Finding Home (And Dory) 

Warning this post contains spoilers for the film “Finding Dory”


I may sound a bit outlandish when I say that Pixar’s long-awaited sequel to “Finding Nemo” contained a more provoking story than the original. It is not often that I can say that about a sequel, but what “Finding Nemo” does in relating to the human experience of wanting to find and be found by those we love, “Finding Dory” proves even more touching by appealing to the common desire we all have for finding a place to belong and call home.

The film opens with a young Dory growing up in an aquarium with two kind and concerned parents who fear for what kind of future Dory may have with severe short-term memory loss. And it is only a matter of minutes into the film when I knew where this film was heading… It was hard not to cry while watching Young Dory ask her parents, “What if I forget you?” and then alarmingly—yet so humanly—jumping to the next question of “Will you forget me?”

This is a question, if I consider it honestly, I ask internally of friends and family. However, it is the tender young Dory voicing that question aloud. It is a question in which I believe we are all probably asking—whether that is to our parents, friends, spouse, or God. 

Dory, of course as evidenced by the title, ends up getting lost from her parents and her home and for a while really does forget about her parents. Ironically though, I found there was a double meaning at work. While Dory is lost from her original home, she does find a new home among Marlin and Nemo (as seen in the original film) but then soon finds herself missing from both homes.

This is something I found quite powerful in this film. Neither does the film elevate friends over biological family or elevate biological family over friends but sees them both as good and in cooperation with one another. We need our friends and family members to help cultivate the idea of home, but like the film, not all of us necessarily have guaranteed access to biological families— whether by birth, locale, estrangement, death, or by other reasons.

For some of us, the idea of home is a sad one and the feeling of homesickness is a painful one especially when there is no home to feel sick about. The feeling that no one is coming to look for us or that everyone has forgotten about us, is not an unusual one in this world marked by loneliness and isolation. And this film really makes me wrestle with that.

When Dory after a long trek across the ocean finally makes it back to where she believes she will find her parents, she is for a brief period shaken by the assumed death of her parents. She exclaims in a moment of despair and grief, “I have no family!” and in a matter of seconds the family she had once forgotten briefly becomes a family she will never have again. But in her panic, you  can hear Nemo pleading “That’s not true, Dory!” trying to gently break through to her that she still certainly has a family and a home— despite not having parents to prove it.

There was a moment I was certain that this was how the film would end: Dory surrounded by all her friends grieving the loss of the family she only barely ever had. Considering the genre, this probably would not have appealed to many, and of course Dory does end up finding her parents alive. However, the film really does not end as expected.

Surprisingly, rather than leaving her home among Nemo and Marlin, she returns back with her family and her new friends to the home she already has. Her home was at the Great Barrier Reef rather than the aquarium. Her home was not just for herself but for those around her. Her home was not her home but their home. Similarly to the church, the community Dory had with Nemo and Marlin was one marked by water rather than biological ties. Rather than inviting Nemo and Marlin to be a part of Dory’s old family, she reverses it and invites her parents and her new friends into her, Nemo, and Marlin’s wider aquatic home.

Dory’s story begins with the existentially charged question of “Will I be without a family and forgotten?” and ends with an answer: “I was not forgotten and I found an even bigger family.” And for those of us in the church, this story contains an element of rich truth: we are being pursued, we are not forgotten, we have been brought into a wide, diverse family, and we are promised a redeemed home. There will surely be days where we will feel that fear of being forgotten and never having a place to belong, but in the family of God, even in death, separation, and loneliness, our stories will not ultimately end in homelessness. 

Living in Mystery

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Whether it was me as a kid looking through my parents’ closet trying to find the presents they got me for Christmas, or the horror movies I watched where the protagonists decided to curiously read a book or enter a room in which inadvertently released some horrid evil into the story, or even so far back as Adam and Eve curiously taking a bite of the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, we are all averse to mystery.

It is not to say that we do not enjoy the Mystery genre, of course, who does not appreciate the likes of Sherlock Holmes or Scooby-Doo? Even Stephen King would say that the mystery of not knowing is a vital factor which drives us deeper into a story. However, we want that mystery to end at some point. We must know how Holmes did it, and we must know who is behind the mask of the villain. We can not let ourselves sit in the mystery for too long. And if we must sit for too long in the mystery, we often attempt to find reductive and cheap solutions to our own unknowing and lack of control.

We do this often. Whether it is the miracles of Jesus being blotched away by the hand of Thomas Jefferson, Job’s comforters offering rationalistic answers to Job’s suffering, my nearly neurotic and anxious attempts at figuring out what my future will look like in five years, or our need to reduce every human behavior down to a machine-like system that we can comprehend, mysteries are only okay just as long as they make sense to us or do not leave us in the dark—which sadly and unfortunately robs them of being mysterious.

Surely, there is something deeply good in the search for a suitable mystery’s end. When I was reading Lord of the Rings, I was eager to know how and if Sauron would be defeated, I wanted to know if Sam and Frodo would reach Mt. Doom, and I really wanted to know why the Ring had no control over Tom Bombadil. I would take a gamble too that most of us wish we knew our friends, our parents, our children, or our spouses in an increasing amount as Eugene Peterson once wrote, “People are not problems to be solved. They are mysteries to be explored.” There are certainly mysteries we are called to enter into.

There is a big difference however between entering into a cave to explore it and entering into a cave arrogantly expecting to find a random, unmarked exit. I would say mysteries are similar. Of course if we know that there is a marked exit to the cave, we should explore it and possibly try to find it. And I am sure wisdom would dictate that there are some diabolical caves we dare not enter. But our mystery-aversion comes in the form of not being able to enter a proper cave that is not promised to have an alternate exit. Even if we do enter, we may make our way miles and miles in, set off dynamite to close off the remainder of the cave, and dig our way out to convince ourselves that there is nothing else left to explore of the cave. If we can not solve the mystery, we are often repelled by it.

It takes something profound to enter into the harder mysteries. Like the cries etched throughout the Psalms and even our own lives, the mysteries of God’s seeming absence amidst suffering and grief are mysteries we feel wary to enter. It often seems far less painful to avoid entering that mystery and far safer to coldly analyze it from a distance. Yet we lose something of significant substance, similar to what G.K. Chesterton wrote in his Introduction to the Book of Job, when we refuse to enter that particular cave:

“Verbally speaking the enigmas of Jehovah seem darker and more desolate than the enigmas of Job; yet Job was comfortless before the speech of Jehovah and is comforted after it. He has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

This paradoxical cave that Job found himself in was one that seemed to lack both an entrance and an exit. Even though Job’s situation was resolved, he was still left without the understanding of “why” he was ever in the situation to begin with. Yet Chesterton concludes with saying that “It is the lesson of the whole work [of Job] that man is most comforted by paradoxes.”

In some of the caves of my own life, I have experienced and still experience the weariness of wandering alone in the dark and cold of those endless mazes. I have often attempted to rationalize my way out, or given up, or just blown my own way out, but I have found that in the deepest pits of those caves is where I am sometimes met with a mysterious tenderness and an abiding, divine embrace. I am averse to entering into mystery, yet it is often in those caves that I find something better than the exit I had originally sought.