Dead Dogs with White Teeth: Reflection on Judgment and Beauty

The other night I saw The Wind Rises, a gorgeous film that is sort of about war but definitely about art. It’s a largely fictionalized biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, who lived his dream of designing beautiful airplanes, which were then used to kill and destroy. I walked out of the theater wondering what to think about his beautiful dreams which took on a dark life of their own.

I walked out of the theater not knowing what to think. The film was so compelling, so visually beautiful, and I’d enjoyed it. Yet, as I watched, I was always conscious of the violence lurking just outside the frame. The movie alluded to but mostly did not focus on that violence or the consequences of Jiro’s decisions, showcasing instead his fanciful dreams of flying and invented romantic life. I felt almost guilty for liking the movie, like I’d been tricked into seeing beauty where there should be none.

Today I was thinking about it more when I remembered a Muslim story I once heard about Jesus. He and his disciples were walking down a narrow alley, and they came upon the body of a rotting dog. His disciples tried not to look at it as they passed, gagging and making comments of disgust. Jesus, however, knelt down and looked at the dog for a long moment. Then he said, “Praise be to God, it has such beautiful white teeth.”

This story never made it to the Gospels but I love it. Isn’t that so like Jesus, to see beauty in something that seems nothing but dead and vile?

I’m afraid I’m not very much like that. I’m often looking for a reason to judge. I cover my butt by saying that sin is disgusting – doesn’t the Bible say so? Doesn’t God find it utterly offensive?

Yes – but God can also see past it.

God knows we are born into a fallen world, tempted by so many bad choices every day. Some of us are lucky and are born into times and places in history when it’s more or less easy to lead lives of peace. Some of us, like Jiro, are more constrained. He never wanted to build war machines, he just wanted to push the limits of flight.

God can see beyond all the things that limit us. God knows we were made good. To protect the tiny light shining in darkness, to pluck the jewel out of the muck: that’s God’s mission.

Can I dare to love like this, so scandalously?

Pope Francis, who loves the poor and washes prisoners’ feet and sneaks out in the dark of night to comfort the hospital-bound says real change is not possible without love and an appreciation of the beauty in each person:

True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances…

The Joy of the Gospel 199

More than that, he says that all true beauty is breadcrumbs on the trail to Christ:

Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus…

If, as St. Augustine says, we love only that which is beautiful, the incarnate Son, as the revelation of infinite beauty, is supremely lovable and draws us to himself with bonds of love.

The Joy of the Gospel 167

I think of this and I’m ashamed of my desire to shrink from beauty, even when it’s buried in vileness. After all, this is the same state of my soul. I need to learn to sing a new song, a song that inspires me to look for and enjoy beauty everywhere.

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