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Mark and Vinny Holiday Letter 2010
This holiday letter is also on our website at MarkandVinny.com/Holiday2010 and we are also e-mailing it to you, since it’s more fun to read on-line with live “links” and all the year’s photos, writings, and more. If you only got a physical copy, then please visit our website to subscribe to our updates, opt-out, or change your e-mail address. For those who want to read the longer narrative, the website also has the holiday letters from 2009, 2008, and 2007. Mark is still moving things over from the old, manual systems to the fully accessible website (see colophon).
Back in March, Jason (Woei-Ping) Chen proposed photographing us in our home for a series he was doing of same-sex married couples. Welcoming people into our home is very important to us on a spiritual level. It is even part of our marriage vows that “We will create a wonderful home together that can be an oasis filled with serenity, happiness, and our love.” Jason captured a lovely energy in both our home and our relationship. These images are on our website, and our favorite became the cover of this year’s card. Unfortunately, it meant that for the first time since our hurricane rescue dog Troika came to live with us on January 6, 2006, she wouldn’t join us on the holiday card. Being such a lovely dog, she didn’t complain and we assured her that there were plenty of other photos of her on our website.
Our life really is filled with serenity, happiness, and our love. Of course, it’s also been filled with serious health challenges for both of us. Over the last few years, Mark has become increasingly disabled by the ravages from three decades of HIV infection plus the very toxic effects of the treatment cocktail itself. No one knew that the reprieve from HIV could age some body parts (like some of Mark’s) at double speed. That’s why he now has conditions that usually are only seen in geriatric patients. Is 50 the new 80? For many of us long-term HIV survivors, it might be. David France wrote a powerful, must-read article in New York Magazine: HIV patients are living longer but getting older faster. Mark has now had three rounds of vascular leg surgery and six rounds (and counting) of assorted lower back procedures working with an opioid pain management plan. AIDS can be a chronic, treatable, manageable condition for folks like us with great insurance, terrific medical teams, and loving families, but these days getting through it has often had to be “one breath at a time.”
Thanks to Gay Men’s Health Crisis Continuing Education Scholarships, Mark has been able to take two semesters of “Writing for New York City Newspapers and Magazines” by Susan Shapiro at the New School. Shapiro is a prolific writer who (uniquely) teaches how to be a working, published freelance writer. Unfortunately, Mark’s health has really gotten in the way of getting the full payoff from the class so far, but he learned practical skills and has met many influential editors in the process, so as his health improves, the fruits of this work should pay off and support Mark’s larger project, his Memoir “Not Dying As Scheduled” which tells the story of Vinny and Mark’s seventeen years (and counting) together, most of that time being told they wouldn’t have much more time together.
Amazingly, it’s now been nine years since Vinny’s liver transplant fell through — after our winning the battle to get an HIV-positive person approved for a transplant. Out of options on New Years Eve 2000/2001, Vinny got admitted to home hospice care with “only weeks to live”. In March 2006, he was eventually kicked out of hospice care for “not dying as scheduled.” He still hasn’t made any miraculous cure and he requires daily Roxanol (liquid morphine sulfate) and battles narcolepsy and dementia. But, when he is able to cut hair, artistically he is doing the best work of his 38-year precision hair-cutting career.
Both Vinny and Mark have been especially spiritually active this past year, both in the Unitarian Universalist and American Buddhist Communities. That is a more common mix than you might suppose. According to the UUA website, 16.5% of all UUs identified themselves as being Buddhist. And both are more of a lifestyle and ethical philosophy rather than a theology or religious belief or concept of God.
Early in 2010, we both “signed the book” and became voting members of the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn. We had become disillusioned and unhappy at The Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist, and although Mark had been Board Chair at Community Church, we figured out the subways work in both directions and we could have a shorter Sunday morning commute by heading out to Brooklyn Heights from the West Village, and now we couldn’t be happier in our new spiritual home resplendent with the stained glass windows and mosaic by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a vibrant congregation of progressive, liberal and passionate folks, great music and under the outstanding care of the Senior Minister, Rev. Patrick O’Neill. In August, Mark gave a sermon at First Unitarian “On Being a Church-Going Atheist” that was one of the best attended of the Summer.
Mark continues to be a student member at The Village Zendo, co-founded twenty-five years ago in SoHo by Enkyo Roshi, a Zen Priest in the White Plum Lineage. The Zendo is about equally comprised of gay and straight members and HIV/AIDS has always been central to its mission. In August, Mark went on a week-long intensive retreat called “Jukai” or lay ordination that formalized his ethical commitment to serve the community. On the back of our holiday card, you can read these Zen Peacemaker Moral Precepts that Mark committed to. At that ceremony, Enkyo Roshi gave Mark the Buddhist name
GakuJô (see below) meaning “A steep mountain peak of mercy, love and compassion.”
Vinny studies with Sharon Salzberg, who he calls his Spiritual Angel. She is best known for her “metta” (loving-kindness) meditation. Both Vinny and Mark are active members of the Open Sky Sangha, which offers Buddhist teachings and meditation practice serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and with the Buddhist Explorers Dharma Fellowship which Mark leads at the LGBT Community Center. On Sunday January 16, Mark will be the guest speaker on “Being Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist and Atheist.” All are welcome, regardless of religious belief or non-belief.
