Nathan Albert: “Embracing Love: My Journey to Hugging a Man in His Underwear” | Talks at Google
Nathan Albert: “Embracing Love: My Journey to Hugging a Man in His Underwear” | Talks at Google

[MUSIC PLAYING] PHILLIP KNOLL: Welcome, hello. My name is Phillip Knoll. On behalf of Google Chicago
and Chicago Gayglers for Pride Week, I’m excited to
welcome Nathan Albert to Talks at Google. He is a professional actor
turned ordained pastor, a blogger turned
author, and a single guy turned married man and father. And he is the creator
of the podcast called “The Why Behind the What”
and the author of “Embracing Love, My Journey to Hugging
a Man in his Underwear.” So Nathan earned a bachelor of
Fine Arts in musical theater performance from
Rockford College and a master of divinity
from North Park Theological Seminary. And he and his
wife Kate now have a son named Foster and
currently live in Rhode Island. “Embracing Love” is the story
behind the iconic photograph seen by millions
around the world. It was taken along the
Chicago Pride Parade route where he and his friends
were bearing signs of apology on behalf of Christians
who had failed to show love to the LGBTQ community. In “Embracing Love,”
Nathan also shares his own personal and pastoral
stories of the LGBTQ community. For Googlers in the
audience, please think of your
questions for the Q&A. We have a microphone in
the middle of the room. And there’s also a Dory. So please join me in welcoming
to the Google stage, Nathan Albert. [APPLAUSE] NATHAN ALBERT: Well, hello. And it’s good to
be back in Chicago. I used to live in
Andersonville and Albany Park. So it’s always good
to be back home. And I don’t want to leave. And it’s always good
to be with Googlers. I did a talk in New York
City a few months ago, and it was great. And I fell in love with Google. Even though I don’t
regularly use Google+, but I Google things. But I’m probably the
least qualified person to ever be a Googler as a
bachelor in musical theater performance and a
masters in divinity. But it is my new dream
to become at Googler. So if you need a tap
dancing chaplain, I could be that person
for your Google community. As Phillip said,
I’m an actor turned pastor, which is just weird. I live in the Ocean
State of Rhode Island, originally though from
the suburbs, moved into Chicago for a long time. Married to Kate. We have a 1 and 1/2 year
old kid named Foster. He’s a rock star. So he’s really cool. If this doesn’t go well,
I could just switch over to telling stories
about him, and it could be much more entertaining
than what I’m doing. But I am the author of
this book, “Embracing Love, My Journey to Hugging a
Man in his Underwear.” And it’s based off
of a few things. So today what I’ll
do is kind of give a summary of the book,
share a few stories, and then we’ll open it up
to Q&A and dialogue, which is what I’m really looking
forward to as well. So the book is part
autobiographical. It kind of shares my
story of growing up in a traditional
and conservative Christian environment in
the suburbs of Chicago. Eventually, I was immersed into
the LGBT community, and really the gay and lesbian
community when I worked as a professional
actor and singer. It chronicles my journey
to becoming a pastor and going to seminary,
and then this viral blog post that happened in 2010. And so it kind of
shares my own education about the gay community
and the gay rights movement and gay history. And then it’s also, secondly,
it’s part theological. And so I look at the six
main passages in the Bible that are often used to
talk about homosexuality. And I do that looking from
both a traditional viewpoint and a progressive viewpoint. And so looking at the
Greek and the Hebrew. And how do scholars
or Christians or church communities come
to a certain conclusion about sexuality from a
traditional viewpoint, but also a more progressive viewpoint,
and kind of that spectrum. And then I also talk
about what is the church, and how can the church community
or spiritual communities remain together, even if they
might differ on certain things. And how can we, instead
of fighting ugly, how can we really learn and
understand from one another. And then finally,
it’s part pastoral. So as a pastor and as
an actor turned pastor, how do I pastor
LGBT individuals. How do I pastor parents
who come to me and say, I have a gay child. What should I do? Or someone who
comes to me it says, I’ve had this conservative
belief all my years, and now I have a gay child, and
these things are in tension. How do I pastor in that? And for me, this is
a really holy thing. And I consider
these holy moments. And so I dedicate some time
in the book to that as well. So today I want to share a
few stories from the book. And then again, we’ll
open it up for dialogue. Before we get too far, I want
to make it clear that it’s my hope with my book and
with my work and with my life and at this Google talk that I
never want to speak at people, and I never want to
speak for people. But instead, I’m trying
to speak with people, and encourage others
to speak with. And I think especially
in this topic when it comes to religion and
faith and the LGBT community, these can become very heated. Or I mean, really any topic
that is often divisive, I think it’s better
and it’s crucial that we discipline ourselves
to talk with one another rather than at or
for one another. A quick story to illustrate. My dad, who came with me today,
he works at O’Hare Airport. And a few years ago he
asked me for some advice, which is always
interesting when like your dad asks you for advice. But he said you know,
Nathan, I work at O’Hare, a diverse environment,
lots of people. And you know, I’m kind of
Christian guy, a white guy. He had a coworker who
was a gay Jewish man. Total like, I mean, that makes
for the start of a great joke. A gay Jewish coworker and
a conservative Christian are at work together. And he said, you
know, Nathan, how do you think I can engage
this conversation at work? You know, what do I do? And I said, well
most simply, I think you can just ask him, you know,
what is it like to be you? And so, lo and behold, he
actually took my advice. And went to his
coworker and they were on break in the office
