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Showing posts from July, 2016

Proper Trust - Meditation on Psalm 49

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Psalm 49:1-12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)1 Hear this, all you peoples;
give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
2 both low and high,
rich and poor together.
3 My mouth shall speak wisdom;
the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
4 I will incline my ear to a proverb;
I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.

Go Forth and Catch 'Em All -- Sightings (Kristel Clayville/Emmanuelle Burton)

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While I'm not a Pokemon Go player, I'm intrigued by some of what I've read about the idea of augmented reality (as opposed to virtual reality) present in this phone-based game. What intrigues me is the idea of enchantment or re-enchantment present. Richard Beck, a psychology prof at Abilene Christian University has written about the theological implications of the game, noting that this augmented reality allows us to envision and enchanted universe. In this Sightings piece Kristel Clayville and Emmanuelle Burton of the University of Chicago Divinity School speak as well of re-enchantment -- how the game overlays an augmented reality on top of nature.  What implications might this have for the way we see the world and God's presence in that world? 
Go Forth and Catch 'Em All:
Pokemon Go's Contingent Re-enchantment of the Natural World
Kristel Clayville and Emanuelle Burton  JULY 28, 2016 Even if you don’t own a smartphone and have never played a computer game more…

Reviving the Heart of Our Democracy

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One of the most powerful preachers and prophets for justice of our time is the Rev. Dr. William Barber II. I have met him. I've heard him preach and speak several times. He inspires me to be true to my faith and the call to justice that is rooted in my faith tradition. Last night he spoke to the Democratic National Convention. Yes, he voiced his support for Hillary, but his message is much more the call to being agents of justice. It is a call to be, as he says, the "moral defibrillators of our time," so that we might shock the world with love. Rev. Barber is a Disciples of Christ minister, President of the North Carolina NAACP, and founder of the Moral Mondays Movement. Let us hear his voice calling for the reviving of the heart of our democracy! It doesn't matter what our party affiliation is, the point is attending to the moral imperatives that are the heart of faith and in goal our democracy!

Social Problems and Religion - Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Does the public believe that religious congregations including churches and synagogues do a good job in addressing social problems. Survey says that an increasing number say no. This is the message reported by Martin Marty.  I could give anecdotal evidence to the contrary, but is anyone paying attention?  For the past several years I've been involved in congregation-based community organizing. Our coalition was small, but we helped push the state government to better federal funds for foreclosure prevention, turn a vote on medicare expansion, bring to the attention of the broader community the problem of human trafficking, and raise awareness of the need for effective regional transit. My congregation partnered with a small congregation in Detroit to launch a ministry that assists people in making their homes more livable and their neighborhoods safer. I could go on, but this seems a sufficient introduction to Marty's essay, which I invite you to read and ponder!

Social Problem…

The Listening God

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I am attending a conference on liturgical worship.It’s the Association of Reformed and Liturgical Theology. I’m not sure I’m Reformed in my theology (okay at least a little bit), but I do believe that liturgy is at the heart of the Christian faith. That is, without worship, and liturgy has to do with worship, Christianity becomes little more than either a social club or a service organization. Those might be fine, in and of themselves, but they’re not the essence of Christianity. That would be the God we know in Jesus and experience through the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit.
Okay, with that as an introduction I get to the statement that titles this piece. Our plenary speaker for this conference is philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, who wrote an important book on liturgical theology (from a philosopher’s perspective) titled The God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology(my review appeared on this blog in August).In the book and in the presentation he spoke of God as the…

Go and Do the Same: Treasure What Matters - A Stewardship Sermon

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Luke 12:13-21

Money makes the world go around. It’s true that in the world of Star Trek no one seems to need money, unless you’re a Ferengi, but it takes money to navigate through our world. The question is, how much is enough? And, how much is too little? Down through the ages we’ve heard warnings about the dangers of greed. One of the best examples is the story of King Midas, who was given the ability to turn whatever he touched into gold. Unfortunately, that meant his food, and ultimately his daughter. So be careful what you ask for!
During this political season we’ve been hearing messages about taxes, income inequality, stagnant wages, the high cost of health insurance, and much more. Money plays a big role in our political debates, in part because it takes money to fund political campaigns.
In the reading from Luke 12, a person in the crowd listening to Jesus’ message asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute with his brother over the dispersal of the family estate. Jesus declines the requ…