Mark has coordinated and officiated at countless memorial services and “celebrations of life” over the last twenty-five years; this summer it was a life-affirming honor to officiate at the wedding of Jeffrey Folmsbee and Rei Hayashi. Also over the summer, we had the pleasure to host and reconnect with two of our Danish cousins, Tine Hjorth and Isis Hjorth, who came in separate visits. Just last month, we were happy to welcome niece Melanie Allegrini Alvarez’s husband Steve back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mark’s father, Derek de Solla Price, discovered The Antikythera Mechanism, a complex geared computer built in Greece about 80 BC. When he died in 1983, what he viewed as his most important work was largely ignored. In the May 14, 2007 issue of the New Yorker, it was finally the subject of an eight-page article and there is now an upcoming National Geographic documentary broadcast on January 20 with lots of never before seen film and images. We’re all so happy that his work is at last being recognized.
Just as we prepared to print our holiday letter, we got the sad news that our upstairs neighbor and dear friend Garry Gross died unexpectedly. He was perhaps most famous for his provocative nude photos of a then ten-year-old Brooke Shields. After his retirement from commercial photography, he became a dog trainer and dog photographer, specializing in artistic dog portraits of “senior dogs.” In November 2009 he gave us the wonderful gift last year of a studio photograph of Troika, Vinny and Mark which was the cover of last year’s holiday card and is on the top of this letter. Impermanence can be difficult…
Please visit our website www.MarkandVinny.com and/or Facebook for updates, photos and more…
Mark and Vinny Holiday Letter 2010
Troika, Vinny Allegrini, and Mark de Solla Price
Portrait by Garry Gross, November 2009
Our holiday letter is also on our website at MarkandVinny.com/Holiday2010 where it is probably more fun to read with the live “links” and all the year’s photo galleries and various writings, podcasts, and more. If we have your e-mail address already, we took the liberty of e-mailing this letter to you as well as mailing the physical card and letter by US Mail. If you only got a physical copy, then please visit our website to subscribe to our updates, opt-out, or change your e-mail address. For those who want to hear the longer narrative, the website also has the holiday letters from 2009, 2008, and 2007. Mark is still moving things over from the old, manual systems to the fully accessible “Acquia Drupal” website built using Gallery, iPhone/iPad, Mark’s Facebook, Vinny’s Facebook and Geni (genealogy) and other great tools.
The expanding website project is the result of Mark sorting, organizing and scanning through his lifetime of photos and memorabilia archived down at Manhattan Mini Storage. These walls of boxes contain the record of his efforts while employed at Studio 54 and as a producer and manager of various nightclubs and theaters in the 1980s. This is also the archive of Mark’s first thirty years of being HIV-positive and becoming an activist, author, educator and same-sex marriage equality spokesman. Although most of the content is posted to the website, some is source material for Mark’s memoir “Not Dying As Scheduled” which tells the story of Vinny and Mark’s seventeen years (and counting) together, much of the time being told they only had “weeks to live” together.
It’s my goal that the website should be not just entertaining to our friends and family who know and love us, but that it might also be useful, educational and inspirational to other folks who, like us, are going through life facing a terminal condition. That’s more people than you’d think. I like to tell people that life itself is a sexually transmitted, progressive terminal condition, so that puts everyone in our “terminal” boat. So for the website to be useful, I don’t want to stamp it all over with traditional copyright notices but rather encourage people to take what they find useful or helpful and re-use and copy it. I have been inspired in this cafeteria-plan “open source” Philosophy of Intellectual Property by my late friend and fellow AIDS activist and author Peter McWilliams. Read our “permissions page” and maybe this radical philosophy of sharing one’s written work might be one of the “useful” bits you carry on for your work.
Back in March, Jason (Woei-Ping) Chen proposed photographing us in our home for a series he was doing of same-sex married couples. Welcoming people into our home is very important to us on a spiritual level – it’s even part of our marriage vows that “We will create a wonderful home together that can be an oasis filled with serenity, happiness, and our love.” Jason turned out to be an amazing photographer, and his series captured a marvelous energy in both our relationship and our home. A number of the images are on our website, and we used the best one as the cover of our holiday card. Unfortunately, it meant that for the first time since our hurricane rescue dog Troika came to live with us on January 6, 2006, she wouldn’t be on the card. Being such a lovely dog, she didn’t complain and we assured her that there were plenty of other photos of her on our website. Troika is the healthiest family member, and so she’ll be back for next year’s photo shoot.
It’s mind boggling that it has been nine years since Vinny’s liver transplant fell through after our long, successful, groundbreaking battle to get an HIV-positive person actually approved for a transplant in the first place. Without a pending transplant, Vinny got admitted to home hospice care with “only weeks to live”. In 2006, he was kicked out of hospice care for “not dying as scheduled.” He still hasn’t made any miraculous cure and he requires daily Roxanol (liquid morphine sulfate) and battles narcolepsy and dementia. Since he’s not dead yet, he’s once again preparing our healthy meals and is able to cut hair at home for family and special friends. With all these obstacles, artistically this is the best work of his 38-year precision hair-cutting career.
Mark’s health has been especially challenging. Over the last few years Mark became disabled by the ravages from decades of HIV infection plus the very toxic effects of the treatment cocktail itself. No one knew that the reprieve from HIV could age some body parts (like some of his) at double speed. That’s why he now has conditions that usually are only seen in geriatric patients. Is 50 the new 80? For many of us long-term HIV survivors, it might be. David France wrote a powerful, must-read article in New York Magazine about exactly this: HIV patients are living longer but getting older faster. Mark had the third round of Vascular Leg Surgery in March and since then has had six rounds of lower back procedures and pain management with Opana, an opioid similar to Oxycodone. AIDS can be a chronic, treatable, manageable condition for folks like us with great insurance, terrific medical teams, and loving families, but these days getting through it has often had to be “one breath at a time.”