and eventually you know, he kind of said you know,
coworker, I forget his name, but you know, I’m a Christian. This is a heated
topic for many people, and I just am
curious, what is it like to be you as a
gay individual working at this airport. What is it like? Is it– what’s it
like to work here? Are there difficulties,
are their struggles? And that question started
a 45 minute conversation. Where at the end of that
45 minute conversation my dad’s coworker said to him,
or invited my dad and my mom to a barbecue at their house. And so what I love
about that story is they started as coworkers,
and within the course of 45 minutes, they became friends. And since then, their
friendship has developed. And they text back and forth. And you know,
they’re good friends. But I think asking
this question, what is it like to be you,
is one of the best ways that we learn to talk
with one another. And it breaks down stereotypes. It allows for empathy, and the
beginning of understanding. And it can move us from being
strangers to being friends. Now when I was in high
school– and it’s crazy, I’m not that old. But 20 years ago when
I was in high school, I didn’t have many gay friends. And then Facebook
came out, and I realized I did have gay
friends, and they weren’t out. And I was amazed at
how many came out. But it was so different
than the world today, right. But I was part of a system
that demonized and dehumanized gay individuals. And I readily
participated in that. And really not knowing gay
individuals at that time, it was really that I was bashing
maybe the more effeminate kids. Or really probably the kids that
weren’t through puberty yet, you know. And so I was a
part of this system that was using these
stereotypes to hurt and demonize other people. And much of which were
these abstract ideas about other people that in
reality were completely false. And so much of my story
is the breaking down of these abstract
ideas about people, because I began developing
relationships with people. And it’s also been a breaking
down of my own privilege as I gain awareness
and understanding of the lives of others
and their experiences. And so now many of my
relationships with the broader gay and lesbian
community happened while I worked as a
professional actor and singer. And so the musical theater
world, for whatever reason, is very welcoming to the
broader gay community. And in the musical
theater world, it’s basically you’re gay
until proven straight. That’s just how the job works. You get to rehearsal
and everyone’s gay until you find out differently. And so I developed a lot
of close relationships in that season. And there were times where I
was the only heterosexual guy in a theatrical production. And that just came
with the territory. But what I learned
during that time drastically impact
the course of my life. I learned that a
disproportionately high number of my gay and lesbian
and people that were part of the LGBTQ
community, a disproportionately high number of them had horrific
and negative experiences with either people
in the church, those who consider
themselves Christians, or just the church or spiritual
communities in general. And I heard story
after story after story after story of friends that had
these incredibly painful things happen to them at the hands of
people who consider themselves Christian. I had a friend, many
friends who were kicked out of their churches
when they came out. Or they were leaders in their
youth group and they came out, and the pastor said
you can no longer be a part of this community. I had a friend who was
spit upon by his roommate as they were both attending
a Christian University. I know a teenager
that when he came out, his coming out process
was also memories of when he was in
fifth grade, and he was told by a leader of a church
that gay people go to hell. And that impacted his
coming out process. So story after story of this. One story that actually
impacted me the most was my best friend Jeff. He and I performed
together here in Illinois. We did some shows together. And when our contract was
over, he moved off to Broadway and he did some
“Les Mis” revival, and he’s been on
Broadway ever since. And I moved into seminary. But he shared a
story with me that he was sharing a dressing
room with this gentleman, and his name was Dave. And they were hanging out
backstage in the dressing room as the show was going on. And eventually, the
topic of discussion came to bash Christians. And so they were pointing
out and making fun of the hypocrisy of Christians. And everyone was
having a good time. And you know, sometimes
it is a good time to bash the hypocrisy
of Christians. And so people are
laughing, and then it kind of turned a corner. And Dave almost became mean
and said, I hate Christians. They’re ignorant. And I wish that all
Christians would drop dead. And so my friend Jeff, who was
raised in a church community, kind of pulled him aside
after and said you know, I’m your friend. I’m a Christian. You know that. And I just want you to be aware,
like some of that stings me. And Dave responded back. And he said your beliefs
are anathema to me. And having you, a Christian,
in this dressing room is like having a Nazi in here. And he walked away. Dave and Jeff have
continued their friendship. But one of the things
that was so astonishing is that some other Christian
individual hurt Dave so badly that for him,
a Nazi and a Christian were the same thing. And so it’s shocking
to me that there have been people who
have done so much damage to other people’s lives who
profess to be people who are following the way of Jesus. And my guess is that either
some of you in this room have had similar experiences,
or that some of you, and if not all of
us, know someone who has had a similar experience. And so as I continued
in my journey, I found myself with
these two loves that didn’t seem to
love one another. So I loved the church. I loved the spirituality. I loved some of these
ancient spiritual practices that have been
around for thousands of years that kind of give
me a peace or a calmness or a sense of prayer. Or these things that I just find
that benefit my life so well. Or places where I found
mercy and community and great friendships and
