Introduction to Buddhist Practice for Non-Buddhist

 

Speaking on Buddhist Practice at Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center
Mark de Solla Price (?? GakuJô), a Secular Humanist Chaplain Speaking on Buddhist Practice at Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center http://gaycenter.org/

I would like to welcome all of you to the Buddhist Explorers Group. I really appreciate each of you braving the blizzard of 2009 and finding your way here to our new venue at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center. Our Buddhist Explorers Group has been meeting for about fifteen years across town. For those who might not know the Center, our new home has been such vital part of the community for twenty-six years this month. I’m really excited about our future here and I personally am very grateful that Orie Urami, could make room for our program with less than a week’s notice.
We will begin promptly at one o’clock and end promptly at two. We will start with an introduction and explanation, then the meditation for about 10 minutes followed by a “Dharma talk” or teaching. Most months these talks are by invited guest teachers – today, you’ve got me. We’ll wrap up with some time where you can share your questions and comments.
My name is Mark de Solla Price and I’m one of the lay leaders of our Buddhist Explorers Group. I am also a beginning student of Soto Zen Buddhism. In addition to being a Buddhist, I also consider myself to be both an atheist and a Unitarian Universalist. I’ll talk a little more about theology and ethical philosophy a little later after the meditation.
When I became HIV-positive in the early 1980s, there were no effective treatments for the disease. Our only option, in the bad old days, was peer-support and patient empowerment activism. I was one of many members of support groups and political actions. At the time, I was lucky and happened not to get sick, and since I tended towards being a bit obsessive compulsive and made my living as a technology and management consultant, I was the guy who made the handouts and compiled the notes, so as the early trailblazers died off, I stepped in and inherited being an accidental group leader. This, in turn, led to my writing my book “Living Positively in a World with HIV/AIDS” to carry on their legacy. This work kept on in magazine articles and the varied content on our website.
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. In the film, my friend 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.”

I know this is true for me. It has led to why I’m driven along my ethical and spiritual path. Just for the record, I am not a Zen Master nor have I “received dharma transmission” to be authorized to be a Buddhist Teacher. Some of you may have read that I’m an Interfaith Minister, which is legally true, and I’m authorized by the city of New York to officiate at weddings and funerals, but I am not a Unitarian Universalist minister. I am just a fellow student on a spiritual path with an imperfect understanding and imperfect practice. I’m glad we’re all here to Explore Buddhist Practice together.
I’m wearing the traditional lay robes that are encouraged for all students in my temple’s tradition. It’s comfortable, uniformly boring and esthetically calming. Imagine a room full of activists – it would be hard to meditate because you’d want to read everybody’s T shirts and buttons. It also has the effect like school uniforms. There’s no picking the right outfit or judging who isn’t cool. On the downside, it was Mark Twain who said “beware any activity that requires buying new clothes.”
Some more housekeeping before we get to our meditation. There is a bright pink evaluation form and we’d really like to hear back from each of you after our program today. There’s also a piece of shameless self-promotion: my husband Vinny is in the SAGE Singers and they have their holiday concert on Tuesday at 7 PM at Rutgers Church on West 73rd Street. More details are on the holiday-themed flyer.
I have put together a ten-page Buddhist handout with some background information that you can read at your leisure. The electronic version is on-line with a link from our Facebook group page, as are the text and audio podcast from my program today.
On page two of the handout, you’ll see the exciting programs we have through April. Page three is the newly unveiled (11/12/09) Charter for Compassion (please go to the website to add your name in support before the end of the year); Page Four has the Unitarian Universalist Seven Principles and Sources; Page Five are the comparable “precepts” which are the ethical heart of the Zen Peacemaker Order’s Work and Practice; Page Six are the “Recommendations for Zen Student Practice” from my teacher at Village Zendo, Roshi Enkyo – I put them in because they are wise, but also because they suggest a much higher level of commitment and showing up than many of us are used to in other spiritual paths; Page Seven is a good list of some places to shop-around if you’re interested in Buddhist practice; you’ve got to love page eight – any spiritual path that has a sacred document with a smiling cartoon frog, gets points in my book. The last two pages are a piece I wrote for Village Zendo Journal that’s about personal narrative and compassion.
As I said, I’ll talk a little more about some of the why and what of Buddhism, theology and ethical philosophy a little later after the meditation. For me, the most important part Buddhism is all about regular practice rather than just theoretical study. It is similar to learning how to play a musical instrument. One learns through practice, not by reading about technique.
There are a lot of different possibilities for meditation practice. People are different, and different practices work well for different people. When you find something that works for you, stick with it. If it doesn’t feel right for you, try another form. Today we’ll practice Soto Zen Counted Breath meditation, which is the same style we did last month.

Let’s begin.
Every body is unique and you are not the same as you were yesterday or will be tomorrow. Listen to your body more than you listen to me. Make any changes that you need to, to be right for your body today.
You’ll want to put down anything you might be holding on to; turn off your mobile phone; You don’t want to be sitting on a wallet or other stuff in your pockets. Some people like to take off their shoes so they feel more grounded to the floor.