Thanks to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (the oldest and largest AIDS service organization) Continuing Education scholarships, Mark has been able to take two semesters of “Writing for New York City Newspapers and Magazines” by Susan B. Shapiro at the New School. Prof. Shapiro is a prolific writer who teaches how to be a working, published freelance writer. Unfortunately, Mark’s health has really gotten in the way of excelling in the class and getting as many “main stream” published clippings has he would have liked, but he learned practical skills and met many influential editors in the process, so as his health improves, the fruits of this work should pay off.
Both Vinny and Mark have been especially spiritually active this past year, both in the Unitarian Universalist and American Buddhist Communities. The Unitarian Universalist Association’s website explains that 16.5% of UUs identified themselves as being Buddhist. Some folks who come from Abrahamic Religious backgrounds (Judaism, Christianity, or Islam) might even (correctly) say that neither Unitarian Universalism nor Buddhism are technically “religions” at all, as neither include a belief (or non-belief) of God, supernatural or miraculous activity, and neither requires any statement of creed, faith or dogma.
Early in 2010, we both “signed the book” and became voting members of the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn. We had become disillusioned and unhappy at The Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist, and although Mark had been Board Chair at Community Church, we figured out the subways work in both directions and we could commute to Brooklyn Hights from the West Village on Sunday mornings, and now we couldn’t be happier in our new spiritual home Resplendent with the stained glass windows and mosaic by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a vibrant congregation of liberal and passionate folks, great music and under the care of the Senior Minister, Rev. Patrick O’Neill. In August, Mark gave sermon at First Unitarian “On Being a Church-Going Atheist.”
Mark is a student member at The Village Zendo, co-founded twenty-five years ago by Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, PhD, a Zen Priest in the White Plum Lineage. HIV/AIDS has always been a key focus. In August, Mark went on week long intensive retreat called “Jukai” or lay ordination that formalized his ethical commitment to serve the community. At this ceremony Enkyo Roshi gave Mark the Buddhist name GakuJô (? ?) meaning A steep mountain peak of mercy, love and compassion. You can read the Zen Peacemaker Moral Precepts and Philosophical Tenets on the back of our holiday card.
Both Vinny and Mark are active members of the Open Sky Sangha, which offers Buddhist teachings and meditation practice serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and the Buddhist Explorers Dharma Fellowship which meets on the third Sunday of every Month from 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm at the LGBT Community Center. On January 16, 2011 Mark will be the guest speaker on “Being Buddhist and Unitarian Universalist and Atheist”
On the international front: Over the summer, we hosted two separate visits from Danish cousins; Our niece Eva Price fell in love while teaching in Shanghai and has now moved to Australia with her boyfriend; Our niece Melanie Allegrini Alvarez’s husband Steve is back from two tour of duty, the first in Iraq and the second in Afghanistan. Mark’s father, Derek de Solla Price, who died in 1983 discovered The Antikythera Mechanism, a complex geared computer built in Greece about 80 BC. During his lifetime, what he viewed as his most important work was largely ignored. In the May 14, 2007 issues of the New Yorker, it was the subject of an eight-page article and there are now two upcoming documentary movies on the subject. The first out should be the one from National Geographic. Mark has officiated at something like two-dozen memorial services or celebrations of life; this summer Mark had the honor of officiated at the wedding of Jeffrey Folmsbee and Rei Hayashi.
Just as we prepared to print our holiday letter, we got the sad news that our upstairs neighbor and friend Garry Gross (11/6/1937 – 11/30/2010) died inexpediently. He was perhaps most famous for his provocative nude photos of a then ten-year-old Brooke Shields for Playboy publications in 1975. After his retirement from commercial photography, he became a dog trainer and dog photographer, specializing in artistic dog portraits of “senior dogs.” In November 2009 he gave us the wonderful gift last year of a studio photograph of Troika, Vinny and Mark which was the cover of last year’s holiday card and is one the top of this letter.
Please visit our website www.MarkandVinny.com and/or Facebook for updates, photos and more…
After officiating at something like two dozen funerals and memorial services over the years, today I officiated my very first wedding ceremony. What great energy and Jeff and Rei are a great, now legally married couple. See the photos here.
September 15, 2010
Welcome. We gather today to celebrate the wedding of Jeff Folmsbee and Rei Hayashi. We are here to witness the joining together of two people’s lives and of two families.
Groucho Marx joked, “Marriage is a wonderful institution…but who wants to live in an institution?”
Frankly, in the twenty-first century in New York, this is still a good question, but I think there are many really good answers.
When I asked Jeff why they want to get married and he shared with me a letter he wrote to Rei’s father. Let me share some of that with you all today…
Jeff wrote “We are entering into this union with eyes wide open, to the challenges, but more importantly, to the opportunities, for love, stability, happiness, and personal growth for both of us, each made stronger through the bond we have made with each other.
We know each others’ strengths and weaknesses very well. We are both strong-willed and independent people…
Our commitment to each other is strong. Our lives are deeply intertwined, in our personal and professional lives, because we share so many passions, especially for doing good work and living a life we can both be proud of.
I think that this is a wonderful foundation for a great marriage.
Jeff and Rei have exchanged rings as an enduring token of their love. When I asked if they wanted to do this today, Jeff said “we did that already” and I think that this is a particularly appropriate symbol that marriages happen over time, and that they are not just made in one hour on one day.