hope and justice and love. And at the same time,
I loved my friends. I mean, I loved them. And many of them, as part
of the gay community, they have welcomed me in,
a heterosexual Christian, into their community with
such love and acceptance. And so I had these two loves. And then I was confused that
my gay friends, whom I loved, didn’t love or didn’t want
to be a part of the church that I loved. And the church
that I loved didn’t seem to love or want to have
my friends whom I loved. And so I was confused by this
tension between these two loves. And what I came to learn, and I
think the Christian community– some parts of the Christian
community may not realize this. But this isn’t a battle
between the Christian community and the gay community
or the LGBT community. That this is actually,
this battle is a civil war. It’s a civil war. I worked with the
Marin Foundation, which is a nonprofit
organization that was here in Chicago. And we did a national
study that looked at the broader gay and
lesbian community and faith. And this has now been turned
into a book by Andrew Marin. It’s called “Us Versus Us.” But we found in that study
that 86% of the LGBT community was raised in a denominational
affiliated religion. So Catholic,
Protestant, Lutheran, some evangelical
churches, Assembly of God. 86% was raised in a
Christian based religion. Of that 86%, 73% said
that they are no longer practicing the religion
in which they were raised. And there’s a
handful of reasons. Some of that is theology
on human sexuality. Some of that is the hypocrisy. Some of that is some doctrines
they don’t understand, and the list kind of goes on. And 20% of that is
they’re practicing a different religion,
perhaps Buddhism, or some other religion. And what influenced– and
this is a shocking statistic. But what would
influence a person to return to the religion
in which they were raised, 62% of the 86% said there
is absolutely nothing that would encourage them to
return back to their religion. Now as someone who
is a pastor, this is like one of the most gut
wrenching statistics for me. And so what I saw happening
is that the LGBT community, they were kicked
out of churches. And they were shunned from a
community that professed love. And what did the
LGBT community do? I think you have created their
own community, their own church that is incredibly
loving, wildly accepting, and actually does church better
than many Christian communities do. That actually, I believe
that the Christian community has so much to learn from
the LGBT community about how to care, how to love, how
to defend, how to accept, how to cherish their people. And I think that
the gay community has been more like a church
than many other churches claim to be. And so eventually,
I entered seminary, where I assumed everyone had
a similar experience to me. Where going to Roscoe’s and
Sidetrack, and you know, Scarlet, like you just
always went to those places. And then I got to seminary and
that was not the case at all. But I did introduce a lot
of seminarians to Boystown. I will say that. And this is where I also
adapted a lot of my schoolwork and my writing and my
reading specifically to faith and human sexuality. Which is then what I did
was I wrote my thesis on human sexuality. And which I condensed basically
into one chapter in my book. But while I was
doing all that, this is where we get to this
Chicago Pride Parade in 2010. A handful of us, about
20 of us, decided to do what we called
the I’m Sorry Campaign. And so those of you who have
been a part of the Gay Pride Parade here in Chicago, you know
that at the end of the parade route there is a
group of protesters. And they are some sort of
Christian organization. And they have
megaphones and they have signs that say
pretty horrific things. And they’re behind
police barricade. And they spend their time at
the parade shouting pretty vile things to those who pass by. And so we decided
we wanted to be an alternative Christian voice. The group of us decided
we kind of wanted to be– we kind of wanted to have this
as a confessional booth, right. Like confession is a part
of our religious tradition. That maybe we should
confess that we were a part of dehumanizing
a group of people and excluding people. And we wanted to start the
process of making amends. So what we did,
is we got together and we made t-shirts
that said, I’m sorry. And then we got some posterboard
and we had a sign making party. And we wrote all sorts
of things on the signs. Things like, “sorry for the way
the church has treated you.” “Sorry that Christians
have kicked you out.” One of my favorite
shows was “I used to be a Bible banging
homophobe, sorry.” And we set them up in the
fence of the parade route. And we were right
at the IHOP, kind of at the bend of the parade route. And we just enjoyed the parade. And so throughout the
parade, we had all sorts of different reactions. People came up and said,
well, what are you doing? Why do you have– what are you sorry for? And we got to explain
why we were there. And one moment in
particular, which is what I wrote a blog post
about, a gentleman who I later learned his name
was Tristan, was dancing on top of a float
in his whitey tighties. He had abs of steel
that I could never have if I worked at them
for the rest of my life. And he was dancing
up on the float. And he came around the
bend and he saw our signs or he saw our shirts. And he yelled at me and
said, what are you sorry for? It’s pride. Be happy, celebrate. And I simply pointed
down to our signs. And I saw his face read
across all the signs. Which we have a picture
cycling through as well. And he read all the signs. And he jumped down
off the float. And he came running towards us. And there’s a group
of three or four of us that were all right there
and he just dove into our arms. And he said, thank you. The exact moment
when that happened, a woman happened to be
taking photos of the parade. And she actually
snapped that photo and sent that to me
later in the week. I wrote a blog post
about that experience called “I Hugged a
Man in his Underwear.” Now at the time, my blog had
like four readers, me, my dad, my mom, and maybe my friend. So it really was, it