Posture: you want to be in a comfortable position with an erect spine, open chest, soft belly, so you can breathe fully and easily. Many Buddhist traditions sit on a cushion on a mat, like I am, but I sit much higher than is typical because of health issues with my back and legs. Unfortunately, we don’t have Zafu cushions and Zabuton mats available today, but you might want to try them out and see if they are helpful for you.
As you are sitting in a chair, move a few inches forward, so your back isn’t against the back of the chair – this will help you not to slouch and maintain a straight posture, as if your body was a puppet suspended by a string from the crown of your head. You will want to plant your feet firmly on the floor.
How you hold your hands is called the “Mudra”. Right hand palm up, left hand on top of it; thumbs just touching with your hands resting in your lap. If your mind starts to wander, you might notice your thumbs drifting apart or pushing too hard together. This helps as an early warning system to re-focus your attention.
If you close your eyes, it’s easy to drift off to sleep, so we keep them open half-way not looking at anything just gazing down at 45 degrees in a soft focus.
You should clear your mind, breathe in, breathe out, and count one. Breathe in, breathe out, and count two. Breathe in, breathe out, and count three. If your mind wanders and you start to think about your afternoon plans, or you start looking around the room or move, return your attention to an empty mind, breathe in, breathe out, and start again counting one. If you get to ten, you start over again at one. Everybody’s mind wanders off, the key is to keep “waking up” again and clearing the mind. That’s the whole heart of this practice: keep “waking up”
We’ll begin with three strikes of the gong. We’ll meditate for ten minutes today, and we’ll end with two strikes of the gong.

[starting gong, 10-minute meditation, ending gong]
Siddh?rtha Gautama was a Hindu prince who lived about 2,500 years ago. Wikipedia guesses at his birth in 563 BC to his death in 483 BC. This is the person we call “the Buddha” which means “awakened one” or “the enlightened one.” That’s him depicted in the bronze statue next to the UU chalice and the Tibetan-style prayer wheel with the serenity prayer.
The traditional mythology is that he was a prince in what is now Nepal, who lived a very sheltered life until he was about 30. When he finally encountered sickness, old age and death, he tried to overcome them by fasting and living the life of an ascetic monk. That didn’t help. Then he meditated and upon deep reflection he finally “woke up” and became enlightened to let him see things with compassion and understanding, to find the Middle Way, a path of moderation and one-ness with all things.
The modern Unitarian Universalist principles use the terms “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” and “The inherent worth and dignity of every being.” In sports training, they use phrases like “being in the zone.”
I think of enlightenment as a direction, not a destination. For me, it’s like health or happiness. One doesn’t really ever become “completely healthy” but through practice, one can become healthier, or happier, or more enlightened. For me, on my good days, for a little while, I can find this. I feel at peace, happy, productive, and aware of being part of the whole world. Then it slips away again. I follow my spiritual practice so I feel that way more often, for longer periods with deeper intensity.
It is important to understand that the Buddha is not a super-natural being or divine prophet. He was just a person like you or me. In fact, tradition says that he was not the first Buddha nor was he the most recent one. The purpose of the statue of Buddha is to remind ourselves that each of us has that potential within ourselves; we just need to “wake up”

Buddhism is very different from the Abrahamic Monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Some would argue that Buddhism is not even a religion because it does not include (or exclude) any theology or religious belief or concept of God. Rather, it’s a set of ethical philosophy and lifestyle practices.
I like Fuji Apples and dislike Concord Grapes. These facts are certainly important to me, but they aren’t anything that is important to my Buddhist Practice. This is similarly true about religion and Buddhist Practice:
I know Buddhists who are devote Christians, Jews and Muslims. I know Rabbis, Ministers, Priests and Nuns who are also Buddhists. I also know LOTS of Atheists who are Buddhists. There are also many forms of Buddhism that do include supernatural belifs and religious creeds and dogma. For example, Tibetan Buddhists believe that Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama
Not unlike Buddhism, being modern Unitarian Universalism is also more of an ethical philosophy rather than a religion. There’s been a long history where the two overlap. The very first English translations of a Buddhist text appears in Unitarian-affiliated… The Dial Magazine, published by Ralph Waldo Emerson, edited by Margaret Fuller and contributed to by Henry David Thoreau.
According to a recent study by the Unitarian Universalist Association, UUs identify themselves as Humanist (54%), Agnostic (33%), Earth-centered (31%), Atheist (18%), Buddhist (16.5%), Christian (13.1%), Pagan (13.1%). Put another way: one out of 6 UUs are also Buddhists.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote in his book “A Code of Jewish Ethics: Volume 1:” that “We become good people not by thinking good thoughts but by doing good deeds again and again” I think that’s true, but that’s only part of the picture, because our minds are so full of chatter that we need to clear our mental and spiritual decks. That’s where meditation comes in.
Buddhist Practice is something one does every day like aerobic exercise or yoga or swimming or eating right. Start off a little every day (maybe 5 of 10 minutes each day) and slowly build up to say 30 minutes twice a day. You don’t have to have perfect understanding or perfect form to get enormous benefits. I’m a big reader, but as I said earlier, no amount of reading about these things takes the place of actually doing them regularly.
There are lots of different styles of Buddhist practice and styles of meditation. I tend towards being a bit obsessive compulsive, so I like to discipline and order of Soto Zen Counted Breath meditation; Vinny come from a tradition of guided mediation (he’ll be leading the group in April); Tibetian Buddhist include chanting; Won Buddhist include a form of yoga; In my 20s and 30s, I followed a Taoist practice of Tai Chi;
Shop around and see what’s right for you. If you find something that you like, stick with it for a while. Just like eating a few healthy meals or going to the gym for a few days might be a good start, sticking with whatever works for you is what make you physically and spiritually healthy.
A friend’s credo is to do something every day for both his personal physical fitness and his for his spirit. It shows. I invite you to do the same thing.
My teacher, Roshi Enkyo founder of the Village Zendo suggests that every day we meditate, study, communicate, act and care. On my desk is a plque that says “be here now” and “do what you are doing” I’d like to spend the rest of our time doing communicating and caring and being here now, by going round-robin around the group. Sharing how you are right now.
That you all for sharing your time today. I ask you all to fill out the bright pink evaluation forms. This wonderful space costs us $30 each month to meet, so if you’re able, please contribute what you can into the black Buddha Bowl.