In reaffirming the relationship you have been building together, do you, Jeff Folmsbee, now take Rei Hayashi in marriage? Together in love; To work and to share; To grow and to understand; To discover a deeper and more full life; To share whatever joy and fulfillment life may hold in store? (I do)
In reaffirming the relationship you have been building together, do you, Rei Hayashi, now take Jeff Folmsbee in marriage? Together in love; To work and to share; To grow and to understand; To discover a deeper and more full life; To share whatever joy and fulfillment life may hold in store? (I do)
Jeff, if you would please sign the marriage license (Jeff signs) and now Rei (Rei signs). And now I sign it (Mark signs).
A “B-F-F” is one’s “best friend forever.” A word that you might not know if you’re not someone whose thumbs are drawn toward your mobile phone in TEXTing position I would now like to ask Jeff’s B-F-F, with “forever” being a third of a century and counting, David Kendall and Rei’s twin sister, soul mate and B-F-F, Mai Hayashi, to come forward and sign as the witnesses to the marriage certificate. (David and Mai sign).
With the love, stewardship and good wishes of all those assembled; as an interfaith minister and with the authority granted to me by the people of the City of New York, I now pronounce you to be legally married.
You may now kiss your spouse.
Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 11:00 am
First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn
THIS POSTING IS NOT YET FINAL. PLEASE CHECK BACK ON MONDAY 8/16/2010 at 9 PM.
Call to Worship
[Mark begins] Welcome. My name is Mark de Solla Price and earlier this year, I became a member here at the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn. It is an honor and a privilege to have been invited by the Worship Committee to create a service and sermon “On Being a Church-Going Atheist” for this historic congregation and for an amazing group of members and guests that are here today and who have come to mean so much to me. Thank you and welcome.
Today’s service is very much a team effort, and I especially want to thank today’s Worship Assistant Nancy Witherell and our pianist Brian Kim who put up with me being a little extra creative with the music for today.
Hymn number sixteen in our “Singing The Living Tradition” hymnal isn’t really a hymn at all, it is an 1848 Shaker Dance Song by Elder Joseph Brackett that he entitled “Simple Gifts” The Shakers were a pretty heretical bunch who valued social equality, what we would now call “voluntary simplicity” and rejected traditional family values including marriage. They also believed that the best way to show their love of life and of their god was through “turning” in dance. This was pretty shocking for “church” behavior of the day.
Emma Goldman, the early twentieth century anarchist, atheist, feminist and freethinker, once said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”
In this radical spirit, please stand in body or in spirit, join me in singing this Shaker Dance Song, hymn # 16 ‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple.
Opening Hymn # 16 ‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple
This week we have three special candles. Rather than the usual paraffin, which is a petroleum product, we’re using beeswax, which is a renewable resource.
I would now like to ask my husband of seventeen years, Vinny Allegrini, to light our Chalice.
This Chalice is styled after the flaming chalice logo set inside two offset circles that is the symbol for Unitarian Universalism. This was designed by Austrian artist Hans Deutsch for the Unitarian Service Committee during the Second World War.
As we light this chalice, we join together with over a thousand other UU congregations across the country that set aside this time on Sunday morning for a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”
And now I ask Rachel Stone and Rosemarie Stupel to come up and light our Silver Candle of Memory and the Glass Candle of Hope
Please join me in singing our “Song of Hope” which is printed on the first page of the order of service.
Song of Hope
From all that dwell below the skies
Let songs of hope and faith arise.
Let peace, good will on earth be sung
Through every land, by every tongue.
Please Greet Your Neighbor
Please take a few moments to warmly greet those near you and introduce yourself if you are not acquainted.
Words of Welcome/Announcements by Nancy Witherell
[Mark continues] As a teenage girl, my mother Ellen Rosenstand-Hjorth, was a resistance fighter against the Nazis who occupied Copenhagen, Denmark. By day, she was a schoolgirl, by night, printing the resistance newspaper and even blowing up bridges. Whenever Hitler delivered a speech, everything came to a halt and you stood listening to the ubiquitous loud speakers. Everywhere there was a forced show of Nazi patriotism.
When I was a child, I was forbidden from standing for the pledge of allegiance or any national anthem. My mom found it chillingly close to the forced Nazi pageantry of her school years during the war.
There was one song we did stand for: The Internationale. We stood in solidarity with workers everywhere.
The Internationale music by Pierre Degeyter in 1888, this arrangement by Brooklyn’s own Jerry Engelbach from 2001 with English Words by Billy Bragg.
Please stand in body or in spirit, and in solidarity with workers everywhere. The words are in your order of service.
Anthem: The Internationale
Stand up, all victims of oppression
For the tyrants fear your might
Don’t cling so hard to your possessions
For you have nothing, if you have no rights
Let racist ignorance be ended
For respect makes the empires fall
Freedom is merely privilege extended
Unless enjoyed by one and all
So come brothers and sisters
For the struggle carries on
Unites the world in song
So comrades come rally
For this is the time and place
The international ideal
Unites the human race
Let no one build walls to divide us
Walls of hatred nor walls of stone
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us
We’ll live together or we’ll die alone
In our world poisoned by exploitation
Those who have taken, now they must give
And end the vanity of nations
We’ve but one Earth on which to live
And so begins the final drama
In the streets and in the fields
We stand unbowed before their armour
We defy their guns and shields
When we fight, provoked by their aggression
Let us be inspired by like and love
For though they offer us concessions
Change will not come from above
Reading/Reflection: The Charter for Compassion
[Mark continues] On February 28, 2008 Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize and made a wish: for help creating, launching and propagating a Charter for Compassion. Since that day, thousands of people have contributed to the process so that on November 12, 2009 the Charter was unveiled to the world. It has since been affirmed by over 50,000 individuals and spiritual and political leaders around the world. Today, my dear friend Sandy Brooks will read The Charter for Compassion.