was not a popular blog. It still isn’t. But it went crazy. It absolutely went crazy. It was viewed I think like
over 140 million times. The picture has been viewed
like 130 million times. It was picked up by the
BBC and Australia Herald, Buzzfeed put it in
another viral blog post that they had called “21
Pictures That Will Restore Your Hope In Humanity.” That went viral like
almost 20 million times. It was voted Best
Picture on imgur a couple of years in a row. All sorts of people
have tweeted about it. And usually every
year around this time it somehow pops up
in social media. And so it’s always funny when
people are like, is that you? Are you in that? And we never intended to
make a well-known blog post or make any public known thing. That was not our intention. We simply wanted, as
a group of 20 of us, we simply wanted to
publicly apologize. And so sense then it’s
been done almost every year at the Chicago Pride Parade. It’s been adapted now. And there’s actually
now a counter-protest called Make Love Louder. So if you’re at
the pride parade, they actually are in
front of the protesters at the end of the parade. So you’ll see them
there if you’re there. And yeah. And so that’s what we did. And one of the things
about the protesters, there’s this scripture verse
that talks about if you speak and you don’t have
love, you end up sounding like clanging
cymbals and gongs. And the protesters at the end
of the parade route, for me, are the personification
of that scriptural verse. That they are banging
cymbals and noise, because there is no love. Now there’s been all sorts
of feedback from this. Some people love it,
some people hate it. I have had countless
emails from people, Christian individuals,
who loved what we did, are thankful for what we did. And I had probably
even more Christians who thought I was a
heretic and that I am working with the anti-Christ,
or whatever it might be. Threatening our lives. And at the same time, members
of the LGBT community, there are individuals who are
so thankful for what we did. And then there are others
who have said, well, you’re really just wolves
in sheep’s clothing. Or your sorry is too
late, it’s not enough. And I get all of that. But the topic of sexuality
and the Bible isn’t an issue. Or it’s not some
problem we have to fix. Or it’s not some conflict
that needs to be resolved. This is about people. It’s about people created
by God, people loved by God, and people who long to belong
to a spiritual community. And what I’ve seen is that
so many people, especially those within the LGBT
community, and I’ve experienced this myself. And I think that 86%, I
think this applies to them. They’ve experienced
the model of church or spiritual community
or a faith community on a following pattern,
which I think is wrong. I call this, and this is a
section in my book as well, but there is a
way of church that says the model is behave
and believe and belong. And so the idea goes like this. Some churches will
profess saying, you know, if you want to be a
part of our community, you have to behave first. So you have to do
the right things and stop doing the wrong things. For some, if you’re gay, well,
you need to pray the gay away. Or be celibate,
whatever it might be. And if you behave the
right way, well then next you have to believe
all the right things. So you need to believe
these things are a sin and this is right
and this is wrong. You need to believe this about
our culture and this about God. And then if you behave
in the right way and you believe all
the right things, guess what, you can then belong
to a loving and accepting community. But that’s a complete fraud. It’s not loving. It’s completely conditional. It’s loving with
strings attached. It’s behavior modification. And in my opinion, as I’ve
studied the scriptures, this is actually antithetical
to the way of Jesus that I see in the Bible. A better model that
I’ve come to define is belong, believe, and become. And so you belong
to a community where it is a safe place
where anyone can belong. You don’t have to believe yet. You can doubt, you
can just belong. You can be accepted. You can be known,
you can know others. You are warmly welcomed
into this environment. You are welcomed into the
journey that is happening, which is life. And in this space of
belonging, then you can figure out what you believe. Maybe you doubt, maybe
you ask questions. Maybe you wrestle with things. Maybe you never come
to belief at all. It doesn’t matter. But then if you do believe,
then there’s this way to become, your spirituality
helps you become a different type of person. Or it helps you live
a life of flourishing. And that’s of any type
of spirituality, right. Like it helps you flourish. And so for me, I
think it’s better to belong to a
community of love, believe in the God
of love, and then you become a person who
lives a life of love. Now one quick example
from the Bible. I won’t spend too much
time on the Bible. But one of my favorite
characters in the Bible is this guy named Thomas. He’s also known as
doubting Thomas. I don’t know how
many of you know the story of doubting Thomas. But Thomas is this
character in the Bible. He’s a follower of Jesus. And he only shows up six
times, three over which are simply lists
of like his name. So three times it’s like the
followers of Jesus were Thomas, you know. Two times he’s like
this– he gets a bad rap, like the doubting Thomas. He’s actually quite bold. So two times it’s
things like Jesus says, we’re going to go
down to Jerusalem. And Thomas is like,
I’m going with you! I’ll follow you! That’s pretty bold. And then the second,
the other one he says something very similar,
like I’ll follow you to death. And then there’s the famous
doubting Thomas scene. And in this scene, the
story goes like this. Jesus was executed. He died and he had been
raised from the dead. And the women and the disciples,
this group of men and women, are celebrating. Like our rabbi who we’ve
been following for three years is no longer dead. Now Thomas does the most
human thing I think he does. And is like, nope. Like I think any of us would
do that if someone was like, our friend is raised
from the dead. Nope, didn’t happen. That’s crazy. You’re all insane. And he says, I’m not going