Next month, January 17, 2010, we have my friends Koshin Paley Ellison and Chodo Robert Campbell from New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care share their Zen Buddhist Perspective on Hospice Care and Chaplaincy. Perhaps you saw the article about their program in last week’s Sunday New York Times.
Thank you and safe journey home.

Mark and Vinny Holiday Letter 2009

 

This year’s holiday letter is also on-line at MarkandVinny.com/Holiday2009 where it is probably more fun to read electronically with links and photos, our various writings, videos and more. Although we’ve published newsletters and blogs since 1995 when Mark wrote his book “Living Positively in a World with HIV/AIDS”, this year we’ve reconnected with friends and relatives with social networking and community building tools like Facebook and Geni (genealogy). We are also moving all our website content over from old, manual systems to a really cool (and disabilities friendly) website built with Joomla, Gallery and iPhone.
Thanksgiving is the third anniversary of Mark having to go out on disability. Last year we wrote “in December 2007, Mark completed a very difficult yearlong successful treatment for hepatitis C. Thankfully, he became one of the lucky few to be effectively cured. Unfortunately, in the process it put a lot of stress on his various underlying medical conditions caused by living with (and treating) HIV for 25 years.” This is all still true, but it is now 26+ years of wear and tear with HIV. Although last year’s problems mostly got patched up, in addition to chronic fatigue, this year Mark has been dealing with type II diabetes, lower back degeneration (requiring lumbar epidural steroid injections, ablation surgeries, physical therapy with ongoing oxycodone pain management) and more vascular and leg problems with even more physical therapy.
By the end of 2009, in this year alone, Mark and Vinny will have together taken 21,168 pills, 1,460 injections or transdermals, and swallowed 2,190 oral solutions (with a pharmacy retail cost of $108,000) and we have gone to 119 doctor or therapist appointments in ‘09. Luckily, it’s mostly covered by our private insurance that costs $28,383.96 per year (up until now paid by NY State, but the new budget is unclear).
Unfortunately, this sort of early aging and multiple systems failures are quite common in folks who have lived with HIV/AIDS for decades. Every year with HIV can be like two or three years without. Mark will turn 50 in May 2010 (hopefully), but some of his body parts act like they are already 80. David France wrote a great feature story in New York Magazine 11/1/2009 about just this sort of thing “Another Kind of AIDS Crisis: A striking number of HIV patients are living longer but getting older faster-showing early signs of dementia and bone weakness usually seen in the elderly.” This is important to read, and it’s on-line.
Vinny has been increasingly perky and narcoleptic. The narcolepsy means time getting stuck like the tin man in Wizard of Oz or unexpectedly facedown into his soup. The extra perky time has allowed Vinny to take weekend trips with family and friends and enjoy cooking more at home. He has joined the SAGE Choir (mostly gay seniors) and has volunteered with the successful campaign to reelect NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The later being a divisive issue with many of our liberal, democrat friends who see Mayor Mike just as a Republican Billionaire. Read Mark’s Testimony at Public Hearing on NYC Term Limits Legislation.
Both Vinny and Mark have found increasing comfort and fulfillment in both Unitarian Universalist activism and compassion in conjunction with Buddhist practice and teaching. We’re spending a lot less time at Community Church of NY UU, and have become ethical and spiritual community bumblebees journeying between Village Zeno (Soto Zen Buddhist), All Souls NY UU, First Brooklyn UU, QueerDharma, Dharma Punx, Manhattan Won Buddhists, and even Judson Memorial Church and Middle Collegiate Church (they are liberal Christian and we aren’t Christians). We’re also spending more time involved with programs at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center and Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), And yes, Mark still considers himself to be an Atheist although he’s also a card-carrying ordained interfaith minister (for officiating at weddings and funerals); Vinny believes in a God, but just isn’t a Christian anymore.
Mark’s passion for writing has returned, although pain management and chronic extreme fatigue keep getting in the way of getting much done on the new book he started last year. He has been able to update the website and do two magazine pieces this year: one for POZ Magazine on the successful management of his diabetes by injecting Gila Monster Spit (Byetta™) twice daily and one for Village Zendo Journal that’s about personal narrative and compassion entitled “Avalokitesvara’s Missing Arm”. Mark will also be giving a public dharma talk (sermon) on “An Introduction to Buddhist Practice for Unitarian Universalists” on December 20, 2009 from 1-2 PM for the Buddhist Explorers Group (New York City) in the Chapel of Peace at Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist. Everyone is welcome (see the website for details). The text and audio will be available afterward on our website.
Back in the early 1980s, when Mark worked for Studio 54 and the Palladium and also produced musical theater, he was one of a few thousand members of “The Saint” an over-the-top private gay dance nightclub. It was a sort of country club for urban gay men in the Disco era. It cost an unheard of $4.5 million and I doubt that its architectural and technologically brilliant design will ever be equaled. It provided a camera-free and safe place for gay men to party and play in a world where it could be career ending to be seen doing so. It filled a unique space in time, opening a decade after gay nightclubs first became legal in NY, but when such privacy was still necessary. When it closed in 1988, the gay community (and especially The Saint membership) had been decimated by AIDS and stigma. There was no party left. This year, there were two “alumni dance reunions.” It was magic to spend time under a disco ball with a few old friends who remembered me when I was young and HIV-free. Some looked like now-grey-haired Calvin Klein underwear gods; others like retirement home residents; some sober; some clearly a mess. And many like me, fellow injured veterans of the AIDS war, remembering the magical times and all too many ghosts.
This autumn, our family faced some life challenges: Vinny’s Aunt Eleanor Mill (1927 – 2008), the widely syndicated liberal newspaper op-ed cartoonist, died. Mark’s sister Linda’s daughter, Beckie, became a single mother with her daughter Adriana; and Vinny sister Maria’s daughter, Melanie, had a second child that was stillborn. Her first son Gabriel just turned three and is a joy. Her husband Steven is about to be deployed to Afghanistan with the CT Army National Guard 102nd Infantry; his first deployment was to Iraq.
Unlike many of our friends, fellow UUs and fellow Buddhists, we’re not pacifists. This is also why we’ve been so especially active this year in supporting a campaign for a US Department of Peace and the newly unveiled (11/12/09) Charter for Compassion (please go to the website add your name in support), as well as our continuing efforts with the Earth Charter, ACLU and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Mark’s mother Ellen grew up as a resistance fighter in Nazi-occupied Denmark. As children we learned that sometimes there are great evils in the world where, as a last resort, violent opposition, even lethal force, can be required. But also growing up in the UN community (Mark’s father was with UNESCO in addition to being a Yale professor), we learned that violence should only be a very last resort, and that non-violent conflict resolution, such as diplomacy and mediation (Mark is a court-trained mediator) need to be primary.
Like so many others, this has been an especially difficult year for us financially. For us, it’s been probably the most challenging since Vinny went into home hospice care in 2001. We want to thank you all for the incredible support we’ve received from our family and friends. We continue to welcome your donations of money and time. You can donate electronically at MarkandVinny.com/donate. Donations will show as being to “Mark and Vinny Foundation” but sorry, they it is NOT tax deductable.

