Fistbump as Peace Pump

A long time ago athletes would congratulate each other with a handshake. Later, high fives became the norm; both hands if there were cause for real celebration. Now, it is common to fistbump, where two people touch the fingers’ long side of each other’s clenched fist. As the prophet Isaiah exhorted violent weapons of swords to be turned into plowshares and the spears into pruning hooks, the human fist—long raised to harm in rage or protest in defiance—is now used to communicate connection, affection, affirmation, or support. I have seen at Mass, especially with youth and young adults, where this is the chosen sign of peace.

While President Obama is often credited with popularizing the fistbump during the 2008 election, Baltimore Bullets guard Fred Carter is known to be one of the earliest fistbumpers, inaugurating the trend in the ‘70s. Many of us now are growing the custom. Anthropologists suggest reasons for its widespread use: No judgments are made on quality, as with firm or limp handshakes. Hand size is taken out of the equation, as is height with high fives, offering an egalitarian feel—no one gets an upper hand. I have often thought that fistbumping is preferred for hygiene reasons; fewer germs get passed in the exchange.

Is the fist becoming a means of affection and celebration, admittedly a matter of little consequence, evidence of subtle grace swirling through our culture? Similarly yet vastly consequential, the cross was the first century Palestine version of the electric chair: Jesus was executed by the state—yes, capital punishment. But, we kiss the cross, wear it around our necks, and begin and end our prayers with it. Jesus redeemed that symbol in his redemption of humanity.

Such transformations take time, and we sometimes reflect little on the power that is deep within some of our cultural rituals. With an eye to Holy Week that begins this Sunday, perhaps we could benefit from some stillness so as to be prepared to open our fists and clap our hands with joy at the chorus of Alleluias that we will sing as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection that exacted the ultimate transformation: Death became life!