From the time she was young, musician and writer Cameron Dezen Hammon craved a spiritual connection with the world around her.
As a kid, she tagged along with a friend to synagogue where she was gripped by the ritualism of the robes, the chanting and the scrolls. An an adult, she followed that desire for a spiritual home and eventually found herself part of an evangelical megachurch community in suburban Houston, Texas. There, her work as a musician intersected with her spiritual life and she took up a role as a music minister.
In her new communitity her identity as a feminist clashed with her participation in a system that upholds men as leaders and women as helpers. Hammon documents the story of her journey of faith, love and self-exploration in her new book “This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession” (Lookout Books/ 2019).
Hammon speaks with host Anita Rao as part of the series “Embodied: Sex, Relationships and Your Health.” Hammon will discuss her book in Chapel Hill on Friday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. at Flyleaf Books.
Cameron Dezen Hammon on craving spirituality from a young age:
I was just a very spiritually curious kid. Much later a friend would tell me that I'm a super spook — someone who just was always interested in the unseen and mystery and magic. And that kind of manifested first for me in just being very drawn to religious practice, because it was just different from my family. We were not religious, and so it always felt very special and very other. And even the exclusivity of religious spaces felt exciting to me, you know, that I was an outsider always looking in kind of drove me to pursue that as I got older.
On how contracting an STI spurred a period of sexual shame:
I just kind of spiraled into this incredible amount of sexual shame just around, you know, this experience of getting this STI. And it was really the first time that I saw my body as vulnerable. I mean, when we're young very often we think we're invincible. I thought I was invincible. And it reoriented me in a way toward my body that wasn't positive. I wish I could go back and talk to that 25 year old and say: It's okay … So I was sort of ready-made for I guess what we could sometimes now think of as purity culture.
On reconciling her identity as a feminist and a beleiver:
I thought I brought my feminism with me into Christianity. I was raised by a single mother in New York, you know, a liberal Democrat, it was just my birthright. And I thought that surely the church has progressed, and I was very naive to think that. So as I was kind of walking through this life of serving churches as a music minister, I, again, was hiding that part of myself. I was introduced to the idea that the word feminism can be offensive to people. I mean, I had never as a kid growing up in New York, as a young woman, and on the East Coast, I'd never heard that. I didn't know that that was a thing. But in conservative Christian communities, like it was almost a bad word.