You can also mail a check to our address:

Mark de Solla Price and/or Vinny Allegrini

Mark and Vinny Foundation

235 West 4th Street # 2 R

New York, NY 10014-2658

With our physical challenges, we have all sorts of household chores that could really benefit from the help of an able-bodied person for a few hours. We’d love to socialize while we put you to work 😉

Please visit our website www.MarkandVinny.com and/or Facebook for updates, photos and more…
 • • •
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 actor 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.

Avalokitesvara’s One Missing Arm

Chinese porcelain statue of Avalokitesvara (“Lord who looks down”) in her female form; the bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.

For me, who we are as human beings are defined by the stories we choose in our lives. These narratives weave the fabric of our existence. They define who we are; they shape how we are growing; they are how we will be remembered. They illustrate our values and priorities. They give us perspective and meaning and define our purpose and place in the universe. They can make us laugh and they create the bonds with our fellow travelers on this life journey.

Our narratives include our own autobiography, our memoir, and our family legends. They are more than a true record of history, because sometimes objective details can get in the way of painting the larger picture that reveals the important truths. But the majority of our narrative are stories, myths, allegories, parables, morality tales that are important to us, and how we choose to tell these stories.

I have my own lifetime adventures and family legends, but I also tell the tales of civil rights battles, scientific and artistic achievements and philosophical journeys. As a writer, I am an avid reader and love story-telling in all media. Some important spiritual narratives in my life come from stories like The Wizard of Oz, Winnie the Pooh, Star Wars and Harry Potter.

Taoist stories have long been an important part of my narrative toolbox, and now as a very new student of Zen Buddhism with Roshi Enkyo O’Hara at Village Zendo, I’m learning a whole new perspective and dimension. I think of enlightenment as a direction, not a destination. For me, it’s like health or happiness. One doesn’t really ever become “completely healthy” but through practice, one can become healthier, or happier, or more enlightened.

Perhaps that is why I am inspired by the Buddhist stories of the bodhisattva (??; pronounced bo-dee-SAHT-vah) or enlightened beings, because I think each of us can choose to be a bodhisattva and through practice become more enlightened and help others along this same path.

The way I tell the story of Avalokitesvara (pronounced Avah-lo-kee-TESH-varah; also called Kwan Yin in China), this was a person who had so much compassion, so much empathy and awareness, such a desire to “give a helping hand to those in need” that the universe gave her one thousand helping hands and arms to be able to help those in need.

Avalokitesvara did not get an infinite number of arms to instantly help all those in need. For me, this is an important part of the story that tells us that you can’t help everybody, but you can help a lot more people and do a lot more good than anyone would realistically or rationally believe one could.

In the Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams” the motto was “If you build it, they will come.” Perhaps the corresponding Avalokitesvara motto would be “If you really want to, you can help.”