to believe that until I touch his wounds where
he was crucified, hung up on that cross. Until I touch his hands
and touch his side, I’m not going to believe this. So the story says this,
which is really interesting. It says a week goes by. And so for a whole
week, the disciples are still celebrating. The followers of
Jesus were like, he’s been raised from the dead. And Thomas is hanging out with
them like, nope, you all crazy, you know. And then Jesus appears. And the first thing Jesus does
is he says, peace be with you. Which I think is smart. Because if someone
raised from the dead like showed up in this
room we’d all be like ah! And he’s like peace, calm
down, like chill, right. So that’s the first
thing Jesus says. That’s my translation. And then he immediately
turns to Thomas. And he says Thomas,
put your hand here. Touch my side. Stop doubting, believe. Now I think this is
a powerful sentence. Because he could have been
like, Thomas you’re an idiot. For a whole week you
belonged to this community, you didn’t believe. He didn’t. He didn’t discipline. He said, come here,
come figure it out. And what happens is Thomas
then immediately worships God. He immediately worships God. And then we know that
eventually Thomas brought the church and the
Christian faith to India. And then eventually was
martyred for his faith. So here is a man
for three years he belonged to this community
of followers of Jesus. For three years he was
known in this community. And then other people were
believing these things about Jesus, and he
didn’t believe them. But eventually,
he came to belief. And then after that,
he, for some reason got so passionate
that he actually brought this message
all the way to India and was willing to
die for his beliefs. So I think this is the model
that churches should be. When I was here in
Chicago, a group of us started a small group. And this is a
similar story that’s more on a personal level. We started a small group
for gay and lesbian or trans individuals. And there were about 12 or 15
people that were part of it, a few heterosexuals, a couple
of people who were married. Some were not out
at all, so it was like almost a very secretive
group that they were a part of. And so we started this community
basically to be a safe place. Where for many people,
they didn’t feel safe in other parts of
the church community. So we started this Bible
study to care for one another and read these
scriptures together. And so the first night we
kind of went around the room and shared why we wanted
to be a part of this. And the last gentleman who
went, his name was Michael. And Michael had never
been to the church. He’d never been a
part of a community. I met him that night. He was the last one to go. And he said, you know, I’ve
been looking for a place where I can just
be me and breathe. And tonight I feel as if
I can finally breathe. And so this is what I
think life is all about. That it is creating spaces
where we can breathe, where we can be fully known
and fully know others. And I think this
is especially true among spiritual communities. That in the spiritual
life, the spiritual life is about finding places to
breathe, to be yourself, to be known by God. To let yourself have
that vulnerability to be known by other
people, to be known by God, to know people, to get
to know the Divine, to be unashamed who you are,
and to know that no matter what, you are deeply, deeply loved. Growing up, going
back to my dad, my dad used to always say Buds– and yes, he calls me Buds. And still at 36
he calls me Buds. But he’d say Buds, life is
all about relationships. And it used to be just
this mantra he’d say. And it’d be like,
yeah, yeah, dad. Life is all about relationships. But I think he’s onto something. That I think life is
all about relationships. There’s a rabbi who said
when you don’t know people, when you don’t
know them, when you don’t have
relationship with them, it’s easy to demonize
and dehumanize them. But when you do
know people, it’s almost impossible to
demonize and dehumanize them. And so lately, I’ve
seen how much people want to be right more than they
want to be in relationship. I’ve been experiencing
that a lot in my life. And frankly, I don’t find being
right as appealing anymore. I read a great quote actually
on my flight out here. It said Christianity
isn’t about being right, it’s about being loved. And I think in this
day and age, like not just in the topic of
human sexuality and faith and religion, but
in our culture, in our political climate, many
of us don’t know other people. And we isolate ourselves with
people that are just like us or that look like us. And that we need to do a better
job of being in relationship with other people. And I could be wrong
on this, maybe. I’m probably wrong about a lot. But I would rather be– I’d rather be in
relationship with a diverse and messy and awkward
and crazy group of people who love one another
and care for one another and welcome one another
and cherish one another and honor one another and
allow one another the space to breathe, even if that
means things are messy and there’s disagreements. I’d rather be in a relationship
with people than fight to be right. I think I would
lay down, I think I’d go to the floor on that one. Because I think life is
all about relationships. And when you truly know
people it changes everything. So let me just end with
one last thing as kind of a pastoral word to
those who, especially you who are here who might be a
part of the LGBTQ community. As a pastor and as a
Christian, I just first of all, I want to apologize
for the way that you have been hurt by people who
call themselves followers of Jesus. I am sorry that there has been
pain caused to your hearts and to your souls, and possibly
even physically to your body by people who
consider themselves followers of the God of love. I’m sorry that I was a part
of a system that demonized and dehumanized the
LGBTQ community, and the countless
times that I thought it was better to remain
silent than to speak up. I’m sorry that so many continue
to believe that abstract ideas about a community
and false ideas about you, that they
do that rather than try to be in relationship with you. I’m sorry that
