A higher power shapes the thoughts and lifestyles of many Lawrence teens.
It's 5:45 a.m. and sub-zero winds are blowing snow in every direction. A pack of teen-agers, including 17-year-old Lee Ann Wilson, is gathering at just about the last place most people would think a teen would want to go at this hour, let alone in this weather.
Just as she does five days a week before she goes to school, Lee Ann Wilson is heading into her church -- the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every day, about 50 teens in grades nine through 12 head to the church for seminary, where a teacher tries to turn scripture into a life lesson.
Anticipating company, Lee Ann has traded her usual sweatpants, Doc Martens and cosmetic-less face for some baggy jeans, Birkenstocks and a little mascara.
This daily ritual isn't just a motion Lee Ann goes through. Unlike many of her peers, Lee Ann doesn't drink, smoke or have sex because her religious beliefs tell her she shouldn't.
"My religion is part of my life, it's not just something I do on Sunday," Lee Ann said. "It's like a kind of guidance you have that this is wrong and this is right. I think I'll avoid a lot of problems because I do have that guidance. Sometimes it helps me get through life knowing there is a God."
Being a religious teen-ager isn't always easy -- especially when surrounded by peers with many different beliefs, Lee Ann said. But whatever doubts she's had or mistakes she has made, she has always returned to her faith.
"I think it's a lot harder to be religious when you're a teen-ager," Lee Ann said. "When you're a child, you don't question anything. When you're a teen-ager you question things a lot more. A lot of teens are trying to figure out who they are and where they want to go. There's times when I've wondered why am I doing this, why can't I be like everyone else. But when I rebel, I always come back to my faith in God."
Lee Ann admits she's far from perfect. Just like any self-respecting teen-ager, there are times when sleep triumphs over everything, including seminary.
"There's some days I sleep on in through the alarm clock," Lee Ann says with a laugh. "I'm kind of a slacker, so there's obviously something I get up for. I wouldn't get up at 5 in the morning to socialize with anyone."
There are no pictures of Jesus on his bedroom walls and no crucifix hangs from his neck. Greg Scott doesn't believe in God, at least not the same one that Lee Ann Wilson believes in.
The 18-year-old LHS senior decided a long time ago not to belong to an organized religion. When his mother would go to her Quaker service when he was in elementary school, Greg opted to stay home with his dad, who too, didn't choose religion.
"It was a choice of whether I wanted to go to some stuffy place with a bunch of old people and wait for God to speak for two hours, or stay home with my dad and watch TV and play video games," Scott said. "I'm sure there's some sort of reason for everything, but I don't think its explanation lies in the Christian God. The origins of the universe in the Bible seems like too simple an explanation."
"I guess if there is a God it would be more of a collective consciousness -- more of a presence than an actual being."
He has nothing against religion or his friends who believe in one, but Scott says it's not for him. The thoughtful, articulate youth says that religion limits people's beliefs too much beyond the realm of the church.
In the world of AIDS and growing teen pregnancy, Scott said some religions demand people to be just plain impractical by mandating tenets that forbid contraceptives or abortion. He doesn't want to believe in something that will limit his choices in so many ways.
"I'm not saying having a religion is right or wrong. I just think some religions tend to shape the way people think too much," Scott said. "I'm for birth control and using protection. I would rather violate one of the rules set forth by the Bible than have a child I'm not ready to have or get some disease that would make my life a lot less pleasant than it is."
Scott said that teens like him doubt religion because it doesn't seem relevant to their lives.
"It seems like religion has lost its place amongst a lot of teen-agers," Scott said. "It would be a lot easier to believe if you could translate it into today's society. I think there's some unforeseen issues that have come up the authors of the Bible could've never imagined. There are a lot more children being born into broken homes, and the whole issue of who is going to pay for the child."
But even though he is happy with the choice he has made to not be a church member, Scott can see that religion does have something to offer those who do have faith.
"People who have a firm religion seem to have something more to hold onto," Scott said. "There's always a God to hold onto. I think my life is missing a lot of direction and substance because I don't have a religion."