I have experienced that the universe really does provide this sort of 1000-arm super ability to help people who put their whole being into helping others. When my husband Vinny was at his lowest point with “weeks to live” in home hospice care. He had dementia and was in a hospital bed in our living room, on oxygen and morphine and in a diaper, he still had an unstoppable desire to help others. If someone came to visit who really needed a haircut, Vinny would will himself to get out of bed and steadied by the home health aide, would give a beautiful, transformative precision hair cut. You could literally see the life-force, which I think of as chi, flowing through Vinny’s body for the rest of the day. Helping others was his miracle cure.

With this as part of our personal narrative, you can imagine why we wanted a statue of Avalokite?vara for our household altar. But Vinny and I live on disability incomes these days, and all the statues I found were beyond our price range. Then, one day, I found a beautiful one in a local shop near the Village Zeno for only $28. The shop owner considered this statue to be nearly worthless because it was broken and imperfect.

I could see that this Avalokitesvara once had twenty-four helping hands and arms, and now only had twenty-three. It certainly had become broken and imperfect. But aren’t we all broken and imperfect? Vinny and I are perhaps more imperfect and broken than most:

I have been living with HIV/AIDS for 26 years, and have hepatitis C, diabetes, lower back degeneration, extreme fatigue and half-dozen serious medical conditions that I need to tell each new “-ologist” as they get added to my medical team.

Vinny has been living with HIV/AIDS for 20 years, has hepatitis B, and narcolepsy (which is kind of ironic being a Buddhist, that literally means “awake one”) and because of end-stage liver disease was in home hospice care with “weeks to live” from 2001. They kicked him out of the hospice program in 2006 not because he got better, but because his coverage was exhausted.

Vinny and I may be badly broken, but we’re not done yet. I think a somewhat broken and imperfect Avalokitesvara is the perfect symbol to motivate us each day as we dedicate what’s left of our lives to helping others.

[This was written for publication in the Village Zendo Journal, December  2009 © Mark de Solla Price]

Mark and Vinny’s “Marriage Wall”

Mark and Vinny’s Three Marriages (to each other)

We met on June 16, 1993, which is the anniversary date we celebrate (so it is 16+ years and counting), but there are also three more marriages…

(top to bottom right) Our First Wedding Invitation (9/3/1993) with a nice congratulatory note from President Bill and Hillary Clinton; Certificate of Marriage (making it fully legal; our third wedding at Unitarian Universalist Meeting House of Provincetown, MA 9/16/2005); Renewal of Vows (we count this as our “Second Wedding”) was officiated by a Catholic priest, Father Cesar Espinoda on 11/13/2003.

(top to bottom left) Mark and Vinny as a wedding cake decoration (made by Mark’s sister, Linda Demichele for our first wedding); Wedding “Ketubah” (a Jewish tradition) with our vows, officiated by Rabbi Charles Lippman and signed under the stewardship by all 125 wedding guests (a Quaker idea); the official blessing of Pope John Paul II on our fifth wedding anniversary.

(top center) The tenth anniversary cover of POZ Magazine (May 2004), by Spencer Tunick, which we’re both part of, and which is the subject of the HBO documentary “Positively Naked”, where we are also prominently featured.

All the frames are made by Mark’s brother, Jeff Price from The Artists’ Market in Norwalk, CT.

For the gallery of over eighty photographs from our wedding http://markdesollaprice.com/gallery2/v/1995-09-03/

For the gallery of the framed pictures on the wall http://markandvinnie.com/gallery/main.php?g2_view=core.ShowItem&g2_itemId=5271

{“The Wedding Wall” showing Mark and Vinny’s various marriage documents. With the mirror at the center and going clockwise from the top right: The original wedding invitation from September 3, 1995; (in the same frame) best wishes from President Bill and Hillary Clinton; the marriage certificate from September 15, 2005; the renewal of vows officiated by the hospice Chaplin; the Pope’s blessing; Katuba; Cake Top with Mark as IT Director and Vinny as Hair Stylist; at the top, the Tenth Anniversary issue of POZ (as featured in the HBO Documentary “Positively Naked”)]

The Wedding Wall showing Mark and Vinny's various marriage documents.

The Wedding Wall showing Mark and Vinny’s various marriage documents.

Kombucha Tea to…Gila Monster Spit? (POZ Magazine)

http://www.poz.com/articles/jtea_lizard_hiv_2341_16819.shtml

July / August 2009

Kombucha Tea to…Gila Monster Spit?

by Mark de Solla Price

In the early days of AIDS, my friends and I searched desperately for treatments. We tried some pretty weird stuff, like Japanese kombucha mushroom tea. Then HIV meds appeared (and worked), and I grew accustomed to taking more traditional treatments in pills and shots.

But now, 26 years into life with HIV/AIDS, I have a slew of other conditions—including, most recently, diabetes. My damaged liver rules out various oral diabetes meds, so I inject a new drug, Byetta (exenatide). Doing background reading, I was transported back to those early days of HIV treatments with odd names and origins: Byetta is a synthetic form of the saliva of the venomous Gila monster—a protein in the lizard’s spit helps control blood sugar. Though recent FDA reports alarmingly link Byetta to cases of pancreatitis, it seems to work for me. Gotta love that lizard.