[Sandy Brooks Reads]
The Charter for Compassion
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others — even our enemies — is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women
~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion
~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate
~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures
~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity
~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings — even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.
Offertory by Nancy Witherell
Prayer and Meditation
[Mark continues] For today’s Prayer and Meditation, I would like to read a
Taoist story about not-knowing, thereby giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe.
It is from my book “Living Positively in a World with HIV/AIDS”
There is a Taoist story about a poor man who lived alone with his son in an abandoned shack outside of a small village. Their only possession was a very old workhorse. One day, the workhorse ran away. Hearing of this, all the poor man’s friends felt sorry for him: “That is so terrible for you,” they said. The poor man simply answered, “How do you know?”
The next day the old workhorse returned, bringing with it a dozen young wild horses. Everyone in the town came by to see the poor man’s miracle. “That is so wonderful for you,” they all said. The poor man again answered, “How do you know?”
The day after that, the son tried to put one of these wild horses to work in the field. Being unused to wearing a harness, the horse kicked, and the son was badly injured. Again everyone said, “That is so terrible for you”. Again the poor man simply answered, “How do you know?”
On the third day, a great army came through the village and forced all able-bodied young men to join them and fight in a great war from which few would ever return. The poor man’s son was still too bruised to go.
By the next week, the son completely recovered, and, with a dozen young, strong workhorses, the man and his son became the richest family in town. What makes something “terrible” or “wonderful”? Sometimes life’s biggest heartbreaks crack open the shell we can build around our heart. After we go through all the pain — which isn’t easy — we can be either more open, more loving, and more loved, or we can build up even more scar tissue and become more numb.
Candles of Joy and Concern
[Mark continues] I would now like to invite anyone who feels move to do so, to come up and light a Candle of Joy or Concern and call out the names of those people who are especially in our hearts and minds today.
[Mark continues] Please stand in body or in spirit, for my mother’s favorite hymn: Don’t Fence Me In by Cole Porter. The words are in your order of service.
Hymn: Don’t Fence Me In by Cole Porter
Oh, give me land, lots of land
Under starry skies above,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me ride through the wild open
Country that I love,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze-
Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees,
Send me off forever, but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in.
Just turn me loose,
Let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western sky.
On my cayuse,
Let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise.
I want to ride to the ridge
Where the west commences,
Gaze at the moon till I lose my senses,
Can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences,
Don’t fence me in.
My sermon today is titled “On Being a Church-Going Atheist”
I’ve been living with HIV/AIDS for twenty-eight years, and this perspective and experience has really shaped how I view the world, what I spend my time doing, and what I write about.
My husband, Vinny Allegrini and I are featured in an HBO documentary “Positively Naked,” about POZ Magazine’s ten-year anniversary empowering folks living with HIV/AIDS. You can watch the film from our website, MarkandVinny.com [click Positively Naked to see the video]
In the film, my friend and business partner, Sean Strub, the magazine’s founder, describes the spiritual path of living with AIDS: “Feeling your mortality enables a clarity of focus; you learn about friends, about real love. You really get an understanding of what unconditional love means. You also learn that everybody is going to die; and everybody knows that, so that isn’t news to anyone. So it isn’t about having information, but it’s about learning it, and experiencing it in your life, and realizing it. That makes the time we have while we’re alive precious and important. And for, I think, a lot of survivors of AIDS, it’s given them the inspiration and even courage to make their lives important and to have meaning.”
In the film, I say “The best news you can get is to be told that you are going to die, and then not die… No one ever dies and says, “oh, I should have been working more” – you know, they always go, I meant to be doing this, I should have been writing and I [had really] wanted to do that. When you are hit over the head with “you are going to die” it refocuses things [brilliantly]. I think this is one of the reasons that Vinny and I have had such a wonderful relationship. Because we keep on being told, “you know, you might not have much more time together,” so [we make sure to]… make the most of [every moment of] it.”
Living ethically, morally and spiritually connected is very important to me. I am a Unitarian Universalist, a Zen Buddhist, and an Atheist. “Atheist” can be a pretty controversial word, so let me talk about it a little.
There is an apocryphal story about Albert Einstein being asked if he believed in God, to which he answered, “tell me what you mean by “God” and then I’ll tell you if I believe.”
The website Does-God-Exist.net uses a definition of “God” as “referring to a fickle, angry, vengeful, needy, mass-murdering super-human being who tortured and killed his son as an expression of love and who lives in the sky?”
I don’t know if that’s a particularly useful definition of “God” and I doubt that there are too many folks who say that this is exactly the sort of “God” they believe in. But perhaps there are more than I would think.
According to a 2007 Newsweek poll, “Nine in 10 (91 percent) of American adults say they believe in God with 82 percent of the poll’s respondents identifying themselves as [Christians]. Nearly half (48 percent) of the public rejects the scientific theory of evolution; one-third (34 percent) of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact.”
To quote the theologist Woody Allen: “Not only is there no god, try getting a plumber on the weekend”
The Newsweek poll doesn’t define what they mean by “God,” but I assume most would say the God of Abraham. The Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, account for about 54% of the world’s population, and from an Industrialized, Western perspective, with the monotheistic Abrahamic religion is the de facto norm.