there are preachers who use the pulpit
where they should only be talking about the God of
love to use it to condemn you or people groups. And I’m sorry that people push
you away rather than embrace you and create spaces where
you can simply breathe. So if there is any
inkling within your soul somewhere interested
in the spiritual life, I just want to encourage
you to keep going. Don’t give up on God,
because God’s followers didn’t reflect the God of love. And I would say, don’t
give up on Jesus. Because Jesus’
followers, some of them might not have been
very Jesus like. There is always space for you
and for me around the table that God invites us to. There’s always a place for us. There’s always a place
for us to find a place where we can breathe. And I would say this, especially
to the LGBT community. We, as Christians, don’t
deserve your forgiveness for some of the things that have
been said in the name of God. But I ask that you
would be gracious to us. I ask that you would
treat us the way you wish we first had treated you. Because we have a lot
to learn from you. So that’s all I got. So with that, I’m going to open
it up to Phillip and questions and we’ll keep the
dialogue going. So thanks. PHILLIP KNOLL: Thank you. All right. Well, thanks. Cool. [APPLAUSE] You want to keep the podium? All right. All right, hello. OK, so I know we had a similar
talk like this in New York. And I have a couple of questions
that I thought were pertinent. I also want to open
it up to the audience, but I’ll start it off. So there’s a lot
probably of experiences that you’ve had since
you wrote the book. So can you kind
of share like what you think was the most poignant
or the best thing that’s come out of having
written this and sort of the impact on your life
or the lives of others? And how’s that been for
you since you’ve done it? NATHAN ALBERT: Yeah. I’ve gotten– people love
it and people hate it. So it’s really interesting. I think probably the most– the feedback that I’ve
gotten best from people have been parents
of gay children that have read it
that have thanked me for just voicing some things
that they needed to hear. And I have a whole section
in the book directed towards parents who
have gay children. And so that’s a theme
that comes up in the book. So that’s always
been a feedback. And I have a bunch
of friends that appear in the book,
many of whom are gay. And they’ve loved the book. So that’s just encouraging. I have a student in Rhode Island
who, she is reading the book. She’s in like eighth grade. She came out to me as pansexual. And she said that the
book is giving her a renewed sense of faith. So I think that’s pretty cool. I’ve also had people
who think I’m a heretic and have written horrific
things about me and letters. And so that’s really fun. And I enjoy that. I really do. PHILLIP KNOLL: Yes,
so I guess that was one of the things I had. NATHAN ALBERT: A follow up? PHILLIP KNOLL: A follow up, yes. So you said people had
questioned your own sexuality, not just because you were
involved in musical theater, I presume, but
because you’re taking a kind of unifying stance
on human sexuality. And you know, what
kind of– have there been negative repercussions
or feedback like that you’ve gotten from within the
religious community, from within LGBTQ community. I mean, how has that been? NATHAN ALBERT: Yeah. So one of the things
I do in the book that I think confuses
people, is especially in the section on
the Bible, I lay out a whole spectrum of belief. And what I don’t do is
say you need to believe one side or the other. And I’m intentional in that. Because every book I’ve read
says, hey, if you believe this, you’re a bigot and a homophobe. You need to believe this. And then other
books say if you’re like progressive and
really open and affirming, you’re like this crazy liberal,
and you need to believe this. And I don’t think any
of that is helpful. So what I did is I
laid it out there. And then I was like, you got
to figure it out yourself. Good luck. You’re all adults. Like you should be able to
like figure out what you think. But that actually bothers
a lot of people, right. Because some are saying well,
because you didn’t say this, it means you must believe this. Which means you’re like that. And I’m like oh, no, that
didn’t– no, not true at all. Or vice versa. Whether it’s like when we
did the pride parade, right, like some people
said, well, they’re wolves in sheep’s
clothing, right. So you’re Christians,
but you still believe this about sexuality. So really you’re out to get us. And you’re tricking us. So I think that’s happened. And yeah, other
people, repercussions. There have been quite a few. But I guess it comes
with the terrain. I guess it’s a heated, yeah,
it’s heated for people. And I think some
people, when they’re challenged in a new way of
thinking, rather than seeing it as an opportunity for
growth, it becomes a threat. And so for me in this
process, this isn’t– I’ve never been
threatened in any of this. I think this is exciting. Like I’m learning something new. Or I never knew those
Greek words in the Bible could be translated this way. In the English it
always says this. Oh, maybe it means
something else. Like that’s an exciting process
for me of growth and learning. Rather than a oh, I’m afraid of
what that might mean, you know. PHILLIP KNOLL: Right, right. Yeah, absolutely. I want to like, don’t be
shy in the audience, also. If you have a question come
up to the mic, no trouble. Nothing on the Dory yet,
if anyone’s out there that wants to Dory, that’s cool too. AUDIENCE: Hey there. NATHAN ALBERT: Hi. AUDIENCE: Thanks for you talk. So I guess I just have
a question about– I totally understand
like your point of view. And I completely agree with
all the things you’ve said. I guess my question for you
is have you ever struggled with then why religion at all? Like you can have
all of these things without being a Christian or
a Baptist or anything, right. You can live as an atheist
a more Christian life than many Christians are. As you’ve sort of explored this
and through your education ever struggled with like
your faith as you’ve explored this and
made it your career and sort of like just how
