about some of my closest friends--severe stuff--stuff that should be shared in counseling.”