The U.S. Immigration Crisis (Miguel De La Torre): Review

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THE U.S. IMMIGRATION CRISIS: Toward an Ethics of Place (Cascade Companions). By Miguel A. De La Torre. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016. Xx + 176 pages.
                The United States has an immigration problem, and it's a problem largely of our own making. Decisions made decades in the past created the climate that has only been exacerbated by more recent decisions regarding the border. When we think about this crisis, we’re focused on the southern border with Mexico, a border that came into existence due to a vision of Manifest Destiny accompanied by conquest. Many solutions to the crisis have been offered, but many are racist, inhumane, and from a Christian perspective counter to the message of Jesus. If there is any hope of finding a true solution that is just, it will take soul-searching, repentance, and a willingness to go in a new more humane and compassionate direction. Hospitality is important—that is the biblical principle of welcoming the stranger but it is not enough…

Finding Hope In Conflicted Times

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There is violence in the streets (police shoot black men, and then police get shot). Nations are being torn apart (Syria, Turkey). Political systems seem broken (U.S.A.). I'm generally an optimistic person. Yet, I'm troubled by what is happening around me, especially the political rhetoric of the hour. We seem intent on building walls rather than bridges. The Republican Party concluded it's convention last evening, anointing Donald Trump as its nominee. I didn't watch the speech, but I'm not surprised by what has been reported. It expressed clearly a politics of resentment. It was divisive and angry. The message that emerged from that convention was anything but hopeful.

The message we're hearing from some in the political realm is a nationalist one (Americanism not globalism). It's focused on me first. We've heard preachers at the convention, in their prayers, refer to the other major party as the enemy, while another speaker suggested that the presum…

White Protestant America -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Analyst of trends in religion, Robert P. Jones, of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has authored a new book with the provocative title of The End of White Christian America.I've not yet read the book, but had the opportunity to hear him speak at the 2015 Academy of Parish Clergy meeting, where he detailed some of the trends in American religion that I'm assuming are detailed in the book. This week historian of American religion and commentator on things religion, Martin Marty takes up an aspect of the book---that would be the state of white Protestant America. Marty quibbles a bit with the language, suggesting that we might talk about the end of white Protestantdom (like Christendom), but more focused on the decline of white Protestantism's hold on American society. I invite you to take up the conversation --- what is the future of predominantly white Protestantism in an increasingly diverse nation?  
. White Protestant America
By MARTIN E. MARTY   July 18, 2016…

Making Peace with the Earth (Grace Kim) -- Review

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MAKING PEACE WITH THE EARTH: Action and Advocacy for Climate Change. Edited by Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Foreword by Guillermo Kerber.  Geneva, Switzerland: World Council of Churches Publications, 2016. Xxiii + 274 pages.
                The question as to whether the earth is experiencing climate change, and whether humanity is to blame, has become a major political hot potato. Even among those who accept that climate change is occurring, are not of one mind as to what should be done. Could we be past the point of no-return? Are the solutions too drastic, and thus unworkable? As for those who deny climate change, part of this may result from a lack of trust in science, as well as the lack of incentive to make the required changes. Indeed, at times it seems as if the only solutions require that we return to a pre-industrial agrarian society. After all, if you agree with the science, but aren’t able or ready to make the necessary changes in life-style, you may find yourself suffering from disa…

Persistent Prayer - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 10C

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Luke 11:1-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name.     Your kingdom come. 3     Give us each day our daily bread. 4     And forgive us our sins,         for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.     And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give hi…

What the World Needs Now (Tom Clay)