this all came about for you? NATHAN ALBERT: Yup. Yeah. I mean, we’re trying to– the spiritual life we’re
trying to wrap our minds around something
that we consider to be divine, or really
completely or not completely fathomable. So I think that innately brings
doubt and questions and– yeah. But I’ve become convinced
that the way of Jesus is really a beautiful
way to live. And so for me, there
are other religions that I think there are
beautiful ways to live. And I love the way of Jesus
and following that way. Yes, so you’re right. Like I do think there are– I just think Christians have
got to get their act together. You know, like when an atheist
lives a better Christian life, whatever that might mean,
than Christians, well, it just makes you question what
is the definition of Christian then. AUDIENCE: Right,
or why religion. NATHAN ALBERT: Or why, yeah. But I think the pursuit of– yeah, the pursuit
of spiritual things is like searching for
treasure, I guess. And I’m not sure that
answers your question. But yeah, I doubt. And I think that’s a part. I think doubt is a part of
faith, so any faith tradition. Other questions? Whoa. AUDIENCE: Hey man, thanks
so much for sharing. So in your journey, what have
been some of the highest peaks and then what have been
some of the lowest lows as you have kind of sought
to live in the tension? And then what have been
some of the surprises on either the upside
or the downside? NATHAN ALBERT: Hmm. Wow. Good question. All right, the highs, the
lows, and some surprises. Um. AUDIENCE: And the highs
can be totally superfluous. PHILLIP KNOLL: They can
be totally superfluous. NATHAN ALBERT: OK. The lows, I’m amazed that
people are willing to give up relationship or friendship
because they disagree with the way you think. So I’ve had some– I’ve had some people
that I don’t know say some of the meanest things
about me via email and letters to communities or social
media that like you would– you just shouldn’t
say to someone’s face. Like it’s just, it’s crazy. And so I think that always
catches me by surprise. Oh, I thought you were
like a decent human being. The things coming out of
your mouth right now, OK. And I don’t know how to– and I don’t know how to
not take that personally. So I am still learning how to
get some negative feedback. Like oh, you’re
this type of person, and not let that
affect me as a person. There’s a speaker I know who
talks about that sometimes you can die from paper cuts. And so sometimes I feel as
if I get a lot of paper cuts. And eventually I could bleed
to death from paper cuts. So it’s an image that
I’ve always wrestled with. So I think that’s
some of the lows. I think some of the highs have– I guess it’s seeing
people like Michael who said I’ve been looking for
a place where I can breathe. Like all we did was
open up our home. And someone who had
such like a journey that we don’t even know about. It was like a space where
he could just like breathe. Those type of moments I think
are some of the coolest ones. Or hearing of you
know, someone who reconciled with their parents
after years of you know, turmoil. I think some of the surprises
would be some of the people I get to meet along the way. So like doing Google
Talks, this is awesome. But I never thought I’d ever get
to do this here or in New York. But getting to meet
people along the way and to learn like there is
something that unites us as just as humans like
that can connect us. And so that I think has been
some of the surprises for me. Others? PHILLIP KNOLL: So I’ve
got a question on that. NATHAN ALBERT: Great. PHILLIP KNOLL: So you talked
a little bit about doubt, and you talked earlier
about doubting Thomas. And that stay with it aspect
of it kind of struck me. And I know when we
were talking over lunch we talked a little bit
about something you mentioned also, which was who is the
other and that concept of trying to work past that abstract
notion of the other person, the other group, or the other
sort of ideology or philosophy. So I’m wondering
what kind of advice do you have regarding
any perceived divide or actual divide to
stay with it for Christians, for LGBTQ individuals. I mean, how to stay with it,
how to work past that doubt. NATHAN ALBERT: I
would say that to stay with it, what comes often
past the bend of stay with it can be
reconciliation, which is a really beautiful thing. And I see this best with
gay children and parents. And I often say to
many of my gay friends who when they come out to
their parents, what happens is a shift happens. Where they become– and we
talked a little bit about this at lunch. Where they become the
parent and the parents act like little children. So it’s like my son is gay? What? And they bang and they
pout and they stomp around, like they act like little
kids having a temper tantrum. And in that moment,
I always encourage that the child
becomes the parent, and has to parent that
parent through the process, through this process. And every time that
I’ve seen that happen, it has always ended in a
positive and good relationship. And now I think there are times
where ending relationships are important. Where they become abusive and
emotionally or spiritually, physically abusive,
there’s no doubt about it that certain
relationships need to end. So I’m not saying that. But I think around that
bend comes a reconciliation and a type of relationship
that just is better than what it was even before. So I think that’s
one of the glimpses of if you stay with it. And you know, the whole it
gets better campaign that started years ago, I
don’t know of anyone that disagrees with that. PHILLIP KNOLL: We have such
conciliatory notions here in Chicago, must be. A Chicagoan started that, right? NATHAN ALBERT: I know, I know. So man, Chicago is the hub of
all things amazing, basically. PHILLIP KNOLL: I
like to think so. NATHAN ALBERT: Yeah. AUDIENCE: Yeah, I
have a question. Because I grew up in a
Catholic family, and I’ve seen this before in like family
gatherings and everything. Where I have some relatives
that aren’t necessarily accepting of the
LGBTQ community. They are never really outwardly
aggressive towards it, but they will say
things that are veiled with their kind
of aversion to it. And I’m always kind
of on the borderline of how do you address,