This isn’t the case with Unitarian Universalists, who tend to have a very different understanding of “God” and spiritual practice. A recent study found that today most UUs identify themselves as Humanist (54%), followed by Agnostic (33%), Earth-centered (31%), Atheist (18%), Buddhist (16.5%), with Christian (13.1%) and Pagan (13.1%) being tied for smallest segment.
Perhaps these weren’t the most useful questions to poll. These concepts are really fuzzy, overlapping facets of spiritual belief. Atheists reject the belief in the existence of deities and religious dogma as well as all supernatural, superstition, occult, paranormal, and magic; Humanists also reject these same things, but elevate the collective human wisdom, art and philosophy as specially reverent; Agnostics believe that many spiritual matters are inherently unknown and unknowable; I think of being Buddhist as more of a ethical philosophy and life style rather than a religion or theology, per say
Currently, the UUA represents 1,078 member congregations that collectively include more than 217,000 official members. According to the United States Census Bureau, about three-times as many people, 629,000 individuals self-identified themselves as being Unitarian/Universalist in 2001.
Both the Unitarian Universalist Principles and Buddhist Precepts recognize that we are not separate from all that is, but rather part of the interdependent web of all existence.
On February 25, 2008, Colin Nickerson of the Boston Globe reported in “Of Microbes and Men” on the findings of the Broad Institute, that ninety percent of the cells in the human body are actually non-human cells, mostly bacteria and some fungi.
“We’re not individuals, we’re colonies of creatures,” said Bruce Birren, director of microbial sequencing at the Broad Institute, a research center affiliated with both Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, about a newly launched five-year project known as the Human Microbiome (Micro-bi-ome) Project, which aims to use DNA sequencing technology similar to that used to map the human genome to catalog and understand the thousands of species of microbes that pervade five regions of the anatomy – the digestive system, mouth, nose, skin, and female urogenital tract.
Humans and their microbial colonies have evolved together as a single, extraordinarily complex ecosystem. These one hundred trillion microbes in each person aren’t just casual hitchhikers capable of causing disease; many may be so essential to our health that human life could not exist without them.
We are only just now learning that some “bugs” that we used to think only caused disease and that we’ve “cleaned up” in industrialized communities actually have important disease preventing properties as well, such as provided protection against asthma and esophageal diseases.
I found this science about humans not being individuals but interdependent colonies to be spiritually very powerful. I also think of the whole planet earth as one big living being – also made up of interdependent colonies – with it’s own intelligence. That’s why I wear lava beads to remind me that the earth itself is alive. To me, the Earth Goddess Gaia (guy-ya) doesn’t seem to be only a metaphor. This is what Baruch de Spinoza called pantheism.
My father’s good friend Carl Sagan joked: “In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”
I’ve talked about Atheists but now I’d like to tell you about some remarkable, devoted Muslims…
Zaid Kurdieh (Za-hed Kur-Deh) is about my height, build and age. He is an observant Muslim. Zaid’s grandparents had owned a farm in Palestine, where they cultivated oranges and raised sheep, but they lost their land in 1948 when the State of Israel was founded and the family end up immigrating to New York.
Zaid’s wife is Haifa Kurdieh (Hi-Fah Kur-Deh) who is perhaps 5’2” and always has her head respectfully covered with the traditional hijab (he-zjab) or headscarf.
Zaid & Haifa Kurdieh own Norwich Meadows Farm; perhaps you’ve seen them at the farmer’s market at Union Square, Tompkins Square Park, or in the dozen or so Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) that they have setup, including Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Fordham University, Central Park, Washington Square Park, South Street Seaport-Battery Park and Judson Memorial Church.
Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge to support a farm operation so that the farm becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support, and sharing the benefits and risks of food production. The prime requisite is the belief by all members that the CSA system and the farm in particular is an integral part of their everyday life by providing vital sustenance to their families.
Halal (hal-ale) literally means lawful from a religious perspective. Halal food complies with Islamic laws in the same way that Kosher food complies with Jewish laws. Beyond Halal (hal-ale), there is an additional, more-complicated Islamic principle that many devoted Muslims strive to follow: Tayyib (Tay-Yib) which means pure and good in the same way we talk about food being “organic” or “whole food” or “sustainable.” In order for a particular food to be considered tayyib, it must be created in a wholesome manner. Produce that has been sprayed with pesticides, for example, or harvested by poorly paid migrant workers, would not be tayyib.
Muslims who want to eat only tayyib foods must consider the far broader physical, social, and even ethical implications. They must ask the right questions, such “Does this milk contain antibiotics or growth hormones?” Keeping tayyib requires a higher degree of vigilance than merely eating halal does.
I have always been impressed by the theological diversity at both Unitarian Universalists and Buddhist gatherings. You have an atheist sitting next to a Christian next to a Jew next to an Earth-centered pagan or native American spirituality. It doesn’t seem like a mixed group at all because although they all might believe differently, they love the same and the practicle results of there differing faiths is remarkable similar action.
Theologically, it would seem that Zaid & Haifa Kurdieh and I couldn’t disagree more. We certainly have different views on God, religious practice, the roll of women, and homosexuality. And yet, the results of their faith produced efforts of sustainable agriculture, healthy food, fair wages, community building — and on and on — that were identical to the results of my very different beliefs.