###

Mark’s Resignation from leadership of Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist

January 31, 2009 (An open letter)Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist Chalice with flame

Dear Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist,

I believe that it is essential to have an empowered, effective and engaged Board of Trustees representing the congregation. The actions leading up to and at the Congregational Annual Meeting on January 25, have, I believe, undermined this and have made it clear to me that it will be impossible for me to fulfill my legal and fiduciary responsibilities as I see them (please see more detail below).

Therefore, at the Special Board Meeting immediately after the Annual Meeting, I declined reelection as Board Chair and resigned from my various volunteer leadership positions serving on the Board of Trustees, the Strategic Planning and Congregational Self-Assessment Team, and from the Communications Committee (which I also chaired).

For now, I will retain my congregational membership and continue to serve on the Ethelwyn Doolittle Justice and Outreach Fund Committee and as a member of the Anti-Racism Committee. I continue to support the Unitarian Universalist denomination and will continue my justice making activism as well has pursuing my spiritual path as a [Zen Buddhist,] Humanist, Pantheist, and Atheist both at Community Church and at other venues, including the other New York City Unitarian Universalist congregations.

Some have suggested that after this very difficult and divisive period, we need to move on, support our minister, and begin healing. I think that this would be skipping a vital step and would be unproductive. Just as one must properly clean out a wound before bandaging it up to prevent that wound from becoming infected and festering over time, I would suggest that it is important to look at the underlying causes of this conflict. We skipped that step five years ago, and suffered the consequences.

Although some of the conflict was caused by poor process and falling short of our covenant to always “treat each other with kindness and respect” – a failing on all sides – I think a larger component were differing expectations on how we agree to work together and how we “do church.”

Just over a year ago (January 6, 2008) UUA President Rev. William Sinkford said to me “There are no solo acts in our faith work, everything we do features an amazing ensemble team cast.” That’s simply not true at Community Church.

Rev. Bruce Southworth is a solo act. He’s like Barbra Streisand, Jay Leno, and Michael Phelps. Community Church has a history of solo acts with John Haynes Holmes and Donald Harrington – perhaps it’s in the DNA of what it means to be Community Church of New York UU.

Ensemble Ministry (I don’t use the term “shared ministry” because that means such different things to different people) can be compared to a Jazz ensemble, a Broadway Musical such as “A Chorus Line”, a symphony orchestra, or say “Saturday Night Live” or “The New York Yankees” in good years. No one leader, just a team effort.

This is not meant as a pejorative or criticism of Rev. Bruce Southworth or of Community Church. Most of the great orators or prophetic voices of our denomination would also be considered “solo acts.” We all owe a lot to them.

A clergy friend of mine said, “I am not ‘The Minister’, we are in ministry together.” That sort of thinking leads to an ensemble ministry. I believe in this sort of spiritual relationship – with the professional minister as a spiritual colleague, teacher, mentor and elder sibling. A Senior Minister-centered congregation just isn’t right for me. That doesn’t mean that we can’t work together in areas where this isn’t an issue.

A peer-to-peer relationship is, for me, an inherent part of our UUA principle of “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning” and in support of “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.” I simply don’t believe in respecting any minister or clergy more than any other person. I have never had any intention of following, supporting, or bolstering one individual’s ministry above others.

These are two totally valid but different approaches and expectations. I feel it is really important to unapologetically embrace what Community Church is – and wishes to be – and update bylaws, committee charters and expectations accordingly “to be in support of the Senior Minister.” Perhaps it is this unusual ministry style choice that our congregation has chosen that has been the recurring stumbling block over the past many years with our second ministers.

This very public conflict has certainly scared away members and would-be members as well driven away many talented and engaged people who have given so much service to our congregation as dedicated lay leaders. There are many vital committees that will have empty chairs and long-lasting negative effects over this conflict.

It is my hope that people will vote with their hearts and hands, and thus create a more harmonious (abet smaller) congregation that can thrive and grow with a common direction. And that those who opposed the board’s actions over the last year will now step up and engage as our congregation’s lay leadership, and will put in the long hours of service that are needed to fill this void. If they do not, the consequences will be dire for the future of this once-great congregation.

It was bittersweet to see about 120 of our 285 voting members at this year’s Annual Meeting. That’s the largest membership turnout for any event in my memory, and that level of engagement is wonderful and something to celebrate. Keep it up! I am, however, saddened that the Senior Minister and the Congregation chose to show such enthusiastic activism and engagement over a matter of internal governance and returning to the status quo rather than some outward issue of social justice or community outreach.

At the beginning of my letter, I said it would now be impossible for me to fulfill my legal and fiduciary responsibilities. Let me explain this in more detail. The bylaw section 7.3 states, “The Board shall have general supervision of the affairs of the Church. The Board shall have custody and control of all property and funds of the Church, shall conduct the business affairs, shall supervise the management and administration of the Church, it being understood that the conduct of worship services and pastoral duties are reserved to the Ministers.”

In the past, it has been difficult, if not impossible, for the Board to assess the effectiveness of the Senior Minister’s administration in supervising the day-to-day operations of the church. It’s important to remember that almost half of our $2 million operating budget is spent on payroll; so being efficient here is a vital part of preserving church funds.

It has also been difficult, if not impossible, for the board to prioritize administrative tasks that were different from the Senior Minister’s priorities, such as “hiring a webmaster” which went un-done for three years, even though the congregation voted funds to do this and the board voted to authorize this action and repeatedly stated this to be a high priority. Part of the problem is the difficulty that the board has had in relating to the Senior Minister as both spiritual leader (reporting only to the congregation) and administrative subordinate (reporting to the board).

