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. 

Falling Through the Cracks of Same-Sex & Traditional Marriage

“Loneliness is the greatest plague of our generation. The fight for gay-marriage is simply a response to it. Church, we are doing something wrong in our approach. Until we can be a nest of intimate friendships and a holistic community for the lonely, estranged, and non-married, a traditional sexual ethic will never be attractive.”

I wrote that last week in a bit of frustration over the responses I’d been reading about the recent SCOTUS ruling, and I wanted to follow-up on explicitly what I meant by those words. Hopefully this post will explain a bit of my frustration from both sides’ responses, and maybe this post will offer a little hope of something better.

If you haven’t been able to notice by now, if you know me or read this blog, I talk about loneliness and isolation a lot. Not just because I deal with both, but because I’m beginning to recognize like Henri Nouwen did that “loneliness is one of the most universal sources of human suffering today,” and I’d like to see a way forward for me, for my friends, for my community, for my church, and for my culture.

I was visiting a church service this morning by myself in my hometown looking through the church bulletin which was covered in pictures of beautiful families, and as the pastor ran through his pastoral prayer for the congregation, I felt a tinge of isolation. His prayer hit on all the families in the church, the kids, those adopting, the grandparents, and those married without children – all wonderful things to pray for – but I felt like an oddball by its conclusion. Very rarely do I hear of single or celibate people being prayed for within churches. I hear many sermons on marriage and parenthood, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a sermon in person on singleness or the goodness of celibacy, despite what I see in scripture as a commending of those who are single. Add to this the little phrases littered throughout Christian culture like “family first” and “focus on the family”, and hopefully you can begin to see just some of my frustrations with being a celibate man in the church.

It often feels like there isn’t room within the church for those outside the context of biological families. I’m not saying this is always the case as I (and many others) have been blessed by a beautiful church home which has loved me incredibly well, and I only hope to love them a fraction as much as they’ve loved me, but I feel as though this is a rare treat. There’s definitely a pressure present in the mainstream of Christian culture in America of feeling as though I have two options: get married or be alone.

This is what has me sympathizing (but not agreeing) with the Left over the recent SCOTUS ruling. Although I don’t believe in a sexual ethic of anything but a man and woman engaging sexually in the context of marriage, I do understand the dark corner in which those with a homosexual orientation or who are experiencing same-sex attraction have been cast.

There’s a tension in our culture that if you don’t fit into the mold of a traditional family that you will forever exist in isolation and loneliness. For many who’ve considered themselves “gay” or “same-sex attracted” within the church, there’s this seeming, unwritten dichotomy in most places:

1) go away… and don’t get married despite not being in the church.

2) stay… but magically shift your entire orientation, and get married.

Is it any wonder there has been such a push for gay marriage? There’s an assumption in place that only in marriage can we escape loneliness. So why wouldn’t the LGBT community long for the same thing? We’ve offered what we’ve considered to be the “antidote” to isolation, and we’re now angry that others are seeking the same antidote.

I want you to consider living the rest of your life with no promise of a spouse, no promise of kids, no promise of grandchildren, no promise of people to take care of you when your old, no promise of people to love you if you fall seriously ill, and no promise of ever experiencing lasting intimacy with another. These are just a few of my thoughts that circulate when I imagine a life without marriage in this culture. Does this not sound even just slightly despairing? It makes sense that gay-marriage would be inevitable does it not?

As I scanned my newsfeed last week through the outrage and celebration over the results of the ruling, I again felt overwhelmingly overlooked. As someone who identifies with a traditional sexual ethic yet also experiences exclusive same-sex attraction, both sides left me frustrated. I don’t agree with the impossible dichotomy imposed by some of those in favor of traditional marriage, but, besides not morally agreeing with same-sex marriage, I also don’t agree with the conclusion that by marrying members of the same sex that we have found an answer to the problem of loneliness.

Between the traditional family and (now) the progressive family, I feel like someone caught in no-man’s land, and I know plenty of others who feel the same. Consider the single women who long to be married but can’t, the men and women who’ve chosen to live celibate lives despite their sexual orientations, the socially impaired, the mentally handicapped, the widows, and all the others that Jesus alludes to in Matthew 19:12. Consider this in the church where the traditional family reigns supreme, but consider this with the progressive family as well. Loneliness still exists, and (gay or straight) marriage can’t solve that.

So where do we go for the answer?

That’s the million dollar question isn’t it?

I have a few thoughts, but I’d be foolish to claim to have a definitive answer to such a question.

I think my own church has been a really beautiful reflection of what it may look like to move forward, so much of what I’m about to say has been sparked by the hospitality I’ve already so received and have been allowed to personally give to others.

So hopefully without sounding too idealistic, the church needs to begin to be a nest for those inside & outside the framework of the nuclear family. We need it to be a place that if you were to no longer be married or have kids, for whatever reason, that you’d still have enough meaningful or intimate relationships to sustain you. Single people need a place they can expect lasting, intimate friendships and not be looked down upon or suspiciously questioned for it. Families need a place they can be cared for by other families and single people – others who enter into their dysfunction, help cook meals, help look after kids, and take part of their load and place it upon their own backs. The church should look like an integrated community of single people, married people, families, widows, the elderly, college students, those of racial and sexual minorities, and all those I’m too naive to name.

Or as Wesley Hill quoted J. Louis Martyn in his recent article, “the answer to loneliness is not marriage, but rather the new-creational community that God is calling into being in Christ, the church marked by mutual love, as it is led by the Spirit of Christ.”

We need a way forward that proves that a life without sexual intimacy can still be a life full of intimacy in the context of friendship, community, and a “water thicker than blood” family. And perhaps by cultivating a community which includes those who’ve fallen through the cracks, we can begin to close the cracks themselves.