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What the world needs now is love.  That was a sentiment offered up in a 1960s song, as America was torn by racial strife and the Vietnam War. I was only a child when assassins bullets took down first John Kennedy, then Martin Luther King, and then just a few months later John Kennedy's younger brother Bobby Kennedy, just after he had won the California primary and was poised to capture the Democratic nomination for President.  Like I said, I was but a child, and I wasn't really paying all that much attention to what was going on at the time. I lived in small towns/cities and was pretty innocent about such things.  
Now, I'm in my late 50s, no longer a child. Though we might wish that the world has changed, things like racism, bigotry, hatred remain with us. It is true that much has changed and things have improved in many ways, and yet the root issues that divide are still with us. They're deeply rooted in our systems. So, yes we need love today as much as ever before…

Clearing Away the Distractions -- Sermon for 9th Sunday after Pentecost (repost)

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I'm on vacation this Sunday, so I'm sharing a sermon I originally preached on July 21, 2013. I had just returned from the Disciples of Christ General Assembly. At that meeting the Assembly took up an important resolution calling on the Church to be a people of Welcome and Graciousness. At the heart of that resolution was the call to be inclusive of all, especially those who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender.  Since then Central Woodward Christian Church took up that call and chose to become Open and Affirming. I invite you to read and meditate on this story from Luke, where Jesus pays a visit to the home of Martha and Mary. ********
Luke 10:38-42


We’ve been hearing a lot about distracted drivers lately.  Everyone is talking on their cell phones or texting.  We thought that hands-free devices would make us safer, but apparently, they’re just as bad.  It’s not about the hands, it’s about where we place our attention. 

When Prayers Aren't Enough

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Paris, Charleston, San Bernardino, Istanbul, Baghdad, Dhaka, Orlando, Dallas, Nice. I could go on naming cities that have witnessed violence. Each time we've called for prayers. Indeed, I've prayed for peace and justice. I've prayed that violence would cease. I've prayed that bridges not walls would be built. It's clear that prayer is not enough. We may have to put our faith into action. We may need to get out there and change the world. 

While it's important, where possible, to engage in political life, it requires a lot more than that. It will take recognizing that the sacredness of other lives. It will require that we cease demonizing and dehumanizing each other. I am susceptible to such things myself. If we engage in political banter it comes out. But let us remember that even if we despise the vision of a particular candidate for President, that person is a child of God created in the image of God. We may despise the ideology of ISIS, but the people caugh…

Conversations about Hard Truths - Sightings (Martin Marty)

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Martin Marty's Sightings post this week takes a look at six of seven points made about the current cultural situation in America by Christian ethicist David Gushee.  The original post by David Gushee came out just prior to the 4th of July weekend (a fitting moment for the conversation). Marty takes a look at these hard truths, offers his thoughts, and invites us to consider our own. So, I'll do that -- take a read here and at David's original posting.  So, how bad are things out there? 

Conversations about Hard Truths
By MARTIN E. MARTY   July 11, 2016Image: "God Bless America" written in beach sand with American flag. Image copyright Maria Dryfhout via Shutterstock.com David Gushee celebrated July 4th with a much-discussed piece in his “Christians, Conflict & Change” column on the so-frequently helpful Religion News Service.

From this Day Forward (Kimberly Bracken Long) - A Review

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FROM THIS DAY FORWARD: Rethinking the Christian Wedding. By Kimberly Bracken Long. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Xi + 185 pages.
                Even before the Supreme Court ruled on the legality of same-sex marriage, significant discussions were underway about the role that churches and clergy should play in weddings. Some were arguing that clergy should get out of the wedding business, though some suggested (and continue to suggest) that the State should get of the wedding business. Perhaps it’s time for a conversation about such matters. What we need are some good resources. I’ve tried to offer one with my own Bible study guide—Marriage in Interesting Times: A Participatory Study Guide. Kimberly Bracken Long also has written a helpful text on the subject, one that is worth engaging closely, which argues that the church should stay in the wedding/marriage business, but it needs to do some serious rethinking of what it is engaging in.      
                The aut…