One of my dear friends is the Unitarian Universalist Minister in Rochester, New York, the Rev. Dick Gilbert. He and I spent a week together a few years back at the week-long Unitarian Universalist Leadership Team Institute. Dick Gilbert is one of the denomination’s great experts in Social Justice work. He advises forming interfaith coalitions based on shared goals rather than shared philosophy, ideology or theology. For example, UUs and Catholics might not have a lot in common with their views on reproductive rights or homosexuality, but they absolutely can work together in environmental issues or serving the homeless or hungry.
Vinny and I facilitate the Buddhist Explorers Dharma Fellowship on the Third Sunday of each month at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. Well, except today, when we’re here and it is moved until NEXT Sunday at 2 PM. The guest speakers we have throughout the Fall are theologically diverse: a Buddhist who is also an observant Jew, one who is a Protestant Minister, one who is Lakota Sioux Native American Spirituality and one who is an Atheist, and yet they have shared practice and shared goals.
My friend, Robert Thurman, is Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University; he is also President of Tibet House and Vinny thinks of him as Uma Thurman’s dad. He was the first American to have been ordained a Tibetan Buddhist monk and has been a personal friend of Tenzin Gyatso (Ten-zin Gay-at-so) the fourteenth Dalai Lama for over 40 years. The New York Times recently called him “the leading American expert on Tibetan Buddhism.”
Vinny and I were at a lecture he gave at Tibet House, and someone in the audience asked him a theological question: “Do you believe in miracles?” He answered that the Dalai Lama always paid his complete, undivided attention to whoever was in front of him at that moment. In forty-years, not once had he ever seen him “multi-task” or zone-out, or think about the next meeting or the next trip. Robert said that he thought that THIS attention was a miracle.
In Buddhism, this interdependent mixing pot of people is called “Sangha” meaning both Community and Order. August has been an important month for me and my Sangha…
My Zen teacher, Roshi Enkyo Pat O’Hara, is the Abbot and co-founder of The Village Zendo and is one of the Founding Teachers and Co-Spiritual Director of the Zen Peacemaker Order. She received dharma transmission in both the Soto and Rinzai lines of Zen Buddhism, through the White Plum Lineage. This is the same Zen lineage as the UU minister and author Rev James Ishmael Ford. The Zen Buddhists have not historically been as progressive as the Unitarian Universalists, and it has been ground breaking for Enkyo Roshi, as both a woman, and as an out lesbian, to become one of the spiritual leaders of the denomination. She’s an amazing Zen Master.
Last Sunday, on August 8, in a ceremony called Zaike tokudo (Zai-key toe-ku-do) or householder (“lay”) ordination, Enkyo Roshi gave me the Buddhist “Dharma” name GakuJô (Gah-Koo-Joe), which means “A steep mountain peak of mercy, love and compassion.” The Zaike tokudo (Zai-key toe-ku-do) ceremony is the end of the Jukai process where a Zen student takes refuge and receives the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts, which is the Zen way of saying that I have committed myself to live an ethical, moral life, to do good for others, to work to save all sentient beings, and to be both a member and a steward of the Sangha.
Rev. Bruce Southworth, the long-time Senior Minister at The Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist is found of saying “that prayer doesn’t change things, prayer changes people, and people change things”
At the Village Zendo, there is an Evening Gatha or prayer that is recited at the end of the evening meditation period. I think it does change people. Let me recite it for you…
Let me respectfully remind you –
Life and death are of Supreme Importance
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost
Each of us should strive to awaken… Awaken!
Take heed. Do not squander Your Life.
[Mark continues] On November 27, 1978, Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were murdered in San Francisco. The gay community took to the streets in protest, in outrage and in mourning. Holly Near, the social activist, singer-songwriter who performed here this last year as part of our wonderful First Acoustics Series, and my Facebook friend, wrote what would become our Hymn 170 “We Are A Gentle, Angry People, Singing, singing for our lives” It’s a great song.
But sometimes, being angry people can get in our way. As Unitarian Universalists, our faith calls us to social activism. We are a quirky bunch of strongly opinionated people with a broad range of theologies, but we have a great history of working together for the greater good.
Please stand in body or in spirit, and sing Hymn # 170 We Are a Gentle, Angry People by Holly Near
Closing Hymn: Hymn # 170 We Are a Gentle, Angry People by Holly Near
Mark de Solla Price talks “On Being a Church-Going Atheist”
August 15, 2010 at 11:00 am
First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn
Rev. McKinney Chapel (enter on Pierrepont between Clinton and Monroe)
50 Monroe Place, Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201
Mark de Solla Price is an AIDS Activist and Zen Buddhist living in Greenwich Village. Mark is a writer, public speaker, civil rights activist, HIV/AIDS educator and technology/management consultant. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book “Living Positively in a World with HIV/AIDS” from Avon Books/Hearst Magazines and numerous blogs and magazine articles. Mark is a long time Greenwich Village resident and has been living with HIV/AIDS for almost thirty years. He was a featured subject (together with his husband Vinny Allegrini) in the HBO documentary “Positively Naked” with Spencer Tunick and has been a media spokesman for same-sex marriage equality and a long-time advocate of the hospice movement.
Mark is one of the lay leaders of the Buddhist Explorers Dharma Fellowship at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in NY and is an active member of the Village Zendo, the Buddhist Council of New York City, and First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn.
Mark was one of the leaders of “The Healing Circle” in the 1980’s and1990’s. Mark continues to serve on many charitable boards, and was Board Chair of The Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist and a long-time member of the Ethelwyn Doolittle Justice and Outreach Fund that gives annual grants supporting human rights, civil liberties, racial justice, and environmental concerns. In 2009 and 2010, Mark served on the panel awarding the annual Jerry Davidoff Sermon Award from the Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness.
