Something is a bit out of kilter about what I am doing at the moment: I’m sitting drinking my Starbucks coffee—alone.
I’m seated beneath a 1936 Monocoupe 110 Special, a bright red little plane suspended from the rafters of the Lambert St. Louis Airport Terminal, waiting for my flight home. Having spent a few days communing with loved family and friends, the fact that I drink my Grande in solitude is only of minor note: my heart is full. Nevertheless—good coffee is meant for communing.
Some years ago, I coined the term, “Starbucking,” to denote outings for non-romantic heart to heart conversations between friends. A conversation that blends caring listening, mutual self-disclosure, quiet communion, and the exploration of ideas and calling in pursuit of stewardly and abundant living, has got to be among God’s richest gifts.
But now, in a manner reminiscent of Spiderman or some space fantasy, my epistemology and my idea of a good time, two strains of my being, are melding. Starbucking is coming to be front and center in my epistemology, and my epistemology is morphing into a vision of life.
I am committed to fleshing out the epistemological proposal I call covenant epistemology. I propose that we take as our paradigm of all acts of knowing the interpersonal covenantal relationship. Knowing is interpersonal communion between knower and known. A prime sample of the paradigm I have in mind is—well, Starbucking.
Consider the surprising pronouncements of education guru Parker Palmer:
I not only pursue truth but truth pursues me. I not only grasp truth but truth grasps me. I not only know truth but truth knows me. Ultimately, I do not master truth but truth masters me. Here, the one-way movement of objectivism, in which the active knower tracks down the inert object of knowledge, becomes the two-way movement of persons in search of each other. Here, we know even as we are known. To speak this way about knowing is not “merely poetic” (as if poetry could ever be mere!) Images such as these are faithful to our moments of deep knowing.
Human knowing, whatever skeptics and antirealists and materialists and pragmatists may argue, has got to be about connecting with something that is objectively there. My fingers tap the keys of my laptop and the cursor treks across the screen, pushed by emerging text. My fingers make overtures, and something responds.
The personal, Palmer says, is the most clearly objectively there. The coffee I sip and savor somewhat absently encourages (ordinarily) a wordless but palpable communion with my friend, a being-present-to-one-another, in the context of which I invite, not demand, a self-disclosure my friend initiates. And in the encounter I find I also come to know myself, and become more fully myself—truth pursues me.
Reflection on this reciprocity between knower and known connects epistemology to the intimate relationship with God that Christian believers know is the heartbeat of their religion and life. We knew the relationship mattered; we haven’t always been encouraged to see it as epistemologically central and normative.
The psalmist prays, “Oh Lord! You have searched me and you know me!” John Calvin presumes, in his Institutes, that “the knowledge of God and that of ourselves is connected.” Augustine prays, “Let me know myself, let me know thee.” As humans, we are what we are because we are situated in intimate, reciprocal, face-to-face relationship with Yahweh, Scripture’s God, who covenants all that exists into reality with his “Let there be’s,” and who sovereignly initiates the relationship that creates us, defines us, and which through Christ he sovereignly redeems and restores.
All human knowing, I believe, has about it the aura of interpersonal communion, having been set in that context originally. We may rightly understand covenant to be the all-embracing God-human relationship that unfolds in Scripture’s grand drama of redemption. But we may yet in our propensity to worded abstractions tend to forget the persons between whom alone covenant-shaped relationship occurs. The palpable experience of interpersonal communion, face to face, above a cup of good coffee, can return us to the feel of the thing.