Distractions - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 9C

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Luke 10:38-42 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
******                 Mary and Martha—much has been said and written about these two sisters. One is concerned about being the “proper host,” making sure that the meal is served promptly. The other sister seems unconcerned about such things. Instead of helping out in the kitchen, she simply sits at the feet of the teacher while her sister is ha…

Public Faith in Action (Miroslav Volf & Ryan McAnnally-Linz) -- A Review

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PUBLIC FAITH IN ACTION: How to Think Carefully, Engage Widely, and vote with Integrity. By Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. Xiii + 233 pages.
                In the United States we talk about separation of church and state. That means that the state has not and cannot establish any particular religion. There is no religious test to hold office, either. These principles are enshrined in one form or another in the US Constitution. This doesn’t mean, however, that people of faith don’t bring that faith into the public realm. Assuming that one’s faith is meaningful, then it will guide our actions in the public square. It will influence our thinking about matters of great importance, hopefully offering wisdom, and providing a foundation for voting and acting in public with integrity. Public Faith in Actionis a companion, a further exploration, to a book published in 2011 titled A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good.In …

The Cry for Justice - A Sermon for Pentecost 8C

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Psalm 82

Who are we as a congregation? If we claim to be Disciples of Christ then what does that say about how we live in the world? That is the question that the Preamble to the Design, which we recited earlier in the service seeks to answer. It’s a covenant statement that binds us as a congregation with our brothers and sisters across the region, across the nation, and across the world. It binds us with others who call themselves Disciples, but it also binds us together with all Christians. Indeed, it defines our “mission of witness and service to all people.”  That statement was adopted in the 1960s as the Disciples entered a new phase of life together. There is a briefer statement that was adopted more recently and it goes like this: “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.”In April we officially became an Open and Affirming Congregation. By doing this we …

A Public Faith -- A Review (reposted)

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The question of how faith engages public life continues to be asked and answers are sought. Miroslav Volf is one of those who has sought to offer an answer. As I will be posting a review of his latest book, Public Faith in Action on Monday, I thought it wise to share my review of its predecessor. Thus, I invite you to consider that book before considering the second.

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A PUBLIC FAITH:  How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good.  By Miroslav Volf.  Grand Rapids:  Brazos Press, 2011.  Xvii + 177 pp. 



The never ending question in American life concerns the role religion should play in public life.  That is, in a modern, secular, democratic state that values political pluralism, can faith have a constructive role in public life?   This question involves the way in which people of faith root their public life in their faith.  Theologian Miroslav Volf takes up these kinds of questions in his latest book, in which he advises Christians on the perils, pitfalls, and possibilities…

Cease the Violence!

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What a horrendous couple of weeks around the world. Dhaka, Istanbul, Baghdad, Medina, Falcon Heights, Baton Rouge, Dallas. Why the violence? Why does the world seem so broken?

Jesus was a Migrant

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In my lectionary reflection posted on Tuesday I took up the question that led Jesus to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The parable served to define who was the neighbor. In that reflection I brought up the topic of migration and immigration. Since one of the issues driving the 2016 Presidential election along with the recent #Brexit vote is immigration. I thought I might revisit it. As I noted in my lectionary reflection, I'm reading the book Public Faith in Actionby Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz (Brazos, 2016). 
Europe and the Middle East are dealing with major migration issues, largely due to refugees that have been forced from their homes due to the violence that has been visited on places like Iraq and Syria due to the nihilistic vision of ISIS. Many are Christian and other religious minorities, but many are Muslim. Volf and McAnnally-Linz note that in 2014 nearly 60 million people from across the globe lived as refugees. So how should we respond…

