Those One Direction boys Zayn and Louis are in a bit of bother, allegedly caught on camera with spliff in hand whilst in Peru this week. Their behaviour isn't far out of step with their contemporaries. Two of the five boy band members stand accused here, but one in five young people claim to have experimented with casual drug use during the last year.
In his Guardian newspaper column today, Owen Jones remarks on the pressure on One Direction to conform to the sort of clean living that even disciples of Jesus would find a little stringent. Jones is clearly not attempting a reasoned theological summary of the gospel here. Rather he is pointing to the micro analysis of their every move, and the need for squeaky clean lives to maintain lucrative teen idol status contracts.
He is however plain wrong, but his words say something significant about our generation's misconceptions and lack of any real understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It's just another lazy assumption about Christianity and being good that probably comes from never having been in close proximity to true discipleship.
Peter, James, John (disciples, not the other three members of One Direction) lived freely around Jesus and got themselves into the kind of scrapes that would send band Manager Simon Cowell reaching for the contract Lawyers on speed dial! For much of the time they didn't seem to understand what they were supposed to be doing, they flunked their lines at key moments, there were seasons of constant infighting amongst them that went far deeper than artistic differences. Then, when it came to the crunch on the biggest night for this original band of disciples, Peter pulled out a blade and cut someone's ear off!
The truly great thing about being a disciple of Jesus is not the stringent rules. Jesus doesn't seem to order them. Indeed, they join the band through an invitation - 'Come and follow me.' The thing that undermines the 'how to be good' expectations of the 21st century observer when they think about caricature christianity, is the ability to walk and live alongside Jesus whilst being really quite bad.
It's the bad boys and girls that get invited in the bible stories, the fighters, the adulterers, the fraudsters - but with the invitation to follow comes an invitation to be transformed. You may start out in one direction when you walk with Jesus, but it's hard not to be turned around and to fall in step with him. That's the definition of repentance and discipleship - the discovery of a better way to live and learn for all those who struggle in secret or are caught on camera.
True discipleship of this nature is a wonderful thing, a relational thing, free from the restraint of commands or contracts. When we observe popular culture, it's hard to work out who is discipling who - Are One Direction modelling and coaching their teenage fans, or are the band a product of their broken generation? Maybe it's a bit of both - Either way, we've got a valuable message about discipleship with Jesus that is being dismissed before it's heard and yet it's the very thing the lost boys of our generation need to discover.
Our role is not to criticise Owen Jones et al for unfairly rejecting our message. It's our fault that they don't know any better - Rather, our responsibility is to develop compelling, distinctive and attractive Christ followers whose adventurous lives in close proximity to the world simply cannot be ignored.