Monday, December 07, 2009

A Tribute to Shawn Tribe

The world wide web is a rough, wooly, and sometimes dangerous place. The New Liturgical Movement site is a place of enlightenment, peace, coherence, and stability -- and this tendency is sustained year after year. And the stability comes not from being static and dull. On the contrary, it is hugely active, with a long list of contributors and relentless commentary activity. It is one of the most active sites anywhere on the Catholic web.

This integration of dynamism with cultural stability is most difficult to achieve in the world of digital media. It takes relentless work. Not even one day can go by without posting and moderating comments. The apparatus threatens to collapse at all times. The proprietor must avoid mood swings and be focused on the goal regardless of the controversy of the moment. Even amidst the millions of details, the big picture must always be in view.

The web is made of digits but it is ultimately powered by human beings -- people of greatness and vision. The moderator must be fair and liberally minded, but focused on the goal. The goal must be to forge a site culture out of a vast range of readers and commentators that come from random places. Nastiness, belligerence, incivility, and iron-fisted rhetoric must be kept out, replaced with an emphasis on generosity, education, and service to others.

Of course this person must also have technical ability and an aesthetic sense, as well as all the usual qualitative we associate with leadership: all the virtues of temperance and courage come into play. Longevity of a website can only be assured once all of things aspects are in place.

The Catholic world is extremely fortunate that there exists someone who fits the bill in the person of Shawn Tribe, the founder of the New Liturgical Movement, a website on which millions around the world have come to depend for daily news and commentary on Catholic liturgy. These are times of transition, and the crucial truth here is that NLM is leading us into the direction of wisdom and knowledge.

When the history of our liturgical epoch is written, I believe that NLM will play a huge role, and NLM is made possible only through the work of Shawn Tribe, who has dedicated himself so passionately and resolutely to causes that are depreciated in the culture at large: beauty and truth.

He has an incredibly difficult job but you would never know it from the way he manages the site. Grace and good will define his style, and the daily sacrifices he makes for the Catholic world are rarely noted. He doesn't seek praise, for that matter. He seeks to do good things. And no, he does not know that I would be writing or posting this tribute.

What about the rest of us who post here? There is a commentator on NLM who describes himself as NLMlurker. That is a moniker that we could all apply to ourselves. No matter how much we post, we cannot come near Shawn's level of engagement. As a frequent writer, I have the luxury of taking off a few days, having writer's block, or burning out from time to time. Why do I have that luxury? Because Shawn carries the bulk of the weight around here. It also the rest of us to be slackers and lurkers if we so choose.

In this sense, we as writers and co-bloggers are all dependent on him. So are the readers. Without him, this site wouldn't exist and wouldn't thrive as it does. The rest of us help from time to time, and he goes out of his way to praise what we do. But in our hearts, we know the truth: he is the hero, the intellectual driving force, the entrepreneurial mind behind what has become a critical institution in the Catholic world.

He has a fascinating series of gifts to give us: he is historian, news hound, theologian, liturgist, and web geek, all rolled into one package. Using these gifts, he has shown us that it is possible to unify what most people think cannot possibly come together: a traditionalist aesthetic, conservative theology, a progressive spirit, and the most modern technology.

If there were a digital glass, I would raise it to Shawn for all he has done. We are all deeply in his debt. Future generations of Catholics are too, and I believe that they will know this. Shawn's hard work and stamina deserve recognition and it is long past time that we all thank him.

As we approach the fifth year of this site, from the bottom of my heart, thank you Shawn Tribe.

P.S. he pinged me this morning with the bad news that his web notebook died and worries that he needs another. If there is a reader who can help, please write him. Surely there is a way we can help him acquire the tools he needs.

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