Reading for the Common Good (Christopher Smith) -- Review

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READING FOR THE COMMON GOOD: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish. By C. Christopher Smith. Foreword by Scot McKnight. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. 176 pages.
                When I was a child I loved going to the library. I liked to hang out in the 900s (Dewey Decimal System) – that’s the history and geography section. I was also a member of my elementary school’s Library Club. Very in life I became an avid reader, and continue to be so to this day. While I will dip into fiction books on occasion I’ve always preferred nonfiction, with history and religion/theology being at the top of the list. My embrace of reading has both informed and formed me into the person I am today. Books and magazines and newspapers open up new worlds and new opportunities. Literacy was once the province of a small group of elite persons, but when Gutenberg invented the printing press a new world was born. Indeed, it’s pretty clear that without it the Reformation would never ha…

Who Is My Neighbor? - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 8C

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Luke 10:25-37 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he …

We Are Baghdad

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As I write this post, it is Independence Day in the United States. It is also the Muslim season of Ramadan, a season that is about to come ton an end. Tomorrow is Eid al Fitr, the feast that signals that the season of fasting has come to an end. Many of my friends will be gathering to celebrate this important festival in Islam. 
Ramadan is supposed to be a season of drawing to close to God. The Quran stipulates: The month of Ramadan is that wherein the Quran was sent down as guidance to mankind, as clear proofs of guidance, and as the Criterion. Let him among you who is present fast during that [month]. And whosoever is ill or on a journey, it is a number of other days. God desires ease for you, and He does not desire hardship for you. [It is} so that you may complete the number and magnify God hr having guided you, that haply you may give thanks. [Surah 2:185,The Study Quran]  Ramadan is supposed to be a season of peace, and yet ISIS and those inspired by it's nihilist vision of …

Taking Stock of Independence Day

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Today is the 240th anniversary of the publication of the Declaration of Independence, the document that birthed the nation that I call my home. I count myself among those who graduated from high school during the bicentennial year. We made a big deal about being a bicentennial class (as can be seen in the above picture of the color guard, which included me (2nd from left).  Not only did I graduate that year, but in the fall I voted for the first time in a presidential election (I voted for Gerald Ford, while most of my Evangelical friends voted for the "Christian" candidate -- Jimmy Carter -- whom they would abandon four years later for being too liberal).

God Is Our Helper - Sermon for Pentecost 7C

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Psalm 30

This is a weekend filled with celebrations. Tomorrow we will celebrate 240 years of independence. I know this because I graduated from high school in the bicentennial year and my high school is holding its 40-year reunion in a few weeks. There are also several people celebrating birthdays this weekend, with Gloria celebrating her 90th. I told Gloria that if I live to be 90, I want to be as active and healthy as she is! Yes, this is a day of thanksgiving!
We’re worshiping outdoors under the shade of trees and in the shadow of the cross and peace pole, with a large rock standing in the center. People ask why there’s a rock in the middle of the drive way. I’ve heard a number of answers to that question, but here’s a theological one that I’ve come up with. This rock is a symbol of our own confession of faith in Jesus. When Simon gave the good confession – that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God – Jesus called him Peter, which means rock. Then Jesus declared that upon this rock,…

The Ethics of Brexit? - Sightings (William Schweiker)

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Even as the Brits try to figure out what's next after the Leave voters outnumbered the Remain voters in last week's referendum, and the rest of Europe seems impatient for the Brits to get on with it.  But what is the broader meaning to this movement? Martin Marty wrote earlier in the week about tribalism and togetherness. University of Chicago Divinity School ethicist William Schweiker invites us to consider the ethical dimension of the vote. What is the meaning of this embrace of "moral particularism" that stands in contrast to the vision that led to the creation of the EU? It's  an interesting piece that focuses on the benefits of being together.  Take a read!
The Ethics of Brexit?
By WILLIAM SCHWEIKER   JUNE 30, 2016Protesters against the UK's vote to leave the EU, London's Trafalgar Square, June 28, 2016.
Credit: Jay Shaw Baker / Sipa via AP ImagesThe vote by the people of Great Britain to leave the European Union (EU)—the so-called “Brexit”—had immedia…