Many memorable and, I hope, equally forgettable statements filled the airwaves this past election season (2014). Among them this comment by Joni Ernst stands out, “We have lost a reliance on not only our own families, but so much of what our churches and private organizations used to do. They used to have wonderful food pantries. They used to provide clothing for those that really needed it, but we have gotten away from that.”

In my study of string theory, I have pondered what kind of evidence would provide verification that we exist, not in a universe, as traditional physics has assumed, but in a multiverse in which an infinite number of universes coexist, as string theory posits. The evidence requires some kind of incursion of an anomalous alternative reality into the regularly observable reality of this universe. Soon-to-be-Senator Ernst’s statement provides that kind of incursive evidence, although it may fit better into a theoretical construct known as shoestring theory.

Truth to be told, I have spent more time studying history, and church history particularly, than I have spent on theoretical physics. We now live in an era in which more food and more clothing comes from voluntary and nonprofit organizations than ever before in history. This, today, is the era of wonderful food pantries provided by churches and private organizations, as well as meal services, overnight lodging and shelters, clothing distributions, funding for transportation, medical care, education, rental assistance, and utility payments. Altogether, this total of private assistance to the indigent, the working poor, the elderly and disabled amounts to a fraction of what our own and other governments provide for their citizens, but it still often means survival for many people. If the food pantries do not look wonderful, it is because their shelves empty so quickly.

During seven decades of life, I have seen, assisted, and started several programs of such assistance for people who needed them. I have examined the evidence of such programs in many eras of history from the earliest church through the Great Depression. No era has seen more concerted and voluntary action to provide benefits to others than our own era.

At the same time, the accumulation of wealth has also reached a pinnacle. The odd thing in this universe is that extremes can coexist without mutual recognition. Only when people do live in a different world can they assert that we once had wonderful food pantries and clothing depots and we have gotten away from that, therefore, the government must do less, and voluntary organizations and churches must step up in doing more, like they used to do. There never was a time in which they used to do more. There never was a time in which help for the poor—working or not able to work or not ready to work—was more needed than now, nor more need for governments to step up and assist their populations to secure their livelihoods. Wealth is present, but the wealth and the power that controls it are not distributed fairly. The era of fair and equitable distribution lies ahead of us, not behind us.