RELIGION

The Mormons Of YouTube Keep Church Tradition Of Journaling Alive

It's reality TV -- with a spiritual twist.
Shay Butler, whose family is known as "the Shaytards" on YouTube.
Shay Butler, whose family is known as "the Shaytards" on YouTube.

Ellie and Jared Mecham's YouTube channel is full of the minutiae of daily life. The two young parents upload vlogs of doctor's appointments, family backyard parties and trips to Babies R Us.

But because the Utah couple made a commitment to post videos daily, they also capture the unexpected, but ultimately very significant moments, of their lives -- all the lows they faced during their struggle with infertility, and later on, the first time their baby boy laughed.

They're certainly not the only vloggers on YouTube who post to the site daily, but there's something remarkably spiritual about the couple's videos.

The Mechams are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, and the impulse to record life events for posterity has a long and rich history within their faith. 

View a segment from "Ellie and Jared" below.

 

The command to keep a record of the day-to-day can be traced back to the very first day the Mormon church was organized, explained Terryl Givens, a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond and an expert on the church.

According to the LDS church's Doctrine and Covenants, God told church founder Joseph Smith, “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you.” And because early church members faced persecution for their beliefs, Mormons were encouraged to keep a record of “all the facts, and sufferings, and abuses put upon them.”

The early members stayed true to this directive by keeping a careful record of their lives in personal journals, convinced of the "historical uniqueness of their moment on the world stage," Givens said. 

That's what happened on July 24, 1847, when a group of Mormon pioneers entered the Great Salt Lake Valley. They fled from their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois, because of religious persecution and were looking for a place to to practice their faith freely.

Brigham Young, an early church leader, was one of the first to see the valley that would later become the international headquarters of the LDS church. He dutifully recorded the experience in his diary, not knowing that his words would be treasured by future generations of the faithful.

Young wrote:

I ascended and crossed over the Big Mountain ... so that I could have a view of a portion of Salt Lake Valley. The Spirit of Light rested upon me and hovered over the valley, and I felt that there the Saints would find protection and safety.

More than 150 years later, the LDS church has kept this tradition of journaling alive, making it part of sermons and Sunday school lessons. According to Givens, former church president Spencer W. Kimball gave an influential sermon in 1975 that urged members of the church to keep a record of their daily lives:

Some of what you write may be humdrum dates and places, but there will also be rich passages that will be quoted by your posterity. Get a notebook, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity. 

 

Shay and Colette Butler, who call their family of six "the Shaytards," are arguably the most famous Mormons on YouTube. With more than 3.5 million subscribers on just one of their five channels, the Butlers know they provide many viewers' first exposure to the LDS church. A British woman who watched the family's daily posts and wondered where their happiness came from credits "the Shaytards" for her conversion to Mormonism.

View a segment from "the Shaytards" below.

 

Kristy Glass, a Mormon mom from New York City who runs the YouTube channel "Glass Posse," told The Huffington Post she sees her vlogging as an extension of her mission work and the command to keep a record of her family's history.

Glass began keeping a daily journal at the age of 14, and later started blogging. Last April, she began uploading daily videos to YouTube. "Glass Posse" now has more than 7,000 subscribers.

Glass has posted videos of her children picking flowers, taking a swim and making crafts. But mixed in with those videos are the moments she says she wants posterity to remember -- the time she talked about her miscarriage or when she opened up about finding redemption after her childhood struggles with an absent dad.

Mormons call this kind of work the "spirit of Elijah," or a spirit of family kinship and unity. It's what motivates people toward "finding and cherishing family members and family ties past and present," according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

Glass says she enjoys looking back at past blogs and seeing how much her family has changed.

"Vocalizing is one of the most vulnerable things we do," Glass said. "When I stand in front of the camera and start talking, it's helping me grow spiritually. And when I go back years later, I can see that I've been on a journey, I've gone from A to B. And for me, that's the most significant thing."

View a segment from "Glass Posse" below.

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