These are some of the reasons why the board chose to make the changes it did, that were now un-done at the Congregational Meeting. Perhaps this dual reporting problem will become a non-issue if the bylaws are amended in such a way so that the board’s responsibility is not beyond its ability to take action. I hope so. I also support moving toward a policy-based form of governance, although full “Carver Policy Governance®” would be overwhelming for a congregation of our membership size.

Rev. Bruce Southworth is one of the highest compensated ministers in our denomination. Again, there is nothing wrong with this, assuming that this is the congregation’s intent based on his doing a great job, both as a spiritual leader and administratively supervising the day-to-day operations of the church. However, our congregation has never conducted an assessment of the Senior Minister, so we don’t really know one way or the other. The only two measurements that we now have are size of the endowment (which has grown well, up to now) and attendance and membership size (both of which have become much smaller). I hope that the new board will take prompt action to correct this long-overdue self assessment so that we can celebrate what Rev. Bruce Southworth is doing well, get help in those areas that might be able to be improved, and make sure that everyone is working toward the same goals. This Leadership Assessment process needs to be done at least every few years in order to keep healthy.

In closing, I hope that our congregation will take the time to thoughtfully engage in reflecting on the facts, processes and behaviors that lead to this difficult period. It is important to take the time to fix what is broken and then heal the wounds and hurt feelings so we can all move forward. Please do forward this letter to others that might not be on my personal e-mail list. I ask that you take the time to read my Board Chair’s reports to the Board and to the Congregation. In this spirit of reflection, I will post them and related documents, along with this letter, to our personal website http://MarkandVinny.com/ccny I would be happy to send paper copies to anyone who phones me. They are also available from Valerie Lynch, the congregation Membership Coordinator.

I want to thank those of you who have telephoned, e-mailed and stopped by in person over the last week. Your love has reminded me why I have cared so deeply. Again, thank you for the privilege and honor of being able to serve you.

Yours in community,
Mark de Solla Price

Immediate Past Board of Trustees Chair

Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist

mark@MarkandVinny.com

(212) 924-1845

2009-01-25_Chair_Report_to_Congregation
2009-01-25_Annual_Meeting_Agenda
2009-01-21_Trustee_Agenda
2009-01-21_Chair_Report_to_Trustees
2009-01-21_Board_Letter_to_Congregation 2009_01-25_Mark_Response_to_Committee_on_Ministry
2008-12-17_Trustee_Agenda
2008-12-17_Chair_Report_to_Trustees
2008-11-19_Trustee_Agenda
2008-11-19_Chair_Report_to_Trustees
2008-11-09_Chair_Report_to_Congregation
2008-11-08_Quarterly_Meeting_Agenda
2008-10-22_Trustee_Agenda
2008-09-24_Trustee_Agenda
2008-08-20_Trustee_Agenda
2008-07-25_Trustee_Agenda
2008-07-09_Trustee_Agenda
2008-06-01_Quarterly_Meeting_Agenda
2008-06-01_Chair_Report_to_Congregation
2008-05-28_Chair_Report_to_Trustees
2008-05-28_Trustee_Agenda
2008-05-13_UUA_Administrator_Levels
2008-05-13_Trustee_Agenda
2008-04-23_Trustee_Agenda
2008-04-08_Trustee_Agenda
2008-04-08_Chair_Report_to_Trustees.pdf (larger file from PowerPoint)
2008-03-30_Quarterly_Meeting_Agenda
2008-03-30_Chair_Report_to_Congregation
2008-03-26_Trustee_Agenda 2008-02-27_Trustee_Agenda
2008-02-27_Chair_Report_to_Trustees

Mark and Vinny Holiday Letter 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

This last year has been a difficult one for our world, our country and us personally. As we write this, like so many others, we are looking to the new year as the start of an exciting future filled with new hope and new enthusiasm for fundamental change and renewed health — both for us and our world. For us this begins in just over a month with the inauguration of President Barack Obama. We take great comfort in reading www.change.gov and watching Obama’s YouTube videos.

As we wrote last year, in December 2007, Mark completed a very difficult yearlong successful treatment for hepatitis C. Thankfully, he became one of the lucky few to be effectively cured. Unfortunately, in the process it put a lot of stress on his various underlying medical conditions caused by living with (and treating) HIV for 25 years. The original plan was that Mark would be able to go back to work early in 2008. But now in addition to AIDS and polycythemia, Mark has cardiac hypertrophy, peripheral and autonomic neuropathy, orthostatic hypotension, and chronic extreme fatigue. His HIV is still well controlled. Bouncing back and being well enough to return to work is something of a moving goal still off in the future right now.

Vinny’s unstoppable spirit is as strong as ever, but his body too is showing the effects of many long years of toxic treatments that are needed to keep him alive. Considering that it’s now eight years since he was diagnosed with “weeks to live” we really can’t complain. Although Vinny’s end-stage liver disease and related conditions are still incurable, in February Vinny had his shoulder replaced with titanium and ceramic, so his medical team must believe that he will last long enough to amortize the cost and effort of this high tech wonder. Over the summer, our long-time friend, physician and AIDS expert Dr. Paul Chambliss left his private practice and with great upheaval, we moved our multi-volume medical history over to Dr. Stuart Haber whose office is two blocks from our home. We didn’t think our health care could get much better, but it has. We’ve continued our activism efforts in same-sex marriage equality.