how do you approach that? Because at times,
it’s like maybe I don’t say anything because
it’s not worth disrupting this event, right. But how would you
recommend going talking to friends and
families where you know, they’re not on the spectrum
of chanting at a gay pride parade about the
evils, but you know that it’s rooted in them
that they have a belief that it is wrong. So how do you approach that? NATHAN ALBERT: Yeah. I think it needs to
be addressed, right. So you know, it almost
becomes a joke in our culture that every Thanksgiving
meal you’re going to have the crazy uncle
who’s homophobic and racist. And he’s going to
say some things. And you all are going to
like kind of roll your eyes and be like, oh, uncle. But the thing is,
that individual might have kids and raise
their kids in the same way. So I don’t think we
have the option anymore to not speak out. And I don’t mean like
becoming like confrontational. Simply like, oh, you can’t say
that racist comment anymore. And saying it at the table. Those things have to stop. So you can’t joke about
that community anymore like that, not at this table. And I think that
it needs to stop. And I think this is not
just on human sexuality, but I think it’s
on race, our views of like all that’s
going on in our culture right now with immigration
reform or whatever it might be. Like these are comments that
come up in all sorts of ways. And there needs
to be the boldness of saying no, you just– dad, you can’t,
you can’t say that. You just don’t. Well, why not? You can’t. And you know, I haven’t
always done that either. But I think that it takes
a boldness within ourselves to start those conversations. PHILLIP KNOLL: Cool. So we got two minutes left. NATHAN ALBERT: Two minutes. PHILLIP KNOLL: I’d love to
ask you something really challenging, which is basically
how do we save the world then? Like so I think you– yeah, yeah, no big deal, right. No pressure. No, but I’ve been
thinking about it, right. So the kind of
things you’re saying are about how do you
look at big conflicts and big ideological positions
that seem immovable or seem intractable. And you’ve talked on
specter not just beyond you know religion or
human sexuality, but you talked a little
bit about economic justice in your book and in your talks. You talked about other faiths. And you know,
racial issues, a lot of disparities in the world. You know, is there
something that you’ve learned that people
can take from this talk and apply in their lives? Or how do you approach, you
know, a challenge like that? What can we do
that you’ve learned to try to make the world
better with your experiences? NATHAN ALBERT: Wow. This answer is probably
going to fail us all. PHILLIP KNOLL: Nah. NATHAN ALBERT: I guess,
I’m in this season where I am more and more intrigued
by the diversity of humanity and getting to know people
that are so different than me. So I don’t know, like
lately I’ve actually been on like a Catholic kick. Where I’ve been like reading
all these Catholic authors. And they always
talk about the way they connect God is
like totally different than I’ve ever thought of. It’s like all about
union with the Divine. And I’m like, that’s cool. I kind of want that. And my friends in different– I’m a part of a clergy
group that we’re like a smattering of like
Unitarian Universalists and imams, Muslims and
rabbis and Lutherans. And we get together every
month and like hang out and eat meals and talk. And it’s like the
coolest thing ever. So I guess I think
the importance of diversity of relationship. Or when we are in a culture that
we de-friend people on social media because of their views
or whatever, that actually we– I think we actually need
some of those people in our lives to learn about
them and about ourselves. And so we break down
some of the stereotypes and we move from like abstract
ideas to the humanity that unites all people. I guess, I don’t know if that
would really save the world, because some days I really
think the world is– oh man, it’s jacked up. But, yeah. And then that I
think hopefully then empowers us to pursue justice
and to create changes that will make the world better. PHILLIP KNOLL:
Humanity and justice. Can we all get behind that? NATHAN ALBERT: I hope. PHILLIP KNOLL: All right. Well hey, I want to thank
you very much for coming out. Thank you for all you. [APPLAUSE] And for your attention. So for everyone who’s going to
be sticking around afterwards, Nathan’s got some
books, like we said. He’ll be around for a
little bit after this. It is pride week,
so we’re going to be having a very special
gathering later on at [INAUDIBLE] on rooftop. And also a pride happy
hour up in Lake View. If anyone interested, come to
me, I’ll tell you about it. Nathan, thank you
so much for coming. It’s been great. NATHAN ALBERT:
Yeah, thanks guys. Nice job. PHILLIP KNOLL: You too. [APPLAUSE]

3 thoughts on “Nathan Albert: “Embracing Love: My Journey to Hugging a Man in His Underwear” | Talks at Google”

  1. Jeff Fenske says:

    "Union with the Divine" requires holiness — "without holiness no one will see the Lord." Heterosexual lusting is also a sin that will keep us from heaven if we don't repent. | Jesus stopped the Pharisees from stoning the prostitute, and then he told her: "go and sin no more." | Many "Christians" are not actual Christians (led by the HOLY Spirit, followers of Christ). HATING ANYONE IS SIN. We must LOVE all. | Here's the key: This is a spiritual war with unseen but completely real demons. Demons drive homosexuality, and the end result of all unrepentant sin is hell. Homosexuality is a demonically driven sin. We must be free, and can be! "Submit to God; resist the Devil, and he will flee." FREEDOM!!! I wrote this:

    “LUST ‘the poison that kills the soul’ FREEDOM! My experience: How DEMONS DRIVE heterosexual and homosexual lust in ‘Christians’ — The bad news is that demons drive lust. The good news is that demons drive lust, because freedom lies straight ahead!

  2. Teresa White says:

    Very relevant topic. I wish all of my Christian friends would realize their hypocrisy.

  3. EarthThatWas says:

    Don’t call them “whitey-tighties”.

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