The topic of governmental “pork,” or earmarks, was a hot topic during the last US presidential campaign. Now it’s an issue in local elections, as many jurisdictions work out their annual budgets.
Pork barrel spending essentially involves elected officials’ funding of special projects outside the normal structures of review and accountability. Sometimes the projects seem worthwhile and cost effective, but oftentimes they are superfluous and wasteful. In any case, these practices stem from the assumption that good is limited, and that it’s therefore justifiable to fight, even greedily, for a slice of the pie.
Early in my government career I glimpsed how prayer could help ensure that needs, instead of greed, can be met. I was tasked with coordinating a feasibility study related to a proposed pork project, where funds to purchase a small suburban strip mall had been placed in the parks department budget. The project’s alleged purpose was to provide more parking for a neighboring historic site, but the proposed purchase price seemed well beyond the market (as well as the parks department’s normal budget), and the historic site really didn’t need more parking.
After a somewhat contentious public hearing, I paused to pray to see what else might be done to shine light on the situation and ensure that any funding augmentations for the parks would be for necessities, not excesses. I had a sense that divine Love governs and sustains all, and that fear and greed can be cleared away as we align our treasures and hearts – our thoughts, motives, desires – with Love. Then we move beyond the picture of a limited material pie, and find all we need.
It came to me to again contact the part-time ranger who, with a volunteer staff, managed the adjacent historic site, and ask exactly what that park did need. He informed me that the critical need was to seismically retrofit an existing historic structure so it could be accessed by visitors and used as a museum. The estimated cost of that work was about 1 percent of the proposed mall purchase price, and after I provided this information with the completed study for the decisionmakers’ consideration, the mall purchase was dropped from the budget and funds were provided for the building retrofit.
I was grateful for this small but encouraging example of how cherishing a need overcame greed and waste. I’ve found it helpful to continue to ask myself how I can lessen fear, greed, and self-interest in my own thinking and living. Am I leaning on luck or human influence in order to get a piece of the action? Jesus advised: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth ... but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven .... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).
Prayerfully considering what we treasure helps us separate needs from wants, and eliminates both the fear of lack and the desire for more, which often drive pork spending requests and decisions. Prayer shifts our focus beyond the material pie to the true source of all supply, one good and infinite God. Prayer shifts the heart from earth to heaven, from matter to Spirit. This enables one to more clearly see that divine Love, God, is omnipresent and omnipotent, and that Love, as Mary Baker Eddy noted, “always will meet every human need” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 494), without lobbying or earmarking on our part.
As we gain a clearer consciousness of spiritual reality and our eternal connection to our spiritual source, God, we realize that we don’t need a bigger material pie, a thicker slice of it, or closer ties to those cutting it. What we need is to recognize and accept the spiritual good that’s always available.