We’ve both become even more active at The Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist, which has a long, proud history in social activism and has been intertwined with the ACLU, NAACP, UN, Mohandas Gandhi, and pro-peace work. The UU community not only celebrates our diversity, they are great at providing support for our special needs and limitations, so we’ve been able to do a lot this year:

Mark was elected Board of Trustees Chair of Community Church; we were both delegates at the weeklong Unitarian Universalist Association “General Assembly” in Ft. Lauderdale, FL in June (our first real trip since 2000); we both attended the weeklong Unitarian Universalist Team Institute in July/August at Juniata College, Huntingdon PA; after a fifteen-year hiatus, Vinny has been leading his “Seven Terrace Meditation” each month at Community Church with guided images through seven colorful gardens to help folks gain inner peace and healing for mind and body.

Please visit our website www.MarkandVinny.com for updates, more details, and all our various writings, meditation stuff, blogs, photos, videos, and even some meditation podcasts.

 

 

 

The Term Limits Hearings, Friday

This is a local mirror of:

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/the-term-limits-hearing-day-2/
by By SEWELL CHAN and JONATHAN P. HICKS “The Term Limits Hearings, Friday”
From The New York Times Published: October 17, 2008; retrieved: May 26, 2014

If possible, please reference the original URL above; for print download in PDF format


NYTimes_logo152x23

The Term Limits Hearings, Friday

protesters
The City Council’s sergeants-at-arms ejected protesters opposed to changing term limits without a popular vote this morning, during testimony by, from left, Richard D. Parsons, chairman of Time Warner; Helen M. Marshall, Queens borough president; and a former Council speaker, Peter F. Vallone Sr. (Photos: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)
• • •
No. 3: Mark de Solla Price, a writer, civil rights activist and AIDS advocate, quoted Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey as saying that the moral test of a government is how it treats those at the dawn of life (children), those at the twilight (elderly) and those in the shadow of life (the sick and the disabled). He said he has been living with H.I.V. since 1983 and has been medically disabled for two years. He called the current predicament “a perfect storm.” He concluded, “As a liberal Democrat, I urge you to be republicans, with a lowercase R, and to do the bold thing, in the best interests of the city and the voters, by extending term limits.”
• • •

The Term Limits Hearings, Friday

The Term Limits Hearings, Friday

protesters
The City Council’s sergeants-at-arms ejected protesters opposed to changing term limits without a popular vote this morning, during testimony by, from left, Richard D. Parsons, chairman of Time Warner; Helen M. Marshall, Queens borough president; and a former Council speaker, Peter F. Vallone Sr. (Photos: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

• • •

No. 3: Mark de Solla Price, a writer, civil rights activist and AIDS advocate, quoted Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey as saying that the moral test of a government is how it treats those at the dawn of life (children), those at the twilight (elderly) and those in the shadow of life (the sick and the disabled). He said he has been living with H.I.V. since 1983 and has been medically disabled for two years. He called the current predicament “a perfect storm.” He concluded, “As a liberal Democrat, I urge you to be republicans, with a lowercase R, and to do the bold thing, in the best interests of the city and the voters, by extending term limits.”

• • •

Mark and Vinny Holiday Letter 2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2007_Holiday_Card_Page_1.jpg

In 2008, we will celebrate 15 years together. Our annual Holiday Cards embrace diversity with a multi-cultural/multi-faith inclusive, secular and atheist-friendly message. You can see past cards on our website. Up until a few years ago, we also wished “Remarkable Ramadan” but because of a quirk of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan migrates through the seasons (this year it was Sept. 13 to Oct 12), so this year’s omission is one of timing, not because we aren’t inclusive of Islamic faith.

In many ways Vinny is more active and happy than he’s been in years. He’s still living with AIDS and end-stage liver disease from hepatitis B. He is also now diagnosed with narcolepsy; like the tin man, he can get stuck mid-action. Back in July, he was hospitalized with aspiration pneumonia from falling asleep while drinking water.

In 2008, Mark will have been HIV-positive for 25 years. He’s positively not dead yet either (wink). But this last year has been a difficult one. His HIV disease is still well managed, but as we wrote last year, in October 2006, Mark was also diagnosed with hepatitis C genotype 1a/1b and polycythemia. Thanks to speedy diagnosis and an aggressive 48-week Ribavirin/Pegasys (alpha interferon) treatment, Mark will be one of the lucky few who become actually cured of hepatitis C by the time you read this. The next step is unknown; how quickly will he recover from the toxic consequences from treatment and to what level of function will he rebound to?

Being largely homebound has given Mark the opportunity to focus on his writing again, including starting a new book, blogging for POZ, a few public speeches and Alternative Conflict Resolution training as a professional Mediator. We’ve both become more involved at Community Church of New York Unitarian Universalist.

I’m sorry to write that Mark’s sister Linda Demichele’s fiancé, Andy Zartolas, died on November 26 after a really difficult year (both for Linda and Andy). Andy had a kidney transplant back in 1993, and his on-going story was inspirational. He really knew how to battle chronic illness the way we have. Andy was wise, caring and his encyclopedic knowledge, conversation and dry sense of humor will all be missed.

For our latest news with all the details, web links for more information, lots of photo galleries, and Mark’s various writings, visit our website: www.MarkandVinny.com