Mark is also an ordained interfaith minister and student of Zen Buddhism with Roshi Enkyo Pat O’Hara, the Abbot and co-founder of the Village Zendo Buddhist Temple in SoHo.
For more information, Mark’s writing and blogs, thousands of photos, videos, and podcasts visit http://MarkdeSollaPrice.com/
(for directions to First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, click here)
My name is Reverend Mark de Solla Price and I have lived at 235 West 4th Street for sixteen years under rent stabilization. You have already heard from my husband Vinny Allegrini.
I have been living with HIV/AIDS for 28 years, and have been largely homebound and on disability for the last four years. My illness causes me to be very sensitive to chemicals and smells, which can trigger a six-hour migraine episode or send me to the hospital (although where that would be is an other issue)
Our apartment is on the second floor facing the block’s shared central courtyard. In the past, this courtyard has been a calm oasis, but it easily turns into an echo chamber for sound, smells and smoke.
The priceless value of this common resource is perhaps why the neighbors who share it have become so tight knit and mutually helpful in it’s stewardship. It’s a special block that is both extensively residential and the home to ten busy commercial operations, largely restaurants and bars.
Fedora Dorato has always been a wonderful neighbor. When she opened in the 1950’s, hers was one of the only restaurants that welcomed same-sex couples. Although she’s a dynamo, at aged 89, her restaurant was only open 5 days a week, and on those days, only open to about 11 PM. Fedora’s was a quite local restaurant serving an older crowd. Hearing about plans for seven-days a week. Being open to 2 AM or perhaps 4 AM. Perhaps using the garden courtyard and certainly with much more traffic, kitchen noise and smells is VERY worrisome.
This new Fedora seems like a totally different sort of place. I respectfully ask that the Community Board 2 consider the impact to the current residents when considering allowing these major changes. Thank you.
My name is Vinny Allegrini, and my husband and I have lived at 235 West 4th Street for sixteen years. I have also been battling full-blown AIDS and other life-challenging conditions for those sixteen years. I was a Home Hospice patient in this home from December 31, 2001 until March 31, 2006, when my insurance coverage was exhausted and I had not died on schedule. I am still on disability and largely homebound here.
Our apartment is on the second floor facing the block’s shared central courtyard. Our living room is 21 feet from the Fedora’s kitchen roof. The bed in our bedroom, where I spend most of my time, is 17 feet from Fedora’s rear garden.
In addition to comprehensive pain management with multiple daily doses of morphine, I require oxygen, my husband and I need to take this shoebox of AIDS medication and other medications for each week. Again, this is only ONE WEEK worth of our medications.
I am a very sick and frail man. I am frightened by the unintended consequences of Gabriel Stulman’s new plans for Fedora. Simple things like kitchen exhaust fans and restaurant staff taking smoking breaks out the kitchen door until 2 am — or even 4 am – seven days a week pose a very real threat to my ability to stay alive and to stay in my home with my husband and my loving dog Troika. I don’t have the stamina to wait a year or two as we work out the kinks along the way.
I respectfully ask that the Community Board 2 consider these costs when considering allowing these major changes. Thank you.
aOn May 17th I will celebrate my 50th birthday. Having lived with HIV/AIDS for close to thirty years, at this point in my life, I don’t need lots more “things,” but I do want to ask for your support for the Village Zendo, a Zen Buddhist Temple that is so important for me and our community.
Over the last few years I’ve become disabled by the ravages from decades of HIV infection plus the very toxic effects of the treatment cocktail itself. No one knew that the reprieve from HIV could age some body parts (like some of mine) at double speed. That’s why I now have conditions that usually are only seen in geriatric patients. Is 50 the new 80? For many of us long-term HIV survivors, it might be.
I’m fortunate to have a great health care team with various insurances that mostly grant me access, but each day – many times each day – I need to recommit to making healthy choices, ethical choices, finding inner peace, building community, helping others and being engaged in social activism to help heal our planet. It is continuously waking-up and recognizing (again) the interdependence and the Impermanence of all things, For me, becoming a Zen Buddhist and working with remarkable teachers creates the calm and the framework that leads me closer to this path and my goal of “being in the zone”.
The Village Zendo is an amazing sanctuary offering meditation, workshops, and retreats for about 125 students. Co-founded twenty-five years ago by Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, PhD, a Zen Priest in the White Plum Lineage. HIV/AIDS has always been a key focus. Roshi Enkyo is a national spiritual leader, feminist and lesbian. Valuing diversity in race, class, gender, age, theology, nationality and health makes this a unique Buddhist spiritual home. For example, Vinny and I are one of many gay married couples.
In August, I hope to take the next step in my studies under Roshi Enkyo and the other great teachers by participating in an intensive “Jukai” or lay ordination retreat formalizing my ethical commitment to serve the community. But the cost is beyond what I can afford on disability income. But with your help, you could make this happen for me, as well as so many other Zen students who need help.
Your support matters much more to me than the amount of your check or on-line contribution by clicking here. Even $5 tells me that I’m not doing this alone. That is the best birthday present I could get. Please write a tax-deductible check to “Village Zendo” for $5, $25, $150 or whatever fits and click on-line or mail it in an envelope to:
Village Zendo, In Honor of Mark’s 50th, 588 Broadway, Suite 1108, New York, NY 10012-5238
Thank you for your love and support!
Mark de Solla Price