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A couple of Fridays ago, some friends and I took the hourlong trip to an off-the-beaten-path dive bar in Nebraska – Bob’s Bar, in Martinsburg. It’s not much to look at from the outside. Even when you get in the place, it’s not that great – a pool table, a bar and some tables shoved together in the back.

The plates are mismatched remnants of what seem like 1950s tableware, and the giant fan blowing in the back means quite a bit of yelling. The place used to be a favorite hangout for students from Dordt College, in Sioux Center, Iowa. They’d make the trip for the $4.95 burger that dwarfs the bun, cheese balls and fries sold by the pound and the cheap beer. (Although if you wait long enough, cheap beer becomes hipster beer. They had bottles of PBR.) Sadly, students don’t seem to make the trip anymore.

There’s something about places like this that help us get over ourselves a little bit.

There’s something about places like this that help us get over ourselves a little bit, to let go of our incessant desire to meet expectations or live up to some kind of social or cultural standard. These places are good for the soul – places where no one knows your name, your job, your family or even your church affiliation. They’re usually filled with boisterous noise, the sounds of people having a good time. That’s what happened the night we went – way out in the middle of the beautiful Nebraska landscape, we ate cheese balls, gizzards and more than a half pound of beef, laughing the entire time.

I wonder if there is something about being Protestant that makes it difficult for us to have a good time. It might be that we’ve so imbibed the modernist emphasis on progress and self-improvement that we think drinking a cheap beer while eating a pound of cheese balls is some form of heresy. I know the cheeseburger violates Levitical law, but the cheese balls?

The point, of course, isn’t the beer or the greasy food: They’re merely conduits for laughter, an excuse to drive an hour in order to get together with friends. It’s unhealthy to constantly try to hold our “stuff” together, to constantly live into the social and cultural facade of “everything is OK” or in the obsessive inventory of continuous improvement.

We need time to play, we need time to dance and we need time to laugh until we cry. So this morning I thank God for places like Bob’s Bar – sanctuaries of laughter and friendship in an increasingly flattened world of uniformity. A place from which you return home with a full stomach, sore ribs and cheeks from the laughter and a sweet T-shirt.

Jason Lief is co-editor of Perspectives. He teaches religion at Northwestern College, Orange City, Iowa. This article first appeared on the Reformed Journal’s blog, The Twelve.

Photo courtesy of Jason Lief.

Jason Lief

Jason teaches Practical Theology at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.